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The Murder of Ellen Chute Part 1 – Inquest

May 30, 2020

Another in the series, examining inquests that have been held for members of my family, who lost their lives suddenly and/or not from natural causes. This is inquest is for Ellen Boyle, my third cousin, three times removed, who was married to Richard Chute and died violently in November 1871

Usually when publishing these inquests, I include the entire document. However, this inquest document is huge and very repetitive, so I have chosen to leave some pages out where the information is covered elsewhere.

*Please note: This post is very long, much longer than my usual posts. I was going to split it into two parts but don’t feel it’s appropriate to do so as it is an official document.

Ellen Chute – nee Boyle

Proceedings of Inquest

An Inquisition for our Sovereign Lady Queen Victoria, taken at Violet Town, in the Colony of Victoria, aforesaid, the fourteenth day of November, 1871 in the thirty sixth year of the Reign of our said Lady the Queen, before me, Walter Butler, Gentleman, a Coroner of our Lady the Queen for the Colony of Victoria, aforesaid upon the view of the body of Ellen Chute, then and there lying dead, upon the oaths of:

James Styles, Foreman
Peter (surname unreadable)
John Grogan
Henry Carter
William Harris
George Barkly
Patrick Cain
James Hart
William Hill
William Cochrane
Henry Williams
William Denning

Good and lawful men, of Violet Town, in the said Colony, who being sworn and charged to inquire, upon the part of our Lady the Queen, when, where, how and by what means, the body of Ellen, Chute, came by her death, do say upon their oath that:
“the said Ellen Chute was murdered by Richard Chute, on the 11th November 1871 at Violet Town by striking her on the head with an axe.”

Deposition of Witnesses

Frederick Owen, having been sworn, said:
I am a brass  moulder, residing in no particular place; am travelling, and resided last in Melbourne; I have seen a dead body today, and recognise it as the same I saw last Saturday, between 3 and 4 o’clock, about a mile or a mile and a half from Violet Town, on the Murchison Road ; was travelling from Muddy Creek on Saturday, the 11th, with another man, coming into Violet Town; the first house I came to was near Violet Town; went and asked for something to eat, as I had walked 25 miles that day without food; had three-parts of a bellyful of flour given me by a woman. I should know if I saw her. [Witness here pointed out Mrs. Calnan.]
At that time there was a woman walking in front of us on the road-she might have been 200 yards ahead ; I and my mate still continued our way towards Violet Town; as we walked down she went between a few small trees, and we lost sight of her for a minute or so; the road was fenced on both sides, but there were small trees growing on it; on coming into the middle of the road, I saw the prisoner rushing out from the direction of a house on the side of the road, screaming and bellowing; this attracted my attention; did not see the house at that moment; nor did I see the man come out of it; the man had a stick or something in his hand, and I then saw him knock the woman down; could almost swear it was the same woman I first saw; was about 200 yards away at this time;
I said to my mate “See, there’s a drunken row: did you see the woman fall?”
There was a lane near, and I and my mate went up the lane to a house we saw, about 150 yards away; we saw a woman with a child at the house, we asked for a bit of tea and sugar, but they had none; turning back to the road again, I saw the prisoner washing his hands in a lagoon, at the back of the lane; the lagoon is on the road; prisoner went across to the house, after washing his hands in the lagoon, and picked up a baby about three weeks old; he then went up to the woman, who was still lying on the ground, and laid the baby on a pink frock beside the woman; the woman lay with her head towards the  house; I was still about 150 yards off, prisoner was swearing all the time, saying all manner of things; he picked up another child, about two years old, which was near the fence; as I and my mate came near to the body, prisoner walked to the back of us; saw the woman lying on the ground with a mass of congealed blood coming out of her head, and I turned round to prisoner, who was on the footpath near, and said “You wretch, you have murdered the woman.”
Prisoner might have been about 14 yards off then; could not say if he had anything in his hand then, besides the child; prisoner did not answer me, but kept muttering to himself,
“Take your bastard child, and I’ll keep my own;”
he went through a slip-panel toward another house to the left, about 200 yards off; did not see any more of him until I saw him here this afternoon; I said to my mate, when standing by the woman (who was groaning), “I shall run down to the town and see if I can get some assistance;”
I saw a woman about 200 yards in front of me, and I ran after her; the woman did not look round, nor did she make any reply; while running after her I came upon two men on horseback, and I said to them, “I believe there has been a woman murdered up here;”
They rode up to the body, and told me to stop by it; while I stopped there with my mate, the woman I ran after came back; the deceased woman was still alive, and groaning; one horseman went   to the township, and the other the reverse way, to get assistance; picked up the child, and wrapped it up, and the woman who came back told me to give it to her;
I said, “No, I’ll mind it, as you have one of your own to look after;”
She then put down her child, and took off a blue jacket she had on, and wrapped round the murdered women’s child; a few minutes after several females came up, and then a mounted policeman and the doctor; held deceased while the doctor cut off her hair to examine the wound; the wound was on the right side of her head, and was made by some sharp instrument; blood was flowing   from the wound, and from the ears; the doctor put his fingers down her throat, when she gurgled; I said, “She is not dead yet, doctor.”

This Deponent, Robert Leeming, on oath saith:
I am a laborer residing at Chewton. I have seen the body now on view before this inquest. I recognize it as that of a woman I saw on the road between Murchison and Violet Town, about two mile from Violet Town. I was travelling with the last witness Frederick Owen, whom I picked up with at Rushworth last Sunday fortnight. We called at a house to ask for something to eat on the 11th inst in the afternoon, at about a couple of miles from Violet Town. This woman of the house gave us some flour. (Witness here identifies Ellen Calnan as the woman who gave them the flour)
When we came out of the house, I saw a woman walking before us, probably about four yards in front of us. I lost sight of her for a few minutes in consequence of some bushes intervening, and the next lane we came to, I went down it, to a house to ask for some sugar to sweeten a billy of tea. We got some and we returned to this road we had left. I then saw the prisoner washing his hands at a little lagoon on the left hand side as we were travelling. When we got on the road, I saw a woman lying on the road with her head reclining to the left. There was a house opposite the body with a little piece of fence in front of it. I saw prisoner come out of that house and shut the door. By that time, I was a little in advance of the body that was lying on the road.
He passed me, went 6 or 7 feet at my back and said to the body “You bloody – or blasted- wretch. Lie there”, and passed on my left, swearing and cursing at the same time. He walked along the fence with a child in his arms, until he came to a slip panel, where he turned up and I saw no more of him. We then went on and saw two horsemen. We told them we believed there was a woman murdered up the road. We went one way, and the other another way. One of them told us to stop, and we did, and went back to the body. Then several others came up. A doctor, a trooper and others. The doctor asked me to hold is horse which I did. I remained there and saw the body removed into the house opposite. (Robert Leeming, signed)

Charles Clark, sworn, said :
I am a medical practitioner, residing at Violet Town; on Saturday afternoon, the 11th, I was called by Constable Twomey, to go with him on to the Murchison Road,where a murder had been committed; I found the deceased, Ellen Chute, lying in the middle of the road, about a mile and a half from Violet Town; I examined her, and she was apparently dead, with an incised wound on the right side of the head, about three inches long; a quantity of coagulated blood was about the spot; did not perceive any other wound at the time. When I first saw deceased, she had just signs of life; the wound was one that would be produced by an axe like that produced

Mary Chute deposed:
I am the wife of George Chute, residing at Violet Town. Prisoner had been residing at my house for about three months, and is my brother-in- law; I identify the body as that of Ellen Chute, the wife of the prisoner. I was out in the paddock on Saturday afternoon about 3 o’clock, when I saw Richard Chute standing over his wife with an axe in his hand.
I said, “You have murdered her.”
Deceased was then lying on  the road opposite her house. I then went over to John Minahan’s house near, and afterwards saw Tom Chute, prisoner’s brother, and told him that Dick had murdered his wife. I returned home, and prisoner was there. I took my child out of the cradle, and said to prisoner,
“There is your child for you; I’m going to your brother to give you up to the police.”
He said to me, “You needn’t do that, as I’ll give myself up.”
I then went up the road towards my brother’s and met Coghlan and McGary, but could not sing out to them.
Witness confirmed the statement of the travellers.

This deponent Thomas Campbell on oath saith:
I am a carpenter and reside at Violet Town. I recognise the body of deceased as that of Ellen chute, the wife of the prisoner. On Saturday last the 11th instant, about 3 and 4 o’clock, I was riding about 2 1/2 miles from Violet Town, leaving from it, in company with Pat McGeary when I met Mary Chute, who said in a very hoarse voice ” murder murder”. I rode down about ten yards, further when I met two men, strangers to me. (Owens & Leeming), who said “This is a sudden thing. There us a murder committed on the road there”
I said “Where”.
“There” he said and the man that has murdered her has gone in that gap'” pointing to a slip panel.
I went down and saw the deceased lying on her left side, and a child about a month old, some two or three feet from here on a pinkish frock. I told this man to stop there and take charge of the body until I came out with a Constable. I then went and reported the matter to Constable Twomey at Violet Town (James Coghlan X his mark )

This deponent Patrick McGeary on his oath saith:
I am a laborer residing at Violet Town. I recognize the body of deceased now on view as Ellen Chute, wife of the prisoner. On the 11th Instant, I was in company with Thomas Coughlan, about 3 or 4 o’clock pm, some 2 1/2 miles from Violet Town. I met the two men, Owens and Leeming, who told me there was a woman murdered on the road. I went on some 30 or 40 yards and saw the body of deceased lying on the road apparently dead, with a young child lying alongside of her. The side of the head was covered with blood. Coughlan who was with me, went into the Police. I rode down to tell her aunt and uncle (signed Patrick McGeary)

This deponent Ellen Calnan on her oath saith:
I am the wife of William Calnan. I reside at Violet Town. I knew the deceased Ellen Chute. she was the daughter of my brother and has been living with me since the 12th September. She was the wife of prisoner Richard Chute, but has been separated from him since about the 3rd May last.  She was confined of a child on the 26th October last. I recollect Saturday last, the 11th. She left my house about 3.30pm o’clock that day, she said to go and see her father who lived near. I saw her leave the house and just a shawl about her. She had her baby with her and the pink frock, now produced, which she was taking to her sister. She was in poor health. She would pass George Chute’s house in going from my place to her father’s. In about half an hour, after she left my place from information I received, I went up the road and saw her lying on the road up near George Chute’s house, breathing her last, bleeding from her head from a wound (Ellen Calnan X – her mark)
(Ellen Calnan was my great great grandmother)

This deponent Patrick Boyle, on his oath saith:
I am a farmer, residing at Violet Town. I knew the deceased Ellen Chute. She was my daughter and wife of the prisoner. She has been separated from him for some months. There was an ill feeling existing between them. About the 15th May last, I heard him say to her that she was no woman, only a bloody cow and that he would chop her head off. The deceased was 20 years of age
(Patrick Boyle X – his mark)

This deponent, Thomas Twomey, on his oath saith:
I am a Constable of Police, stationed at Violet Town. On the 11th Instant, from information received, I went in the company with Mr. Clark, about 2 1/2 miles down the Murchison Road, and saw the body of the deceased woman Ellen Chute lying on the ground. Her head covered with clotted blood. There were several people there including Leeming and Owens. there was a wound in the head on one side. I had the body afterwards recovered to the nears hotel. (signed Thomas Twomey)

This deponent, James Whelan, on his oath saith:
I am a Sergeant of Police stationed at Benalla. From information received, I came to Violet Town to search for the prisoner. I heard a knocking and Constable Percy opened the door and they both came in.
Prisoner Richard Chute said “I came to give myself up”
I said “For What?”
He said “For Killing my wife”.
I cautioned him in the usual way. He then said “On Saturday afternoon, I was going to cut some wood, outside of the hut. I saw my wife coming up towards Mrs. Calnan’s. I had taken the axe from the hut to cut the wood with. When she came up in front of the hut, I said to her “Why do you keep coming up and down the road, daring me?”
She said something, I don’t know, what it was. I then struck her with the back of the axe on the head and knocked her down. I took up the baby and put it beside her. Two swags then came up the Murchison Road at the time. My brother’s wife came from the back of the house, and said “Take away your child I took up (unreadable word) and went across to my sister’s, Mrs. Minahan’s. She was not there. I left the boy with William Minahan. I then went into the bush. I returned to Minahan’s that night and saw my brother, Tom Chute. He advised me to go and give myself up to the Police. I went to the Barracks and found the side gate locked, waited for some time, and then went away into the bush again. I threw the axe away. I can’t say if I put it in the (unreadable word)  or not, after she fell. I changed my trousers and vest before I left the hut, as I did not think I’d want the old ones any more. The two axes in the office are the ones that were my brother’s. I struck my wife with the big one, with ‘Thrine’ on (axe produced).
This morning, he said, in the lock up, on my asking him if he slept well during the night “No!”
How could he sleep after doing what he did? (signed James Whelan)

This deponent, John Nicolson  saith on oath:
I am a legally qualified medical practitioner and reside at Benalla. I have this day made a postmortem examination of the body of the deceased, Ellen Chute, the subject of this inquisition. The body is in an advanced state of decomposition and any external marks are with difficulty recognisable. I observed a wound in the scalp on the right side and towards the top of the head, apparently about three inches in length when recent. There were other external marks, recognisable. The top of the skull, I observed considerable congestion on the (unreadable word) on the left temporal region and near (twelve words smudged and unreadable) the brain itself was so far advanced in decomposition as to show no traces of injury or otherwise. The skull showed no fracture. The other areas of the body were also decomposed but as far as I could discover, healthy. I could not determine the immediate cause of death. (signed, John Nicholson M.D)

This deponent, James William Percy, on his oath saith:
I am a Constable of Police stationed at Violet Town. I was present on the morning of the 13th instant, when the prisoner made the statement deposed to by Sergeant Whelan. I took it down in writing. The Sergeant’s deposition is correct. This 12th Inst, I found the two axes in George Chute’s hut and took possession. I also got a pair of moleskin trousers from Mary Chute, which the prisoner admitted to are his, with blood on it. I also found the pink frock at Mrs. Calnan’s which prisoner admitted to be the frock on which he placed the baby, when he knocked his wife down with the axe. It’s about half a mile from Calnan’s hut to George Chute, but the distance from the hut belonging to George Chute to the water hole is 22 paces. I stepped it this morning.
(signed James W. Percy 1054)

James Whelan, deposed:
I am sergeant of police stationed at Benalla; in consequence of information I received I came to Violet Town to search for prisoner; at a quarter to 5 yesterday morning. Richard Chute surrendered himself at the police station. He said, ” I have come to give my   self up”;
I said, “For what?”
He replied, “For killing my wife.”
I said he could make a statement, but I cautioned him; he then said, “On Saturday afternoon I was going to cut some wood outside the hut on the road; I saw my wife coming up towards Mrs. Calnan’s; I had taken the axe to cut the wood with; when she came up in front of the hut I said to her, ‘Why do you be passing up and down the road daring me?’
she said something, but I don’t know what it was; I then struck her with the back of the axe on the head and knocked her down. She never spoke. I took up the baby that was on the ground and put it beside her; two swagmen came up the Murchison Road at the time. My brother’s wife came round at the back of the house, and said, ‘Take away your child,’ or ‘There’s your child;’
I took up Johnny, and went across to my sister’s (Mrs. Minehan). She was not there. I left the boy at Minahan’s. I then went into the bush. I returned to Minahan’s that night, and saw my brother, Tom Chute. He advised me to go and give myself up to the police. I went to the barracks and found the side gate locked, remained for some time, and then went away into the bush again; threw the axe away, but I can’t say whether I put it into the hut or not after she fell; changed my trousers and vest before I left the hut, as I didn’t think I’d want the old-ones any more (the two axes were in the corner of the office at the time); ,struck my wife with this one” (marked with twine and, produced today (the sergeant added)
I asked him how he did, and if he had slept well; he replied, “No; how could I sleep well after doing what I did?”

At the end of the evidence the foreman said it was the opinion of the jury that great neglect had been shown in not having the post-mortem examination made earlier; and in consequence of that neglect they could not ascertain the actual cause of death. The jury then returned a verdict of “Wilful murder” against Richard Chute, who was committed for trial at the next Circuit Court at Beechworth.

Quote from the Coroner:
The Coroner’s living desire is to express their opinion that there was neglect in the case of some, in not having a post mortem made of the body of Ellen Chute, sooner.

(Slight changes have been made to punctuation for ease of reading)

VPRS 24/PO Unit 267 Item 1871/313


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  1. mollyscanopy permalink

    What an amazing post and excellent documentation. There has been a great deal of concern about domestic abuse during the coronavirus pandemic, when women like Ellen Chute have to quarantine with abusive partners/spouses. She clearly tried to get away from him, but alas did not succeed. Thank goodness there is better support today to prevent murders like this one.

  2. Wow, that’s quite a story! I’m still wondering… did Richard ever say why he killed his wife? What did he mean by, “Why do you be passing up and down the road daring me?”

    • I’m sorry Elizabeth that I haven’t replied until now. I just found your comment in spam. Richard never said why he murdered his wife. There had been ongoing domestic violence and I think it was the culmination of this. He had it in his mind that the baby wasn’t his. As to her passing up and down the road, I’m not sure

  3. Really interesting post. I can’t wait for the next installment.

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