This week we continue the story of local police magistrate and coroner Benjamin Lee at Bathurst from 1874 until 1889.
In their attempt to try to get a new court house, locals learnt in November 1846 that the sum of £2000 had been placed on the estimates for 1847 towards erecting a new court house at Bathurst.
They reasonably expected to see this much-needed work progressing in a few months. The building in which the Assizes and Court of Quarter and Petty Sessions were being held at the time were thought to be not only a disgrace to the town and neighbourhood, but dangerous and insecure. The building originally consisted of seven or eight rooms, the internal walls and upper flooring having already been removed.
During August 1850, the Bathurst Circuit Court was held at Mrs Mary Black's Commercial Inn. Bathurst residents learnt via the Government Gazette that on Monday, September 15, 1856, the Hon. Mr Justice Dickinson would be in the Bathurst Circuit Court. By November 1862, police magistrate Dr Palmer was in the magistrate's seat.
The new police magistrate, Benjamin Lee, arrived in 1874 and was soon able to witness the new court house being constructed. The new building was designed by colonial architect James Barnet.
The opening finally took place in mid-July 1880 at 12.30. The Hon. F.B. Suttor, Minister for Justice was in the presence of Sir Alfred Stephen, Sir Henry Parkes, Sir John Robertson, Hon. J. Lackey, Hon. R. Wisdom, E. Combes, C.M.G., Mr. E. Webb, M.L.A., Mr Pilcher, M.L.A., Mr Benjamin Lee, police magistrate, Bishop Marsden and Messrs. Lee, McPhillamy, W.H. Suttor, Hellyer, the mayor and other leading local residents. Mr Suttor made a brief speech, congratulating the citizens on the erection of the structure, which would be in harmony with the appearance of the surrounding buildings.
A half-day holiday was observed in honour of the event and at a banquet in the afternoon at the School of Arts, 85 ladies and gentlemen sat down.
As a magistrate, Benjamin became well-known locally and was often referred to as "Benny Lee". He heard all the sad and sometimes gruesome details, such as in October 1887. It was the "tragedy on the Rockley Road - the drunkard's horrible end at Murdering Swamp". An inquest was held at George Hackett's Apsley on the Rockley Road by Benjamin, as district coroner, on the body of Patrick McDonald, who was found with his throat cut from ear to ear.
Various witnesses were called, such as labourer William Brown and farmer John Glynn of White Rock, who said he had seen McDonald at Mortimer's Hotel in Kelso. Senior Constable Sutton deposed that it was reported to the police by Brown that a body had been seen at Murdering Swamp. A witness and another constable went to the spot and saw the body of the deceased. Witnesses examined the place but could see no signs of a struggle.
Dr W.F.P. Bassett deposed that he had examined the body of the deceased. It was that of a man about five feet, 10 inches in height, about 30 to 35 years of age, strongly built and well nourished. The only mark of violence was a wound in the upper throat, between two and three inches in length, running in a transverse direction and penetrating the pharynx. The wound was caused by some sharp instrument such as a pocketknife or razor.
The jury returned a verdict: "That Patrick McDonald died on about the October 2, being found dead in the creek near the residence of George Hackett, South Aspley, and that he died from drowning." At the Police Court the following morning, Mr Lee instructed Senior-Sergeant Musgrove to ascertain why E. Mortimer, publican, of Kelso, had disobeyed the special message from the Government by telegram, requesting him (Mortimer) at the inquest of Patrick McDonald, at Apsley, yesterday.