Genealogy of the Rawsthorne, Collits, Lees, Morris, Field, Straney and Colbran families
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Caroline JAMES

Female 1827 - 1842  (~ 14 years)

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  • Name Caroline JAMES 
    Born Apr 1827  Liverpool, New South Wales, Australia Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Gender Female 
    Died 03 Jan 1842  Near Mt Victoria, New South Wales, Australia Find all individuals with events at this location  [2
    • Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday, September 25, 1932
      Historic Tombstones and First pioneers of the Lachlan......
      Unmarked graves in the Forbes Cemetery by Geo. G. Reeve.
      As the “Back to Forbes” week takes place some Lachlan history concerning the Collits should prove of interest to Forbesonians and others.

      In the Forbes cemetery there are many head stones of interest. One of them relates to Kate Kelly, whose history was so closely related with the Kelly gang in Victoria, and who spent the last years of her life in the Forbes district.

      Another headstone marks the grave of Ben Hall, the highway man of the 1860’s , who was surrounded and shot down by the police under the late Inspector Davidson near Nelungaloo. The headstone is plainly inscribed, bearing the simple inscription “In Memory of Ben Hall. 5th May, 1865. God Bless Him” . The date is that on which the unfortunate man met his end, being then 28 years of age.

      There are also to be seen in the Church of England portion of the cemetery memorial inscriptions to those splendid pioneers of the district, the Fields (whose place of origin in Australia was Castlereagh village, near Penrith), the Rawsthornes and the Stricklands.

      The Lachlan pioneer who founded the Bundaburra line, was Josiah Strickland (obit.1881) also a native of Castlereagh village. (Son of Maria Strickland nee Collits).

      On the other hand, sad to relate in unmarked graves in the same portion of the burial ground at Forbes that splendid family of native-born Australians, the Collits, also of Castlereagh, in each instance are sleeping their long last sleep. There were four pioneer brothers, all of whom were sons of old Pierce Collits, who landed in this country in the year 1802, and ultimately became District or Chief Constable of Penrith, and who is also identical with Pierce Collits, who established the historical “Collits Inn” at Mt. York on the Cox Pass road beyond Mt. Victoria, in the year 1824. The original building as still intact and used as an accommodation house, the visitors and guests of which go to the old place by way of train., via Hartley Vale.

      Old Pierce Collits died in the year 1848 and the foundress mother of all the Collits, Mrs. Mary Collits, departed this life in 1829. Of this historic couples four sons, the one who achieved most as an explorer and pioneer cattle pastoralist, in hte first case was domiciled at Canowindra in the year 1833, his mane was James Collits, second son of the pioneer Collits. James Collits marries twice, and left descendants, but appears to have fallen on bad times shortly before his death. He died at “Carawobitty”, Forbes on December 30th , 1880 in his 75th year.
      Knowing the great achievements of James Collits on the Lachlan River, at its various points of settlement, from Canowindra to Bandon, and to Bundaburra, and other stations in the district, it is painful to know that he lies in an unmarked grave in Forbes cemetery. Likewise also he does his brother John Collits, who married Hannah Lees, one of the daughters of pioneer John Lees, of Castlereagh. Also Joseph Collits, who was a wealthy man at his death in 1888. he was twice married, firstly to Mary Field and secondly to Mrs. Martha Haynes a widow, but in each case there was no issue. Joseph Collits left his station properties, which included Bogabigal holding, to an adopted boy who had grown up in his service. The adopted one did not show his appreciation of his benefactor’s goodwill, as no stone or commemorative tablet marks Joseph Collit’s grave.

      William Collits, the younger son of the Collits couple, is also interred in a nameless grave in Forbes cemetery. The wife of William was brutally and foully murdered on the Mitchell Pass Road just beyond Mt. Victoria, on 4th January, 1841 for which crime her brother-in-law, married to Mrs. Caroline Collits sister was executed at Bathurst Jail on 3rd may, 1841. At the trial it was stated that Mrs. Collits was no more than 17 years of age, and had been married to William for some 18 months before her death. At the time of her murder the Stockade at Mt. Victoria was in full swing, and most involved evidence was given by some of the convicts stationed there. From a full reading of the evidence in the contemporary Sydney newspaper of the time, it would appear that some of the soldiers then stationed at the Mt. Victoria Stockade, belonging to the 80th Regiment of Foot, appear to have been connected and in some ways cognisant of the fact when Mrs. Collits was being battered to death with a large boulder, and later, savagely mutilated.

      It may be of interest to admirers of Henry Lawson, the writer-poet to know that his father Peter Lawson is buried in the historic Mt. York cemetery, near the Collits couples tomb. Peter Lawson died at the age of 55 years on December 31st, 1899. His grave also is unmarked, although the exact locality is known.


      The Ghost of the Woman in Black

      The legend of the Ghost of the Woman in Black started after the murder of Caroline Collits, the young wife of William Collits. She was only 17 years of age, the daughter of the infamous innkeeper, William James, who had been charged with assisting his wife to commit suicide at the Woodman’s Inn at Woodford. John Walsh was charged with Caroline’s murder and on reading the court proceedings, the story unfolds in a most gruesome way.

      It was the 3rd of January, 1842, summer in the Blue Mountains. William Collits and his wife, Caroline had been at Mr Kibble’s Plough Inn at Hartley. William was trying to convince Caroline to come and live back home, they had not been living together for some months. His mother had died the year before and he was missing her. John Walsh, Caroline’s brother-in-law, was at the Inn and told them that Mr Gardiner of the Scotch Thistle at Blackheath, wanted to see them. Caroline had been living with her sister, Maria and brother-in-law, John Walsh at Blackheath and refused to go home with William saying she “had plenty of money and didn’t want any from him.” Her sister was about eight and a half months pregnant at the time of this discussion.

      In month passed, William had frequently gone to the Walsh’s to try and convince Caroline to come home. He knew that Walsh had mistreated her on many occasions when he was drinking – running her out of the house. The trouble with William was that he was considered to be slow-witted. Despite this the Walshes were well aware that he was a Collitt and had substantial property. They badgered him as all his visits to give Maria five head of cattle. When they were married in 1840, William had brought Caroline and her sister to Hartley and his mother had given them some cattle to look after. Maria and Walsh were married and began to take property rights over everything and everyone. William also suspected what Walsh had “lain with his (William’s) wife” was carrying on an affair with her.

      They left the Plough Inn as there were no spirits, only porter and ale. Caroline still refused to go home with William and they went to Joseph Jagger’s inn, The Coach and Horses (which became the Mt. Victoria Inn and is now Rosedale) in Hartley. Walsh had been drinking all day and was drunk when they arrived at the Inn. There was Caroline and William, John Walsh and Andrew Gardiner’s stockman, Leone Howard. Leone called for a glass of brandy for each of the men and a glass of syrup of cloves for Caroline. Walsh wanted a second round but Mr Jagger’s would not let him have any more as he was already drunk. Walsh took Caroline by the arm and said “come home with me, my girl. While I have got a home, you shall have one, and while I have a shilling, you shall have half of it.”

      They all left the inn together, they had stayed five minutes or so. It had been dark for about two hours and there was no moon. Leone Howard had gone his own way and Walsh escorted Caroline as they all three, Walsh, William and Caroline gone up the hill about a mile. Walsh asked where his wife was, he was told she was at Blackheath. By now, Walsh was very drunk and suddenly attacked William, knocking him down. Caroline grabbed Walsh’s arm and said “Don’t hit him.” William jumped up and started to run, Caroline calling out, “Run, run or he’ll kill you!” Walsh ran after him but William got away and didn’t see him again until he reached the Gardner’s Inn (The Scotch Thistle) and had been in bed for about two hours. There were a number of other men there and when Walsh arrived William asked. “Where is my wife?” Walsh replied. “Mr. Jagger’s son and four men rushed me, your wife flew into my arms for protection. Jagger’s son up with a pistol and struck me here (pointing to his face). Young Jagge’rs had stripped me naked. I was forced to run for my life, and stopped at the box where the soldiers are and borrowed a Government shirt.” Walsh then went to his wife’s room to bed.

      The next morning at 6a.m. the driver of the Hartley to Penrith mail coach, midway between the top of Mt. Victoria and Soldier’s Pinch, about 3 miles from Jagger’s Inn, saw some clothes lying in the road and after them, a body. The horses shied and when Matthew got down he gathered the clothes and tied them in the shawl which was four of five yards from the rest. They were all separate, the trousers, next the waistcoat, next the shirt, next the neckerchief, then the boots; the body was nearly opposite, off the road, stripped to above the middle. He recognised the body as Caroline Collits. He covered the body. There were braces saturated with blood lying a yard away, off the road. The body on its back, the head very much disfigured and a stone smeared with blood and human hair adhering to it, found close to the body. The right temple was crushed, the wound was inflicted with the stone as it fitted the depression; there were several other wounds on her head. The body was quite stiff, and Matthews did not disturb it. After alerting the soldiers, the mail coach continued on its way to Gardiner’s, when they met Walsh and William Collits. William said he was looking for his wife, and when Matthew Wall asked him where he had left his wife the previous evening, he replied “at the top of the hill after Walsh punched me and knocked me down.”

      Walsh then said he had been run away with and had to take a shirt back. Matthew called him a murdered and told William his wife was “up the road,” dead! William went running up the road with a Richard Rogers, a bondsman, there were two prisoners from the stockade now guarding the body.

      When William saw Walsh he accused him of murdering his wife. Rogers took Walsh to the Chief Constable of Hartley, Thomas Finn, at the Coach and Horses Inn and he was then taken into custody. Rogers warned him if he attempted to escape he would “knock his brains out.”

      Sergeant Jones of H.M. 80th Regiment, stationed at the stockade recalled that at about 11 o’clock the night of the 3rd January, the prisoner had come to the hut and knocked him up relating a story that Jagger’s son and four other men had knocked him down and taken the woman Collits from him, and on hearing one of them say “they better cut off his head” he ran away. Sergeant Jones did not believe his story as he seemed to be roused from a drunken state, showing marks on his face he said were from a pistol but were more like marks from finger nails. He suggested Walsh should go to Gardiner’s and get assistance, he didn’t return. Walsh had presented himself without clothes and requested a shirt from the Government stores. That is what he was wearing when he returned to Gardiner’s Inn, saying he had been set upon and stripped naked.

      Subsequent witnesses absolved Jagger’s sons of any wrongdoing. After all the evidence was presented the jury deliberated for about half an hour. When they returned they pronounced John Walsh guilty.

      His Honour, Mr. Justice Stephen concurred with their findings and passed sentence of death upon the prisoner forthwith. The trial had occupied the whole day, up to past eight in the evening of Tuesday 31/3/1842.

      Maria gave birth to a daughter who was baptised Eliza on 27/3/1842 by Father Michael Cavanagh.

      John Walsh was hung later in the year at Bathurst on Tuesday 3/5/1842

      There does not seem to be any record of where Caroline Collits was buried. It is thought that she was buried in the old Collits graveyard, but there is no headstone to be found.

      And I wonder what happened to Eliza and her unfortunate mother, Maria?

      After this sensational crime, there was said to be a 100 year curse placed on that part of the road. Many people swore they saw the ghost of the Woman in Black, saying she clung on to the back of the coaches or wagons after midnight in the mists of the mountains. Henry Lawson was sure he saw her and wrote a poem, “The Ghost at the Second Bridge”. Even during the Second World War shift workers travelling to and from the Lithgow Small Arms factory were sure she had clung to the back of the buses on some moonless nights. Then, after 1942 there seemed to be no sign of the Ghost of the Woman in Black – the hundred years had passed.
    Person ID I849  The Rawsthorne Family Tree
    Last Modified 14 Nov 2015 

    Father William JAMES 
    Relationship Natural 
    Mother Mary HOPKINS 
    Relationship Natural 
    Family ID F9125  Group Sheet

    Family William COLLITS,   b. 13 Jun 1815, Castlereagh, New South Wales, Australia Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 26 Dec 1867, Bogabagil Station, Forbes, New South Wales, Australia Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 52 years) 
    Married 18 Nov 1840  St Lawrence Church of England, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia Find all individuals with events at this location  [3, 4
    Last Modified 14 Nov 2015 
    Family ID F394  Group Sheet

  • Sources 
    1. [S119] Geraldine JAMES.

    2. [S79] From a Distant Field, Colin Field, Book: Version 3 (Self Published).

    3. [S236] Pan WILCOX.

    4. [S221] New South Wales Births, Deaths & Marriages.
      V1840270 24B