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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 6, Issue 6, 2008

The Tragedy at Stafford Place Stables

page 30

The Tragedy at Stafford Place Stables

The family of Henry Redwood senior were enjoying tea in the sitting room of his home, Stafford Place, Waimea West at about 5.30pm on Saturday 2nd of November 1861. Across the yard they could see the substantial brick stables where three farmhands, John Wratten, Esau Russ and Joseph Ellis, stood near the archway. Unbeknown to the onlookers, the men were arguing about the colour and age of one of Redwood's foals.

The argument escalated when the word liar was used, and 19 year old Ellis attacked 27 year old Russ, with both falling to the ground. Wratten did not believe the fight would become serious and left the scene. One of the witnesses in the house, 11 year old Francis Bolton, was concerned enough to go and tell his Grandpa. Redwood believed that the two men got on well together and said to let them settle their quarrel. After wrestling for a time the men regained their feet, but continued to trade blows and fell again, with Russ drawing blood from Ellis's face.

When they again climbed to their feet, Russ went into the stable and Ellis entered the harness room, from where he emerged with a loaded shotgun. He went across to the stable and called out "Come out and be shot or stay in there and be shot". Redwood's daughter, Elizabeth Bolton, crossed the yard as Ellis emerged with the gun and said "Don't do it Joe, don't do it" but he took no heed. He took aim and fired, hitting Russ in the neck and killing him instantly.

A Coroner's Inquest was convened at Stafford Place on 4 November 1861. The jurors were John Ayles, foreman, John Palmer, EW Bullard, Henry Tomlinson, John Chapman, Mark Newth, Thomas Ford, Benjamin Morgan, Walter Kerr, Alex Drummond and John Thomas. After the evidence and been heard and witnesses questioned, the verdict of manslaughter was delivered. The body of Esau Russ was interred in the graveyard of St Michael's Anglican church at Waimea West.

The trial of Joseph Ellis on a charge of the wilful murder of Esau Russ took place on 4 November 1861 in the Provincial Hall before His Honour Mr Johnston. On the morning of the trial, Bishop Hobhouse conducted a special service to mark the opening of the Assize, which the Judge and jury attended. The Bishop was reported to have delivered an impressive sermon based on Genesis chapter nine and spoke about the quality of mercy.

Those empanelled for the Grand Jury were F Huddleston, J Beit, C Elliott, HE Curtis, O Curtis, E Pritchard, AW Scaife, G Bennett, H Edwards, AG Braithwaite, T Hackett, AS Collins, WR Nicholson, A Richmond, GW Schroder, page 31H Stafford, W Wells, JW Barnicoat, J Wilson, CB Wither, HB Huddleston, J Fell, IM Pearson, WH Turner and JG Fletcher. It may be that the jury was selected from this list.

The evidence from the inquest was repeated, with the additional information of a history of fighting because Esau Russ was a tease. The jury deliberated for about an hour and returned a verdict of manslaughter. The Judge sentenced Ellis to ten years hard labour and told him that his life had hung by a mere thread. He observed that he should contemplate on what he had done and, if spared to come out of prison, would be a wiser and better man.

Stafford Place stables.The Nelson Provincial Museum, Hunter Brown Collection LHB35.

Stafford Place stables.
The Nelson Provincial Museum, Hunter Brown Collection LHB35.

References: Elsie Curnow: Country Ways in Two Countries. S.G. Gull: Job Russ — 1819-1907. Colonist — January 17th, 1862