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A shooting night of terror for Emily

It started as a night out of enjoyment for Emily Salisbury and her friend Adeline Steed, along with Adeline's children. It ended in a fatal shooting, with one of the ladies dead at the hand of a scorned lover.


William Street in Rockhampton was busy on this particular Wednesday evening in June 1910. It was a happy affair as people were arriving at St Paul's schoolroom with their children where prizes were to be distributed to the students. Emily Salisbury had accompanied her friend Adeline Steed and her children to the event in a sulky. As Adeline took her children inside the school, Emily didn't rush, taking her time. She was happily chatting with local horse buyer Roland Hett when the unthinkable occurred.


The heritage-listed St Paul's Anglican Cathedral Hall at 89 William Street, located next to St Paul's Cathedral. From 1901 until 1912, it housed the St Paul's Day School, and was the scene of the 1910 murder of Emily Salsbury who was gunned down at close range in front of horrified onlookers, in what was dubbed "The William Street Tragedy". Source: By RegionalQueenslander - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=88979589


Emily was a member of a well-known Yeppoon family. Her mother Isabel had been born in Melbourne where her father William Smith, Emily’s grandfather, was an engineer and partner with Robertson, Martin and & Smith. The company built the first locomotive in Australia in just ten weeks at a cost of £2,700. It formed the first steam train to travel in Australia.

Emily’s father Robert James had died when she was only 11 years old, and as one of 10 children, her mother had a struggle to raise them single-handedly. Her mother brought some money in by teaching music. A story that was recounted of the hardships the family faced after Emily’s father’s death, included a time when she and her siblings, along with their mother had to hide in the scrub from a man who had gone insane and was threatening them on the station where they lived.

In 1908, Emily moved into Adeline’s home in Rockhampton as a companion, possibly after breaking off her engagement with local horse trainer and jockey, Arthur Davis. Mr Davis had been writing vicious letters to Emily and it concerned her, as it turned out, with good reason.

On the night of June 16, 1910 as Emily sat in her sulky in conversation with Roland Hett, acting-seargeant Thomas Seymour saw the whole event unfold as he stood on the opposite side of the street talking to a friend. Seymour's friend noted it first, commenting on a man firing a revolver. Seymour rushed across the street in time to see Roland Hett who was lying on the ground, shot by Arthur Davis. The policeman then watched Davis shoot Hett two more times while he continued to lie on the ground.


It must have felt like slow motion for Seymour as he closed the distance between himself and the gunman. He watched as Davis lifted his gun and aimed it at the occupants of the sulky and shot Emily twice in the back. He watched as the horse started in reaction to the gunshots and Davis rushed to the front of the sulky firing two more shots into Emily as she screamed for help.


By this time Seymour had closed in on Davis. The gunman shoved the muzzle of the gun in Seymour's face and shot. Someone must have been looking after Thomas Seymour that night as all the cartridges had been expended. He was quick and grabbed Davis' right arm. Davis was also quick, and wasn't giving up without a fight. He swapped the gun to his left hand and struck Seymour twice in the head.


An onlooker, by the name of Charles Burfoot, came to Seymour's rescue, tackling Davis. Seymour was able to then grab the gun. Unfortunately, it was too late for Emily who, at 23 years old, was dead at the hands of, what turned out to be, her ex-fiancee. Arthur Davis was a local jockey who claimed Emily had broken his heart, when she broke off the relationship.


Hett was badly injured as one of the three bullets that Davis fired at him passed over his shoulder. One of them, however, hit a steel knife he had in his pocket, denting the handle. The third had gone straight through him. After a number of weeks in hospital, he would recover enough to be released.


Davis was brought to trial 2 months later but was found unable to understand the proceedings, so he was held in Goodna Lunatic Asylum until the law decided what was to be done. Another trial was held the following year in June where the jury found Davis not guilty of the murder of Emily Salisbury on the grounds of insanity. The judge ordered Davis back to gaol "until the pleasure of George V was known".


Thomas Seymour was awarded the King's Police Medal a couple of years later, for his heroic actions on the night of 15th June, 1910.


Emily Salisbury's final resting place in Rockhampton South Cemetery. Photo: Aileen Andersen, austcemindex


Emily 'Emmie' Salisbury is buried in Rockhampton South where her mother, brothers and sisters erected a gravestone in her memory. An interesting note is that her name on the gravestone is Emmie Salsbury, although official records have her name spelt as Salisbury.


References

  • 'Central City Sensation', Truth, Sunday 19 June 1910, Page 7

  • 'Rockhampton', Gympie Times and Mary River Mining Gazette, Tuesday 21 November 1911, Page 2

  • 'Shooting of Emily Salisbury', Truth, Sunday 26 November 1911, Page 7

  • 'Emily Salsbury', austcemindex, https://austcemindex.com/inscription?id=15520804#images, accessed 12th July, 2020.

  • 'List of recipients', The Brisbane Courier, Tuesday 2nd January, 1912, Page 5

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