The Governor Brothers
The Magistrates who presided over the Water Police Court and Police Court were considered the elite in their field for knowledge, salary and status. This meant that in times of emergency they were called upon to exercise judicial authority outside their prescribed area.
One such instance occurred on 29 September 1900 when the warrant for the arrest of Jimmy and Joe Governor, was issued at the Justice and Police Museum for the murder of Helen Josephine Kerz at Breelong. The part-aboriginal Governor brothers, who were also responsible for the brutal murders of eight other men, women and children, were the last declared outlaws in NSW history.
Jimmy Governor was born in 1875 on the Talbragar River, NSW and was baptised into the Church of England. He could read and write and received some formal education which was unusual for indigenous people at the time. He became a horsebreaker and also worked as wood splitter, fencer and station hand. For a short time he served with the New South Wales Police as a Blacktracker at Cassilis.
Jimmy married Ethel Mary Jane Page, a 16 year old white woman, in 1898, and the couple found work at Breelong, a farm owned by John Mawbey. Relationships between the Mawbeys and Jimmy and his young wife living grew strained allegedly due to racial insults. Allegedly there was a confrontation with Mrs Mawbey and the governess Helen Kerz who abused Ethel for marrying an Aborigine, and then taunted Jimmy for marrying a white girl. The account of these arguments has been used as an explanation for the massacre which followed.
Under tribal law, Jimmy Governor was required to provide for his brother Joe Governor, Jacky Underwood, Jacky Porter and Jimmy’s nephew Peter Governor who had set up their camp nearby. The demand for extra rations was probably a contributing factor in the breakdown of the relationship with the Mawbeys.
On the night of 20 July 1900, Jimmy Governor and Jacky Underwood armed with nulla-nullas and tomahawks, killed Mrs Grace Mawbey, Helen Kerz, and the Mawbey children; Grace (16), Percival (14) and Hilda Mawbey (11).
Underwood was soon captured, but Jimmy and Joe Governor, calling themselves bushrangers, terrorised central-north NSW for over three months. During this rampage they killed Alexander McKay, Elizabeth O'Brien and her baby son, and Keiran Fitzpatrick. They were pursued by black trackers, police and civilians. On the 8th October 1900, a reward of £1000 for each of their captures was offered.
Joe Governor was shot dead by a grazier near Singleton on 31 October 1900 while his brother Jimmy was captured, convicted and then hanged for murder at Darlinghurst Gaol.
The Governor’s story, in the context of Aboriginal dispossession and racism, are the subject of Thomas Keneally's 1972 novel The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith.
Several artefacts provenanced to this event are on display at the Justice and Police Museum.