Saturday, 17 August 2019

Review: “Hellboy” (2019)

MARSHALL, Neil, “Hellboy”, Summit Entertainment/Millennium Media/Lawrence Gordon-Lloyd Levin Productions/Dark Horse Entertainment, 2019.

The problem with re-boots is that they spend an inordinate amount of time going over territory that has been done before. In these comic-book adaptations with super-powered beings, inevitably we have to sit through the “origin story” of our hero yet again and invariably it drags the entire proceedings down. A case in point is any irruption of the Batman franchise – how many times do we need to see Bruce Wayne’s parents get gunned down in a back alley? In some ways, it has to be incorporated but frankly, re-boots, by definition, cater for those who are already au fait with the material. It’s a poison chalice for anyone who chooses to take on one of these juggernauts.

This being said, I don’t understand why a re-boot can’t just springboard off the work of those gone before. In del Toro’s take on Hellboy, he gave us everything we could’ve asked for in an origin story and all before the opening credits; here, Neil Marshall wastes inordinate amounts of screen-time on a pastiche of that prior sequence – adding nothing new apart from introducing a few third-string characters needed later in the story – and coasting along on del Toro’s coat-tails. For my money, it would have served them better to not include the sequence at all – referencing it in some other way – rather than staging a poor puppet show of the previous director’s material.

I have to acknowledge right away that I liked del Toro’s prior two films very much. I am also a huge fan of Mike Mignola’s work in the various Dark Horse titles that crowd the comic store bookshelves. For my money, del Toro captured much of the sublety of Mignola’s work and in this iteration a lot of that nuance gets hived off and replaced with a bunch of goofiness. I’m aware that del Toro and Mignola had a falling-out while this film was in production. I think it’s a shame that it happened – whatever the reasons – but this film doesn’t do much, to my way of thinking, to bring the source material to life in a meaningful sense.

Any vehicle of this nature has a series of boxes which need to be ticked in order for it to meet fan expectations. Half-breed scion of Hell? Check. Esoteric organisations with sinister hidden agendas? Check. BPRD agents with mystical powers ready for some biff? Check. All of this is taken into account here, but it should be more than just making a list – it’s how it’s done that amounts to a polished product. Again, del Toro created the template for how to do it; it seems that Marshall decided to toss that out with the trash.

Let’s get to specifics. If you’ve read a “Hellboy” comic, you’ll know that it’s all about tone. Hellboy himself is a somewhat ludicrous character – he looks outrageous, but there he is, chatting with mystics, talking to townsfolk, strategizing with agency operatives. It looks crazy, but it works. That’s because, everything happening in the narrative is extra dark and menacing. Evil in Mignola’s stories is pervasive and brooding, lurking in the background and often only detected by a beat in the timing, sometimes with a whispered “Hellboy” in a dark panel. Mignola’s tales often erupt into a fury of violence at the end, but everything else is stillness and silence.

The character of Hellboy himself contains this quality. He is gumshoe-detective stolidness wrapped up in a tough-as-nails outrĂ© exterior – he is essentially unflappable. Sure, sometimes the implications of what he discovers take him by surprise but, equally, these things tend only to make him cranky. A flustered Hellboy is a rare thing indeed; in fact, even in those moments where Destiny drags him onto a course that he’d rather avoid, he often only seems to be bemused.

Contrast this to David Harbour’s portrayal of the character. He flinches; he sputters; he ducks and dodges. He flails about in confusion. The scene where he steps out of the van in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and one of the assembled troops takes a shot at him, not realizing he’s an ally, is good for laughs, but it’s not Hellboy. This is not a character who waves his arms about while screaming; he’s just too cool for that kind of crap. What makes Hellboy appealing to his fans, is that he’s multi-faceted, nuanced; this film takes just one element of the character and dials up the volume, thereby losing everything that makes him interesting.

And it’s not just Hellboy who gets this treatment: Professor Bruttenholm and Nimue also get boiled down to essentials and played as one-note entities. Ian McShane seems to be everyone’s go-to guy for playing mystical masterminds lately – after “American Gods” – but this portrayal is worlds away from John Hurt’s version of the character in the del Toro flick, a version arguably closer to the original concept. Here, Bruttenholm is the avenging warrior, using Hellboy as his ultimate weapon in the war against evil with no time to play the supportive parent; in del Toro’s film, we had both, tinged with regret and remorse. Even the character’s name was all over the place: long-time readers know that ‘Bruttenholm’ is pronounced ‘Broom’, in the same way that a bunch of other fancy English names contain more letters than necessary, like ‘Featherstonehaugh’, or ‘Auchinleck’, or ‘Menzies’*. In this film the name wanders all over the place in terms of how it’s written and how it’s pronounced – just pick one people! It’s not hard.

Speaking of go-to actors, Milla Jovovich seems to be the actor of choice when it comes to supernatural super-powered beings. As Nimue here, she does a serviceable job and even manages to bring a little extra-dimensionality to the character, but it flips on and off like a switch, not really growing out of anything or leading anywhere in particular. She says she loves Hellboy, but does she really? Really? There’s plenty of tears and longing looks but equally there’s plenty of arbitrary backstabbing and viciousness. It’s there, but it isn’t sold.

There were nice inclusions in this film that are mainstays of the comics but have been overlooked in the past (although I’m betting del Toro was eager to address them). Lobster Johnson is a kooky and spooky bit part in the stories who lends a sense of time and place to the narratives and, of course, Baba Yaga is crucial to Hellboy’s backstory. Their inclusions here – again – felt like someone in the background just ticking boxes to rope in content for their iteration of the franchise, although Baba Yaga was well done and stands as a good example of how those layers of latex can be pushed through in order to obtain a resonant performance.

Finally, let’s discuss the other main characters essential to the plot – Alice Monaghan and Agent Ben Daimio. I have to admit that my engagement with the source material has been lacklustre of late so I’m unsure if Alice is a canon character**; regardless, she stacks up well here and is a good representative of the sort of individual who ends up as a BPRD grunt. Daimio however, shows again that a good, nuanced character can be simply ground down to nubbish essentials by scriptwriters keen to cram in as much content as possible. There’re so many layers to this character that it was almost inevitable that much of what makes him interesting – and there’s a lot – would just fall by the wayside, leaving us with a ‘were-jaguar with attitude’ and little else.

The look of this movie owes more to Monty Python than to the comics. That sounds harsh, but the initial sequence with the Lodge of Osiris upper-class twits had me rolling my eyes somewhat. It seems ludicrous that they would dress up as medieval knights – complete with horned helmets – in order to hunt down marauding giants conducting genocidal mayhem in the New Forest. Surely, given the massacre of innocents involved, they would use something more apropos, like rocket-launching helicopters and automatic weaponry? And yet we get the Knights Who Say “Ni!”. Spare me.

The giants themselves looked like the products of someone who grew up on a steady diet of Games Workshop material. With all their funky weapons and fashionable accoutrements, they looked like something from a “Warhammer 40K” catalogue, rather than something out of a Hellboy book. Overall the effects were more ‘creaky’ than ‘special’, with more than one instance of a matte job looking a bit shifty.

I started this review determined to not get into a compare-and-contrast routine along the lines of ‘Perlman is better that Harbour; del Toro is better than Marshall’ because – it has to be said – both franchises have their downsides. It’s hard to make someone look like Hellboy and then have them convey a dynamic, nuanced performance, and these narratives are all about the nuance. It’s hard to take the Faery lore and legendry of the comics and reproduce them convincingly in a Real World setting. This iteration has a pared-back, over-produced sheen while simultaneously trying to cram in as much as possible from the source material and it doesn’t always work. The emphasis here is on gore, foul language and violence, rather than anything else, and the R-rating is well-earned, although it does feel a bit indulgent more than occasionally. That’s fine though: if all the producers wanted to do was make a beer-and-pizza yuck-fest – and there are elements of that in the source material – then great. Go your hardest. But that’s just one tiny element of a greater whole, which is completely lacking in this do-over. Will someone please turn this concept into a TV show already? We’re ready for the long haul.

Three Tentacled Horrors from me.


*They’re pronounced “Fanshaw”, “Affleck” and “Ming-giss”, for those interested.

**She is.

Friday, 9 August 2019

An Oriental Mystery...

Trainspotters are great customers. As a general rule, they wander into the shop, look at what you have to offer and buy it – or not – as their situation dictates. They rarely argue about price or availability because, when it comes to the sort of material which piques their interest, they take what they can get and it’s usually very rare and thus, price-y. Best of all, when they die, or their partners issue ultimatums about the invasive tendencies of their hobby, they (or their relatives) bring it all back to us so that we can sell it again. All part of the great publishing Circle of Life.

I was cataloguing an item from one such collection when I noticed the following article. It was from the Queensland-based Charleville Historical Society’s centenary publication commemorating 100 years of the Charleville branch line and its impact upon their community. ‘Sounded pretty dry to me but there was this nugget:

To be honest I had no idea where “Dulbydilla” was, so I looked it up and, after clicking around for a bit, got re-directed to Trove (bless you, National Library!) and found the sordid details surrounding The Dulbydilla Murder of 1886, which I’ve cleaned up and reproduce here for you below:


(Abridged from the “Roma Star” of 13th March, 1886.)

On Tuesday, 9th instant, before his Honour Mr. Justice Mein, Tim Tee was charged with the murder of Jimmy Ah Fook, at Dulbydilla, on Friday, 26th February.

The Attorney-General (Hon. A. Rutledge) prosecuted, instructed by Mr. Gill, Crown Solicitor.

Constable Michael Sullivan, stationed at Dulbydilla, deposed: On the night of Friday, 26th February, I went to the house of a Chinaman baker named Jimmy Ah Fook; saw him lying at the door of his shop, and saw a gunshot wound in his stomach; he was alive, and groaning as if in pain; it was about half-past 9 o'clock at night; I asked him a question, and he made a complaint to me, mentioning the name of some person; there were several people present at the time, including L.B. Johnson, a storekeeper, Charles Chapman, a publican, a man named Lester, a butcher, and others; these people could have heard the nature of the complaint the deceased made to me; I went away to the boring camp which was about a quarter of a mile from the shop; first saw a man named Park, and soon afterwards saw the prisoner; it must then have been nearly 10 o'clock; I asked the prisoner if his name was Tim Tee, and he replied that it was; I asked him "Where is your gun?" and he replied "I have got none”. I then told the prisoner to come with me, and I took him to the house of the deceased; when we got there I lifted up Jimmy Ah Fook into a sitting position and asked him "Do you know that man ?" pointing at the same time to the prisoner; Jimmy Ah Fook said "Yes", and I then said "What is his name?" The deceased replied, "His name is Tim Tee"; I then said, "Is that the man who shot you?" [After some argument, his Honour said he would reserve for the Full Court the point whether deceased's reply to that question could be admitted in evidence.] Jimmy Ah Fook replied in presence of the prisoner, "Yes, he shoot me"; prisoner then said to Jimmy Ah Fook "Did you see me here to-night?" Jimmy made no reply but lay back, apparently exhausted. When I asked Jimmy Ah Fook if he knew the prisoner, he was sitting up with his head hanging down and the prisoner was stooping down, looking at him about a yard off; when I asked the question the prisoner stood up so that Jimmy Ah Fook could not then see his face and I had to ask the prisoner to stoop down so that Jimmy Ah Fook could see him; the prisoner did so after some hesitation, and after he had done so, Jimmy Ah Fook answered my question in the manner already stated. Brought the prisoner away from the house after Jimmy Ah Fook had laid back on the ground and, about ten yards from the house, I said "I arrest you now for shooting Jimmy”. Prisoner replied, "Me no shoot"; brought him to the lockup, and between 2 and 3 o'clock the next morning I escorted the prisoner and Jimmy Ah Fook to the train for Roma. Jimmy Ah Fook died just as the train was moving away. While I was searching prisoner he said, "If me knew you were after me, I would have cleared out when I done it." I found on the prisoner, a gun cap and one grain of shot, which were in his waistcoat pocket; I produce them; there was a post-mortem examination held on the body of Jimmy Ah Fook by Dr. Comyn at the Roma police station; I received four grains of shot from Dr. Comyn which I saw him remove from the body; I produce them; I know Francis Harley Davis; on the 2nd March he gave me the tin of shot I now produce; he got it out of a small bag which was hanging outside his tent at Dulbydilla. Wednesday, March 10., Mr. Fowles mentioned that the Crown had a few moments ago employed his assistance for the prisoner.

Constable Sullivan, cross-examined by Mr. Fowles: I am sure the prisoner never said to me in the lockup, "Supposing I done that, I clear out."

Dr. Comyn stated: On the 27th February last I made a post-mortem examination on a body produced to me by Senior-constable Hilton: I found on the left arm one shot hole, on the left forearm three shot holes, two shot holes over the heart, and a large number over the liver and stomach; there were about forty shot holes altogether; there was very little external bleeding; I found that seven shots had penetrated the liver, six had penetrated the stomach, one had gone into the pericardium; two had entered the spleen; the seven shots in the liver had caused a large extravasation of blood - over a pint; I consider the blood poured out from the liver was the immediate cause of death; I consider some of the other wounds would have proved mortal, but would have taken longer to cause the death of deceased; I took out three other shots besides that from the pericardium, and I gave them to Constable Sullivan; one of these three came from a little below the liver, one was at the back of the liver, and the other was in the cavity of the stomach.

Cross-examined by Mr. Fowles: The act of raising a man wounded like the deceased into a sitting position would increase the internal hemorrhage. The removal of the deceased to and by the train would hasten death.

Louis Berliner Johnson, storekeeper, Dulbydilla, stated: I remember the evening of 26th February last; the deceased, Jimmy Ah Fook, was a baker, and lived about two chains away from my store; a little after 9 o'clock on the evening mentioned, I heard the report of a gun and soon afterwards I heard groans, as if made by a man in great agony; the groans came from the direction of Jimmy Ah Fook's; it was a dark night, so I lighted a lamp and proceeded to the spot where the sounds came from and, on getting there, I found Jimmy Ah Fook stretched out in the store in front of his premises. I put the light to Jimmy's face when I got there, and he said, "me die, me die," several times; he told me how he got the injuries; afterwards he said "me die, me die," several times. I asked him who shot him; I had previously examined him, and found he was riddled with gunshot about the stomach; from what I saw, I considered Jimmy Ah Fook to be in a dying condition. Jimmy Ah Fook was calm and collected, and spoke every word intelligibly to me; I always was a friend of the deceased, and he seemed relieved when he saw me and clasped my hand in his; after I examined deceased, I moved him from the centre of the door and, while I was so moving him, he said "Let me alone, me die; let me die"; the deceased told me who inflicted the injuries before I moved him. When Constable Sullivan brought the prisoner I lifted Jimmy Ah Fook into a sitting posture and told him to look at the prisoner; the prisoner would not look Jimmy in the face but threw himself back and the constable put his hand on the back of prisoner's neck and made him stoop down; I asked the deceased, "Was that the man who shot you?" and he replied "Yes", very distinctly. I said, "What for?" and he replied, "He want him money." Prisoner said, "Did you see me here to-night?" and deceased replied, "Yes, you come and speak to me tonight."

Cross-examined by Mr. Fowles: The night was dark, and I could not have recognized Jimmy without my lamp.

Edwin Maynard, cordial manufacturer, Dulbydilla, stated : On the night of the 26th February I went to the baker's shop of Jimmy Ah Fook, about half-past 10: I saw the deceased lying down just inside his door when I got there; the deceased made a statement which indicated the state of mind he was in; he said, "Me die tonight; me die soon”, two or three times. I heard him say that he was sitting in one of the buildings at the back of the baker's shop, about 9 o'clock, and Tim Tee came to the side door with a gun in his hand and said to Jimmy Ah Fook, "You give me money; suppose you no give me money me shoot you”; Jimmy Ah Fook said to the prisoner, "Me got no money; me won't give you any”; Tim Tee then said, "All right, me shoot 'um you," and then shot Jimmy Ah Fook and ran away.

James Need, water carrier, Dulbydilla, gave evidence corroborative of that of the previous witness having seen and heard the deceased identify prisoner. Cross-examined by Mr. Fowles, witness said it was a very dark night.

Jimmy Ah Gee confirmed the evidence of previous witnesses in some unimportant particulars.

Louis Berliner Johnson, recalled, in answer to the jury: I was at the house of the deceased for nearly an hour; I stopped until I saw there was no chance of the deceased living. When I left, he was still lying beside the counter where I put him. By the Attorney-General: I believe when I came up with a lamp there was a light on the back premises, because I afterwards saw a light fetched into the front premises from the bakehouse.

Francis Harley Davies, well-borer, Dulbydilla, deposed: The prisoner has been cooking at the boring camp for about a fortnight. We were in the habit of having our meals at a table about five yards from the back of my tent; there was a smaller table in front of my tent where Mr. Falconer used to have his meals when he was present. For two or three days previous to the 26th February, there was a gun kept upon the table - a double-barrelled muzzle loader. The gun belonged to Timothy O'Sullivan who was employed at our works; the gun produced in court is the same one. To the best of my belief, there were also powder and shot on the table; the tin produced is the same that was on the table, and the shot appears to be of the same size. I am almost positive that I put the powder and shot in a bag in my tent on the 27th February and they remained there until I gave them to Constable Sullivan. I believe there was a box of caps in front of the tent, but I am not quite certain about that; I gave the box of caps to Senior constable Nagle just before I started for Roma. On the night of the 26th February, I had been up in the township and sometime between half-past 8 and half-past 9 o'clock I heard a loud report, which seemed to come from the direction of Ah Fook's shop. I was at the large table at the back of my tent at this time; this was about a quarter of a mile distant. I had been away from the camp since tea-time and I heard the report immediately on my return. I did not see the prisoner in the camp when I came back, though he might have been there; he was in the habit of sleeping about five yards from the back of my tent but, if he was in his bed, I could not have seen him as I entered by the front. I went to sleep when I came home and, soon afterwards, I woke up and saw someone passing in front of the tent; that person was near to the little table and I heard the rattle of teapots; the person then struck a match, and I saw it was the prisoner; any person coming from town to Tim Tee's camp would have passed that way. On the morning of the 27th, the gun was in its usual place on the table.

Cross-examined by Mr. Fowles: I never missed the gun at all; it might have been on the table from the 25th to 27th. I never missed anything from the table.

James Benjamin Park, labourer, Dulbydilla, deposed: I live in the railway station yard, at the boring camp; the prisoner's bed was about fifteen yards from where I worked. I went to work at 7 o'clock and, about twenty minutes past 9, I saw the prisoner coming from his galley to where I was at work; about twenty or twenty-five minutes before this I heard the loud report of a gun. I had told the prisoner when I saw him first that we required no supper that night; when he returned, I asked him where he had been and what he had been doing and told him the constables had been looking after him. He said, "What for constable want me?" I fancied the prisoner was a little excited and flurried in his voice when I mentioned the word “constable” to him.

Cross-examined by Mr. Fowles: I will not swear prisoner was not present at the camp all night.

Timothy John O'Sullivan, well-borer, Dulbydilla, deposed: The gun produced in court is my gun, and I was in the habit of keeping it on a table in front of Mr. Davies's tent at the camp. On 26th February, about midday, I snapped two caps on the gun and found that it was unloaded; I laid it back on the table then. Constable Nagle came and examined the gun early on the 27th February and I put it back in my tent; he came again after breakfast and examined it. I took the gun down to Mitchell at 9 o'clock the same day; I kept it until Sunday, 28th. On the latter date, I drew a charge from it; I put the charge into a piece of canvas and gave it to Sergeant Wright. (Sergeant Wright called and produced gun and charge given him by the witness.) I think the shots in the charge are the same size as those in the canister. The other barrel of the gun was empty. I did not put the charge in the gun myself and I do not know who did. The gun kicks a little at times, if you put too much powder in it.

Lionel Lawes, well-borer, Dulbydilla, deposed: I went to bed about 8 o'clock on the night of 26th February. I fired out of Sullivan's gun on the Tuesday or Wednesday previous; the second shot I fired kicked a good deal. The shot in the canister produced was not all of one size; I bought it for No.1 shot. The gun was kept in front of the tent occupied by myself and Mr. Davis.

Cross-examined by Mr. Fowles: I am sure the gun was not loaded after I returned it to the table on Wednesday.

Sergeant Wright, stationed at Mitchell, deposed: I received the gun and charge of shot produced from Mr. O'Sullivan; I examined the gun, and found the right barrel had been recently discharged and that there was something in the left barrel which was still there. (Witness here tried to fit a cap on the nipple.) The caps produced are too small, but they can be put on by pressure - by splitting them. The cap now given to me (the one that was found on the prisoner) is also too small but is the same size as those in the box. I examined prisoner on 3rd of this month and found his right collar bone slightly swollen.

Senior-constable Nagle stationed at Dulbydilla, deposed: About 4 o'clock on the morning of 28th February last, I went to the well-borer's camp and was shown a gun by Mr. O'Sullivan; later on, about 8 o'clock, I saw the gun again. Mr. Davies pointed out the place where the prisoner slept and I found some shot and one cap there, of which I took possession; I produce them. Some shot were scattered about the bed and some were in pieces of newspaper. The cap shown me is the same size as those in the box produced; the shot in the canister are of different sizes and those I found on the bed are also different sizes. They appear to be alike; the shots taken out of the deceased's stomach appear to be the same as the large shot.

Thomas Meyers, in charge of a store at Dulbydilla for Mr. Kreibke, of Mitchell, deposed: On the 25th February last, the prisoner was in the store; I had a conversation with him. I said, "I heard you had a row last night, Tim"; he replied, "Yes, I had a row with my missis; I told her I was not coming up to the tent that night, I did not feel tired, and took a walk up, and when I went to the tent I struck a match and said, are you in Kate?" I saw a man sitting in the tent pulling on his socks. I (witness) asked Tim Tee whether he hit the man, and he said, "No, I no hit him; I kick up a row and throw all the rations out. I no buy rations to keep another man." The prisoner further said, "Chinaman baker been there too, all the same, dead now." I said, "Dead, where?" The prisoner said, "To-night."

Cross-examined by Mr. Fowles: The prisoner did not refer to the man in the tent. I am certain he referred to Jimmy, the baker, when he said, "all the same, dead now."

Yung Gee was interpreted through Georgie Chong and stated: I am a storekeeper at Dulbydilla; I recollect the night when Jimmy Ah Fook was shot. The prisoner was in my shop two or three days before the 26th February; there were only the prisoner and Jimmy Ah Fook there besides myself. The prisoner asked Jimmy for money and Jimmy replied, "No, I don't owe him money at all." I said, "Go outside, I don't want any row in my shop.” The prisoner was very cross when he asked for the money.

Constable Johnson, watchhouse keeper, Roma, deposed: The prisoner was brought to the watchhouse on the 27th February last. Assisted Constable Sullivan to search him and found a gun cap and some grains of shot. The prisoner, turning towards Constable Sullivan, said, while he was being searched, "If me had known you were after me, I'd have cleared out when I done it.” Prisoner also said, "He didn't see me do it; you'll have to prove it."

This closed the case for the Crown, and Mr. Fowles addressed the jury for the defence.

His Honour, in summing up to the jury, said there was no direct evidence against the prisoner except the statements of the deceased as to the actual occurrence of the shooting, or as to what took place which resulted in the death of Jimmy Ah Fook. The evidence that had been tendered by the Crown was of a threefold character:

They had before them the confessions of the prisoner, the statements of the deceased when he was in a dying condition, and also the indirect and presumptive testimony known as circumstantial evidence. It was in favour of the prisoner that, when he was met first by Constable Sullivan, he voluntarily went away with him and accompanied the constable to the house of the deceased before he was arrested. The prisoner, when asked the question as to where his gun was, had unhesitatingly replied that he had none. It was further to be considered in his favour that, immediately after his arrest, the prisoner, straight away and without any hesitation, said "Me no shoot," and, furthermore, when brought into the presence of the deceased, Jimmy Ah Fook, the prisoner distinctly stated that he had not been at the house that night. The jury had before them, however, the evidence of both Constable Sullivan and Constable Johnson as to the prisoner's statement in the watchhouse.

He (his Honour) now came to the second class of evidence produced - the dying declarations of the deceased man. The jury must look at the surrounding circumstances before they accept these declarations as evidence against the prisoner. They must be satisfied that Jimmy Ah Fook was in thorough belief that he would die before they accepted his statements inculpating the prisoner.

His Honour then addressed the jury on the fact that the shooting took place on a dark night and said they must consider that, two or three days previously, an angry conversation had occurred between the prisoner and the deceased about money and it was probable that a wounded person might at once think that the man with whom he had a quarrel was the most likely one to commit the outrage. In regard to the circumstantial evidence, his Honour pointed out that none of the witnesses had been able to testify to the presence of the prisoner in the neighbourhood of the deceased's house on the day of the alleged murder. Three witnesses had been called who were unable to affirm that the prisoner had not been in the camp on the 26th February between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. and the evidence pointed to the fact that the murder had been committed about 9 p.m.

With regard to the gun with which the alleged murder was committed, his Honour said that the conduct of Senior-constable Nagle had been injudicious, to say the least of it. Instead of at once impounding the weapon, he seemed to have made a cursory examination only; he had no right to have handed the gun back again to its owner. It was left for the jury to consider: Do the facts point to a corroboration of the deceased man's statement? If so, they must weigh greatly with you in coming to the conclusion that the prisoner is guilty. By themselves they are not sufficient to convict, but with the confessions of the prisoner they deserve your consideration. If the testimony brought appears to be corroborative of these facts you must find the prisoner guilty; but if the facts are consistent with a state of affairs such as to lead you to believe that the prisoner is innocent, you will give him the benefit of the doubt. His Honour, having read the evidence over, asked the jury to consider only two questions: Was Jimmy Ah Fook killed by a gunshot wound? Does the evidence point to the prisoner as being the person who inflicted that wound?

At 7.50 p.m. the jury retired, and at 8 p.m. returned into court with a verdict of “Guilty.”

The prisoner was asked if he had anything to say [as to] why the sentence of death should not be passed upon him but he made no reply.

His Honour: “Prisoner at the bar, you have been found guilty of an offence which the law compels me to follow with the sentence of death. I do not think the jury could have fairly arrived at any other conclusion. I will not add to the state of your feelings, if you understand what I am now saying to you.”

Sentence of death was then passed in the usual form.


The Chinese population of Australia was not well-liked or sympathetically treated in these early days and such things as their names were poorly understood or remembered. In most writings of the time, Chinese characters have names starting with ‘Ah-’ and were not true Chinese monikers. Even crime photos of the period show Chinese prisoners with these made-up names. It’s not surprising then that “Jimmy Ah Fook” had a name such as this, or that it changed from this, in one source, to “Hing Kee” in another. You’ll also note that there’s a “Jimmy Ah Gee” who adds “unimportant particulars” to the proceedings. Tim Tee, the villain of the piece, has had his name securely recorded for posterity, however. If that is his real name…

This being said, you’ll notice that there’s quite a bit of disparity between the two sources – including the name of the presiding judge – which indicates how sketchy the record-keeping of the time must have been, and how local recollection of the events might have been coloured by time and distance.

You’ll notice also that no mention of self-extinguishing kerosene lamps, or “Chinese Devils”, made it as far as the courtroom. I was quite delighted by the reference to Constable Sullivan locking away the lamps for later examination – a budding Investigator, that one!

All-in-all, it’s a spooky little event in an out-of-the-way part of the world, but one that could make for a nice little diversion for your party of adventurers during a period of travel. Forced to stop in order to receive the wounded man aboard their train, do they see the strange events take place? Do they disclose the perfectly rational explanation behind the events, or do they reveal the supernatural entity at work and safely eliminate it? From a little scrap such as this, you can see a world of gaming possibilities opening up…