John James Maguire - suspected murder, 1868

Content warning: distressing content 


District Coroner, Mr. Candler, was presented with an inquiry into the death of John James Maguire whose body was found on the side of the Merri Creek outside the Roscrea Hotel, Northcote, on the 26th December 1868. His body was discovered by the two sons of Dr Philips. Maguire, a cabman who lodged in Little Lonsdale Street was described as a man “who had seen better days.” 

Cabman Bartholomew Ellis, who had quarrelled with Maguire on Christmas Day, was arrested on Wednesday 30th December on suspicion of murder. The employer of the deceased, Michael Foley, claimed to have seen Ellis between three and five o'clock on the afternoon of the 26th December. Henry Wilson, cabdriver, overheard a discussion as to the whereabouts of “The Duke” (a nickname for the deceased) while stationed on the rank in Lonsdale Street. An intoxicated Ellis said that he had, 'given him a good thrashing.'  

On Christmas night McGuire and Ellis were seen arguing at the Rifle Bridge Hotel at about quarter-past twelve o’clock by Adam Jones, a “lad” who knew Maguire. Witnesses saw Ellis leave the premises in his cab. Maguire came out of the hotel saying he would fight Ellis. Soon after this declaration, Ellis returned to the site and Maguire jumped into the cab and made a grab for Ellis’ neck. They drove down to Curtain’s Hotel, appearing to be in friendly conversation by onlookers. Ellis said he drove Maguire to Tankerville Hotel, where he jumped out at Johnston Street and was not seen again. 

There was evidence of a violent struggle on Ellis’ clothes and inside his cab. Marks of blood were on his waist-coat and trousers, and signs that his waist-coat had been torn and sewn by an unpractised hand. The blood stains were small and more likely caused by a nose bleed. Blood was also found on the cab curtains and cushions. Hudson, who arrested Ellis, observed that there were recently stained and washed cab cushions on top of the shed.

Detective Forster ordered body to be exhumed January 5th 1869. Dr Bowie recalled that the injury to the head was caused by one blow. Dr Neild said it was, “almost impossible to detect any superficial marks of violence”.  He concluded that the victim most likely fell from a height and hit his head upon a rock. The jury were unable to say how the body ended up on in its final resting place, but drew attention to the dangerous state of the bank to the Melbourne Corporation. As this was deemed an accident, Bartholomew Ellis was not charged for the murder of John James Maguire.       Edge, Gary (2004). Surviving the six o’clock swill: a history of Darebin’s hotels. Melbourne. Darebin Libraries   SUSPECTED MURDER AT MERRI CREEK (1869, January 1). Bendigo Advertiser (Vic. : 1855 – 1918), p. 3   THE SUSPECTED MURDER AT NORTHCOTE (1869, January 16). Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tas. : 1835 – 1880), p. 2    THE SUSPECTED MURDER AT NORTHCOTE (1869, January 8). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 5    SUSPECTED MURDER AT NORTHCOTE (1869, January 9). The Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 – 1918), p. 13