Domestic Tragedies

Newspapers offer chilling accounts of the lives of the Cottle family.

In 1914 George Percy Cottle was a printer in his 30s, married with two sons, two and four years old. His odd behaviour had cost him his job. Witnesses said “when Cottle was sober he was eccentric, and when under the influence of drink he was known as Mad Cottle.” He was on bad terms with his wife, complaining about her behaviour.

They and their two young sons were living in Bulwarra Road when George took the boys gently by the hand to a lane at the back of the house. There he cut their throats and tried to kill himself. He survived, and when the wound healed he was brought to trial. The jury found him not guilty on the grounds of insanity. (Daily Telegraph, 5 September 1914, p 17; Evening News, 4 September 1915, p 5)

Perhaps the Griffiths of Bunn Street were even more desperate, and for many more years. Annie was the second wife of Patrick Griffiths. They had a son (John) and a stepson (Richard). Patrick, a wharf labourer, was a veteran of the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901) and kept two curved swords as mementos. He was an enthusiastic drinker and a violent drunk. He often beat up his wife, and she had lost the sight of one eye in consequence.

On 31st July 1915 he came home drunk and (she attested):

Began to beat her. He was continually assaulting her when in that condition. As he began to break up things her son John carried her upstairs to protect her. She heard [Patrick] say, “I licked Jem Mace, and in China we cut the heads off Chinamen and put them on fences.

She heard Patrick fall, found him lying on the floor, and heard him say “I’ll do as they do in China.” John told the police  “I struck him with the sword, and I’ll finish him yet.” He rushed towards Patrick but the police held him back. He added (the police said) “The old man has been abusing and knocking my mother about, and I won’t stand it.”

Patrick died in Sydney Hospital two days later. John’s remarks made his trial open and shut. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to three months at hard labour. The judge “was satisfied that drink was the cause of the committal of the crime, but he could not hold that because a man was drunk he should escape the consequence.” (Sun, 9 August 1915, p 6)