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Martin, Malachi

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Fast Facts
Type of person Individual
Date of birth c. 1831
Place of birth Unknown
Date of arrival 1837
Principal occupation Coach Driver and murderer.
Date of death 1862
Place of decease Hanged in Adelaide Gaol.

Malachi Martin was the son of Michael (also known as Michi) Martin and his wife Mary. Malachi was born in about 1831 and he arrived in South Australia with his parents, probably on board the brig Emma from Hobart on 5 March 1837 making them very early settlers in South Australia. Michael Martin purchased 80 acres of land (section 191 later known as Somerset Farm) in the McLaren Vale/Willunga district (then known as District C). Malachi grew up in the Willunga District during the early 1840s and historian Robb Linn has described Michael and his family as having “a cloud of disrepute hanging over it”.

Young Malachi Martin first got into trouble with the law in July 1844 at the tender age of about 13 or 14 when he was accused of stealing a piece of ribbon and a half crown coin from the Encounter Bay Post Office where he was working, One witness claimed that Malachi had admitted to the theft and offered him one shilling “not to say anything”. Despite this damning testimony Malachi was acquitted and while he was not convicted his mother Mary, then aged 40, obviously found the process traumatic. A few days afterwards she committed suicide by drowning herself in a dam on the family property. Tragically she was heavily pregnant at the time. Interestingly Malachi was the first person on the scene and there were some who believed that he may have argued with his mother and pushed her into the dam.

Michael Martin ran the coach service between Adelaide and Encounter Bay and his son Malachi worked as a coach driver for his father on that run. Later when Michael purchased property in the South East, Malachi became a coach driver on the Kingston to Encounter Bay run. Even by this time, in his early twenties, Malachi had a reputation as a “hard man” with a bad temper and a nasty disposition and was described by one writer as “Ill-natured and a bully”. During the mid 1850s Malachi was a regular visitor at “Salt Creek House” (formerly called the “Traveller’s Rest”) which was an inn/tavern/public house at Salt Creek on the Coorong and for some years this was the only official stop on the Kingston to Encounter Bay coach run.

Salt Creek House had been run since late 1851 by William Robinson and his pretty young wife Catherine (also known as “Nellie”). Catherine Bracken had arrived in 1849 as an Irish orphan girl on board the ship Inconstant. She was later described as a “good-looking young woman” and reputed to be the “most beautiful girl in Mount Barker” when she married William Robinson in early 1851. William and Catherine had three children – all boys – John (b.1851), William junior (b.1852) and Richard James (b.1855).

By 1855 Robison suspected that Malachi Martin was conducting an affair with his wife Catherine and the two men came to blows on at least one occasion. Nevertheless on about 14 June 1856 William Robinson joined Malachi Martin in a search for some lost scrub cattle and Malachi later returned to the Inn claiming that he had become separated from Robinson. A few days later, Aboriginal trackers were sent out and a local police constable found Robinson’s body lying face down on the edge of a salt lagoon with his throat cut, almost severing his head, and a knife in his right hand. Six weeks after Robinson’s death, Malachi Martin was arrested as a suspect but strangely he was never charged. The verdict of the coroner was suicide despite the fact that Robinson was left-handed and he had no blood on his hands.

Malachi Martin left South Australia for Sydney soon after Robinson’s suspicious death but by 1858 he was back and he moved in with the widow Catherine before marrying her on 23 June 1858 at St. Patrick’s Church in Adelaide. Malachi and Catherine then settled in to running the Salt Creek Inn and they had a daughter, Teresa Bernard Martin (b. 1860). This could have been the end to this story but Malachi obviously thought, by this stage, that he could get away with almost anything.

Over the next few years Malachi Martin was reputed to have been connected to a number of disappearances, and probable murders, in the Salt Creek area. One was Harry Kirby, a jeweler who had passed through Salt Creek and stopped at the Inn. Kirby went missing soon afterwards, and he was never seen again but the lid of his jeweler’s box was later found under the Salt Creek bridge. In addition Malachi was also reported to have had confrontations with a number of Indigenous people including an Aboriginal woman who he was reported to have killed with a stock whip and an Aboriginal teenager who he is supposed to have killed with a “waddy” or heavy stick. While Martin was never tried or convicted of any of these crimes, nevertheless it is believed that he was probably responsible for at least more three murders in addition to that of William Robinson.

Then came the only murder for which Malachi was tried and convicted that of Jane McManamen. Jane had come to work for Martin’s wife Catherine as a domestic servant after William Robinson’s death but left after Catherine married Malachi Martin in 1858 as she greatly disapproved of the marriage. Sometime in 1860 Jane McManamen returned to work at the Salt Creek Inn

In February of 1862 Malachi Martin persuaded his wife to take the four children for a holiday to his father’s property, Somerset Farm, in the Willunga District. While Catherine was away, Jane went missing from Salt Creek. When questioned, Malachi advised that she had moved away to Mount Gambier on a whim. It was Jane’s sister who contacted authorities about the disappearance and suggested potential foul play. After an investigation by police, including those stationed at Wellington, Jane’s body was found wrapped in flour bags half concealed in a wombat hole at Salt Creek about half a mile from Martin's house. Malachi was finally charged with Jane’s murder in June 1862 and subsequently found guilty in the Supreme Court. He was hanged at the age of 32 at the Adelaide Gaol on the 24th of December 1862 and he is buried within the walls of the gaol.

Sources

  • South Australia Gazette and Colonial Register. 7 April 1838:1
  • The Register 23 Jan 1919:6
  • State Records of South Australia -: South Australian Police Department
  • GRG5/4 Miscellaneous Papers Police Commissioner's Office 1840-75
  • GRG5 Correspondence Files 1862
  • Willunga National Trust Blue Folder 42-5-1
  • D. Ralfe 2013 Murders and Mayhem at Salt Creek: The true story of Malachi Martin.



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