Vine-dresser gets raw end of the iron spade

Updated: Sep 1, 2021

A dispute between neighbours turns tragic after a night of drinking and Johann Georg Reitz is the victim.


Better known as George, the Singleton father of eight, six of which were still living, was born in Germany on 16 November, 1814. He married Lucia Becker and had four children with her before she passed away in 1852. His second wife Christina/Catherine had a daughter before they decided to travel across the world to Australia to settle down.



George Reitz. Courtesy Kingsley Mason


His immigration record shows that he was a 'vine-dresser'. Many German families were experimenting with wine production in the 1850s and labourers with skills as vine-dressers and vintners were in high demand. Many were possibly inspired to travel the long distance, by the William Kirchner book 'Australien und seine Vorteheile fur Auswanderer' (Australia and its Advantages for Emigrants). The immigrants were contracted to work for two years and once their contracts were completed, they could buy land for viticulture around the Mudgee and Hunter regions.


With all his small children in tow, George and Catherine took up residence in the area around the Hunter Valley, settling near Singleton in a place called Scotts Flat. George must have loved the area as six years later he became naturalised. The couple went on to have three more children, although the younger two died at birth.


It was a night late in October 1865 that George's life ended at the hands of his neighbour Ludwig Halter. At the inquest Ludgwig's statement around the incidence was brought to light. They were read out by the arresting officer Senior Sergeant Thorpe.


Ludwig said he saw George at Philip Munzenberger's house, a place licenced for the sale of colonial wine at Scott's Flat, and had a glass of wine with him there. Ludwig was accompanied by his wife and after some time they rode home in their cart.


After some distance down the road, George overtook him on his horse and explained he was too drunk to continue riding home and asked if he could ride on the cart. This was agreed to and his horse was tethered to the cart. They had not gone far before Ludwig noticed George was putting his hand up Ludwig's wife's clothes, a number of times.


By the time they had reached Ludwig's home and he, cranky that his wife had not complained about George's liberties, took his horse to the stockyard and took his harness off. While in the stockyard he heard his wife scream. He raced back to find his wife in George's arms and her skirts up above her waist and George's trousers open.


Ludwig obviously saw red and ran over to push George away from his wife, but George managed to lay a heavy blow on his left cheekbone. This riled Ludwig so much he ran inside and grabbed what he thought was a broom handle, but turned out to be an iron spade.


Not realising the damage he could do to George, Ludwig hit him a number of times with the spade, knocking him down. When the police arrived Senior Sergeant Thorpe inspected George and found he had bruising from the crown of his head to the bottom of his spine. He was in a coma and Thorpe was unable to get any dying declaration from him.


The grave of George Reitz in Singleton Catholic Cemetery. Photo courtesy Kingsley Mason


The inquest was finalised when the jury came back with a verdict of manslaughter, so Ludwig was committed for trial at the next Singleton Quarter Sessions. On a heavy raining day the following year in April, he was found guilty of manslaughter but had his sentence deferred.



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