Thomas Ulick Burke

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Thomas Ulick Burke (1826 - 1867) was a well-known figure in gold-rush Victoria, Australia, famous as the victim of the "Break O' Day" aka "Scarsdale" aka "Piggoreet" murder. [1] [2] [3] [4]

Victoria (Australia) State in Australia

Victoria is a state in south-eastern Australia. Victoria is Australia's smallest mainland state and its second-most populous state overall, making it the most densely populated state overall. Most of its population lives concentrated in the area surrounding Port Phillip Bay, which includes the metropolitan area of its state capital and largest city, Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city. Victoria is bordered by Bass Strait and Tasmania to the south, New South Wales to the north, the Tasman Sea to the east, and South Australia to the west.



Visitor information at Burke's grave at Smythesdale cemetery Visitor information at the grave of Thomas Ulick Burke, Smythesdale.jpg
Visitor information at Burke's grave at Smythesdale cemetery

Thomas Burke was born in 1826 in Normandy to a military family based in County Galway, Ireland. His parents were Captain John Burke of Her Majesty's 16th Lancers, Tiaquin, County Galway, and Jane Lowe. [5]

Normandy Administrative region of France

Normandy is the northwesternmost of the 18 regions of France, roughly referring to the historical Duchy of Normandy.

County Galway County in the Republic of Ireland

County Galway is a county in Ireland. It is located in the West of Ireland, part of the province of Connacht.

Ireland Island in north-west Europe, 20th largest in world, politically divided into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (a part of the UK)

Ireland is an island in the North Atlantic. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel, the Irish Sea, and St George's Channel. Ireland is the second-largest island of the British Isles, the third-largest in Europe, and the twentieth-largest on Earth.

Burke emigrated to Australia in 1858 from Ireland, where he had been working for the Provincial Bank of Ireland at Limerick. He arrived during the Victorian gold rush, moving first to Melbourne where he worked for the Bank of Australasia, before becoming manager of the Smythesdale branch of the bank around 1860. [6] Smythesdale in the 1860s was a prosperous gold-mining town on the Woady Yaloak River in an area which supported a large though itinerant population of miners and other workers.

Limerick City in Munster, Ireland

Limerick is a city in County Limerick, Ireland. It is located in the Mid-West Region and is also part of the province of Munster. With a population of 94,192, Limerick is the third-most populous urban area in the state, and the fourth-most populous city on the island of Ireland. The city lies on the River Shannon, with the historic core of the city located on King's Island, which is bounded by the Shannon and Abbey Rivers. Limerick is also located at the head of the Shannon Estuary, where the river widens before it flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Limerick City and County Council is the local authority for the city.

Victorian gold rush

The Victorian gold rush was a period in the history of Victoria, Australia approximately between 1851 and the late 1860s. It led to a period of extreme prosperity for the Australian colony, and an influx of population growth and financial capital for Melbourne, which was dubbed "Marvellous Melbourne" as a result of the procurement of wealth.

Bank of Australasia commercial bank in Australia and New Zealand

The Bank of Australasia was an Australian bank in operation from 1835 to 1951.

Burke married Louisa Blake, the daughter of Sir Thomas Edward Blake of Menlough Castle, Galway, at St John’s Church in Melbourne in 1862. [7] The couple had two young children at the time of Burke's death in 1867. Burke was according to accounts of the day a popular and respected member of the community. [8] He was a Justice of the Peace [7] and in 1861 was elected president of the Smythesdale Mechanics' Institute and also elected to Smythesdale Council. [8]

There have been four baronetcies for persons with the surname Blake, one in the Baronetage of Ireland, two in the Baronetage of Great Britain and one in the Baronetage of the United Kingdom. Two of the creations are extant as of 2010. The Blake Baronetcy, of Menlough in the County of Galway, was created in the Baronetage of Ireland on 10 July 1622 for Valentine Blake, Mayor of Galway in 1611 and 1630 and a member of the Irish House of Commons for Galway. His grandfather Thomas Blake had preceded him as Mayor. The second Baronet was a member of the Irish Parliament for Galway Borough. The third Baronet represented both County Galway and Galway Borough in Parliament. The sixth Baronet was a member of the Irish House of Commons for County Galway. He was the first Catholic gentlemen of distinction to join William of Orange. The twelfth Baronet represented Galway Borough in the British House of Commons. The fourteenth Baronet was High Sheriff of County Galway in 1872. See also the Blake Baronetcy of Twizell Castle below.

Mechanics Institutes educational establishment

Mechanics' Institutes are educational establishments, originally formed to provide adult education, particularly in technical subjects, to working men. Similar organisation are sometimes simply called Institutes. As such, they were often funded by local industrialists on the grounds that they would ultimately benefit from having more knowledgeable and skilled employees. The Mechanics' Institutes were used as 'libraries' for the adult working class, and provided them with an alternative pastime to gambling and drinking in pubs.


One of Burke's tasks as bank manager was to travel throughout the Woady Yaloak diggings buying gold from miners. [6] By this stage gold transports were no longer accompanied by armed escorts. [2] [2] Early on 10 May 1867, Burke collected a horse and buggy from the Smythesdale coach-builder and traveled to the Break O’ Day area (now Corindhap, Victoria), arriving at the nearby town of Rokewood at 1130 am. He bought gold at Rokewood and Break O’ Day, then left to make the return journey to Smythesdale, stopping at hotels along the way to buy more gold. [8]

Corindhap, Victoria Town in Victoria, Australia

Corindhap is a town in the Australian state of Victoria located on the Ballarat-Colac Road, 38.9 km from Ballarat and 62.9 km from Colac. Formerly known as Break O'Day.

George Searle, a publican at Break O’ Day, and Joseph Ballan, his employee, left on horseback shortly afterward with the intention of robbing Burke. They travelled cross-country and intercepted Burke at what is now the intersection of the Pitfield-Scarsdale Road and the Old Pitfield Road. While Searle distracted Burke with conversation, Ballan walked behind him and shot him in the back of the head. Burke died instantly. Searle and Ballan secured the gold and cash that Burke was carrying, moved the buggy containing Burke's body into scrub beside the road, and released his horse. [9] Louisa Burke raised the alarm when her husband failed to arrive home. [10] Burke's body was discovered the next day.

Investigation and trial

The Woady-Yaloak area was relatively densely populated in 1867, and several witnesses saw Searle and Ballan moving cross-country around the time of Burke's murder. The murder weapon and stolen gold were soon discovered stashed near Searle's hotel at Break O' Day. The pair were arrested and charged with murder.

During their trial, Searle admitted to the robbery but sought to have his charge of murder reduced because it was Ballan who had shot Burke. [10] Searle and Ballan were tried at Ballarat by Judge Redmond Barry, who convicted them both of murder and sentenced them to death. [11] Searle and Ballan were hanged at the Ballarat Gaol on 7 August 1867 and buried in the grounds. [12] They were two of thirteen men executed at this prison before the abolition of capital punishment in Australia.

The murder achieved notoriety and the trial and execution were widely reported in newspapers around Australia. [1] The courthouse was crowded during the trial and demand to attend the hanging was high. [13]

Aftermath of Burke's murder

Memorial to Thomas Ulick Burke near Smythesdale Memorial for Thomas Ulick Burke, 1826-1867, near Smythesdale, Victoria.jpg
Memorial to Thomas Ulick Burke near Smythesdale

Burke was buried in the Scarsdale General Cemetery. The plot is easily accessible today and is accompanied by a tourist information sign (see photo at top of page).

The murder caused distress among local business people, some of whom who felt it was no longer safe to travel unescorted. [14] An employee of the Union Bank in Smythesdale asked the Police Superintendent at Ballarat for a police escort to be provided when he was carrying money, but the request was refused due to lack of resources. [8]

Burke's existing children, Elly Elizabeth and John Lambert, survived to adulthood. Louisa was pregnant at the time of Burke's murder and a third child was born and named Ulick Thomas in December 1867. Louisa remarried in 1872, to John King, with whom she had more children. Elly married William Saunders in Fitzroy, Melbourne in June 1889. [15] John married Minnie Aikenhead at West Devonport, Tasmania, in February 1891. [16] Ulick moved to Tasmania and then to Queensland, where he ran a dairy farm and served in the Australian infantry in World War I. [17]

In 1972 a monument was erected near the site of Burke’s murder by Smythesdale residents (see photo above). In 2001 an alternative monument was erected beside it by a descendant who disagreed with the description of the murderers as "bushrangers". Both monuments are accessible beside the Pitfield-Scarsdale Road between Scarsdale and Rokewood, about 100 meters south of Old Pitfield Road intersection, at 37°44′02″S143°38′38″E / 37.7338°S 143.6440°E / -37.7338; 143.6440 .

In 2002 geologist and historian Laurie Moore published a book on the Burke murder. "Shot for Gold: The murder of Thomas Ulick Burke at the Woady Yaloak goldfield" is available from the Woady Yaloak Historical Society which is headquartered in Smythesdale.

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  1. 1 2 "Murder on the Gold Field at Break O' Day". The Argus. 21 January 1939.
  2. 1 2 3 "The Scarsdale Murder". Empire. 21 May 1867.
  3. "The Piggoreet Murder". Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers. 27 July 1867.
  4. "Famous Victorian Trials: The Break O' Day Murder". Kalgoorlie Miner. 31 January 1931.
  5. "Family Notices". Ballarat Advertiser. 28 October 1864.
  6. 1 2 "Victoria". Illustrated Sydney News. 15 June 1867.
  7. 1 2 "Family Notices". Ballarat Advertiser. 28 October 1864.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Moore, Laurie (2002). Shot for gold: the murder of Thomas Ulick Burke on the Woady Yaloak Goldfield. Daylesford: Jim Crow Press.
  9. "Murder of Mr Thomas Ulick Burke, J.P., Smythesdale". Bendigo Advertiser. 14 May 1867.
  10. 1 2 "Murder on the Goldfield at Break O' Day". The Argus. 21 January 1939.
  11. "Execution of Searle and Ballan". Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers. 27 August 1867.
  12. "Execution of Searle and Ballan". Cornwall Chronicle. 14 August 1867.
  13. "Ballarat Circuit Court (from our own reporter)". The Argus. 17 July 1867.
  14. "Ballarat Circuit Court (from our own reporter)". Hobart Mercury. 14 August 1867.
  15. "Family Notices". Launceston Examiner. 17 June 1889.
  16. "Family Notices". Launceston Examiner. 24 February 1891.
  17. "Enlistment papers of Ulick Burke".