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Wardell, Robert (1793–1834)

The public mind so recently excited by the details of the horrid transaction for which the culprits Mills and Chapman paid the forfeiture of their lives, has scarcely recovered from the sensations thereby produced, when another foul deed, equal in atrocity, and from the important situation of the unfortunate Emigrant in society, entailing a lamentable loss, presents itself. At an early hour on Monday morning last, intelligence reached Sydney, that Dr. Robert Wardell, of Petersham, who had left his residence about the hour of one o'clock on Sunday for the purpose of riding round his estate, had not returned up to that time, and the most melancholy apprehensions were felt for his safety; information had been given to the Messrs. Johnston and Mr. A. Hearn at a late hour on Sunday night, and a search was commenced at daybreak on Monday morning for the unfortunate gentleman. Colonel Wilson, the Chief Magistrate, on receiving information, mustered all the officers of police that could be conveniently spared from the town duty, and accompanied them with all possible speed to the estate of Petersham, in order to give the most efficient effect to the pursuit of the murderers, should the melancholy fact develop itself that he had fallen by the hand of an assassin. At an early hour a great number of gentlemen from Sydney were on the estate assisting in the search, but upwards of three hours elapsed before any intelligence was obtained, when at length the mangled body of the unfortunate gentleman, drenched in his blood, was discovered in the head of an oak tree which had been blown down. In the neighbourhood of the sanguinary scene, a rude wigwam, constructed of green branches, was found, where it was conjectured the murderers had awaited the coming of the victim, aware of his customary ride round his estate; here his hat was found within a short distance of the hut, before which a tree was burning, and at which the ruffians had been regaling themselves, as a quantity of flour and beef was scattered on the ground, and knives, razors, &c. were laying about; whether the rascals had been disturbed by Mr. David Johnston and his party, or whether these things were so left as a means of misleading pursuers, is matter of conjecture, but if the former, it is probably fortunate for Mr. Johnston that they had some warning of his approach, he and his party being unarmed, would doubtless have added new victims to the sanguinary monster?—the spot round the hut bore evident symptoms of a great struggle having taken place, as the ground appeared to be much cut up by the feet of a horse, amongst the tracks of which those of human beings were conspicuous—for a considerable distance from the spot a quantity of flour was spilled on the ground, which having all ran out of the bag in the apparent retreat of the murderers, the bag itself was thrown away, and was found about a hundred yards from the track of flour. Mr. Isaac Nichols traced footsteps to George's River, where they appeared to have crossed to the common haunt of bushrangers in that part of the country called the Seven-mile Brush, whither the Mounted Police have proceeded. It is a remarkable circumstance that two trees were observed near the scene of the murder bearing marks of shot, surrounded by rings, as if the villains had been training themselves for the atrocious deed by firing at the target, in order the better to ensure the destruction of the hapless victim. In a hollow tree a quantity of wearing apparel was discovered concealed by a few green branches, which articles have since been identified by a man residing within a few miles of the place, whose house was entered a few nights previously and a quantity of property carried off; unfortunately this affords no clue to the marauders, as the robbers wore not seen on that occasion. Several refractory characters have been sent to iron-gangs for offences committed in Dr. Wardell's service, one of whom in particular has been heard to vow revenge. Some of these men are said to have absconded from the government iron-gangs, and are now in the bush—suspicion therefore attaches itself to them. The whole of the assigned labourers on the estate, together with the overseer, were taken into custody, and forwarded to Sydney under an armed escort of the Police. The body of the unfortunate gentleman was put into a cart and conveyed to his residence, where it underwent the inspection of a Coroner's Jury, who had been previously convened at the Bay Horse public-house on the Parramatta road. From the appearance of the body it was conjectured that the ruffians had shot their victim on horseback, after an ineffectual struggle to drag him from his seat, and that at the firing of the pieces, the horse, which is a spirited entire-horse, started off at full speed. The unhappy victim seemed to have maintained an erect position for some seconds after having been shot, as the blood took a direction downwards, all his dress even to his stockings being saturated. The distance from the spot where the hat was found to that where the body was discovered was about a hundred and sixty rods; the distance from the residence being about a mile and a half. On stripping the body a wound appeared on the left breast large enough to admit the finger; the left shoulder was grazed with a glance shot, which passing the throat, made a slight abrasion, which at first sight was considered to be a second gun-shot wound. Dr. Bland and Mr. Surgeon Neilson, who made a post mortem examination, extracted a slug from the wound, which appeared to be a section of a musket shot. The placid, expression of countenance exhibited by the corpse, not a feature of which was disturbed from the smile peculiar to the unfortunate gentleman in his life time, struck every beholder as remarkable under the circumstances of his death.

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'Wardell, Robert (1793–1834)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/wardell-robert-2773/text24476, accessed 22 November 2017.

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