Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Alleged Testimony From The Grave: Maryborough, Queensland


By Jon Wyatt - Did a ghost provide testimony in Queensland, Australia, in 1876? It's a sad and sordid story you be the judge.

Maryborough is a river port on the Mary River about 35 kms (20 miles) W of the Frazer coast and 220 kms (137 miles) N of Brisbane, Australia. During the 1870's many free and assisted immigrants landed there to start new lives, and the story dates from that bygone era.

In 1875 Alexander Rixson, 33, laborer of Stone near Dartmore, immigrated to Queensland on the three-masted sailing ship Star Queen. Travelling with him was Lydia Cripps or Quipps, a seamstress, and three young children-- two were his and one was hers from previous unions. Their crowded immigration ship left London and four months later, sailing via The Cape, reached Maryborough on 29 September 1875. The couple lived together for six months until during a terrible row, he ordered her out and she moved in with “shipmates” Mr and Mrs Ann and William Adamson. A day later, on Saturday, March 4, 1876, he legally married another woman.

Anne Bush, age 29 or 54, was a servant from Surrey, England, who had arrived on the Tim Whiffler in early 1875. She was a small, thin woman, in good health but sometimes had headaches. She, according to police testimony, paid for the wedding. The story goes, the match was a disaster from day one (or night) and Alexander allegedly began seeing Lydia again. Ten days after the nuptials, on Tuesday March 14, poor Ann Rixson was dead.


When Alexander raised the alarm neighbours found Ann laying on her bed, face up, bodice open and with fingernail scratches on her windpipe--a neighbour heard the couple arguing at 2.00am and another remembered the body was already quite cold. When Dr Little came he certified the death andon the same day, performed a post mortem, examining the internal organs and brain, for cause of death. Ann Rixson was buried next day in the Maryborough West Cemetery, where her unmarked grave remains to this day. A Police Magistrate's inquiry, with Dr JJ Power acting as magistrate, sat the same day, and the initial evidence pointed to a natural cause.

Alexander told the inquiry his wife was “always ailing” and had had stomach pains and headaches; and on the day of her death he had departed at 9.20 am, to dig sweet potatoes, and returned at 10.30am to find her convulsing and unable to speak. Ellen Griffin deposed “I asked one of the children what her father had done to her mother; she answered that her father had helped her mother on to tbe bed, and that he was crying; her mother complained of being ill”; and Dr J H Little testified “death may have been caused by apoplexy [a stroke]; the nail marks on her throat were probably caused by the woman herself in her struggles.”

The inquiry adjourned for three days and that night, the story goes, Ann Rixson's ghost appeared in town. This was widely reported at the time and the press said:

“The night after the inquiry a man named [William?] Adamson who was going home across the reserve, saw a ghost. If you consider this a laughing matter I assure you the man does not. He becomes fightable if you smile when he narrates his experience. This is what he saw, or, if you like, fancies he saw: First, what appeared like a small heap of black earth. As he approached he saw it move, and concluded it was a large black dog. But it still kept growing larger, and Adamson was certain it was a drunken [aborigine].

“Mustering all his courage he walked towards the object. As he drew near he was seized with a violent shaking, cold perspiration burst out all over his body, a bundle which he was carrying on his shoulder fell to the ground, and his hat rose from his head. In the features of the apparition he recognised those of Mrs. Rixson! Then came a voice, 'I am the murdered wife of Rixson!' The apparition then placed one of its hands over its mouth, and the other on its throat, and – disappeared. Adamson does not know how long he remained on the reserve, or how he found his way home.

“Next morning he took his wife's advice, and told his extraordinary experience to the police, and they, growing suspicious, arrested Rixson and Lydia Quipps. The woman was no sooner in the police office than she made a statement, which she has since repeated in the police court. She is not in custody.

“In consequence of this additional evidence, the body was exhumed, a second post-mortem examination held...

“Rixson seemed utterly astonished at the evidence the police had gathered....” (Brisbane Telegraph, April 22, 1876, p3)

While the 'new paranormal evidence' was not admissible as evidence in court it did prompt certain witnesses to come forward, and Alexander was charged with wilful murder. His trial began on April 10, 1876, in the Brisbane Supreme Court, before Judge Alfred Lutwyche and a jury of 12 men, and the prosecution presented a circumstantial case.


Lydia Cripps told the court the defendant visited her after the wedding and had confessed “he had 'been and done for his wife'; he then showed me how he had done it (the witness demonstrated with her hands what the prisoner had shown her); cannot remember which hand he placed on his mouth, or which on the throat; I then said 'By God Almighty, I'll never speak to you more as long as my name is Lydia Cripps; he then said, 'So help me God, Lydia, I've not done it.” (Maryborough Chronicle April 11, 1876, p2 )

William Adamson testified Alexander detested Ann, because she had concealed her body shapeunder layers of petticoats until the wedding night, and said “I slept with her once and I shall not do so again. I might as well have slept with a hurl of bones” and threatened “I'll give her some spirits of nitre, and quench her at once out of the way”. After her death Alexander begged him “For God's sake don't let on to anybody that I was in your house with Lydia last night. He also asked me to tell my wife and Lydia not to let on that he was in the house on that night....” (ibid)

However the evidence from the medical men was not so clear cut: Dr Little believedthe cause of death was probably apoplexy while Dr Power believed strangulation.

On the final day Rixson, who defended himself, asked the jury a last question “ Why should a man's life be sworn away by two common prostitutes? It is all false which they have said. The reason why I turned Lydia out was because she was not fit to live with. I am innocent of the death of that woman”. Judge Lutwyche then instructed the jury “Strong suspicion is not sufficient, you must be sure that his hands were the direct cause of her death...”, and the panel retired, and returned 30 minutes later with a “not guilty” decision.


Many people felt the Rixson acquittal was a farcical miscarriage of justice and sections of the press blamedin particular the medical men. Dr Little so bungled the post mortem, destroying the evidence, “to save his reputation he could not be satisfied as to the cause of death”. While “Dr Power's evidence was more decided, and... pointed to strangulation; but as Dr Power did not examine the body till some three days after death, when the body was exhumed, there was a doubt, and the prisoner was acquitted.” (Freeman's Journal May 13 1876, p8).

However there was another problem with the evidence.

In 1860 the Queensland parliament had passed legislation to encourage mass immigration to fill the empty landscape, and while most of the new citizens were honest, too many were of questionable character the ”sweepings of British towns and cities”. And doubts regarding the character of key witnesses were only confirmed a few weeks later when the press announced the Adamsons were now serving prison sentences, of two months with hard labour; Ann Adamson for running a house of ill repute, and William for assaulting a male customer. And, Alexander and Lydia were implicated: “The girl, Lydia Cripps, after Rixon [sic] turned her out, went to live with a shipmate Adamson, who, in conjunction with Rixon, is living on her and his wife—on the wages of sin in fact”. So the prosecution case was perhaps doomed from the outset.

After the trial Alexander departed the river-port without leaving a forwarding postal address, the Maryborough Chronicle of August 19, 1876, advised his uncollected mail was destined for the Dead Letter Office, Brisbane--and thus the public was left to wonder: did he strangle his wife? did her ghost appear give evidence? Perhaps only the Other Side knows the truth.

Copyright 2015 Jon Wyatt

Ghosts: A Natural History: 500 Years of Searching for Proof

Ghosts Among Us: Uncovering the Truth About the Other Side

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World

Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories


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