Frank Griffith arrived at Peak Hill in July 1900 after a spell of bad luck prospecting. He obtained employment at the company Peak Hill Goldfields Ltd and started working on the surface before going underground. He planned to recoup his funds before heading out prospecting again.
Before starting work underground, he chatted to another miner and showed him some gold he had found at Quinns. The man, seeing a similarity to the specimens at Peak Hill, told him to get rid of it. Frank knew of its origins and was unconcerned. He kept it with him and buried it six inches in the ground at his camp, an act that was common among prospectors.
Almost every prospector had specimens he liked to carry with him, regardless of the risk he ran in keeping them when working for a company.Mount Magnet Miner and Lennonville Leader (WA : 1896 – 1926); 22 December 1900; Page 2; The Griffith Case
For months, Peak Hill Goldfields was having issues with people stealing gold. The manager, Askin Nicholas, and the underground manager, John Hudson, spent much of their time investigating culprits. They fired several men after a valuable specimen disappeared. One of them had previously chatted to Frank and, “in a spirit of petulance,” mentioned that they should search his camp.
In the afternoon, on 27 July, Constable James McDonald searched Frank’s camp and uncovered the buried gold. While not the exact specimen that was missing, the gold had similar characteristics to that found in the mine. It was enough to charge him.
At 10 am, Frank appeared before Resident Magistrate Charles Bagot and Justice of the Peace Hugh Francisco in the Peak Hill Police Court. He was unable to obtain legal advice and represented himself. He was charged with being “illegally in the possession of gold reasonably supposed to have been stolen from the Peak Hill Goldfields’ Ltd.” He pleaded not guilty.
Mr Abbott conducted the prosecution on behalf of the company. Frank was asked to prove that the gold did not come from the Peak Hill mine. He had one witness and stated that he could produce others. He reiterated that he had brought the gold with him from Quinns, and it was in his possession before he gained employment at Peak Hill Goldfields.
Despite his argument, the Resident Magistrate and Justice of the Peace sided with the prosecution. They found him guilty and sentenced him to three months imprisonment with hard labour at Geraldton Gaol.
The police brought Frank to Cue and, a little over a week later, he put forward a notice of appeal at the Cue Quarter Sessions. Again, unable to obtain the services of a solicitor, he requested help from the solicitor’s clerk, Edward Deacon. The Resident Magistrate accepted the appeal notice and released Frank on bail with a surety of £50 and another of a similar amount.
He could get no legal advice at the Peak, and when he arrived at Cue there was no lawyer to advise him.Murchison Advocate (WA : 1898 – 1912); 24 November 1900; Page 2; Local and General
Frank appeared at the Cue Quarter Sessions on 22 November. He was represented by Abelard Palfreyman, who was instructed by Walter Clarke-Hall. Representing the prosecution and instructed by James Barrett was Norman Ewing, who was especially brought to Cue from Perth by the company.
Mr Ewing argued on a technicality. The defence did not serve the appeal documents correctly, and they had sent them via telegram. Furthermore, Cue’s court held no jurisdiction over Peak Hill. They should have sent the appeal to the Supreme Court in Perth. Mr Palfreyman reminded the court that Frank was unable to find a solicitor to help him. Due to that, he argued that “Any irregularity in the service of the notice should be waived…”
The bench retired to discuss the case, and when they returned, Resident Magistrate Arthur Hicks regretfully advised that due to the highlighted technicalities, they could not hear the appeal. The case was dismissed.
Though justice cried aloud for compassionate clemency, law replied with punctilious technicality…The Murchison Times and Day Dawn Gazette (Cue, WA : 1894 – 1925); 29 November 1900; Page 2; Doubtful Justice
Frank Griffith faced months of imprisonment for a crime that he denied committing. The police issued a fresh warrant on 23 November and they arrested him at Mount Magnet on the 28th. From there, they transported and imprisoned him at Geraldton Gaol.
The journalists of the day, outraged at what had occurred, wrote about the lack of justice and a company desperate for gold-stealing convictions. A reporter for the Murchison Advocate walked a tightrope of speculation. They claimed that Resident Magistrate Bagot and J.P. Francisco did not “call his soul his own when the Peak Hill company is around.” They accused them of bullying Frank, refusing him the time to find his witnesses, ignoring the one witness he did have, and fawning to the prosecution. They stated, “…the question is not whether the accused was innocent or guilty; it is whether he was found guilty after a fair trial, and our contention is that he was not.”
In the Murchison, it became “the all-absorbing topic of conversation.” The Mayor of Mount Magnet, Alexander Clydesdale, announced that there would be a meeting at the Miners’ Institute on 15 December. Frank’s many friends in the town were dismayed by what had occurred and wary that the same outcome could befall them. In three days, residents of the surrounding districts raised £101 14s to put towards his legal costs. Any residual funds would be given to Frank.
When George Leake Q.C. and Robert Pilkington were in Mount Magnet in early December, they were questioned about Frank’s legal options and hired to help obtain his release. On 21 December 1900, it was reported that Edward Harney would be applying for a writ of Habeas Corpus, used to determine if a person’s imprisonment is lawful. The following day, Judge Edward Stone of the Supreme Court agreed that the conviction was “clearly bad.” He granted the writ and freed Frank from Geraldton Gaol.
The case highlighted the differences between the poor prospector and the wealthy company and the possible injustice that could occur due to a lack of money and legal representation. The success with Frank’s case sent a clear message: everyone was entitled to a fair trial. On that subject, the Murchison Advocate was immovable. They stated, “The successful vindication of that right on this occasion shows that the people are not going to be bamboozled into winking at injustices inflicted on poor men.”
- State Records Office of Western Australia; AU WA A733 Peak Hill Police Station; Occurrences – Peak Hill; AU WA S1543- cons1853 01
- State Records Office of Western Australia; AU WA A44 Supreme Court of Western Australia; Frank Griffith and Charles Dawley Kidd and William MacKenzie Grant; AU WA S276- cons3665 046
- State Library of Western Australia; Main shaft and rock breakers at Peak Hill Gold Mine, Western Australia, 1900; Call Number: 090565PD
- State Library of Western Australia; Peak Hill, Western Australia, 1900; Call Number: 090563PD
- 1900 ‘GOLD STEALING AT PEAK HILL.’, The Murchison Times and Day Dawn Gazette (Cue, WA : 1894 – 1925), 2 August, p. 3. , viewed 02 Sep 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article233352326
- 1900 ‘DISTRICT NEWS’, The Murchison Times and Day Dawn Gazette (Cue, WA : 1894 – 1925), 23 August, p. 2. , viewed 02 Sep 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article233352888
- 1900 ‘GENERAL NEWS.’, The Murchison Times and Day Dawn Gazette (Cue, WA : 1894 – 1925), 7 August, p. 2. , viewed 03 Sep 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article233352426
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- 1900 ‘Cue Quarter Sessions.’, Murchison Advocate (WA : 1898 – 1912), 24 November, p. 2. , viewed 05 Sep 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213880074
- 1900 ‘DOUBTFUL JUSTICE’, The Murchison Times and Day Dawn Gazette (Cue, WA : 1894 – 1925), 29 November, p. 2. , viewed 08 Sep 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article233355996
- 1900 ‘THE CASE OF FRANK GRIFFITHS.’, Murchison Advocate (WA : 1898 – 1912), 1 December, p. 2. , viewed 08 Sep 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213883266
- 1900 ‘SATURDAY, DECEMBER 15, 1900.’, Mount Magnet Miner and Lennonville Leader (WA : 1896 – 1926), 15 December, p. 2. , viewed 08 Sep 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article155981439
- 1900 ‘A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS TO BE APPLIED FOR.’, Mount Magnet Miner and Lennonville Leader (WA : 1896 – 1926), 22 December, p. 2. , viewed 08 Sep 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article155981376
- 1900 ‘THE GRIFFITH CASE.’, Mount Magnet Miner and Lennonville Leader (WA : 1896 – 1926), 22 December, p. 2. , viewed 08 Sep 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article155981362
- 1900 ‘LOCAL AND GENERAL’, Geraldton Advertiser (WA : 1893 – 1905), 24 December, p. 3. , viewed 08 Sep 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article252785568
- 1900 ‘Local and General.’, Murchison Advocate (WA : 1898 – 1912), 29 December, p. 2. , viewed 09 Sep 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213883863
- 1900 ‘A CONVICTION FOR GOLD STEALING.’, Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954), 29 December, p. 9. , viewed 10 Sep 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article33198176