Sunday, 10 May 2015

Elizabeth Mitchell and James (George) Edwards - Australia and Tragedy

Elizabeth Mitchell was christened in St Philips Church, Birmingham on the 15 October 1812, along with her brother Thomas, to parents Robert and Elizabeth Mitchell.

Little is known of her early life.

Elizabeth's mother, also Elizabeth, died on the 20 December 1840. Aris Gazette remembered her. 

Mitchell, Mrs Robert died at daughter's, Upper Hockley St, 60 years, 20 December 1840. 

Elizabeth (shown as Eliza) is present on the evening of the 1841 census at Upper Hockley Street, All Saints District. The head of the household is Ann Jacques (her sister). Also, living in the house is Eliza Mitchell aged two years. 

The two girls, by now ladies, must have cared for their mother at her death as well as looking after the mysterious two year old.

Until her birth certificate can be found, we can, at the moment, only speculate as to who the parents of little Eliza Mitchell were, as the 1841 census does not detail relationships.

There is one theory that Ann and Eliza(beth) took on their brother's child following the death of his young bride, Elizabeth Buckler, on 26 January 1839. She died just over a week after giving birth to Elizabeth on 17 January 1839. Edward must have been having a terrible time. Recently married, just lost his father, and now his wife and he was left with a tiny baby he was unable to care for. Possible reasons as to why his sisters, Ann and Elizabeth, may have taken the baby into their home. In addition, Elizabeth was a school mistress. A Miss Mitchell, Seminary of 22 Regent Place is listed in the 1839 Wrightson's and Robson's Directory. This entry being for Elizabeth Mitchell (jnr)? However, details which will be revealed later presents a different theory.

With her brother's small child possibly in tow, aged just over four year old, Elizabeth married James Edwards, Ironmonger, on 12 April 1843 at St Georges, Birmingham. (He had been born c1808 in England to Thomas Edwards and Elizabeth Haynes). Only four days before, on 8 April 1843, James had applied for a marriage licence.  Thomas James and Emma Mitchell were the witnesses at their marriage.

Less than two months later they were back in church, this time Harborne Parish Church, for the wedding of Elizabeth's sister, Julia who married Thomas James. James Edward was one of the witnesses along with Emma Mitchell again. (Emma Mitchell is possibly Elizabeth and Julia's sister.)

Elizabeth and James had good news on 21 November 1845 when they were delivered of a little girl, Ellen Emily Edwards.  She was born at 118 Great Charles Street.  Elizabeth must have had a good labour as she registered the birth on 6 December 1845. James is still shown as an Ironmonger.

By May 1846 business is not going well. A notice in the London Gazette on the 6th of the month informs it's readers:

Edmund Robert Daniell, Esq. One of Her Majesty's Commissioners authorised to act in the prosecution of Fiats in Bankruptcy in the Birmingham District. Court of Bankruptcy, has appointed a public sitting for the allowance of Certificate to James Edwards, of Birmingham, in the county of Warwick, Iron Founder, against whom a Fiat in Bankruptcy, bearing the date the 18th day of May 1846, has been duly issued, to be holden at the District Court of Bankruptcy, at Birmingham, on the 29th day of August instant, at twelve of the clock at noon precisely, at which sitting any of the creditors of the said bankrupt may be heard against the allowances of such Certificate.

Another two notices follow in the 25 August 1846 edition. The first one advising of the date to Audit the Accounts of the Assignees of the estate being 6th day of October next. And the other one with a date of 8th day of October next for the making of the Dividend of the estate. James is also now listed as 'Iron Founder, Dealer and Chapman'.

The next notice appears on 4 September 1946 and states:

Whereas the Commissioners acting in the prosecution of a Fiat in Bankruptcy awarded and issued forth against James Edwards of Digbeth, Birmingham, in the county of Warwick, Ironfounder, Dealer and Chapman, hath certified to the Court of Review in Bankruptcy, that the said James Edwards hath in all things conformed himself according to the directions of the Acts of Parliament made and in force concerning bankrupts; this is to give notice, that, by virtue of an Act, passed in the fifth and sixth years of the reign of Her present Majesty Queen Victoria, instituted “An Act for the amendment of the laws in bankruptcy,” the Certificate of the said James Edwards will be allowed and confirmed by the said Court of Review in Bankruptcy,unless cause be shewn to the contrary, on or before the 25th day of September 1846.

It all seems almost settled when the next notice dated 13 November 1846 appears informing his creditors that those who have proved their debts may receive a First Dividend of 10 ½ d in the pound.

Hopefully things would have settled down for them by the time Julia Ann Edwards was born on 4 October 1847. They were now living in 46 Paradise Street. Elizabeth registered the birth on 12 November 1847.

Their next child, James Henry Edwards was, for years, thought to be born in Birmingham in 1850 but according to other interested researches it would now appear that he was born in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia in 1851 ( but I can't seem to find the record online).

It has not been ascertained as to why, how or when the Edwards family moved to the other side of the world. This may help establish which side of the world James Henry was born.

They disappear from the records for about 20 years until James Henry Edwards marries Jane Selina Smith on the 25 October 1876 in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. (Ref No:1016/1876) Jane had been born the 1 November 1855 in Dapto, New South Wales, Australia to parents, William and Harriet Smith (nee Moon).

Their first child, George Alfred Edwards, was born the following year on 1 August 1877 in St George, Sydney. (Ref No:6314/1877) Their second child, this time a little girl, Clara Elizabeth Edwards, was born in Georges River, New South Wales, Australia on the 4 August 1879. (Ref No:7476/1879)

That same year his sister Ellen Emily Edwards, married Joseph Frederick Palmer, on the 24 December 1879 in Sydney. (Ref No:1398/1879)

Their other sister, Julia Ann Edwards (possibly named Julia after Elizabeth's sister) married Alexander Robb on the 14 March 1882. (Ref No:509/1882)

Tragedy was to strike the Palmer newly weds when Ellen gave birth to a stillborn son. A family notice was given in The Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday, 28 December 1882, which stated: 

PALMER-Dec. 9, Sydney, Mrs. J. F. Palmer, son, stillborn. 

Julia and Alexander's family was beginning when they had Orra Mitchell Robb in Sydney in 1883. (Ref No: 1410/1883). And James and Jane were on their third, with the birth of Ellen E Edwards in Petersham. (Ref No:5518/1883)

Emily and Joseph then had a successful pregnancy when they had Claude Mitchell Palmer in Sydney in 1884. (Ref No:2950/1884)

Julia and Alexander were up next with the birth of Garnet Alexander Robb in 1885 again in Sydney. (Ref No:1279/1885). Little did Julia and Alexander know the tragic events that would come to play between the descendants of the two sisters, Julia and Emily, as they celebrated the birth of their second son.

James and Jane, also had another baby in 1885, a little girl this time, Mary E Edwards in Liverpool, NSW. (Ref No:18428/1885)

Their mother, Elizabeth Edwards (nee Mitchell) sadly died 3 September 1886 at 450 Elizabeth Street South, Sydney, NSW. At least she had had the chance to see a few of her grandchildren into the world. She was 76 years old. Cause of death was given as Ascites – 9 months. Australian Death Certificates give more information. The informant (in this case her husband) had to state father (Robert Mitchell), occupation (Jeweller), Mother Maiden Name (Elizabeth -). She was buried 4 September 1886 at Rookwood Church of England cemetery. Her religion is given as Church of England with her place of marriage shown as Birmingham England at age 32. Her spouse is shown as George Edwards (despite the fact that she married James Edwards). Her children are shown as Ellen E, 40, Julia Ann, 38, James H, 36, 3 females deceased. Other comments included: Born Birmingham England, 1 year Victoria, 36 years NSW. (However, this now places into question where James H was born. Since he is 36 years old at the time of her death and she had lived in NSW for 36 year plus one year in Victoria). (Ref No:1491/1886). 

The family placed the following notice in the Sydney Morning Herald for Saturday, 4 September 1886.

EDWARDS. -September 3, 1886, At her late residence, 452. Elizabeth-street, Sydney, Elizabeth Edwards.aged 70 years; beloved mother of Ellen E. Palmer, Julia A. Robb, Sydney, and James Edwards, Kogarah; after a long and patient illness. " With her Saviour gone to dwell." 

It must have been a difficult time for James and Jane. It is not yet known whether their little boy was born before or after Elizabeth died. But Arthur E Edwards was born in 1886 in St Peters, Sydney. (Ref No: 7281/1886). And it would appear that Arthur died the same year. (Ref No: 3642/1886)

All three of James and Elizabeth's children had something to celebrate in 1887 when Emily and Joseph had Oriel Ellis Palmer (Ref No:749/1887); Julia and Alexander had Francis James Lionel Robb (Ref No:3695/1887) both in Sydney; and James and Jane had, Isabella R Edwards in Kogarah. (Ref No:7481/1887) But tragedy struck again when Isabella died the same year. (Ref No:3106/1887)

James and Jane then had another three children: Alice M Edwards on 23 March 1889 in Hurstville, Sydney (Ref No:6952/1889); Ernest A Edwards in 1891 in Kogarah (Ref No:18194/1891); and Laura J Edwards, who was born 23 January 1893 again in Kogarah. (Ref No:18803/1893)

James Edwards (snr) who had moved his family half way around the world, and lived to see the birth of 14 grandchildren, died the 18 September 1893 in Rockdale, New South Wales, Australia. (Ref No:13060/1893). The Australian Death Certificate extract states 18 September 1893, Harrow Road, Rockdale NSW. Name: James Edwards, lately known as George, Ironmonger, Male aged 71. Cause of death: Fatty degeneration of heart and angina, 3 weeks. His father is shown as Thomas Edwards, Gentleman. Mother, Elizabeth Haynes. The informant was Joseph F Palmer, Son in law, Cleveland House, Buckingham St, Sydney. He was buried on 20 September 1893 at Rookwood Church of England cemetery. His religion is given as Church of England. Place married – 1). Birmingham aged 21 and 2). Sydney aged 68. Spouse – 1). Elizabeth Mitchell. 2). Louisa Hewitt. Children from the first marriage. Ellen Emily, 45, Julia Ann, 43, James Henry, 41, 2 females deceased. (Here you can see a discrepancy as Elizabeth's death certificate showed three females deceased but this could be down to the informant or may provide an explanation as to who was the mother of Eliza Mitchell). Second marriage – no issue. Other comments state: Born in Birmingham, 39 years in Victoria and NSW. (You may also note that James Henry is now shown as 41 with father living for 39 years in Victoria/NSW. So this may mean that James Henry was born outside of Australia).

It is also interesting to note that Elizabeth was apparently 32 when she married and James was 21 years old when he married.

Updated (28/04/2018) - see grave marker at Find A Grave

James and Jane were to have two more children, both their namesakes. James H Edwards in 1894 (Ref No:17775/1894) and Jane S Edwards on 30 November 1896 (Ref No:31543/1896); both in Kogarah.

The turn of a new century brought new sadness to Alexander and Julia when they lost their eldest son. (Ref No: 4862/1900). The Sydney Morning Herald of Thursday, 12 April 1900 provides the notification:


ROBB – April 10 at Mittagong, Orra Mitchell Robb, aged 17 years, eldest and dearly beloved son of Alexander and Julia A. E. Robb, of Sydney.

Update (28/04/2018) - see grave marker at Find A Grave 

Clara Elizabeth Edwards married Alexander Mathie, the 2 April 1902 in Kogarah, New South Wales, Australia. (Ref No:4915/1902). Alexander had been born the 25 December 1875 in Tomerong, New South Wales, Australia. (Ref No:20055/1876) They went on to have two children. Ann Clare Mathie born 1903 in Mosman, Sydney (Ref No:5673/1903) and Raymond Alexander Mathie born 1906. (Ref No:36654/1906)

Ellen Emily Edwards (James and Jane's daughter) married William Andrew Derwent in 1908 in Kogarah. (Ref No:1804/1908) It looks like tradegy was to strike yet again for James and Jane when Mary (their 4th child) died in 1908 in Burwood, NSW (Ref No: 8937/1908)

Claude M Palmer married Edith P Dickerson on 28 June 1909 at St Paul's, Redfern which was noted in the family notices in the Sydney Morning Herald of 28 August 1909.

Edith Dickerson, along with her sister, Vera had been musical sensations as this newspaper report from March of the year she married testifies.



The Misses Edith and Vera Dickerson, who enjoyed a testimonal concert at the Town Hall about six months ago, gave an entertainment at the Y.M.C.A. Hall last night, when, though the attendance was only moderate, their friends supported them with cordial recognition of their large and veried share in the evening's programme. Both students are undeniably clever, though at the same time it may be remarked that even should they not realise their ambition of visiting Europe there are many teachers here from whom they can learn a vast deal. Miss Vera Dickerson, a juvenile pianist, just entering on her teens, has appeared so often in public that it will be sufficient to say that she showed musical feeling and a fairly well advanced technique in Liszt's “Rhapsodie Hongroise, No. 2” and the Beethoven “Sonata No.2, op. 27.” She also recited with acceptance “The Lesson of the Water Mill,” to a piano accompaniment (“The Mill Wheel”), tactfully rendered by her sister. The encore was “Christmas Bells.” Miss Edith Dickerson, whose fine contralto voice will amply repay further cultivation, sang “Like as the Hart” (Allitsen) and Tosti's “Serenta,” and as encore added a sympathetic rendering of “My Ain Folk.” Very welcome assistance was given by Messrs. Cyril Monk, Edgar Fulton, and Alex. Munroe, whilst the task of accompaniment was shared between the sisters.

(source - The Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 5 March 1909)

Little did Edith know it would not be the last time she featured in a newspaper but that tragedy was still a few years off.

Updated (28/04/2018) - from a reference on Find A Grave we now know that Claude and Edith had a daughter, Edith Nell Palmer on 13 April 1910.  Tragedy was to strike when the little girl died aged just 3 on 8 September 1914.  She is buried at Woronora Memorial Park, Sutherland, Sutherland Shire, New South Wales, Australia.

Julia Ann Robb (nee Edwards) died in Lismore, New South Wales the 7 August 1915 (Ref No: 12525/1915) followed shortly by her brother, James Henry Edwards who died in Kogarah, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia a few months later on the 29 February 1916. (Ref No:3222/1916)

Their sister, Ellen Emily Palmer (nee Edwards) was to die in Sydney, New South Wales on the 2 June 1922. (Ref No: 5423/1922). In 1925 the family remembered her in the Tuesday, 2 June 1925 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald as thus:

PALMER. - in loving memory of my dear wife and our mother, who passed away June 2, 1922. Inserted by her loving husband, Joseph Palmer, and children, Mr. And Mrs C Palmer, Oriel Palmer, and granddaughter, Yvonne.

Updated (28/04/2018) see grave marker at Find A Grave.

It is blessing that neither Ellen nor Julia were still about to see the tragic events that were to unfold between their families.

In 1923 James Francis Lionel Robb (son of Alexander and Julia) died in Queensland (Ref B040366 pg 1391) but further tragedy was still to come.

Thursday, 1 November 1928 started as normal for Joseph Palmer (widower of Ellen Emily Edwards) who had his sons, Claude and Oriel, living with him along with Claude's wife Edith and his neice, Jessie, who would nurse him in his old age probably with the support of his housekeeper, Elizabeth Ashley. Young Yvonne, his granddaugher had left the house after breakfast to attend a local business college. Their house was a full one and included their cousin and visitor, Garnet Robb (son of Julia Ann Edwards), who had come to spend the holidays. By the end of the day nothing would be normal or the same again.

The front page of The Canberra Times for Friday, 2 November 1928 screams, 





Sydney, Thursday

One of the most shocking tragedies which have occurred in Sydney for many years was enacted in an old house at Rockdale to-day.

Three women, and a man; are dead, and another man is in hospital in a critical condition. The victims are:

Garnett Robb, 40, returned soldier. , 
Miss Jessie, Palmer. 
Mrs Elizabeth Ashley, housekeeper. 
Mrs. Edith Palmer.
Joseph Palmer, father-in-law of Mrs. Palmer, is in hospital in a critical condition.

The scene of the tragedy was an old two-storied house "St. Elmo," In Harrow Road, Rockdale, The tragedy was discovered by Mrs. Bagnall, wife of Mr. Bagnall, M.L.A., who called at the house for one of the women of the family, who was to have accompanied her on an outing. She found Mr. Palmer, who was about 82 years, of age lying on the ground near the kitchen door with a bullet wound in his head, murmuring, "I have been murdered."

Horror-stricken. Mrs Bagnall went into the kitchen, and saw Mrs. Palmer lying-on the sofa in a dying condition.

The police were informed," and , a search of the house revealed Alexander Robb, nephew of Palmer, lying on a bed in an upstairs room with a bullet wound in his chest. In another part of the house was Mrs. Ashley, housekeeper for the family, and she was dead. 

A reconstruction of the ghastly affair shows that Robb, who was described as a religious maniac, attacked other members of the family with a rifle. He recently came to Sydney from Linden to spend the holidays. It is believed that the family had not been seated long, when Robb entered the room with a .32 rifle. He fired a shot at one of the women, whereupon the old man, who was lying on the couch on the verandah, closed with him and sought to wrest the rifle from his grasp. He was shot, how- ever, and staggered back to the verandah, where he collapsed. Robb then continued shooting. Afterwards he ran upstairs, and barricading himself in a room by means of furniture, shot himself. 

There were powder stains round the wound in his chest, which indicated that he had placed the gun against his body and pulled the trigger by means of his toe, as one of his boots had been pulled off. In the room were two rifles, a hundred rounds of ammunition, and a long, sharp knife.

Robb had lately expressed the intention of going to capture some monkeys and bring them back for the children in the street to play with.

The sole survivor of the tragedy, Joseph Palmer, who is an old railway employee, and is blind, was being nursed by his niece. Jessie Palmer, who was one of the victims.

Elizabeth Ashley, another victim, has been housekeeper, for the Palmers for many years. 

Mrs Edith Palmer was formerly a Miss Dickenson, a member of the Cheer Oh Girls' Musical Society. She was one of the most popular woman in Rockdale and was always associated with some charitable work. 

Miss Palmer was admitted to hospital with two bullet wounds in the abdomen while Mrs. Edith Palmer died about half an hour after admission. She had two bullet wounds in the chest. Mrs Ashley Miss Palmer and Robb were dead on admittance to hospital.

The scene in the kitchen where the shooting took place was too awful for description. Blood was spattered everywhere. Two spent bullets were found in the room.

Thomas Stanway, who conducts a tobacconist's shop nearby, said Robb came into his shop a couple of days ago, and he was struck by his strange manner. Robb was playing with razors and he said, "I'm going to slaughter two or three of them."

Mrs. Bagnall said when she saw Palmer lying outside he said, "Don't mind me see about the others. There's been a murder in there." When she entered the kitchen and saw the bodies, she heard a voice say "Don't wait, go for help quickly." It was stated that the family had been trying to get rid of Robb for some time and a neighbour who remarked on his fanatical disposition is said to have advised them to ask him to return home. It seems remarkable that nobody heard the shots and it was left to Mrs. Bagnall, who arrived some time, after the tragedy, to make the awful discovery. Even the next door neighbour knew nothing of it until told.


The Sydney Morning Herald for Friday, 2 November 1928 was more accurate and detailed in it's reporting of the tragedy.


At Rockdale.



Demented Man's Act.

Creeping upon them as they were seated at their kitchen table having lunch yesterday. Garnett Alexander Robb, of Nimbin, shot three persons dead and seriously wounded another. Three of them were his relatives.

Robb afterwards barricaded himself In an upstairs room and committed suicide.

The tragedy, which occurred at a large old fashioned two-story house In Harrow-road. Rockdale. was not discovered until about two hours later, nobody, apparently, having been alarmed by the reports of the shots.

Robb is said to be a religious maniac, passionately Interested in the Christian Science theology. The crime caused a sensation In the district, where the murdered persons were well known and highly respected.

Those concerned in the affair were:


Nurse Jessie Ada Palmer, 49, single, of St. Elmo, Harrow-road, Rockdale, bullet wound in neck.

Mrs. Edith Phoebe Palmer, 39, same address, two bullet wounds in chest.

Mrs. Edith Astley, 60, a widow, same address, bullet wound in brain. 

Garnett Alexander Robb, 42, dairy farmer, of Nimbin, bullet wound in chest.


Joseph Palmer, 83, old-age pensioner, and former railway employee, of St. Elmo, Harrow road, Rockdale, two bullet wounds in abdomen and wound to wrist.

Although nearly blind and almost a helpless invalid, old Joseph Palmer, maintained a happy and comfortable household at St. Elmo, fine old home-one of the finest houses in Harrow road-surrounded by lawns and trees and gardens With him in his pleasant old age were his two sons, Claude and Oriel, who occupy responsible positions in the Railway Department. Also in the home were Claude's wife, Edith Palmer: his nieces, Nurse Palmer and Yvonne Palmer, Aged 16 years, and Mrs. Astley, a general servant.

The only survivors of the family are now the two sons, Yvonne Palmer, and the old man himself. He is not likely to recover from his wounds.


The tragedy was discovered by Mrs. Ruby Bagnall, of Bexley, wife of Mr. Bagnall, the former member of the Legislative Assembly. About 2 o'clock she drove her motor car to the house to take Mrs. Edith Palmer for a drive. She and Edith were great friends and zealous colleagues in the "Cheer-0 Girls" musical company. Mrs. Palmer was the pianist of the popular troupe of entertainers.

Mrs. Bagnall received no response to a knock on the front door and walked around the lawn fringed path to the back of the big house.

Old Mr. Palmer was lolling on a couch. He appeared to be dozing. His head was nodding drowsily. 

"Hello, dad." she called affectionately "Where's everybody?"

Coming closer she caught hold of the wrinkled hand drooping over the side of the couch and lifted it. She dropped it in alarm it was covered with blood.

Then the old man spoke softly "Don't touch me, don't mind me." he said, "there are a couple murdered in there." He made a faint motion towards the kitchen door.

She was terrified. "Anybody in there-anybody home." she called tremulously and an answer came in a voice which she recognised as that of her best friend.

"Don't come in: don't stop... Go for help," called Mrs Edith Palmer in a weak voice. 

Mrs Bagnall felt weak, helpless. Then she hurried into the kitchen and almost fainted at the dreadful scene that the room presented


The visitor stood framed in the doorway peering in for the room appeared dim after the sunlight outside. There was the kitchen table spread for the midday meal. Plates with food on them, some untouched and an overturned chair.

Around the table were lying the bleeding bodies of Edith and Jessie Palmer and Edith Astley, the housekeeper. They were motionless. The visitor gave a cry of fear, and anguish and Edith Palmer dying, but not yet dead cried again for help. 

She recognised her friend trembling in the porch, "Don't wait, Ruby," she said. "Go for help."

Mrs Bagnall turned and ran blindly into the street wondering what best to do. She hailed a passing bus excitedly and then clambering into her own car drove to the police station summoning the police and the ambulance.

Constables Collis and A J Wilson raced back to the house did what they could for the wounded and awaited the Ambulances.

The first ambulance van to arrive accommodated the two persons who were still living Joseph Palmer moaned incoherently, but Mrs Edith Palmer still cried feebly for help. "He shot me; oh my back," she whimpered. 

They were rushed to the St George Hospital where the old father is now dying. The daughter in law died shortly before her husband, hurriedly summoned from his work, arrived at the institution. He wept distractedly on the steps of the hospital. 


Sergeant Hale and other police from Kogarah and Rockdale and Detectives Galdart and Sherringham from headquarters found it a simple matter to reconstruct the crime.

It appeared that Robb, the mad farmer, had crept to the kitchen door leveling his big repeating rifle around an angle where he could not easily be seen. Firing seven shots in succession, he shot one after another of the diners seated at the table. One of the women-perhaps the last to die-apparently sprang to her feet with her knife and fork still in her hands and then received the final charge. This was clear from the position of the body. 

Robb then left the kitchen and walked up stairs to the room which his relatives had provided for him and unlacing his right shoe, he removed it. He then bent over the rifle with the barrel pressed against his chest and with his big toe pulled the trigger. He fell back on the bed killed instantly by the charge which entered his chest. 

In this room, the police discovered were two rifles, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a highly-sharpened big "bowie" knife and a quantity of religious literature. 

In the meantime Joseph Palmer, though shot twice in the abdomen and once in the wrist, had crawled to the verandah apparently seeking help for the three women. He reached the side of the couch, the bloodstains seemed to indicate, slowly pulled himself up and then collapsed.

There was a pathetic scene later in the afternoon when Yvonne Palmer, the 16 year old girl, came blithely home from a business college. She was curious, not alarmed, to notice the groups of people standing in front of her home, and she would have walked inside if someone had not noticed her and called her away. "There has been a lot of trouble don't go in." they said to the schoolgirl, the sole surviving female resident of the home. 

The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria) on Saturday, 3 November 1928 gave details of the Funeral of Other Victims Today.

The Sydney Morning Herald on Monday, 5 November 1928 announced the death, on Saturday, of Joseph Frederick Palmer at the age of 83. Following it was a report on the Burial of the Other Victims.

The funeral took place on Saturday of three of the victims of the Rockdale shooting. Mrs. Edith Palmer, Miss Jessie Ada Palmer, and Mrs. Elizabeth Astley.

At a short service, conducted at the house by the Rev. George Edmondson, of Earlwood, a large number of relatives and friends attended. Outside the house were hundreds of local residents.

The cort├Ęge proceeded to the Rockdale Station, thence to the Church of England Cemetery. Woronora, where the Rev. G, Edmondson again officiated. Mr. W. R. Ragnall, for many years an intimate friend of the stricken family, paid an eloquent tribute to the dead.

More than 200 wreaths were sent from all parts of the State.

The Argus was more detailed, stating that Joseph had, 'died in the St George District Hospital at half past 5 o'clock on Saturday afternoon.'

By the 14 November 1928 the Coroner had recorded his verdict at the Inquest as was reported in The Canberra Times and in The Sydney Morning Herald (transcribed below).


Coroner Criticises Witness


At the conclusion of his Inquest yesterday concerning the death of Jessie Ada Palmer, Edith Phoebe Palmer, Elizabeth Blanche Hose Astley, and Joseph Frederick Palmer, who were murdered at Rockdale on November 1 by Garnet Alexander Robb, who afterwards committed suicide, the Coroner (Mr. E. A. May) severely criticised the failure of a witness to warn the victims after he had heard Robb threaten to cut the throats of unnamed persons. Mrs. Ruby Violet Bagnall described how she found the bodies of the victims. Robb she said appeared quite an inoffensive man. He had never said anything to her that would indicate an intention to attempt violence.

Thomas Baylev Stanway, a tobacconist. In business at 43 Harrow-road, Rockdale, said he had known Robb practically all his life.

"I noticed his manner peculiar on these occasions," said Stanway 'but I was never led to believe he was dangerous. His conversation was erratic. Two or three days before the tragedy he picked up some razors and said something about 'this razor not cutting a man's throat.' I replied, 'What rot! That would cut every man's throat in Bexley.' " Robb then said: "There's not much chance of that, Tom: there are others to go before me." Witness replied. "If that is the case go out on the footpath and slash your throat from one ear to the other." Robb said "If they don't go with the razors there are a couple of rifles that will come into operation." 

Robb expressed a wish to chop people with the razors and a big sheath knife, and said he would like to cause a sensation. When asked in what way, he replied "By getting out back west among a herd of [offensive word removed] and slashing them to pieces with a knife, or, if that failed, with the butt end of a rifle "

"On the day of the tragedy," continued Stanway, "Robb came into the shop. He looked worried and nervous and white, and was lost for words "

In reply to the Coroner Stanway said he had not told the police what had taken place, as he did not think it warranted telling.

Mr. Claude Palmer said he could give no reason why his wife should have been shot down by Robb, as he was very fond of her. His cousin, Jessie Ada Palmer, had said to him about a week before the tragedy, "We will have to get rid of Garnet." They were not bad friends, and used to speak to each other. Robb was a cousin on his mother's side. He was 42 years old, and was a farmer at Nimbin. He bad been staying at witness' home for two months. Witness had always regarded him as eccentric, but not dangerous. 

Dr. Edward Egan told the Coroner he knew Robb at Nimbin, on the North Coast, some time ago, and had treated him there for delusions in 1927. Witness considered him a dangerous kind of person at times, not responsible for his actions. He received a visit from Robb in March. Robb's condition was then much the same, except for the fact that the people supposed to be persecuting him were different. Witness sent Robb to a nerve specialist, but Robb had not told the latter anything. He told witness the specialist was to the conspiracy against him.

At the conclusion of the evidence Mr. May said:-"Stanway had known Robb since he was a boy, and only two or three days before the tragedy Robb had made extraordinary statements in his hearing about slashing people's throats and shooting them down. Apparently Stanway did not think it his duty to Inform the police or any of the Palmers. If he had done so they would have been on their guard.

"Furthermore," continued Mr. May, "according to Stanway's evidence he told Robb to cut his throat from ear to ear. That was an amazing thing to say to a man whom he knew to be eccentric."

It was the duty of every citizen, said the Coroner, as soon as he had any reason to believe someone not quite normal mentally and after hearing statements of homicidal intent to report the matter to the police.

Stanway knew that the men of the Palmer family went to work every day, leaving old Mr. Palmer, who was quite helpless, with the women folk, yet he had not spoken of the matter to the police.

"I sincerely hope," he said, "that no other case will come before me in which a man makes such a grave error in neglecting to put on their guard the people with whom a madman is living."

Updated (28/04/2018) see grave marker for Joseph Frederick Palmer at Find A Grave and for Edith Pheobe (Dickerson) Palmer also at Find A Grave.

Garnet Alexander Robb died at his own hand on 1 November 1928 (Ref No:18470/1928) and was buried on 3 November 1928 at Rookwood Cemetery. 

On Tuesday, 11 June 1929 The Sydney Morning Herald presented a notice in the matter of the Estate of Garnet Alexander Robb late of Nimbin.

On the yearly anniversary of 1 November, Claude, Oriel and Yvonne entered a remembrance in The Sydney Morning Herald to Joseph, Edith, Jessie and Mrs Astley.

Tragedy was to strike the family yet again in 1930. The Sydney Morning Herald of Tuesday, 11 February announces the death on February, 10 of Raymond Alexander Mathie – dearly beloved son of Alexander and Clara Mathie and brother of Annie Clare (Mrs L Walsh) aged 23 years. (Ref No:5221/1930)

Updated (28/04/2018) - see memorial at Find A Grave.

Oriel Ellis Palmer died at Redfern, NSW in 1937 (Ref No: 21057/1937)

James Henry Edwards' wife, Jane Selina Edwards (nee Smith), died the 23 December 1943 in Kogarah, New South Wales, Australia. (Ref No:30708/1943) The following year saw the loss of their Ellen Emily Derwent at Hurstville, NSW (Ref No: 24766/1944)

Their other daughter, Clara Elizabeth Mathie (nee Edwards) only lived for another 20 years after the death of her mother and died in Nowra, New South Wales on the 20 March 1963. (Ref No: 1609/1963) Her husband Alexander Mathie followed her shortly on 10 January 1969 in Nowra, New South Wales, Australia. (Ref No:12309/1969)

Update (28/04/2018) - see grave marker for Claude Mitchell Palmer at Find A Grave 

This is not the polish account that I had hoped to produce but I think it is better to get it out there rather than it wait another 20 odd years for me to perfect it (something which can never be achieved).  As always it is a work in progress.  Reference have been provided and it should be noted that I have not obtained copies of the certificates so the above will need to be proved or disproved by any interested parties.  I feel that the newspaper articles, particularly the family notices, go some way to proving relationships.

Special thanks go to :
Marion Bradshaw who in 2001 provided me, via snail mail, with copies of certificates, transcripts of death and told me the story of the tragedy.
Family Search pages of the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages 

Going forward I need to tidy this work up add some meat to the bones, reference it properly and make sure I have included everything I have found when searching on my phone in odd hours. I did find alot of additional information about Garnet and I hope to do a post in the future to bring that together.  What drove a man to kill everyone in the house, even someone it was said who he was 'very fond of'?


  1. WOW! I could not stop reading. Events like this are always sad when we first learn about them, but they're also very intriguing. How are you related to the family, if you don't mind me asking?

    This could be the birth of James Henry Edwards, in the New South Wales Births Deaths Marriages index.
    The reference number you mention is 1247/35.
    This one is 1247/1850 V18501247 35
    Name: James Edwards
    Fathers Given Name: Henry
    Mothers Given Name: Mary A.

    I hope that helps :)

  2. Thank you so much for your comments and for looking at the reference. That was the only one I could find but the parents need to be Elizabeth and James so I am not sure why some researchers made the suggestion. I had hoped I just wasn't looking properly not being so familiar with the Australian BMDs.

    Elizabeth is my 5th great aunt :-)

    1. Do you know if anyone has ordered that birth certificate anyway to double check? There's no relevant birth for James Henry Edwards in Victoria.

  3. Hi Caitlin

    I need to check my settings because I am not getting notified when comments are left :-(

    I haven't requested the birth certificate. I personally didn't see the connection or understand why others would have made a connection with that record. I need to go back and try and find out where I picked that up from. I also need to learn to keep better records so I can answer questions like these straight away! Otherwise I am just causing myself more work.

    Thanks again for your comments :-)

  4. wow, this was an amazing find and a great piece of work, cannot thank you enough. I was married to an Edwards and have a daughter Emily Elizabeth Edwards ! named by accident but it seems maybe fate was at work, also my 2nd husband is a Moon so also related via Jane Selena Smith whose mother was Harriett Moon !

  5. Hi Maree

    Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. Wow!!! Such as weird coincidence.

    Here are the details I have for the Moon and Smith family in case it helps. :-)

    Thomas Moon and Harriet Watson (married 07 Sep 1823 in Rolvenden, Kent, England) had the following children:

    1. Stephen Moon was born in 1826 in Sutton Valence, Kent, England.
    2. William Moon was born in 1828 in Sutton Valence, Kent, England.
    3. Harriet Moon was born on 24 May 1833 in Rolvenden, Kent, England.
    4. Henry Moon was born in 1838 in Sutton Valence, Kent, England.
    5. Albert L Moon was born in 1844 in Sutton Valence, Kent, England.
    6. Eliza Moon was born in 1846 in Sutton Valence, Kent, England.
    7. Ellen Moon was born in 1848 in Sutton Valence, Kent, England.

    Harriet Moon

    Harriet Moon was born on 24 May 1833 in Rolvenden, Kent, England. She died on 29 Nov 1890 in Kogarah, New South Wales, Australia.

    William Smith and Harriet Moon (married 16 Aug 1853 in Dapto, New South Wales, Australia) had the following children:

    1. Jane Selina Smith was born on 01 Nov 1855 in Dapto, New South Wales, Australia.

    Jane Selina Smith

    Jane Selina Smith was born on 01 Nov 1855 in Dapto, New South Wales, Australia. She died on 23 Dec 1943 in Kogarah, New South Wales, Australia.

    James Henry Edwards and Jane Selina Smith (married on 25 Oct 1876 in St Davids Surrey Hills Sydney NSW) had the following children:

    1. George Alfred Edwards was born on 01 Aug 1877 in St George, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. He died on 26 Jul 1939 in Kogarah, New South Wales, Australia. He married Martha H Derwent on 30 Dec 1904 in Hurstville, New South Wales, Australia.
    2. Clara Elizabeth Edwards was born on 04 Aug 1879 in St George, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. She died on 20 Mar 1963 in Nowra, New South Wales, Australia. She married Alexander Mathie on 02 Apr 1902 in Kogarah, New South Wales, Australia.
    3. Ellen Emily Edwards was born in 1883 in Petersham, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. She died on 24 Dec 1944 in Kogarah, Hurstville City, New South Wales, Australia. She married Andrew William Derwent in 1908 in Kogarah, New South Wales, Australia.
    4. Mary Elizabeth Edwards was born in 1885 in Liverpool, New South Wales, Australia. She died on 14 Aug 1908 in Burwood, New South Wales, Australia.
    5. Arthur E Edwards was born in 1886 in St Peters, New South Wales, Australia. He died in 1886 in St Peters, New South Wales, Australia.
    6. Isabella R Edwards was born in 1887 in Kogarah, New South Wales, Australia. She died in 1887 in Kogarah, New South Wales, Australia.
    7. Alice M Edwards was born on 23 Mar 1889 in Hurstville, New South Wales, Australia. She died on 11 Aug 1951 in Kogarah, New South Wales, Australia.
    8. Ernest A Edwards was born in 1891 in Kogarah, New South Wales, Australia. He died on 13 Dec 1968 in Kogarah, New South Wales, Australia.
    9. Laura Jannette Edwards was born on 23 Jan 1893 in Kogarah, New South Wales, Australia. She died on 08 Oct 1976 in Kogarah, New South Wales, Australia. She married Frederick Hanks on 12 Jan 1910 in Rockdale, New South Wales, Australia.
    10. James H Edwards was born in 1894 in Kogarah, New South Wales, Australia. He died on 21 Apr 1971 in New South Wales, Australia.
    11. Jane S Edwards was born on 30 Nov 1896 in Kogarah, New South Wales, Australia. She died on 24 Feb 1979. She married Percival W Parker in 1916 in Rockdale, New South Wales, Australia.

    Posting as Anonymous and yes one day I must work out how to post as Joynealogy!

    1. Wow thanks so much for confirming what I had, I have a few more details on a few people. Where we differ in is the Rolvenden ancestors from Thomas Moon and Harriet Watson. My husband has a few different kids to yours although Harriet 2nd and Eliza are there, we have a Samuel Innis b 1824, Maria b 1825, Hannah b 1831, Ann b 1839, Emily b 1842 and Louisa Jane b 1847. I guess some more Rolvenden Kent research is required. Thanks again, great to share and confirm info

  6. I am a decendant of Elizabeth Mitchell and James Edwards, my grandfather was Charles James Edwards.

  7. My grandfather Charles James Edwards was the son of George Alfred Edwards married to Martha Derwent.

  8. Hello Cousin Fred :-)

    Thank you so much for leaving a message.

    I hope the details I have for Elizabeth and James/George are correct. Please let me know if anything needs correcting.

    Are you on Twitter? Can you message me @Joynealogy

    Alternatively, we have a restricted group on Yahoo for direct descendants of Robert and Elizabeth Mitchell (Elizabeth's parents).

    You can 'meet' the other cousins then. Most are in the UK but one is in Australia (NSW).

    Kind regards
    (still having to post as Anonymous! :-( )

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