In the history of Campbelltown one incident has captured the imagination of generations – the murder of Frederick Fisher and the appearance of his ghost. Five men were arrested. One was hanged. All including Fisher himself had arrived as convicts.
Frederick George James Fisher was born in London on 28 August 1792 a son of James (d1830) and Ann Fisher, London bookbinders and booksellers of Cripplegate and Greenwich. Of average height with a fair complexion and brown hair, by his early twenties Frederick Fisher was a shopkeeper, unmarried though possibly the father of two children. Fisher obtained possession of forged banknotes, either innocently through his work or deliberately to pass through his shop. He was arrested, tried at the Surrey Gaol Delivery on 26 July 1815 and sentenced to fourteen years’ transportation to Australia.
Fisher arrived in Sydney a year later, one of 187 convicts aboard the Atlas a schooner of 501 tons (511 tonnes) and was sent to Liverpool. He was probably assigned to John Wylde or his brother in law, J J Moore both of whom had land at Cabramatta and were senior legal officials. Frederick Fisher could read and write and Wylde’s father, the crown solicitor, recommended Fisher to the colonial administrator, T J Campbell, who attached Fisher to his staff. Literate men were rare and it was not unusual to have convict clerks. Campbell’s office was an ideal situation to learn about the colony. Within two years Fisher was assigned as superintendent to the Waterloo Flour Company. This company under William Hutchinson, Samuel Terry and Daniel Cooper, was owned and managed by ex-convicts. Through its manufacturing activities, its commercial ventures and its mortgaging power, the Waterloo Company was the most influential and dynamic enterprise in colonial New South Wales. It provided Frederick Fisher with valuable contacts. 83
In 1818, within two years of his arrival, Fisher and two partners, George Duncan and John Walker, launched a public company to manufacture paper. Duncan had the technical knowledge, Walker would provide the raw materials and Fisher would be manager and salesman. To raise capital for machinery they sold shares to fifteen merchants, including Campbelltown residents Robert Jenkins, Richard Brooks and Thomas Rose. By June 1818 they were established with a waterwheel operating the millstones on John Hutchinson’s land. Hutchinson, the colony’s ‘mad scientist’, was always ready with a scheme for scientific experiment and fantastic machines. With Simeon Lord, he had already tried unsuccessfully to make glass and cloth and was experimenting with paint, paper and dyes. Macquarie considered the genius of Hutchinson to be ‘unsteady’.
Hutchinson was a troublesome landlord and Fisher appealed to Macquarie to stop Hutchinson from diverting water from his mill. In July 1818 four Sydney magistrates, all shareholders in Fisher’s company, ordered Hutchinson to give Fisher use of the premises for six months rent free as recompense for his interference. The paper making venture did not prosper and Thomas Clarkson of Eagle Vale, Campbelltown and Sydney probably bought the mill in 1820. 84
Fisher returned to work for J T Campbell this time as managing clerk in the Provost-Marshal’s office to which Campbell had been appointed in 1819. The Provost-Marshal was the chief sheriff of the court, responsible for prisoners before trial, executions, sale of goods for debts and bail applications. It was probably here that Fisher acquired the forged pardon later found among his possessions. Fisher’s next position on the recommendation of solicitor James Norton was as quit rent clerk in the surveyor-general’s department. Meehan had been put in charge of quit rent collections in 1814, but had been too busy with his exploration and survey work to collect them. His application to retire was delayed until the backlog of paperwork was cleared. Meehan needed an extra clerk – Frederick Fisher. 85
In 1822 Fisher had served half his sentence and applied for a ticket of leave and permission to rent or purchase a small farm at Newcastle as he had 300 pounds to invest. He received a ticket of leave but turned south to Campbelltown. By 1825 when he applied unsuccessfully for a conditional pardon, Fisher owned four farms – 50 acres (20 ha) at Cabramatta; 30 acres (12 ha) at Appin; 53 acres (21 ha) on the Nepean River at Upper Minto, all under cultivation and 32 acres (13 ha) adjoining Campbelltown with stone and brick buildings worth 800 pound. The land at Campbelltown lay between the main road and Bow Bowing Creek and was part of Joseph Phelps 140 acre (56 ha) grant issued in 1816 but occupied by Phelps as early as 1813. Phelps sold 30 acres (12 ha) to Thomas Clarkson of Eagle Vale who mortgaged it to Daniel Cooper. Cooper foreclosed and sold the farm to his former employee, Frederick Fisher, retaining an 80 pound mortgage over the farm. Fisher prospered at Campbelltown. In December 1824 he tendered to supply wheat to the government at Liverpool, the only person from the Campbelltown area to do so. 86
Fisher turned his attention to speculative building in Campbelltown. His first venture was the Horse and Jockey Inn, built in mid 1825 for Fisher by local carpenter William Brooker. Brooker disputed payment and took his claim to the magistrates who found in his favour. When Brooker, not quite sober called at the inn in late 1825 to demand his money, Fisher pulled a knife. Brooker was not badly hurt but all assumed that Fisher would face a lengthy gaol term. Fisher was concerned less about himself than his property – his land, houses, horses, pigs and wheat and gave a power of attorney to his neighbour to manage his affairs during his imprisonment.
Fisher’s neighbour was William George Worall who had arrived on the Marquis of Wellington with a life sentence in 1815. He was a shoemaker by trade and like Fisher, a Londoner by birth. Obtaining his ticket of leave in February 1823, Worrall rented a small farm at Campbelltown from William Bradbury. Worrall was considered an honest and industrious man and the most appropriate person to act as Fisher’s agent.
Fisher stood trial for assault but Brooker’s evidence was so abusive that the court considered the assault had been provoked and Fisher received a light sentence and a 50 pound fine. Fisher soon returned to his speculative building in Campbelltown. By April 1826 he had a large, three storey brick building which he offered to sell to the government as a barracks for troops. Nearby he had started another building which he offered to the government as a gaol and courthouse. Both buildings lay “mouldering to decay” a decade after the murder of their owner. Later the site was acquired for a hotel and still later became a branch of the Bank of New South Wales. 87
Fisher’s farm had no residence so he, his employees and convict servants lodged with his neighbour, George Worrall. Worrall’s house was about 16.5 metres long with three large rooms and skillion verandahs and was located on the western side of Queen Street, south from Allman Street. In the winter of 1826 Worrall had a full house. Aside from himself and Fisher there were two bricklayers and two drainers employed by Fisher and two convict servants employed by Worrall.
On the evening of 17 June 1826 Frederick Fisher disappeared. Worrall announced that his neighbour had sailed for England because he was concerned about a charge of forgery made against him by Nathaniel Boon. Three weeks after Fisher’s disappearance Worrall sold Fisher’s horses and personal belongings, claiming that Fisher had sold them to him before sailing. Worrall offered Fisher’s horses to James Coddington. Coddington knew Fisher’s handwriting and was sure that the papers were forgeries, probably written by John Vaughan, a ticket of leave man who lived in Worrall’s house and kept his accounts.
Coddington was agent for Daniel Cooper who held the mortgage on Fisher’s farm. He alerted Cooper and when Worrall approached Cooper for title to Fisher’s farm, Cooper reported Fisher’s disappearance to his solicitor, James Norton. Norton knew Fisher – he had recommended Fisher for the job with Meehan and instituted the first official enquiries in a letter to the attorney general on 11 September 1826. In this letter Norton claimed that either Worrall knew of Fisher’s accidental death and had concealed it or that Worrall was involved in his murder. 88
Fisher’s sentence did not expire until 1829 so it was unlikely that he would return to England and risk imprisonment as a convict at large. Fisher was prospering in the colony and despite recent conflicts had much property and few debts. The residents of Campbelltown knew him as “an artful and covetous” man who would not have left without trying to make some profit from his possessions. His brother, Henry, also a convict had not known of his brother’s intention to leave for England.
Worrall was arrested on suspicion of Fisher’s murder on 17 September 1826 and Campbelltown magistrate, the Reverend Thomas Reddall, began an investigation into the movements of Worrall and the other inhabitants of his house. After repeated questioning, Worrall alleged that Fisher had indeed been murdered, not by himself but by four of the men in his house who had beaten Fisher to death on a dunghill in the backyard. Worrall had kept silent because of threats to his safety. The four men were arrested. All were confined in Liverpool gaol but no action could be taken because there was no body. The Sydney Gazette on 23 September 1826 announced a 20 pound reward (equal to a year’s wages) for information leading to the recovery of Fisher’s body or proof of his departure from the colony.
A month later on 20 October 1826 the Campbelltown Police were instructed to intensify the search for Fisher’s body. On 25 October 1826 two boys, Rixon and Burrows were returning home across Fisher’s farm and noticed bloodstains on a fence. Closer investigation found a lock of hair the same colour as Fisher’s hair and a tooth. Constable Luland searched the wheat paddock prodding the ground with an iron bar, but found nothing. Old John Warby suggested Aboriginal trackers be called in. The ground was marshy and Gilbert the tracker from Liverpool, tasted the water in the puddles and announced “white fellow’s fat there”. They followed the puddles prodding the ground and found Fisher’s remains in a shallow grave on Worrall’s land.
The body was partially decomposed, “a soddened death-like sickly white”, and the flesh fell from the hands and feet when touched. The face and head had been shockingly disfigured but the clothes, a plum coloured jacket, a full bloused shirt and buckles on the braces were easily recognisable as Fisher’s. The coroner, Mr Horsley, was sent for; the body was removed from the ground and a coronial enquiry held the following day. Formal identification was impossible due to decomposition and insecure storage of the remains: “since he had been out of the hole those who had the care of the body had let the dogs eat the putrid flesh of the legs. 89
Following the coronial investigation, the remains of Frederick George James Fisher were buried in St Peters graveyard on 27 October 1826. Despite his wealth, no one provided him with a headstone. His brother Henry commented “I myself buried him as decent as I could. I was seven weekes looking for the boddy witch gave me a grate cutting up.” 90
Three days after the discovery of Fisher’s body Worrall was committee for trial in Sydney for the murder of Fisher and the theft of his property. The Criminal Court sat before Chief Justice Francis Forbes in Sydney on 2 February 1827. The evidence against Worrall was largely circumstantial but Worrall was the only one who benefited in any material way from Fisher’s death. The jury took fifteen minutes to find him guilty. He was sentenced to death and executed three days later on Monday 5 February 1827. On the scaffold he confessed that he had killed Fisher by accident, thinking him a horse in the wheat crop and was then too frightened to confess. Worrall’s confession was never accepted in Campbelltown by those who had seen the injuries to Fisher’s head. Worrall had assumed when he was appointed Fisher’s agent that all Fisher’s property would belong to him. Disappointed by Fisher’s release from prison, he had murdered Fisher to obtain the property. 9