Reprint: Real-Life Rufus Dawes

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Marcus Clarke's Novel Recalled

Rufus Dawes, hero of Marcus Clarke's "Term of His Natural-Life," had his counterpart in reality. This unfortunate man (says "Historicus.", writing in "The Australian Journal" for April) was Edmund Galley, who in 1836 was accused of complicity in the murder of one, Jonathan May, near Mortonhampstead, England, nearly a year before. May had been found on the road so severely knocked about that he died without regaining consciousness. His pockets had been rifled. The authorities rounded up a number of suspects, all known criminals, but there was no evidence against any of them. Among the crowd was one Avery, a wrestler of sorts, who was kept in goal pending investigations. Later his lady friend, Elizabeth Harris, appeared at Exeter Court on a larceny charge. Hoping to gain advantage of the free pardon offered to anyone who gave information about the May affair, and also to clear Avery, this charming girl declared that she had actually been present at the murder, and that it had been committed by two young gentlemen respectively known as "Buckingham Joe" and "Dick Turpin." Their real names were Edmund Galley and Oliver. They were tried before the famous "Hanging" Judge Williams, amid an orgy of false swearing and mistaken identity. The facts were that Galley had never been near the scene of the murder, that he had actually been in Deptford when it was committed, and that he did not even know Oliver. Nevertheless, many witnesses swore to him, and, as he had no money for his defence, and was a hang-dog-looking poor wretch into the bargain, he was sentenced to death. When the sentence was pronounced, even the hardened Oliver, was sorry for his fellow prisoner, and in a speech from the dock asserted Galley's innocence, but it was useless. An inquiry was held by the Home Office, but the only result of it was that Galley's sentence was commuted to transportation for life. After several years on a convict ship, he was sent to Australia. Ironically enough the man who, it was proved, actually murdered May had been sent out here before Galley on another charge! After poor Galley had been in Australia for nearly forty years investigation proved his innocence. This must surely have been the man Clarke had in mind when he wrote his famous novel.

First published in The Camperdown Chronicle, 3 April 1937

Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on April 20, 2011 8:49 AM.

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