James Bentley

From Hotels of Ballarat
James Francis Bentley
Born 1818
Surrey, England
Died 10 April 1873
Carlton, Victoria
Nationality English
Occupation Publican
Years active 1854
Known for Eureka Hotel
Home town Ballarat

James Francis Bentley was a publican in Ballarat, 1854

History[edit | edit source]

Bentley is arguably Ballarat's most famous publicans, opening one of Ballarat's first hotels, the Eureka Hotel on 12 July 1854. A scuffle, during which a drunk customer was killed, was the spark that ignited the rebellion on the goldfields and led to the military attack on the Eureka Stockade.

The Police Gazette on 23 March 1856 gave the following description:

James Francis Bentley, a native of Surrey, born 1818, 5 feet 7 inches high, fair complexion, brown hair, grey eyes, medium mouth, nose and chin. Marks: - Mole on the back of neck and right arm, right foot mutilated. Ship "Blundell" to Norfolk Island, 1844, sentence 10 years. Tried at Melbourne Supreme Court, 18th November 1854, and sentenced to three years hard labor for manslaughter. Ticket of leave granted 18th March, 1856, for the district of Heidelberg.[1]

At the inquest into the death of Scobie, the Government officials rejected evidence of witnesses, rejected the request of the crown prosecutor that the case should be heard by a judge and jury, and acquitted Bentley of all involvement:

THE OUTRAGE AT BALLARAT. As our readers must be anxious to know how far the authorities were justified in acquitting Bentley of the charge of murder, we quote from the 'Herald' a very full report of the inquest proceedings. The- examination was held before J. Dewes, Esq.,- P.M., Chief Commissioner Rede, and Mr, Commissioner Johnstone, and the following evidence was adduced.

William Martin deposed; - I was a mate of the deceased; we had been out spending the evening of Friday in a tent near the Black Hill; in going home we passed the Eureka Hotel ; we stopped there and wanted to go in ; this was a little after one o'clock in the morning ; we were both the worse for liquor at the time ; we were refused admission, and went away; a short time after three or four men came up to me from the hotel; one I swear to be James Bentley, the landlord ; he was not the man who struck me ; I think he was not the man, because there was another man between him and me, and it must have been the nearest man who knocked me down ; when I got up I went to where my mate was, and found him lying on his back as if dead ; I do not know that he was dead at that time ; I then went to a butcher's in that neighbourhood, and roused him up and told him what was the matter ; a few minutes after, a doctor was called, and my mate was found to be quite dead ; it was a moonlight morning ; since the occurrence I have been detained at the Ballarat camp; I did not mention Bentley's name at the coroner's inquest ; I omitted doing so because I was very much excited by the death of my mate ; I did not wish to say more at that time than was necessary; I am sure that Bentley was one of the men who attacked us ; there was no need for me to recollect it afterwards, for I knew it at the time ; I was sure of it then, and am now, not from the impression of my feelings, but from the conviction of my eye-sight. By the Bench — I have been detained at the Camp by order of Capt. Evans ; I do not know whether Bentley's name was mentioned to me by any one before I accused him myself; I think not.

Mr. Daly examined — I am a storeman in Mr O'Connell s employ, and remember the morn ing of this occurrence ; I was lying in bed at the time, and only a few yards from where deceased was found ; I heard persons coming from the direction of the hotel ; a few moments after I heard a blow struck; it was near the corner of our store ; by the sound of the footsteps and the scuffle I should say there were more than two persons ; I heard a voice but could not recognize it ; a second blow was then given as if from a kick, and I then heard distinctly the grating of teeth, as if the man was in agony ; I heard a woman's voice say later,— "That serves him right"; the footsteps then sounded as if people; were going back to the hotel.

Bernard Welsh, a most intelligent lad, ten years of age, deposed as follows -I am the son of Benjamin Welsh, gold-digger ; I heard a noise outside our tent on the morning the man was found dead; as I lay in bed I looked out through the back of the tent, and saw two men and one woman ; this was between one and two, and it was quite a moonlight morning ; one of the men picked up my spade from the corner of the tent ; the spade now produced is the same ; I had heard some disturbance at the hotel a little before this ; one of the men whom I just said I saw, stooped down as if to pick something up, when another of the men said, "No, don't throw anything at them"; a few moments after having taken my spade I heard a scuffle and a blow ; the people then came back and threw down the spade on the opposite side of the tent they took it from ; I had put the spade away myself the evening before, and found it in the morning where I had heard these people throw it down in the night ; after passing by the tent the second time, the people went towards the hotel ; I could see from where I was lying in bed ; to the best of my belief Mr. Bentley was one of these men, and Mooney, his barman, the other ; from having seen Mr. Bentley so often before, I knew his appearance very well.

Mrs. Welsh examined— I am the wife of Benjamin Welsh, and live near the Eureka hotel ; early on Sunday morning I heard a disturbance outside my tent, and a short time after, three or four persons came out from the back, entrance of the hotel, and passed by my tent I heard a voice say, "Don't throw anything at them"; somebody then picked up a spade, which was outside the tent, and they all went together a little further on ; I then heard a scuffle, and a very heavy blow ; previous to this, I heard a woman's voice say, "How dare you break my window ?" this voice, which was very familiar to me, I swear to the best of my belief was Mrs. Bentley's ; they then returned and the spade was thrown down again ; I heard another voice; a man's voice say, "That is the way to treat such sweeps"; to the best of my belief I will swear this was Mr. Bentley's voice after all was quiet, a man called out for help, "In the name of God go some one for a doctor!" I then got up and looked out of my tent ; a body was lying on its back about twenty five yards off, one man standing on the right and another on the left; the man on the right fell down and burst out sobbing over the body. Shortly after this I heard heavy footsteps passing my tent, as if persons were carrying the body away.

After the evidence of Messrs. Carr and Stuart, surgeons, Captain Evans was called, and deposed that he thought it necessary to detain the man Martin at the camp. Martin was with the deceased at the time of his death, and, as Inspector of Police, he (Capt. Evans) sought to prevent any defeat of justice, by taking the steps he had done. He did not mention, the name of Bentley or anybody else to Martin, to prompt Martin's reply. This ended the case for the Crown, and Mr. Whipham, who was specially retained from his circuit duties to plead in Bentley's behalf, proceeded to call witnesses for the purpose of proving an alibi. Their evidence when stated with all due fairness, amounted to this : Bentley and his wife had retired to bed at 12 o'clock; his barman and a lodger could hear the least sound through the hotel ; the hotel, which was a wooden building, was so faultily constructed that the opening of doors; moving across a room, or talking at an ordinary pitch of the voice; could be distinctly heard ; all the while, from 12 to half-past 1, Bentley's voice was heard in other bedrooms continually, so that it was impossible for him to have been seen during, that time by a young lad who was twenty-five yards off ; and it was equally sure that the lady who recognised both his and Mrs. Bentley's voices during the affray was entirely mistaken. Before their Worships retired to consider their decision, Mr. Lynn, who appeared for the Crown, with his usual ability, urged upon them that this was a case for a jury. He did not seek to prolong the investigation any further, but he thought their Worships would be going out of their province if they ordered a dismissal on their own authority. Especially in cases of alibi the credibility of witnesses was matter for another court.

After half-an-hour's deliberation their Worships returned, and gave their decision as follows The Bench cannot but admire the activity and zeal shown by the police in their conduct of this case. Whether it be murder or, whether it be manslaughter, we trust that the ends of justice may be eventually attained. But the Bench is of opinion that there is not one tittle of conclusive evidence against Mr. Bentley or his barman, implicating either of them in the crime we have been investigating. The decision was received with universal disapprobation by the throng of diggers and others who crowded the Court, and who had scarcely restrained a similar feeling while prisoner's counsel was pleading in Bentley's behalf. Mr, Whipham — Your Worships mean that my client is honorably acquitted ? (Hisses and groans.) Bench— That is for others to judge. The evidence, and our decision, have both been heard.[2]

At Bentley's trial for the murder of James Scobie outside the hotel, the newspapers commented:

Bentley is a full-faced, athletic, stout-built man, of the age of about 45, his wife is a young and handsome woman of about 28. The whole of the prisoners, with the exception of Mrs. Bentley, retained a very cool demeanor throughout the trial. She, however, was observed frequently to cry. A chair was provided for her in the dock.[3]

A witness, Mary Ann Walsh, who lived in a tent close to the hotel gave a description of what she had heard on the night of Scobie's murder:

Mary Ann Walsh: Remembered the night when Scobie was murdered. Heard a disturbance between one and two o'clock in the morning at Bentley's Hotel. Heard two men pass round her tent Did not see them. Was in bed. Heard others come from the hotel. The former came on the right side of the tent, the latter on the left side. Heard a voice say, " How dare you break my windows?" It was Mrs. Bentley's voice. Was familiar with it. Heard a voice say, " Don't throw any thing at them. " Did not know the voice. It was a man's voice. Heard them go forward, and heard blows as if from fists. Then heard a heavy blow as if by a heavy instrument. Heard the men return. Heard them throw the instrument down near her tent. Heard a voice say, " That is the way to serve these sweeps. " Believes it was Mr. Bentley's voice, was familiar with it. The evening was calm. Heard a horseman sometime after leave the hotel. Her tent was near enough the hotel to bear sounds from it.[3]

Bentley was found guilty of manslaughter, but his wife was found not guilty.

Bentley attempted suicide in 1871:

Soon after 9 o'clock last night, a pickle maker in Little Bourke-street west, named James Francis Bentley, was picked up in Parliament-yard in a half sensible condition, and on being taken to the watchhouse he said that he had swallowed a quantity of laudanum in order to destroy himself. A phial, which had evidently contained that drug, was found upon him, and he was taken to the hospital and thoroughly stomach pumped. At a late hour he was in an insensible condition.[4]

THE man James Francis Bentley, who was conveyed to the hospital on Monday, having taken a dose of laudanum, is said to have been the immediate cause of the breaking out of the riots which occurred at Ballarat. He was proprietor of a publichouse then, and one night after be had closed his house he was aroused by a man outside, who was partly intoxicated, and wanted to get some more drink. Bentley tried to induce him to go away by fair means, but, when these were unsuccessful, he used violence, and struck the man a blow on the head with a shovel, which killed him. He was tried for murder, but the charge was dismissed. The miners, who were already dissatisfied with the Government, cried out that there was no justice to be had, and rose in rebellion. They burned Bentley's house down, and caused him to run away from the place. He has since that time set up in business in several towns, and has generally managed to keep his name before the public. He is now a pickle-maker in Little Bourke-street, and, consumed very probably by a thirst for notoriety, he attempted to commit suicide on Monday last, but was, fortunately for himself, unsuccessful.[5]

In 1873 Bentley committed suicide in Melbourne:

An ex-publican, named Christopher Francis Bentley, living in Ballarat-street, Carlton, committed suicide on Thursday by poisoning himself. At an inquest held yesterday by Dr. Youl, evidence was given that the deceased was about 54 years old, and left a wife and five children. He had bouts of drinking, and about six months ago attempted to poison himself with laudanum, but, being treated at the hospital, recovered. He had never been quite right since he lost his property at the Ballarat riots, and for the last two years had never ceased to talk about it. He had been low-spirited and desponding about his family and their prospects, and of late had drunk a good deal. On Wednesday night he went home late, and slept on the sofa all night. In the morning he was found lying on the sofa, looking very blue and strange about the face, and was scratching off, with his finger-nail the label of a bottle which had contained laudanum. He put the bottle on the sofa beside him. A doctor was sent for and procured with some difficulty, but deceased was dead when he arrived. The jury found that the deceased poisoned himself with laudanum while of unsound mind.[6]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1887, Withers, William, History of Ballarat, pg. 88, F. W. Niven and Co., Ballarat.
  2. 1854 'THE OUTRAGE AT BALLARAT.', Mount Alexander Mail (Vic. : 1854 - 1917), 27 October, p. 3. , viewed 25 May 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article202633862
  3. 3.0 3.1 1854 'SUPREME COURT.', The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), 20 November, p. 6. , viewed 14 Mar 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4800554
  4. 1871 'TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 1871.', The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), 14 February, p. 5. , viewed 14 Mar 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article5842678
  5. 1871 'CITY AND SUBURBS.', Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 - 1954), 18 February, p. 13. , viewed 06 Sep 2018, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article170152717
  6. 1873 'SATURDAY, APRIL 12, 1873.', The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), 12 April, p. 5. , viewed 14 Mar 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article5851771

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