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Norton, John Oxley (1827–1880)

On the day of Mr. [John Oxley] Norton's death (Sunday last) says the Dubbo Dispatch, a post mortem examination was made by Drs. Tibbits and Tennant, the latter acting as operator. The bullet had entered the head about two inches above the left ear. On reflecting the scalp he found a wound on the left parietal bone about three-quarters of an inch in length and half an inch in width. The upper part of the wound was a clean hole leading into the cavity of the pericranium. On removing the cap of the skull, the inner table of the skull was found splintered and depressed, and the membranes of the brain much inflamed, and in some places adherent. An ounce of puss escaped from the brain at a spot corresponding with the wound in the membranes. The inner surface of the latter was stained yellowish brown. In the left hemisphere of the brain, directly from the wound in the skull, was discovered a line of suppuration running from the external wound and ending in the white matter. On removing a slice of the brain an abscess was discovered, about two inches from the surface, and the suppuration had gone from the external wound to this abscess. He found here two small splinters of bone and a bit of the felt of the hat worn by Mr. Norton, which had been taken in by the bullet. The bullet itself dropped through the abscess, on to the 'grey' brain, and thus produced death. The bullet when taken out was slightly jagged. From all appearances, it had almost spent itself after entering the skull.

On Monday Mr. Norton was buried at the Dubbo Cemetery. His remains were followed by a large number of friends, and his coffin — a beautifully polished cedar — was covered with immortelles — the gifts of loving folks, who thus desired to show a last mark of respect to one, who, whatever his frailties, had a warm generous heart. On his coffin was also placed his Master Mason's apron. The service at the grave was conducted by the Rev. C. Dunstan.

Mr. Norton was a son of the late Hon. James Norton, M.L.C. His father was an attorney, and known as the 'father of the profession.' He was a member of the firm which was long known as 'Norton, Son, and Barker.' In early life, Mr. J. O. Norton, called Oxley after his relative, the well known Surveyor-General, who first crossed the Macquarie — was intended for the law, and was placed in his father's office. The managing clerk at the time was Mr. J. N. McIntosh (now of Bathurst) and the friendship which then sprang up between Mr. Norton and Mr. McIntosh lasted till death removed one of them. The law was not congenial to Mr. Norton's tastes; and he went to live on his estate, Coonimbia, near Hartley. In 1862, when the new Police Act passed, and the forces was thoroughly re-organised by Sir Charles Cowper, Mr. Norton was appointed a sub-inspector. In 1862, when the Gardiner gang of bushrangers held the western district in terrorem sticking up mails, robbing escorts, and shooting policemen Mr. Norton was sent to Forbes, and he there saw some hard service. On one occasion, when out on duty near Wheogo, accompanied by a black tracker, O'Meally, Daley, and two others of the bushrangers, surrounded him. The tracker, after the first shot had been fired, disappeared, and Mr. Norton was compelled to surrender. Whilst in the hands of the rascals, they tried his courage, but he blanched not. They placed him against a large box tree, and fired three shots at him, Two of the bullets struck the tree, about a foot above his head, and another hit it within a few inches of his left arm. His capture created terrible excitement in Forbes, then peopled by from 30,000 to 40,000 diggers. A public meeting was held on the camp reserve, and 500 stalwart men volunteered to go to the rescue. Captain Vern, an adventurous Hungarian, who had seen service in 1810, headed the party, but just as they were about to start, Mr. Norton arrived in Forbes, having been released by the bushrangers. He afterwards saw rough service on the goldfield; and was out with Sir Frederick Pottinger on the night when Gardiner, on his celebrated white horse, escaped from Mrs. Brown's house. Sir Frederick and his men were at the back and Mr. Norton and his party at the front of the house. Gardiner passed within ten yards of Sir Frederick, who had him covered, but as he pulled the trigger the piece missed fire. After leaving Forbes Mr. Norton was for a time in the Maitland district, under Superintendent Morrisset, and subsequently he was stationed at Hartley, where he did good work among the lawless groups who infested the Fish River and Abercrombie. In 1867, he was transferred to Dubbo, and had charge of the force here till 1872, when he was appointed police magistrate, an office he held up to the time of his death. Eminently fitted by education for the position, his interpretation of the law was intelligent and impartial; and all agree in saying that a more upright magistrate never sat on a bench. If he occasionally fell into error, it was the error of honest conviction. Mr. Norton was a good citizen, and took an active part in most public movements. He was for some time president of the mechanics' institute, and at his demise was vice-president. He had for a number of years held the position of judge at the Jockey Club meetings. When a Masonic Lodge was established in Dubbo, he was appointed junior warden; and, in fact, he had a generous sympathy for every movement calculated to do good to his fellow man. As an example, we may state that when an agency of the Mutual Provident was established here, he assisted in every way Mr. Barrett, and feeling that life assurance was a great benefit, he urged all to take advantage of it, and, as he has said as an encouragement to others, he assured his own life for £500. That policy was in existence at the time of his death, and his family will receive about £560. He leaves a wife and six children, but it is satisfactory to know that they are fairly provided for, having an income of about £300 a year, derivable from property left Mr. Norton by his father. The deceased gentleman's mother died in England about 12 months ago, and he has two brothers living — the Hon. James Norton, M.L.C., and Mr. Henry Norton, an officer in the Imperial army, residing in England.

An inquest was commenced at McPhail's Temperance Hotel, on Monday morning, before Dr. Tibbits, J.P., district coroner. After the jury had viewed the body of Mr. Norton, the inquiry was adjourned till Wednesday, when it was resumed at the court house. The evidence given was similar to that taken at the police court, plus the result of the post mortem deposed to Dr. Tennant, and described above. Mrs. Wilkie was present in custody, and Mr. R. J. J. Ryan watched the proceedings on her behalf. She seemed to feel very acutely the dreadful position in which she found herself. After hearing the evidence the coroner explained the law of the case, and the jury brought in a verdict of wilful murder against Mrs. Wilkie. His Worship then committed her under his warrant to take her trial at the Assize Court to be held in Dubbo in April next.

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'Norton, John Oxley (1827–1880)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/norton-john-oxley-28056/text35778, accessed 25 April 2019.

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