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The History of Swanston Fawcett

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Surnames/tags: Swanston_Fawcett Swanston_Faucett
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WARNING: Swanston was convicted of a nasty crime. You may prefer to head back to the referring page and just skip the following content....



Swanston (Swanson / Edward / Stanley) Fawcett (Faucett / Forsett / Fossett) is not easy to trace given the combination of possible spellings that were used at different times.

Note that some dates provided are the dates that the event was reported (this can be seen by checking the dates in the references).

Peter Oscar Forsett (1810-1876) married Sarah A Hart about 1852 in Castlereagh. Swanston was born just after he died in 1877[1]. Perhaps the lack of a father didn't help but the few records that we have suggest that Swanston was a bit of a character. He may have followed the lead of his oldest brother, Peter; who allegedly had various dealings with bushrangers and was a person of interest to the police on more than one occasion.

In 1897, a fellow named 'Edward Fawcett' was charged with the theft of a bicycle and sent for six months in Bathurst gaol. This may not have been our Swanston but when he was charged later in Darlinghurst the gaol entry sheet: Aliases: FAUCETT, Edward; FAWCETT, Stanley Swanston. Also the Police Gazette names him as Swanson[2].

His (first) wife and children

  • December 1899 - Married Cicely Pidgeon in Bathurst.[3][4]
  • July 1900 - Daughter Bertha was born (in Oberon: Fawcett, Swanston + Cicily M) [5]
  • 1902 - Son Harold was born (in Dubbo: Faucett, Stanley + Cecily) [6]
  • 1905 - Son Stephen was born (in Oberon: Fawcett, Swanston + Cicily M) [7]

Why was he using a different name and in a different town for the birth of Harold? Well there was a spot of bother in 1902 that might explain both and after it cleared up, they returned home. Are we sure that Harold is his son? Well this is family history so who knows... but it does fit with the events and the fact that in 1908 he stated that there were 3 children at home...

Assault in 1902 without consequences

  • 25 May 1902 - Assaulted Ruby Paul (8 years old[8]) in Lithgow (about 60 km east from Bathurst) [9][10][11]
  • 27 May 1902 - In the Lithgow Police Court, the bench (JPs W. J. Beard and H. Dyball) heard evidence and decided that a prima-facie case existed. They committed him to trial at the Bathurst Quarter Sessions on 5th August. Swanston applied for bail which was granted at £100 after he stated that he had a wife in Bathurst.[12]
  • 06 August 1902 - The case was delayed to the 6th due to other matters and received almost no attention in the media.Another Lithgow Case. James (op cit) Fawcett was charged with having at Lithgow on May 25th last assaulted a girl 8 years of age. Prisoner was undefended. After evidence had been taken the jury, after a short retirement, found a verdict of not guilty and the accused was discharged.[13]

Assault in 1908 with consequences

  • 25 September 1908 - There is a report from the Oberon Police Court that Swanston Faucett, of Snakes Valley, Tarana was charged with a criminal offence. Committed for trial to the Bathurst Assizes, to be held on October 14. The evidence was unfit for publication. Accused, was refused bail.[14]
  • 12 October 1908 - The local Bathurst paper publishes the cases for the next court session including: Swanston Fawcett, carnally knowing a girl under 10 years of age.[15]
  • 14 October 1908 - More details come to light as Swanston rejects the charge and refuses to accept legal counsel. Perhaps relying on the same process that cleared him in 1902. The judge fails to persuade him and moves the case to later in the sitting. In the process it becomes clear that it is a capital (penalty = death) case.[16]
  • 15 October 1908 - Other papers pick up the story. Interestingly, they all refer to him as "elderly" (he is just over 30 years old). At least one cited reference makes a factual error about the name of the girl involved.[17][18]
  • 20 October 1908 - Swanston has a change of heart and accepts counsel after all which further delays the trial until the 21st.[19][20][21]
  • 22 October 1908 - News breaks that the offence was against his own daughter aged 8 years and 2 months. On the first day, evidence is provided by the daughter, her mother (Cicely) and a doctor from Oberon.[22] Swanston claimed that all the evidence was trumped up and he blamed his mother-in-law who "tried to get him in trouble". The jury was undecided and were locked up for the night to deliberate..[23][24][25][26][27]
  • 23 October 1908 (Friday) - The jury decided that it could not reach a verdict and was dismissed. The judge referred the matter to a retrial and expressed the opinion that it might not be possible to keep Swanston in prison.[28][29]
  • 21 November 1908 - List of cases to be heard in the Sydney Central Criminal Court includes Swanston.[30]
  • Looking back in time, we can only really see what the newspapers decided was worth reporting. There is no indication of whether Swanston stayed in gaol in Bathurst, was moved to Sydney (now or later) or whether he was released briefly. The other interesting change is that the first trial was a capital trial but the new one appears to be a lesser charge of "attempt to commit a serious offence". Whether this was the crown prosecutor trying to ensure a conviction or some kind of plea bargaining is not revealed.
  • 25 November 1908 - Multiple papers report Swanston claim of innocence and the jury decision that he is guilty of the lesser charge. One article still uses the phrase "guilty of assault" but that is probably a small exaggeration on their part.[31][32][33]
  • 01 December 1908 - Justice Cohen sentences Swanston to 8 years penal servitude. This is widely reported. In Mudgee (Swanston's birthplace), they raise the earlier charge from 1902 and mention that the policeman involved had local connections.[34][35][36][37][38][39][40][41][42]

Is that the end of the story?

  • At this point the story gets a little confused depending on the source. It appears that after some time served, Swanston demonstrated signs of mental illness and he was transferred to the Parramatta Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
  • Then it gets more interesting... Swanston writes a number of letters saying that it is all over and then ... escapes four years to the day after his sentence started.[43][44][45]
  • 06 September 1913 - Cicely petitioned the NSW Supreme Court for a dissolution of marriage on the ground of incestuous adultery. It mentions that he was (or had been) in Tarana (near Lithgow). Cicely's lawyers were in Orange (about 60 km west from Bathurst)[46]
  • 29 April 1914 - Justice Gordon of the NSW Supreme Court granted a decree nisi, returnable in six months. Cicely's lawyer is mentioned but there is apparently no representation from Swanston.[47]
  • 13 November 1914 - Justice Gordon granted a decree absolute. There is no mention of any challenge from Swanston.[48]

What happened to Swanston? There are no NSW records of him after the escape under any of his aliases. He didn't respond to the divorce proceedings as far as I can tell, there is no record of him (under his various spellings in the media), nor is there any record of his death or burial - was he dead? Hiding? Yet another alias?

Queensland - Richard Robertson

The last answer is the right one - he turned up in Queensland with the name "Richard Robertson". Richard even enrolled in the AIF[49] on 21st May 1917 but that didn't last long because when he was vaccinated (23/5/17, 30/5/17 and 5/6/17) he went AWOL for three days (after a total service time of 23 days) claiming it was a reaction to the vaccination. He was docked three days pay and was allowed no leave for fourteen days. He did send a telegram to the camp when he left asking for 48 hours leave due to his reaction. There is nothing in his training assessment sheets and he was discharged 5th November 1917 "Having been convicted of an offence by civil power" (although they did note that he was of "good" character).

Next we find him working on a farm where he had a disagreement about pay with his boss so he poisoned some of the stock and tried to kill the daughter[50] of the owner with the same poison[51].

His arrest was reported in the Police Gazette:

Attempted Murder.
C. I. BRANCH, BRISBANE.-RICHARD ROBERTSON was arrested by Detectives Sergeant McNaulty and Acting Sergeant Jessen, on the 30th ultimo, charged with attempting to unlawfully kill Olive May Strain, at Dayboro', on or about the 17th ultimo, by placing strychnine in a tin of coffee which was on a mantelpiece in the kitchen, at the residence of complainant's parents, Dayboro'.-3548. 3rd September, 1917.
Crimes and Offences not otherwise Described.
C. I. BRANCH, BRISBANE.-RICHARD ROBERTSON was arrested by Detectives Sergeant McNaulty and Acting Sergeant Jessen, at Brisbane, on the 21st ultimo, charged with wilfully and unlawfully killing a horse and ten pigs (by poisoning), at Dayboro', on or about the 17th ultimo, the property of Thomas Strain , junior, Dayboro'.-3549. 3rd September, 1917.[52]

The trial date was set for the 6th of September, for all three charges.[53]

At the trial, despite the jury's recommendation of mercy[54], Richard was sentenced to ten years On the first count and two years each for the other two counts[55]. Richard appealed the sentence on the grounds of his own insanity[56].

To prove his insanity, Richard revealed the army incident and that he had previously escaped from a mental institution in NSW[57]:

Before the Chief Justice (Sir Pope A. Cooper), Mr. Justice Shand, and Mr. Justice Lukin.
Richard Robertson, who appeared in charge of a prison warder, applied for leave to appeal against the sentence of 10 years imprisonment imposed on him at the criminal sittings of the Supreme Court on 1st November last by Mr. Justice Chubb on a charge of attempting to kill a young woman by poison, and also of poisoning stock. The applicant claimed that he should not have been convicted, since he was insane, and, in the alternative, that the sentence should be reduced. Mr. J. J. Kingsbury (instructed by Mr. J. S. Hutcheon, of the Crown Law Department) appeared for the Crown.
The applicant stated that he had been vaccinated in camp at Enoggera, and that had thrown him into a condition which hnd caused him to commit the offences. He had previously been suffering a long term of imprisonment in New South Wales, had been transferred to a lunatic asylum, and had thence escaped, he claimed that he was still not responsible for his actions.
Mr. Kingsbury said Dr. Dods had had the man under observation for some months, and could detect no signs. The court refused the application, the Chief Justice remarking that he understood Mr. Justice Chubb had since regretted he had not imposed a heavier sentence. The court felt very much inclined to increase the sentence. He hoped that if the applicant feigned madness, the medical men would consider his case very carefully, and if he was sent to a criminal lunatic asylum he would be very carefully watched. Personally he did not believe the applicant was insane at all.

So the appeals judge didn't buy the insanity plea and sent him off to St. Helens[58] for ten years,

The Police, on the other hand, did some digging and they linked the names:

Richard Robertson, alias Swanston , alias Edward Stanley or Swanston Fawcett[59]

Given the notoriety of St Helens, his age, and his past behaviour. that should the last of him...

Apparently not - he turned up again like the proverbial bad penny.

Tucked away, in 1924, under "Supplementary return of prisoners discharged from His Majesty's Prison, St. Helena, during the month of December, 1923": .

Queensland - John Rowlands

(Vide " Police Gazette," 1928, pages 22 and 136.) - C. I. Branch , Mackay .--J. ROWLANDS, alias Richard Robertson, alias Fawcett, &c., wanted on warrant, charged with uttering a false document to GEORGE HANN, Kolijo, Mackay, has been arrested at Ilfracombe. Wife and Child Deserters. Sub-Inspector ' s Office. -A warrant of commitment

QLD Police Gazette page references:

  • P. 597 for 1917 in the 1910-1920 index (under convictions)
  • P. 148 for 1924 in the 1920-1929 index (under discharged) - special release - no reasons given.
  • P. 235 for 1924 (under photos of discharged)
  • P. 136 for 1928 (under warrants issued for)
  • P. 22 and P. 136 (under warrants issued for) - J Rowlands - he was identified from his photo taken in 1923/24 on release. Warrant is for issuing a false document (fake cheque?) to the sum of £13 9s.
  • P. 41 for 1929 (under aprehended) - new name = J Rowlands (aka Robertson, fawcett, & etc). He was arrested at Illfracombe.
  • P. 46 for 1929: "ROWLANDS, JOHN, alias Richard Robertson, alias Swanson Fawcett, alias Stanley Faucett, alias Stanley Swanson Fawcett, alias John Patrick Heart; Ilfracombe, 2nd January, 1929; obtaining £13 9s. from George Hann by means of a valueless cheque; 3 months' hard imprisonment and ordered to make restitution of £10, or 3 months' imprisonment; Police Court, Mackay, 12th January, 1929; Const. W. J. Barrett and Det. Act. Sergt. F. B. Kearney."
  • P. 471 in 1932: "Roma street - RICHARD MORONEY, alias Richard Robertson, about 50 years of age, 5 ft. 8 in. high, 12 st weight, dark complexion, blue eyes, clean shaven; a labourer. Left Giru about 9-11-32 for Brisbane. Location desired with a view of service upon him of an order for distress, made at Brisbane on 18-11-32, for the payment of £1 5s. weekly for the maintenance of his wife, Edith May Moroney (total amount due, £184 15 s.). Failing distress, warrant of distress (or 6 months' imp.) issued."
  • P. 416 in 1933: "Roma Street, Brisbane. -- RICHARD MORONEY (otherwise ROBERTSON) (commitment warrant), for disobeying an order for maintenance (amount due £184 15s., with 6s. costs, in default 6 months' imp. He is about 50 years of age, 5 ft. 8 in. high, 12 st weight, dark complexion, blue eyes, clean shaven; a labourer. Was last heard of when leaving Giru on 2-11-33, stating that he intended proceeding to Brisbane by train."

And now the trail runs cold again...

Wanted in 1933 for an amount greater than £184 which apparently accumulated at £1 5s / week (or about £65 / annum). That means he left his wife around 1930. Who was she? Did she have any children?

One possible match is Elizabeth Susan Robinson (married to Richard Henry Robinson), married 26/12/1925 and divorced in 1939 due to desertion. She claims in left around 1932... There was one child, custody granted to the mother.


  1. NSW BDM - Birth #15518/1877 "Swanson Fossett"
  2. NSW Police Gazette, 21 July 1897, p.256
  3. NSW BDM - Marriage #7719/1899 "Suanston Faucett + Ciciley M Pidgeon"
  4. Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) - 29 April 1914, p 7, "In Divorce"
  5. NSW BDM #24901/1900
  6. NSW BDM#2617/1902
  7. NSW BDM Birth #6340/1905
  8. NSW BDM - Birth #35285/1894
  9. Lithgow Mercury - 27 May 1902, p 2, "Alleged Indecent Assault"
  10. The Maitland Daily Mercury - 29 May 1902, p 3, "Lithgow. A Serious Charge"
  11. The Australian Star - 30 May 1902, p 6, "A Serious Charge. Lithgow"
  12. The Lithgow Mercury - 30 May 1902, p 6, "Lithgow Police Court"
  13. The National Advocate - 7 August 1902, p 2 "Bathurst Quarter Sessions" (very last paragraph)
  14. Lithgow Mercury - 25 September 1908, p 4, "Oberon Police Court"
  15. National Advocate - 12 October 1908, p 2, "Bathurst Circuit Court".
  16. Evening News, 14 October 1908, p 7, "An accused refuses legal aid"
  17. Wagga Wagga Advertiser - 15 October 1908, p 2, "A Capital Charge"
  18. National Advocate - 15 October 1908, p 2, "Refuses to let Counsel Defend Him"
  19. National Advocate - 20 October 1908, p 2, "A Capital Charge"
  20. Sydney Morning Herald - 21 October 1908, p 11, "Circuit Court"
  21. National Advocate - 21 October 1908, p 2, "Bathurst Circuit Court"
  22. National Advocate - 22 October 1908, p 2, "A Capital Charge"
  23. Australian Star, 23 October 1908, p 1, "Bathurst Circuit Court"
  24. National Advocate, 23 October 1908, p 2, "The Capital Charge"
  25. Maitland Daily Mercury, 23 October 1908, p 5, "A Fearful Charge"
  26. Lithgow Mercury, 26 October 1908, p 1, "The Jury Disagree"
  27. Richmond River Herald, 30 October 1908, p 6, "Items of Interest"
  28. National Advocate, 24 October 1908, p 3, "The Capital Charge"
  29. Sydney Morning Herald, 24 October 1908, p 15, "Circuit Courts"
  30. Sydney Morning Herald, 21 November 1908, p 6, "Central Criminal Court"
  31. Lithgow Mercury, 25 November 1908, p 2, "Central Criminal Court"
  32. Sydney Morning Herald, 25 November 1908, p 7, "Central Criminal Court"
  33. National Advocate, 26 November 1908, p 2, "The Snake's Valley Case"
  34. Maitland Daily Mercury, 01 December 1908, p 3, "Salutary Sentence"
  35. Australian Star, 02 December 1908, p 6, "A Heavy Sentence"
  36. National Advocate, 02 December 1908, p 2, "The Snakes' Gully Case"
  37. Lithgow Mercury, 02 December 1908, p 2, "Central Criminal Court"
  38. Mudgee Guardian, 03 December 1908, p 6, "Local Brevities"
  39. Singleton Argus, 03 December 1908, p 4, "A Heavy Sentence"
  40. Richmond River Herald, 04 December 1908, p 4, "Brief Mention"
  41. Molong Express, 05 December 1908, p 13, "Stray Pars."
  42. Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 05 December 1908, p 10, "A Heavy Sentence"
  43. The Sun, 02 December 1812, p 7, "Criminal Lunatic Escapes"
  44. Sydney Morning Herald, 03 December 1812, p 9, "Criminal Escapes"
  45. The Cumberland Argus and Fruit-growers Advocate, 04 December 1812, p 3, "Escaped"
  46. The National Advocate - 06 September 1913, p 5.
  47. Sydney Morning Herald - 29 April 1914, p 7, "In Divorce".
  48. Sydney Morning Herald - 13 November 1914, p 4, "Divorce Court"
  49. Army Records for Richard Robertson
  50. Truth (Brisbane, Qld. : 1900 - 1954), Sunday 4 November 1917, page 3
  51. Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 - 1954), Friday 31 August 1917, page 5
  52. QLD Police Gazette, 1917, p. 462
  53. QLD Police Gazette, 1917, p. 597
  54. Daily Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1903 - 1926), Friday 2 November 1917, page 8
  55. Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 - 1954), Friday 2 November 1917, page 5
  56. Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 - 1954), Wednesday 13 February 1918, page 5
  57. Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 - 1947), Wednesday 13 February 1918, page 3
  58. St Helena Convict Index, Prisoner #6535. Item #271421
  59. QLD Police Gazette, 1917, p. 597

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