By Irma Walter, 2020.
Thomas Davidson, born c1830, was convicted of larceny on 3 January 1861 at the Sleaford Kesteven Sessions in Lincolnshire, and due to a previous conviction was sentenced to seven years’ transportation.
He spent time in Chatham Prison before being taken onboard the Norwood for transportation to Western Australia. He was described as a labourer, single, aged 32, with light coloured hair, blue eyes, a long face and fair complexion. He was middling stout in build, unable to read or write, and his religion was Protestant. His distinguishing marks were a cut on his neck and another on the thumb of his right hand.
Convict Record in WA
12/6/1862 – To North Fremantle. 25/8/1862 (indecipherable).
9/9/1863 – Property – one web belt – sent to Vasse.
11/9/1863 – Ticket of Leave.
12/9/1863 – General Servant, 30/- per month, C. Lasegue, Busselton.
16/9/1863 – Charged by WR Bunbury at Vasse – Out after hours – fined 10/-.
12/10/1863 – Bunbury.
31/12/1863 – Sawyer, Public Work, Vasse, Yelverton, Saw Mill Station.
30/6/1864 – Ditto.
30/12/1864 – General Servant, £5/10/- per month, Yelverton, Saw Mill Station.
30/6/1865 – General Servant, £4/10/- per month, Sussex, Yelverton, Saw Mill Station.
6/3/1865 – Charged by RM Vasse – Drunk on Sunday – seven days Dunsbro’ Road.
29/9/1865 – Charged by RM Vasse – Breach of Regulations – sentence 12 months Dunsbro’
Road. (Six months of this sentence were remitted (vide 6755/1).
1/7/1865 – General Servant, 40/- per month, J. Turner, (indecipherable).
2/4/1866 – General Servant, 40/- per month, Sussex, W. Smith, Dunsborough.
4/10/1866 – Charged by RM Vasse – Breach of Regulations – sentence three months
Dunsbro’ Road Party.
11/1/1867 – General Servant, 25/- per month, Sussex, W. Seymour, Quindalup.
8/4/1867 – Ticket of Leave sent to RM Busselton.
30/6/1867 – Labourer, 25/- per month, Sussex, W. Seymour, Quindalup.
30/12/1867 – General Servant, 25/- per month, Sussex, W. Seymour, Quindalup.
10/1/1868 – Died at Busselton from a gunshot wound. (vide 9991/2)
Accident or Murder?
News of Thomas Davidson’s sudden death in 1868 shocked the local community. Davidson, a ticket-of-leave man known as ‘Sam’, was just 38 years of age at the time of his death, and was well-known in the Vasse District, having been employed there since 1863. He had himself employed four ticket-of-leave men between 1865 and his death in 1868.
For the last eighteen months he had worked for former whaler, William Frederick Seymour, who had a small farm at Dunsborough. They were said to have an amicable relationship, although Seymour owed him money and it was known that Davidson was considering leaving his employment. On the day of his death they had been working in the fields and Seymour had decided to quit early and go fishing, leaving Davidson and two Aboriginal workers behind. It wasn’t long before Davidson joined him with his fishing gear, saying that the job was almost finished and he’d decided to leave the other two to complete the work. They began fishing some distance apart. What exactly happened after that was a matter of conjecture.
It wasn’t until 4 o’clock the following morning that Seymour roused local policeman James Forrest from his bed, telling him that ‘Sam’ Davidson had drowned at Wizard Rocks, south of Cape Naturaliste. The body was not found until three days later and when Police Constable James Forrest examined the body he found evidence of shot from a gun. At that stage Seymour’s story changed. He stated that Davidson had accidentally shot himself while warding off an attack from a seal on the rocks. His body was buried, wrapped in a blanket, but was exhumed eight days later, after Forrest had reported the event to officials in Bunbury. The Resident Magistrate, Medical Officer and Police Inspector made their way down to Vasse to investigate the sudden death.
Seymour’s story of an accidental shooting was disputed by Medical Officer Dr John Sampson, a former convict himself, who after close examination of the remains, declared Seymour’s version of events to be impossible and that Davidson had been shot in the back from some distance.
William Frederick Seymour was arrested for murder and faced trial in the Supreme Court in Perth on 2 April 1868. The trial attracted a lot of attention, with several witnesses giving evidence that Seymour had told them differing versions of what had occurred on the rocks that fateful day. Seymour told the Court that he had shouted a warning to Davidson that a large seal was close-by and that Davidson had tried to ward off the creature with his rifle, but instead accidentally shot himself.
Character witness Robert F. Pries (an expiree), portrayed Seymour as ‘a kindly, quiet, well-conducted man, spoken favourably of in the district in which he had lived for thirty years.’ However Police Constable James Forrest stated that he had known Seymour for 16 years and considered that ‘the prisoner does not bear a good character in the district for humanity’. Compelling evidence was given by Dr Sampson, corroborated by John Ferguson, the Colonial Surgeon, that it would have been impossible for Davidson to have shot himself through the back in the manner described. This evidence, however, failed to convince the Jury, who took three-quarters of an hour to reach the verdict of Not Guilty.
The verdict aroused controversy in the community, with the Editor of the Inquirer newspaper being most outspoken over the responsibility of a jury in ensuring that justice was seen to be done. The editor concluded a lengthy treatise on the English justice system with the following comments:
…Is it not difficult to believe that twelve men, conscientiously agreed to a verdict of ‘Not guilty’ in the painful case of Thomas Davidson? Was there ever circumstantial evidence of a more pointed character? Seymour was the master, Davidson, the deceased, was his servant. They quarrelled; deceased said he would not stop there, and Seymour owed him money. They were together on some rocks in a lonely spot, where the man was shot accidentally, or designedly, by his own hand, or by that of Seymour. It was beyond doubt that by a gun-shot wound he died. The hypothesis of the Crown was that deceased did not shoot himself, and the testimony of three witnesses supported it. The medical attendant at Bunbury, Mr. Sampson, who made a careful post mortem examination, believed that the deceased was fired at from a distance. Neither gun-wadding nor clothing had penetrated the wound. Dr. Ferguson, the Colonial Surgeon, did not think it possible that deceased could have inflicted such a wound upon himself. “I do not think,’ he says, ‘ that such a wound could have been inflicted with an ordinary charge fired at less than six feet from the body.” Police Constable Forrest had experimented with this gun, and believed that it must have been fired at least ten feet from the person of Davidson.
A plain, unwavering statement of the accused, concerning a solemn matter of life or death, might have rebutted this suspicion against the prisoner, however strong. But Seymour accounted in at least two different ways, for the death of the unfortunate man. To the police constable he said, decidedly, that he was drowned. To another servant in his employment, he said that he must have been hit by the charge in the breast. The medical evidence proved that the man was hit in the back. To an aboriginal who heard the gun fired, he said the man was drowned while in the act of firing at a bird. To Constable Forrest, that he saw the deceased club the gun and make a sort of side-blow at a seal, and that while in the act of doing so, the gun went off. The unfortunate man was thus neither shooting at a bird nor a seal, but most unaccountably was clubbing the animal, not shooting it, when he met his death. But he was shot in the back, close below the left shoulder blade, close to the backbone and the gun must have been held in a horizontal position. Besides, a witness, William Thompson, an old sealer, never saw seals on the rock in question, and could not believe that a seal would cross fissures in rocks of three feet wide. What, then, was in favour of the accused in the minds of the jury? Negatively, there could only be this, that the Court failed to show, particularly, a motive for such a diabolical crime.
But what deduction could be drawn from the conduct of Seymour, immediately following the accident or deed? Was there any good feeling or friendship, or humanity evidenced in efforts to recover the body, be it shot or drowned; or in making the circumstance known? He picked up the deceased’s fishing-line and the gun; but even, subsequently, declined accompanying the police constable to the spot to search. He had not seen the body, and did not care to go again to the place. It would be unpleasant, were it necessary, to dwell upon the circumstances of this painful case. The Court has dismissed it, and, humanly, it is disposed of for ever. But it would be profitable to know, what the result, and, we may add, the impression upon the public mind, may have the effect of asserting a very full recognition of the gravity and responsibility of juries. Men placed for the time being as ministers of the Law, are morally bound by serious obligations to society at large, in the discharge of which, however anxious they may be to see Justice tempered with mercy, there is an incumbent duty to the dead and to the living — to well and truly try, according to the evidence.
William Frederick Seymour had a large family. He had married Irish-born Mary Scanlan, in 1855 and nine children were registered to the couple. It is likely that many in the community would have felt sympathetic toward Seymour, since he had lost two of his children, Elizabeth (11) and Mary (9), the previous year, as a result of a drowning accident, after a boat overturned in a sudden storm.
WF Seymour died in 1874, aged 54, leaving his wife Mary to run the farm and raise the family.
[It is of interest that the name of WF Seymour appeared among the many signatures on a petition in 1873, addressed to the Governor, begging for mercy to be shown towards Lockier Clere Burges, who had been found guilty of shooting his wife. Burges was hanged for his crime.]
 England & Wales Criminal Register, Lincolnshire, 1861, https://www.ancestry.com.au
 Convict Department, General Register (R11)
 Convict Department, Probationer Prisoners Register (R7)
 Convict Establishment, Miscellaneous, Prisoners’ Property Book (V14)
 Convict Database, https://fremantleprison.com.au/history-heritage/history/convict-database/
 Convict Department, Probationer Prisoners Register (R7)
 Convict Department, General Register (R11)
 Convict Department, General Register (R21B)
 Rica Erickson, The Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians, University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands, 1987, p.767.
 Inquirer and Commercial News, 8 April 1868.
 Note: Dr John Sampson was formerly Convict Number 4305. See details on this website.
 The Inquirer and Commercial News, 8 April 1868.
 WA Department of Justice, Reg. No. 873, https://bdm.justice.wa.gov.au/_apps/pioneersindex/
 Inquirer, 30 January 1867.
 Perth Gazette, 21 February 1873.