Ellen Mary Devine – nee Avery

A brave mother


by Rosslyn and Grahame Thom
This story was published in The Ancestral Searcher, Vol 37, No 1, March 2014 – Heraldry and Genealogy Society of Canberra

The Royal Humane Society of Australasia was formed in 1874 with the objective of giving “public recognition to acts of bravery by bestowing awards on those who risk their own lives in saving or attempting to save the lives of others”.  The Society’s major award is the Clarke Gold Medal, instituted in 1881 to recognise the most outstanding cases of bravery, usually one medal is issued annually.  My (Rosslyn) grand aunt Nellie Devine (nee Avery) was awarded the Clarke Gold Medal on 15 June 1925.

Ellen Mary Avery was born in 1890 at Boggabilla in Queensland, the daughter of  William Avery and Ellen O’Sullivan.  Nellie married Clarence Roy Devine (known as Roy) in 1920 at Warwick, Queensland, and settled on Wandibindle Station, out St George way, raising sheep.  They had five children, all born at Goondiwindi :-

Philip Ena                    born 26 Jan 1921
Clarence Roy Aiden    born 20 November 1923
Frank Alfred                born 14 September 1925
William Avery             born 16 September 1929
Maureen Millicent       born 29 May 1933

The following is an account of Ellen’s bravery extracted from the Brisbane Courier

Friday 9 May 1924, page 9




Goondiwindi May 7

At the Police Court, Dirranbandi, on April 30, May 1, and 2, before Mr J D Sullivan, PM, of Goondiwindi, Glen Combarngo, a half caste aboriginal, was charged with the wilful murder of Joseph Beswick, at Wandibindle, near Thallon, on the morning of April 16.

Inspector O’Hara, from Roma, prosecuted. Twelve witnesses gave evidence. It appeared from the evidence that about 8.30 am, a girl named Nellie Donaldson, who was having breakfast, and Mrs Devine (who was in the front bedroom with the children, her husband Roy Devine being absent in Goondiwindi) heard the report of a rifle, and a very loud yell.  Running to the front verandah of the house, they saw the accused getting up from his hands and knees some distance from the hut occupied by the deceased and the accused. Accused ran into the hut, and then walked towards where the women were standing.  Nellie Donaldson went to the telephone to ring up Mr Frisco, an adjoining selector, but before she could do so Combarngo started to run, Mrs Devine and the two children, Nellie Donaldson, and her brother, Percy Donaldson, aged 11 years , then locked themselves in a room off the dining-room. Combarngo ran to the door which they had locked and demanded to be admitted. He said, “I have shot Ranger Metcalfe (meaning Joseph Beswick). I want Nellie Donaldson to shoot her, and then I will shoot myself.” Mrs Devine refused him admittance, and put the boy out through the window to run for assistance to a home three miles away. Combarngo, it was declared, said “If you don’t open the door I will burst it open with an axe.” He then walked in the direction of the store room, where the axe is usually kept. When Mrs Devine heard his steps on the storeroom verandah she unlocked the door, and went out on to the back verandah, at the same time instructing Nellie Donaldson to lock the door after her exit. Mrs Devine walked to the top of the steps which lead from the back verandah to the store room, where she met Combarngo coming up the steps with an axe in one hand, and a .44 Winchester rifle in the other. She pleaded with Combarngo, and delayed him until the arrival of her brother-in-law, Norman Devine, about an hour afterwards.  Norman Devine got possession of the rifle, and found it to be loaded with four live cartridges, one being in the barrel, and three cartridges in the magazine. On the arrival of the Constable M’Kinley, and Laird, he stated to them that he had shot Beswick accidentally, whilst he was feeding a pup at the hut. The accused was committed to take his trial at the criminal sittings of the Circuit Court, to be held at Toowoomba on June 6.

Saturday, 24 May 1924, page 7.





In the Circuit Court this morning Glen Gumbarnga (sic) (27 years) was found guilty of the wilful murder of Joseph Beswick, otherwise known as Ranger Metcalfe, at Wandibindle, on April 16 last.

His Honour Mr Justice Shand presided.  Mr J E Sheehy prosecuted for the Crown, and Mr W L D Salkeld (Public Defender) appeared for the accused.

Mr Sheehy, in outlining the circumstances of the case, said that Wandibindle was isolated, the nearest neighbour being three miles away.  On April 16th last on that selection were two women – Mrs Devine and her lady companion, Miss Donaldson.  There were also three children, aged 11 and 3 years, and 5 months.  There were two men employed on the station, the accused and the deceased.  On the morning of April 16 Beswick died near the hut, about 170 yards from the homestead.  The only man in the vicinity was the accused.  Near the hut were two boa trees.  When Beswick came to the station he was given the oversight, succeeding the accused.  On April 12 accused was paid off, when he said he was going to break in some horses.  He went to Talwood, where he bought a bottle of whisky, and when he got to Gradule he was under the influence of liquor.  Continuing, Mr Sheehy said all at Wandibindle got up early on April 16, and went about their duties.  The accused appeared still to be suffering from the effects of liquor.  Mrs Devine and the girl Donaldson were having breakfast, when they heard a shot coming from the direction of the hut.  They also heard a scream and a loud cry.  Miss Donaldson saw the accused rising from  his hands and knees and running towards the hut.  Mrs Devine also saw some one get up from a sitting position.  They locked themselves and the children in a spare room.  When the accused came along she asked him what he wanted.  He said “I shot Ranger. I want to shoot Nelly Donaldson.  Then I will shoot myself.”  Mrs Devine told him he could not do that while her husband was away.  Accused said that if she did not open the door he would break it down with an axe.  He then went to the room where the axe was kept.  The girl Donaldson became excited and Mrs Devine went out and faced the accused, which was a brave act, as he had a rifle in one hand and an axe in the other.  Mrs Devine endeavoured to pacify him, and said that if he shot Miss Donaldson she (Mrs Devine) would go mad, and there would be no one to look after the children.  Accused calmed down a little, and said he would not shoot Miss Donaldson, but would shoot himself.  Accused said, “Goodbye” and added that he would go bushranging, and Miss Donaldson would be all right.  He also said, “They drove me to it.  They laughed at me.”


Dr S M’Donald stated that he made a post-mortem examination at Wandibindle station by the light of a hurricane lamp.  He found a wound in deceased’s left arm, and between the fourth and fifth left ribs, through the heart and lungs, and he found a bullet on the right side, under the skin, which caused both wounds.  Death would be instantaneous, and deceased could not have been at a distance of 33 ft.

Constable W Laird, of Talwood, stated he knew both accused and deceased.  At Wandibindle station Constable M’Kinlay handed witness a rifle.  No cartridges were in it.  Accused said: “I shot ‘Ranger’ down by the hut.”  Later he demonstrated the position he was in when he shot the deceased.  Witness cautioned accused, who, in a statement, said it was purely an accident.  He also said that the rifle belonged to  deceased.  He had been offered by Donald Kirby and Jno M’Govern £25 to go out and shoot a dingo which had been killing sheep.  Accused also offered ‘Ranger’ £5 for the use of the rifle.  Accused said that ‘Ranger’ was feeding a pup when the gun went off accidentally.

Constable Joseph M’Kinlay, of Goondiwindi, stated that the accused said to  him that he shot Ranger Metcalfe, but it was accidental, but he thought he would swing for it.

Helen Donaldson, aged 15®ˆ, lady’s help, stated that she was engaged at Mrs Devine’s on April 15 last.  Accused left Wandibindle on April 12, returning on April 15, about 7.30pm, and had a cup of tea.  Metcalfe was downstairs.  Later witness heard them talking loudly.  Up until 9 o’clock next morning, accused appeared drunk.  When witness was having breakfast she heard the report of a gun, and some one calling out.  She saw accused getting up and running  towards the hut.  Later he came up to the hut and said, “I want Nelly Donaldson.  I shot ‘Ranger’ and I will shoot myself.”  He did not say that the shooting was accidental.  He tried the door and said, “If you do not open it, I will burst it in with an axe.”

Mrs Devine went out and spoke to the accused, whom she heard say he was going bushranging.  Before leaving accused told witness that he was sorry he had threatened to shoot her, and asked her to say nothing about it.  He was crying at the time.  He also said, “If I had caught you I would have shot you.”

T P Ottley said he went to Wandibindle with Norman Devine.  Accused said, “I shot ‘Ranger’  but it was an accident, old boy.”  He heard accused say on several occasions, “I suppose I will swing for this”.

Norman L. Devine stated that, in company with Thomas Beatson, he arrived at Wandibindle about 10.30am on April 16, where he met accused, who said he had shot ‘Ranger’ but it was an accident.  Witness warned  him not to try to escape, or he would shoot him.  Accused said he did not think the rifle was loaded.  He pulled the trigger and it went off, shooting the deceased.  When the rifle was opened there was one cartridge in the breach.  Accused had 13 more cartridges in his pocket.  When accused was under the influence of liquor he was quarrelsome.

By Mr Salkeld:  Accused did not attempt to get away, and maintained that the shooting was an accident.

Clarence Roy Devine, owner of Wandibindle station, said deceased was about 21 years of age and was a respectable young man.  Accused told witness that he had shot ‘Ranger’ Metcalfe, but it was an accident.

By Mr Salkeld:  Witness knew of one occasion when the accused had been provoked, and resented it.

Ellen Mary Devine stated that when the accused returned to the homestead on April 15 he was the worse of liquor.  Witness never saw any familiarity between Nelly Donaldson and either of the two men.  About 8.30 on the morning of April 16 witness heard a shot and a cry, and saw a man near a tree bending, and afterwards going away.  Witness and the rest of the family went into a room.  Subsequently accused tried to open the door and said, “I want to shoot Nelly Donaldson.  I have shot ‘Ranger’, and will shoot myself.”  Accused said nothing about an accident.  He then threatened to get an axe and break open the door.  Witness went out and saw him with an axe and a rifle in his hands.  He was excited.  Witness pleaded with him not to do anything, but he still said he wanted to shoot Nelly Donaldson.  Witness eventually calmed the accused,  who eventually promised not to shoot Nelly, but he said he would have to shoot himself.  Witness told  him not to do it in front of her.  Accused said he would shoot himself, or he would swing for it,.  “They drove me to it,” he said.   “They laughed at me.”  Accused asked for a drink of rum to give him courage to shoot himself.  Witness gave him some rum.  Accused allowed witness to ring up her husband in Goondiwindi, but would not allow her to say what happened.  He wanted to get away to go bushranging and hide.  Accused then had some more rum and milk, and after a little while tried to say goodbye to the little boy, but could not, as he was crying.  Nelly Donaldson was then brought out, and accused said he was sorry.

By Mr Salkeld:   When the accused said “they drove me to it,” he mentioned no names, but witness understood he meant Nelly Donaldson and ‘Ranger’.  When witness told the accused that if it was an accident he would get out of it, he said, “No, the police have a set on me.”

Jno M’Govern, a grazier, of Waverley, near Wandibindle, stated he made an offer to the accused of 25 pounds to shoot a dingo.

Donald Turvey, a grazier, of Omeo, said there was a dingo in the district causing trouble, but there was no promise to give the accused 25 pounds to destroy it.  During the post-mortem examination the accused said that Mrs Devine was one woman in a million to stand as she had stood that day.

By Mr Salkeld:  Accused had some grounds for believing he would get 25 pounds if he killed the dingo.

No evidence was called for the defence.  Counsel addressed the jury, and His Honour summed up.

After about half an hour’s retirement, the jury returned with a verdict of guilty.  Sentence was deferred till tomorrow morning.

On 26 May 1924, the Brisbane Courier reported on page 5 that His Honour, Mr Justice Shand had sentenced Glen Gumbargo (sic) to life imprisonment with hard labour.  It was reported that His Honour said “it was only competent for him to give one sentence.  Personally, he felt very strongly that if it had not been for the great presence of mind and extraordinary courage of Mrs Devine, when she personally dealt with a very critical situation, it was possible that the young man Beswick would not have been the only victim.”

The citation reads

The Courage and Humanity displayed by Ellen Mary Devine of ‘Wandibindle’ Station (Q) who risked her life in protecting Nellie Donaldson from a half-caste aboriginal, who was threatening to shoot her at Wandibindle Stn on April 16th 1924, call for the admiration of this Court and justly entitle her to the CLARKE GOLD MEDAL of this Society which is hereby awarded.

The presentation of the awards were made on Monday 27 July 1925, at the Assembly Hall, Collins Street, Melbourne by His Excellency the Governor General, Lord Forster.

Nellie and Roy retired from actively running Wandibindle in 1960 and they then spent the summer months in Toowoomba, returning to Wandibindle for the winter.  Ellen Mary Devine died on 17 August 1966 at Wandibindle, aged 76 years.  Glen Combarngo was released from prison in 1966.

Home Page

Return to Grahame’s Home Page

My Ancestors

Return to Rosslyn’s link page