Image credit: New Toll Gate, Parramatta by Robert Russell (1808-1900), National Gallery of Australia

This post is about the shocking murder of two innocent men during the botched robbery of the local toll-gate at Parramatta in 1814. In addition to the two deaths another two men were almost executed for a crime they did not commit.

On the fateful evening of Saturday 28 May 1814, the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser reported that two travellers, William Jenkins, a Sydney dealer (accompanied by a young boy), and Rowland Edwards (a Hawkesbury settler), made the mistake of stopping for the night at the local toll-house also known as the Parramatta Turnpike.  Later that night, around 10 or 11 pm, two men armed with muskets, “one of them much taller than the other and both wearing handkerchiefs over their faces”, attempted to rob the the toll-keeper Edward Mayne who in in the ensuring scuffle was heard to cry out “Oh save me, save me!”

Unfortunately the robbery went horribly wrong and resulted in the death of the two guests who went to the aid of the toll-keeper. As it turned out Mayne survived the encounter but Jenkins died instantly and Edwards died four hours later after suffering severe gun-shot wounds.[1][2]

William Jenkins (c1776 – 1814) was 38 years old and was survived by his widow Sarah (nee Chivers), 3 daughters, one of whom was not born at the time of his death, and a brother James. He and James were former convicts who had arrived in Australia per Coromandel 1 in 1802. Their crime was stealing seven sheep valued at £19 from Edward Smith at the parish of Chippendale, North Wiltshire. After serving a seven year sentence, the Jenkins brothers went into business farming, boat building and even property development. His remains were taken back to Sydney by his family and interred.[3]

Rowland Edwards (c1763-1814) was a Third Fleet convict. On 8 August 1789 aged twenty-six, he was charged at Shrewsbury for stealing a black gelding and was sentenced to seven years transportation. He left on the “Admiral Barrington” from Portsmouth, on 27 March 1791 as part of the Third Fleet to New Holland and arrived Australia 16 October 1791. He was survived by his wife Jane (nee Fletcher) and children. You can read more about Edwards through his descendant Matt Hall’s blog.[3][4][5]

The police investigation was led by Reverend Samuel Marsden and Chief Constable Oakes. As a result of Mayne’s testimony Michael Hoollaghan (also known as Woollaghan) and Alexander Suitar were arrested. Both were labourers working on the Liverpool road and were staying in convict huts two and a half miles from Parramatta.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser reported on all aspects of the story from the initial attack, through to the arrest, trial and the final verdict. On Saturday 25 June 1814, Hoollaghan and Suitar were tried for murder in the Court of Criminal Jurisdiction and were found guilty and sentence to death.[6]

However, this was not the end of the story for in a strange twist of events two other men confessed to the toll-gate murders two weeks after the sentencing.  Dennis Donovan who was about to be executed for another crime confessed to being an accessory[7] and John White, a servant to Mrs Sarah Burns, of Georges River, also came forward and confessed. As a result Hoollaghan and Suitar were found innocent. Donovan was executed for his earlier crime on Tuesday 12 July 1814[6] while White, in a second trial on Wednesday 20 July 1814 was found guilty and sentenced to death. Both their bodies were given to the Surgeons for dissection.[8][9]  

So where was the Parramatta Toll Gate/ Turnpike?

To find this out we looked first at the history of Sydney roads and tolls. From around 1805 heavy rain  fall had caused the Sydney-Parramatta road to deteriorate and it was in such poor condition that the new Governor, Lachlan Macquarie, made fixing the road one of his priorities.[10] The new public road was to be ‘paid out of the Colonial Police Fund’ from a 3 shilling per gallon levy on spirits.[11] But even this was not enough to cover the costs and Macquarie was forced to put “Toll gates come into operation on the newly completed turnpike road from Sydney to Parramatta”[12] with a scale of fees (toll-tax) prescribed which road users had to pay in order to pass through the toll-gates[13]

This new road opened on 10 April 1811 with two toll-bars; one in George Street, Haymarket where the Central Railway Square stands; the other ‘on a hill at the northern end of Sydney Road’ (the present Church Street), Parramatta (at the junction near Boundary Street, Raymond Street and A’Becketts Creek bridge).[1][14]

Richard Rouse, a well known Parramatta figure was Overseer of Works[15] and built the toll-gate, and gate-keepers house for £200. The collection of tolls was leased to individuals and regularly changed hands to the highest bidder.

The first gatekeeper was Thomas Quinn of the 73 Regiment. Later in 1829, the toll-bar was moved to the junction of Dog Trap Road and Parramatta Road where Surgeon John Harris undertook to erect a new toll-house on land owned by Sir John Jamison. This became known as the “Old Toll Gate” and operated until it was removed in 1877 when James McCulloch became the last toll keeper.[16][17]

The Parramatta toll gate murder appears to have happened at the initial toll-house, near A’Beckett’s Bridge (as shown on the map below).[18]

Image credit: © 2009 City of Sydney Archives - Historical Atlas of Sydney, 1885-1890. For full Higinbotham & Robinson map of Parramatta, click here

Image credit: © 2009 City of Sydney Archives – Historical Atlas of Sydney, 1885-1890. For full Higinbotham & Robinson map of Parramatta, click here

Anne Tsang, Research Assistant, Parramatta City Council, 2014.

1. Maureen McManus. (2010). Terror at the toll gate. The Granville Guardian, 17(2). Granville, N.S.W.: Granville Historical Society Inc., pp. 3-4.

2. Shocking murder. (1814, June 4). The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, p.2.

3. State Records of New South Wales. (2009). Index to Colonial Secretary’s papers, 1788-1825; [database]

4. Rowland Edwards. Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Third Fleet, 1791. Class: HO 11; Piece: 1. Accessed via [database online].

5. Matt Hall. (2009, June 2). The murder of Rowland Edwards [and other posts].The history of Matt [blog].

6. Court of criminal jurisdiction. (1814, June 29). The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, p.1.

7. Executions. (1814, July 16). The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, p. 2.

8. Court of criminal jurisdiction. (1814, July 23). The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, p.2.

9. J. T. (John Thomas) Campbell. (1814, August 6). Government and general orders: Civil department, The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, p. 1.

10. State Records of New South Wales. Lachlan Macquarie: visionary and builder.

11. Lachlan Macquarie. (1812). Governor Macquarie to Earl of Liverpool. Historical records of Australia, series 1, vol. 7(a), s. 17-18, pp. 386-7.

12. Historical Records of Australia 

13. Parramatta Road Commercial Precinct Heritage Conservation Area – Hca 5

14. James Jervis & George Mackaness (ed.). (1961). The cradle city of Australia: its history of Parramatta, 1788-1961. Parramatta, N.S.W.: Parramatta City Council, pp. 57-58.

15. Frances Pollon. (1983). Parramatta, the cradle city of Australia : its history from 1788. [Parramatta, N.S.W.] : Council of the City of Parramatta, 1983.

16. Thomas Fowlie. (c.1919, 2001). A history of Granville 1919. Granville, N.S.W.: Granville Historical Society Inc., pp. 15-16.

17. Tolls [vertical file]. Parramatta Heritage Centre.

18. Parramatta: Parishes of St. John & Field of Mars. Sydney: Higinbotham & Robinson. In City of Sydney Archives. (2009). Atlas of the Suburbs of Sydney, ca 1885-1890. Historical Atlas of Sydney.