A Book of Remarkable Criminals HTML version

The Career of Robert Butler
There is a report of Butler's trial published in Dunedin. It gives in full the
speeches and the cross-examination of the witnesses, but not in all cases the
evidence-in-chief. By the kindness of a friend in New Zealand I obtained a copy
of the depositions taken before the magistrate; with this I have been able to
supplement the report of the trial. A collection of newspaper cuttings furnished
me with the details of the rest of Butler's career.
On the evening of March 23, 1905, Mr. William Munday, a highly respected
citizen of the town of Tooringa, in Queensland, was walking to the neighbouring
town of Toowong to attend a masonic gathering. It was about eight o'clock, the
moon shining brightly. Nearing Toowong, Mr. Munday saw a middle-aged man,
bearded and wearing a white overcoat, step out into the moonlight from under
the shadow of a tree. As Mr. Munday advanced, the man in the white coat stood
directly in his way. "Out with all you have, and quick about it," he said. Instead of
complying with this peremptory summons, Mr. Munday attempted to close with
him. The man drew back quickly, whipped out a revolver, fired, and made off as
fast as he could. The bullet, after passing through Mr. Munday's left arm, had
lodged in the stomach. The unfortunate gentleman was taken to a neighbouring
hospital where, within a few hours, he was dead.
In the meantime a vigorous search was made for his assailant. Late the same
night Constable Hennessy, riding a bicycle, saw a man in a white coat who
seemed to answer to the description of the assassin. He dismounted, walked up
to him and asked him for a match. The man put his hand inside his coat. "What
have you got there?" asked the constable. "I'll--soon show you," replied the man
in the white coat, producing suddenly a large revolver. But Hennessy was too
quick for him. Landing him one under the jaw, he sent him to the ground and,
after a sharp struggle, secured him. Constable Hennessy little knew at the time
that his capture in Queensland of the man in the white coat was almost as
notable in the annals of crime as the affray at Blackheath on an autumn night in
1878, when Constable Robinson grappled successfully, wounded as he was,
with Charles Peace.
The man taken by Hennessy gave the name of James Wharton, and as James
Wharton he was hanged at Brisbane. But before his death it was ascertained
beyond doubt, though he never admitted it himself, that Wharton was none other
than one Robert Butler, whose career as a criminal and natural wickedness may
well rank him with Charles Peace in the hierarchy of scoundrels. Like Peace,
Butler was, in the jargon of crime, a "hatter," a "lone hand," a solitary who
conceived and executed his nefarious designs alone; like Peace, he
supplemented an insignificant physique by a liberal employment of the revolver;
like Peace, he was something of a musician, the day before his execution he