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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Chapter VI. — Merely to Sharpen his Knife

Chapter VI.

Merely to Sharpen his Knife.

Meikle's Best Witness.

But the most valuable part of Lambert's testimony, and that which entitles us to regard him as Meikle's chief witness now that Meikle himself has been ruled out by the Commission, and his son and Harvey are dead, is that relating to Lambert's visit to Meikle's house on the night before the entry of the police. Referring to the two sheepskins bearing the Company's brand which were found in Meikle's smithy, "I ask your Honours," said Dr. Findlay in his opening address, "to treat these skins and the means by which they got there as the crux of the whole case "(C. III); and we shall presently see that the challenge was cheerfully accepted on Meikle's behalf. The matter is therefore clearly deserving of the closest scrutiny, McGeorge's important statement on the point at Lambert's trial in 1895 has been already given. Before the Commission, is an old man of transparent honesty, but failing memory, he denied having given Lambert two sheepskins, though he remembered being asked for them. (C. 81/715-720). But he stated that he did not wish to alter anything that he had said at Lambert's trial, and that he was not aware of having made any mistakes on that occasion. (C. 81/724-5; 8¾6). McGeorge's memory was certainly better eleven years before, and his original statement that he left two skins hanging for Lambert on a wire fence beside the hut may be safely accepted as in no way impugned by his candid lapse of memory on this one point before the Commission. As before, Lambert denied the whole conversation, but his denial varied in one important particular from his previous statement:—

1895.—"It is not true I asked McGeorge for two skins before he left. I could have got them from Stewart or Mr. Troup without asking McGeorge for them."—(P. 45.)

page 24

1906.—" If I wanted two skins, I do not see why I should ask McGeorge for them. I could get them without asking for them at all."

. . . . . . . . . .

" Could you have picked them up round the hut?"—" Yes."—(C) I7S/S64-7-)

According to the one explanation he could have got the skins at any time by an application to his superior officers, which would probably have involved a six or seven miles' journey to the homestead where they lived; according, to the other, he could have freely helped himself at any time without the sanction or the assistance of anybody. In the opinion of Mr. Justice Edwards there is no conflict between these explanations, but "both are obviously and equally true"—(C. 326, ad fin.); and without further labouring the point we are quite content to leave it to the candid reader to say whether he is right.

The Crux of the Crux.

"Dr. Findlay put it," said Mr. Atkinson in his reply," that, these two skins found in Meikle's smithy were the crux of the case. I put it to your Honours that the crux of the sheep issue is Lambert's unexplained visit to Meikle's house on night of the 1st November." (C. 328.) What was the object of that visit ? Lambert's explanation of this mysterious incident is one of the few vital points in his testimony which have never varied. Here are his different statements:—

1887.—"Last time I was at Meikle's—about 6 p.m.—was before Arthur Meikle's arrest one or two nights. . . . Arthur turned grindstone for me, and while we were sharpening knife father came out."—(P. 21.)

1895.—"I went one night to get a knife sharpened. I do think the night before police came."—(P. 46.)

1906.—"Can you recall when you were last at Meikle's before the police searched?"—"Yes, I think the last time I was there I went to sharpen a knife."—(C. 177/618.)

As Arthur Meikle was arrested on the 4th November, and Lambert's visit was before the entry of the police on the 2nd the date cannot have been later than the 1st; nor will Lambert description of it as a night or two before Arthur's arrest all the placing of it further back. Thus, despite the doubt expressed by Lambert in 1895, we arrive from his own evidence in 1887 at the very night before the police came as, the date of his visit. The hour, according to his statement, was about p. m., but as his tea-time was "somewhere about 6 o'clock,"and he had had tea that evening, and then travelled a mile from hut to Meikle's—(C. 178/640-3), it must have been at least o'clock on his own showing. The Meikle household were all agreed that it was about two hours later.

"I do not know exactly. I took the knife up there."

Whether the hour was 7 or 9 o'clock, it is at any rate not disputed that the reason or the pretext for the visit was that page 25 Lambert wanted to get his knife sharpened. On this point he is in agreement with the Meikle family, and even, as we have seen, with himself. To further questions on the point before the Commission his replies were as follow:—

" Had you any reason for getting the knife sharpened ?"—" Yes; I was going to kill some sheep at the station."

"Did you spend the night in the hut or go on to the station?"—" I did not go on to the station."—(C. 178/646-7.)

He was unable to tell the Commission where he did go that evening, but he was quite clear about it in 1887 :—

"On day I sharpened knife I left Meikle's and went home, ten miles."—(P. 21.)

Lambert's home was at Mataura, which according to independent witnesses was fourteen miles distant by the main road and twelve miles by the shortest cut, but the discrepancy is of no very serious moment for the present purpose. Lambert's cross-examination on this point before the Commission con-cluded as follows:—

"Had you got any bag with you?"—" No, I had not."

"No blankets or anything else?"—"What would I take my blankets up there for ? I would have to fetch them a mile back again, as I would have to pass my hut when I left Meikle's to go home."

"I will put this to you in order to get at the other side :' Was it not a little bit out of your way to go to Meikle's to get a knife sharpened if you were going on to Mataura, ten miles, the same evening ?'"—" No, I do not think it was."

"Was Meikle's on the way to Mataura?"—" No."

"Was it [i.e., Mataura] not ten miles exactly in the opposite direction?"-" Yes."

Dr. Findlay: "He did not say that he came to get his knife sharpened."

Mr. Atkinson: "What did you come for?"—"1 do not know exactly. I took the knife up there."—(C. 178/667-672.)

Obviously Bogus.

Dr. Findlay's denial came a little too late, for the fatal admission had already been made in answer to Question 618 above quoted, and it had also been made in 1887 and 1895. Incidentally the candour of the witness's answers to three consecutions is worth noting:—(1) He couldn't have brought blankets with him to Meikle's, because it was a mile out of his way to Mataura; (2) nevertheless, it was not out of his way to go there to sharpen his knife; (3) nevertheless it was exactly in the opposite direction! Three such simple questions in succession could hardly have been better handled. But the main point is that, even after Dr. Findlay's broad reminder, Lambert was unable to suggest any other explanation of his visit than that which counsel's interjection plainly proclaimed to be imgossible. "I do not know exactly. I took the knife up there."

Lambert's ignorance on so vital a point is unfortunate, but he has surely said enough to enable us to fill the gap. Between page 26 7 and 9 o'clock on the night of the 1st November Lambert called at Meikle's for the alleged purpose of sharpening his knife in order to kill sheep at Islay Station, seven miles away. That a station which ran 2500 sheep did not possess a grindstone was not suggested by counsel for the Crown, nor by either of the Commissioners. But to make the false pretence the more transparent, Lambert, instead of taking the knife to Islay that evening, went a mile back on his tracks to the hut, and thence ten miles or more to Mataura. Are not these three inferences inevitable ?—
(1)That the pretext which Lambert gave for his visit to Meikle's that evening, and which he has repeated at every subsequent opportunity, was a bogus one.
(2)That the real object of his visit was something which has not dared to disclose.
(3)That when he "took the knife up there" he took something else with him that was of a good deal more value to him for the purposes of his employment than a knife.