In the early morning of 26th April 1899 a young and distressed lad rushed into the West Hobart home of Police Sergeant Rainey and reported that his father had killed his mother with a tomahawk, cut his own throat with a razor blade and both were dead.
The boy was Henry Billinghurst, a youth of 16 who lived on Poets Road in West Hobart with his father Charles, his mother Mary, and 8 siblings. The Billinghursts were similar to many families of that period – they lived in impoverished conditions, had a large family and a rough weatherboard house that was barely big enough to accommodate them all. Charles Billinghurst worked at a nearby quarry for a paltry wage.
Charles and Mary were also cursed with ghastly tempers, and quarrelled constantly. He left her on several occasions, sometimes disappearing for weeks at time, but he would always end up back home again. On this occasion he had been gone for four days after an argument with Mary, and he arrived home at 8 am on a Thursday morning as Mary and their eldest child Henry were having breakfast at the kitchen table. The other children were still asleep in their beds.
Mary started on him almost immediately, complaining about some items he had purchased with money intended for the family. Charles, without even responding in his defence, left the room and procured a razor blade from the bedroom, and then returned to the kitchen where he picked up a tomahawk. Mary could see the trouble coming, and she headed for the door. Charles grabbed her and chopped into her head with the tomahawk until she fell to the ground. He continued his attack, driving the weapon into her head another four or five times, until he was sure she was dead. He lay down by her side, and cut his own throat from ear to ear.
A petrified Henry, who had witnessed the dreadful carnage, took off to the nearby Landsdowne Crescent home of the police sergeant. The sergeant arrived at the house, and found the dreadful scene of slaughter – Charles’ bloodied body laying face down, a razor blade still in his hand. Mary was alive, but unconscious and in a very critical state. She was taken to hospital but died 2 weeks later from her injuries.
Sadly, the 9 children aged from 16 months to 16 years, now homeless and destitute were divided up – 2 were handed to the ‘Neglected Children’s Department’, 3 went to the Infant’s Orphanage, and the other four were placed in private homes.
Sources: Mercury Thursday 27 April 1899 and the editions following.