Monday, July 07, 2014

Mary Buchan: 'Testimony From the Grave' in South Australia

Mary Buchan, the murder victim who spoke from the grave

On Sunday evening, 11 July 1875, Mary Buchan, 19, disappeared from Mount Gambier a town in South Australia. Mary lived with her mother near Hedley Park, a 100-acre paddock (today housing). Worshippers at the Presbyterian Church where Mary attended said they last saw her walking in Sturt St with her 23-year-old “fiancĂ©” William Walker alias Page. People heard screams coming from the park at about 8pm.

Page told police Mary had run away from home, and a sighting of a girl matching her description riding through Casterton, Victoria, seemed to confirm his story. Police were later much criticised for believing this red herring. Meanwhile Page went to Port MacDonnell about 20 miles S of Mt Gambier, where he was arrested on warrant for deserting his wife in Adelaide. Page may have gotten away with bloody murder but for apparent 'testimony from the grave'

In August 1875 after Mary's body was found in Hedley Park the Border Watch newspaper reported:

“But for the persistent belief of Mrs Buchan that her daughter would never run away, as Page reported she had done, the whole affair would have passed out of the notice of the public. Mrs Buchan's belief that evil had befallen her daughter was, we are told, greatly strengthened by a dream she had on the night of the murder. She dreamt that a resident in Ferres Street invited her into her house to show her a wonderful sight. On going in she thought she saw a white calf without its head. She remarked what a strange sight, and awoke with deep impression that some great calamity was impending over herself or her family.”--Gippsland Times 14 August, 1875, p4, abridged from Border Watch newspaper.

Then in 1929 Mary Buchan's niece, a Mrs Howe, revealed this to the Adelaide Mail newspaper:

The Mary Buchan grave monument

“The father dreamt that the dead girl came to him, and laying her hand upon his shoulder commanded him to rise and find her body. She directed him to a ploughed field, where three trees were planted in a triangle. He dreamt this three times in succession.

“This in itself was strange, but even more remarkable was the sequel. The wife of an Inspector Hunt, who was stationed at Penola [a town about 40 kms N of Mount Gambier], was confined to her bed with a new-born babe, and she had the same dream of the missing girl entering her room and leading her to a field. But in this case she described the field as being grass covered and particularly green in one patch. The dream so disturbed Mrs. Hunt that although extremely weak she rose from her bed. Her husband found her pacing the floor and quivering from nervousness.

“When the father of the dead girl had the dream... he immediately began to search for the ploughed field that he had seen in his sleep. The grounds about Hedley Park, however, displayed boards prohibiting trespassers, and the father was forced to give up the search. Then Inspector Hunt began his search, and a close exploration of the grounds about the big house soon revealed the field. As he recognised the field he drew a deep breath and gasped, 'My God! My wife's dream.'

“Inspector Hunt was accompanied by a young Scotsman, and together they made their way to the centre of the field where the three trees formed a triangle. They found what looked to be a newly turned grave, and soon recovered the body.”-- The Mail Adelaide 16 November 1929 p.30

Old Mount Gambier Gaol, today a popular (and openly haunted) motel/backpackers

Mary had been strangled and bashed with a riding crop. The contemporary press reported “The scene of the murder has been visited during the week by thousands; and yesterday an immense crowd gathered around the court-house to get a glimpse of Page on his arrival from Port MacDonnell”.

William Page was tried in Mount Gambier and hanged at the (Old) Mount Gambier Gaol on 27 October 1875. He was buried in the prison grounds.

Page had been seeing Mary for some time, and on the fateful evening Mary had demanded to know from him if marriage was on or off. The wife deserter lured her into the park and murdered her when she refused his sexual advances. The fate of the girl who died to “preserve her honour” shocked the town and as her mother lived in very straightened circumstances, the community paid for the fine memorial monument that still stands in the Mount Gambier Cemetery—Mary's parents and relatives lay nearby.


One of the inscriptions on her grave stone aptly reads: “For God shall bring every work to judgement, with every secret thing whether it be good or whether it be evil.”

Copyright 2014 Jon Wyatt

Jon Wyatt is a freelance writer in Melbourne, Australia


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