John Bamford

REVISED 20/04/2019

John Bamford, a maligned & forgotten man.

In December 1917 or January 1918 John Bamford who worked for the Wonnangatta Station was executed by a single pistol shot through the head just outside or in the surrounds of Howitt Hut.

His body was discovered covered in logs just 400 meters North of the hut. Although he was murdered early in the year his body was not discovered until 7th November 1918 when a search was organized after the winter snows had melted. He is buried in the Dargo cemetery basically as a pauper in an unmarked grave.

In current times unsuspecting tourists who have stayed overnight in Howitt Hut have reported experiencing unsettling, disturbed nights and even said they will not stay overnight in the hut again.

John Bamford had lived in a hut at Black Snake Creek near Dargo for at least 20 years before going to work in at the Wonnangatta Station, a decision that was a fateful one.

A second murder at the same time was that of James Barclay the Manager of the Wonnangatta Station. His was the first body to be discovered by Harry Smith and other searchers on the 25th February 1918 buried in the Conglomerate Creek beside the Wonnangatta Homestead.

From what has been written about Bamford it appears no one was complimentary about his looks, disposition and personality. He was reported as an unsavory type, a morose sulky nature, quarrelsome, easily roused, a fiery temper and a spiteful man and that he may have even murdered his wife at Black Snake Creek which is not right.

However with all this against him and that he could not be found in the months after James Barclay’s murdered body was found it is easy to understand how the police suspected John Bamford had killed Barclay, and then took off. And all this aided the real culprits to escape and blend back into the community from where they came.

So John Bamford was branded an unsavory character and a murderer when all the time he also had been a victim of the murderers and his body was lying under the snow on top of Mount Howitt.

Once a man as popular as James Barclay was found murdered and his assistant John Bamford was missing and everyone was thinking Bamford to be the murderer, then perhaps when locals were being interviewed by the police about Bamford their answers were coloured by their then hatred for the man they thought had killed a friend.

It appears much of the mud has stuck to John Bamford still more than 100 years after his own murder.

In Keith Leydon and Michael Ray’s book “The Wonnangatta Mystery” there is an informative chapter on John Bamford titled “COOK AND USEFUL”. The locals around Dargo believed John Bamford and wife had come to Victoria from Queensland. Keith and Michael found records on a John Bamford who came from Yorkshire, England, and have given details of this man in their book. Keith and Michael’s book gives us more detail on this Bamford than any other book and is worth a read.

However my information starts with a much later John Bamford commencing in 1898. It is possible Keith and Michael’s Bamford is the same man.

Police File Discovery

Much of the hearsay that has been published about John Bamford has been misleading, I am not criticizing anyone for this because it was the only information that anyone had to go on, until now. With the help of Professional Historian Helen Doxford Harris’s indexes and files that I was researching I discovered a police file on the death of Charlotte Blair who was Bamford’s de-facto wife living with him at Black Snake Creek at the time of her death.

Charlotte’s death on the 5th November 1898 has been recorded as an epileptic fit. Bamford and a neighbour, John Anderson tried desperately to revive her but could not. Charlotte had a 7 month old daughter to Bamford, named Violet Blair (Blair being Charlotte’s legal last name) and she was again 2 months pregnant when she died. Female neighbours spoke well of Charlotte and reported that Charlotte spoke well of Bamford.

Dargo constable O’Brien reported Charlotte’s death and circumstances to the coroner through the Bairnsdale police. He received notification that under the circumstances the body could be buried without inquiry. Charlotte was buried in the Dargo cemetery.

A local man, Oscar Messenger who appears to have not liked Bamford spread misinformation claiming Bamford had murdered Charlotte, but he was only one man and himself not liked by the locals and he was totally dismissed by the police. Then detective McKerral some 20 years later appears to have fallen in with this local poisonous gossip and wrote in his diaries “it is said that John Bamford murdered his wife at Black Snake Creek”. It’s a pity McKerral didn’t have the following police file on Charlotte’s death.

Constable O’Brien’s report

The following is a direct copy of Constable O’Brien’s report on Charlotte’s death.


CHARLOTTE BLAIR / BAMFORD
VICTORIA POLICE, DARGO STATION, 23 November, 1898.
REPORT OF CONSTABLE OBRIEN.
DEATH OF CHARLOTTE BLAIR.

I have to report that at 5am on the morning of the 5th inst John Anderson a miner residing at Black Snake Creek 12 miles from Dargo, and about 200 yards from the residence of John Bamford reported at this station that Mrs Bamford was dead. Anderson stated that at about 1am that day Bamford came to his hut, and said his wife was very ill, and asked him to go and see Mrs Bamford.

Anderson accompanied Bamford as requested and on arrival at Bamford’s residence there saw Mrs Bamford, who was then quite warm and apparently dead. Anderson thinking the case was one of suspended animation suggested that an endeavour should be made to induce inspiration and respiration by working the arms as in cases of drowning. This was done by Anderson and Bamford, and they also endeavoured to perform circulation by rubbing the arms and chest. These efforts were continued for about 15 minutes, but to no purpose.

Anderson then left to report the matter to me, and I accompanied him to Black Snake Creek where I arrived at 9am the same day: I went into Bamford’s residence and saw the body which was lying on its back, the arms were lying beside the body, there was no blood on the face or body, no bloodstains on the clothing, no signs of a struggle, and the features were composed as if death had been easy and natural.

Bamford was present carrying in his arms a child 7 months old, and in reply to questions I put to him he said that he was awakened about 1 o’clock that morning by the deceased shivering, and the bed shaking. He called her by her name several times, but not getting a reply he raised her head, she did not speak but there was a rattling sound in her throat, and her head fell on one side as if she were dead. He then ran for Anderson and they both tried to restore circulation but failed.

Bamford also stated that deceased’s proper name was Charlotte Blair, that she had been cohabiting with him for the last 18 months, and was separated from her husband, that he was the father of her child, and that he had always lived on good terms with the deceased, who at the time of her death was advanced in pregnancy about 2 months. He also stated that deceased had been complaining of headaches for about a fortnight, but that she had not taken medicine of any sort.

Interviewed Mrs Spaul and Mrs Gray neighbours of the deceased, and with whom she had exchanged confidences. Mrs Blair stated to these persons that Bamford was very kind to her, that she was pregnant and was very happy with Bamford. She also complained of headaches, but as that was not an unusual complaint to a woman in her condition very little notice was taken of it.

The writer of attached letter called on me on the evening of the 5th, and demanded to know why there was not a post mortem, and an inquest, and stated that he had heard that there was foul play. I asked him the name of his informant but he could not give me any. I informed him of all the particulars as set out in this report and attached telegrams and explained that the discolouration on the arms, and chest was not due to violence, but to the rubbing in the endeavour to promote circulation. He then stated that he was satisfied there was no foul play. He had every opportunity to see the body, had he expressed a desire to see it, and he attended the funeral.

I am not aware that any woman offered to wash the body. Certainly there was a good deal of sympathy locally when the death was reported, but when the rumour got out that the deceased was a married woman, living apart from her husband, and that Bamford was a married man living apart from his wife, the sympathy quickly vanished.

The writer of attached letter called on me on the evening of the 5th, and demanded to know why there was not a post mortem, and an inquest, and stated that he had heard that there was foul play. I asked him the name of his informant but he could not give me any. I informed him of all the particulars as set out in this report and attached telegrams and explained that the discolouration on the arms, and chest was not due to violence, but to the rubbing in the endeavour to promote circulation. He then stated that he was satisfied there was no foul play. He had every opportunity to see the body, had he expressed a desire to see it, and he attended the funeral.

I am not aware that any woman offered to wash the body. Certainly there was a good deal of sympathy locally when the death was reported, but when the rumour got out that the deceased was a married woman, living apart from her husband, and that Bamford was a married man living apart from his wife, the sympathy quickly vanished.

Messenger is a meddlesome interfering man. He has lost the confidence of almost every resident of this district, and recently had to restore some fire bars which he removed from the boiler at the exhibition gallery where he resides. His letter is untruthful and inconsistent with his actions and statements; and was evidently written after he had failed to get some other person to take the matter up, which I have good reason to believe he did, and am strengthened in that belief by the second concluding sentence in his letter.

John Bamford against whom Messenger makes an implied charge of murder has not been in good health since the death of Mrs Blair and his illness culminated yesterday in the bursting of a blood vessel in the left lung. He is now on his way to the Bairnsdale Hospital and it is the general belief here that he will die from loss of blood before he reaches that institution.

The child Violet Blair has been adopted by a Mrs French a sister-in-law to Messenger and as Bamford has made a will bequeathing all his property to the child it is probable Messenger is not pleased, and is actuated by malice against Bamford hence his motive for writing the attached letter.


So that is the police report. Bamford did not die from the burst blood vessel, he went on for another 20 years only to be murdered on Mount Howitt. Bamford may have had some shortcomings, but according to the police he was not a murderer.

I would like to hear from anyone out there who has any more information on Bamford’s earlier life or may have been related to a John Bamford who died in Victoria in 1918.

I can be contacted on email: gra.nomad@bigpond.com

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