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The Execution of Christian William Benzing 1917

Execution of Christian William Benzing 1917

Christian William Benzing’s name would not be out of place on any war memorial in the country had he the misfortune of being killed in action. But he wasn’t. He was a member of the 3rd Battalion, in the rank of Private, that was raised in response to the beginning of World War One and was a part of the Australian Imperial Forces.

The war was declared in August 1914 and Benzing enlisted in September on that year. He had been employed as a Drapery salesman from the Central Coast town of Gosford. Christian was 19 years and 9 months of age, 5 foot 6 inches tall, weighed about 60 kilos, brown eyes and fair complexion.

The 3rd Battalion arrived in Egypt in December 1914, from there arriving on the 7th May 1915 at Gallipoli for the second wave of troops to attempt to take the Cove.

Christian endured life at Gallipoli Cove from May through to August and then part took in another fabled battle, the Battle of Lone Pine between the 6th and 9th of August 1915. The 3rd Battalion suffered great losses in what was a diversionary attack to split the attention of the Germans and the Turks from some larger and more central actions taking place elsewhere.

These attacks by the Anzac were part of a plan known as the ‘August Offensive’. This was aimed at nothing less than victory by the Anzac forces, by driving the enemy from the heights of Chunuk Bair and positioning the Allies for an advance across the peninsula in the Turkish rear.

lp trench 1915

28 August 1915

Sydney Morning Hearald

LONESOME PINE.

HEROIC  FEAT.

FIRST BRIGADE’S WORK.

(FROM CAPTAIN C. E. W. BEAN, OFFICIAL PRESS

REPRESENTATIVE WITH THE AUSTRALIAN

FORCES.)

GABA TEPE, Aug. 18.

An inspection of the Turkish trenches captured at Lonesome Pine has shown what an extraordinarily formidable obstacle the First Australian Infantry Brigade was up against when ordered to take this position. For month upon month we had seen the Turks piling up colossal parapets, and could see that the place was a labyrinth. It was be-cause it was so strong and important, and because we desired to give the Turks a really heavy blow at the southern end of the line, that these trenches were chosen for attack.

The Third Brigade had made a famous assault on the landing; the Second made a wonderful charge at Helles. The First Brigade was therefore chosen to assault Lonesome Pine. It was a tremendous job to put before any brigade, but these Australasian infantry never from first to last showed the least concern about it. I was with them five minutes before the start behind tho parapet over which five minutes hence they knew they would have to scramble in face of rifle fire, machine guns, and shrapnel. They did not know what might be awaiting them in the deadly space between the trenches, but not one man showed the slightest sign of uneasiness. A man would pass along the trench to find his platoon just as a belated spectator might hurry to a seat before the curtain rises. Passing he would recognise some friend.

lone pine cigggie card

“Good-bye, Bill,” he would say; “meet you over there.”

“So long, Tom,” was the reply. “See you again in half-hour.”

“Are you going to got a photograph of us?”they would ask me. “How do you work it on sandbags or through a periscope? What sort of camera is it? My word.  A great chance for a photographer.”

And then conversation was suddenly cut short by the voice of a little officer crouching just below a parapet: “Get ready to go over parapet.”

He glanced down at a wrist watch, and so did I, 5.27. The men crouched up a little higher on the recess, preparing to spring. Those in the trench below got a firmer foothold. The little officer unstrapped a whistle from his wrist, and held it between his teeth. He looked down at his watch again.

The man next me asked “What time is it?” I looked down. “Well, I make it 5.30,” I answered. The bombardment had apparently stopped. A few minutes’ breathless silence, then a whistle sounded. Within a second the little officer had blown his whistle, too.

There was a scramble of feet over the parapet, the sound of falling earth, the knocking of accoutrements, the peck, peck of Mauser rifles from the trench opposite had already begun, and gradually swelled into a rattle. A man fell past me into the trench, bleeding from a wound in the mouth. Out in the scrub a line of our old pea soup Australian khaki was racing, jumping low bushes and wire, straight for the enemy’s trench. When they got there they experienced what in military phraseology is known as a check. That is to say, instead of an open trench into which they could jump and bayonet Turks they found themselves looking down on a solid roof of pine logs, covered with earth on which the bombardment had not made any perceptible impression. This surprise might well enough upset the nerves of some troops, but the behaviour of the First Brigade did not give the onlookers the least cause for anxiety. The men were clearly puzzled what to do, but did not show the least sign of ever thinking of retreat. Some ran on to the second and third trench till they found open trenches where they could fire down and jump in. Others strung out along the first trench, firingin to loopholes from which the Turks were still shooting.

Others jumped down into a few gaps left without head-cover; others noticed small manholes every here and therein the solid roof of the trench, and began to lower themselves into the trench feet fore-most through these, a feat of daring which, it had been a solitary example, would certainly have won the Victoria Cross in any previous war. Those who could not get in simply lay down outside on the parapet, firing down the communication trenches until they could think of something else to do. The first Australian infantry has made itself a wonderful name at Gallipoli.

Certainly no finer feat has been accomplished here than this taking of Lonesome Pine and holding it against a counter-attack-lasting six solid days. New South Wales cannot be too proud of her men.

The Australian naval bridging train has landed with a British force at Suvla Bay.

lone pine 1919

This was a hopeful attempt had all gone to plan, to achieve the original objective of seizing the Straits of the Dardanelles and the Royal Navy could sail triumphantly through to Constantinople.

Shortly after the Battle of Lone pine Christian caught a case of Salmonella Entrica, a form of food poisoning. On the 12th August 1915, he was admitted to the field hospital. He was moved to a hospital, in Heliopolis, suffering from debilitating Shock and the food poisoning. He received 10 days treatment.

The link below is Christian Benzing’s AIF 74 page, service record it is in parts in triplicate and so repeats itself over but you can glean lots of information about the state of his health from it.        

 http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/scripts/Imagine.asp?B=3074656

Like a macabre soap opera reporting about far off places no one could pronounce, mothers all over the country would watch like a hawk the body count reports of the dead or injured that would appear daily in the major papers. Christians’ mother Susanah, living in the family home at Rockdale, in late August 1915 saw his name in the lists. From the battle reports she would have been half out of her mind with worry about her only son. Susanah sent a telegram to the Department of Defence asking about where her son was and they replied they would inform her of more information when they knew.

telegram benzing

Christian was evacuated from Heliopolis Hospital and repatriated back to Australia in November 1915 and arriving back home in December. Christians medical records note his physical ailments from his food poisoning case like stomach pains not eating well regular bowel movements and the like but there is no notations in the records of his mental health. He was medically discharged from the AIF on the 14th March 1916 aged 21, having served his country for 18 months and seen active service for a solid 3 months of that time.

discharge letter

I felt it was important to give as much background information about Christian Benzing  and to explain that there was circumstances not mentioned in the newspaper reports but gleaned from his service record . Almost exactly 9 months after his discharge from the Armed services, with no further medical intervention and displaying the Encephalitic symptoms of Wernicke-Karsakoff’s Syndrome coupled with the  post traumatic stress /shell shock  the following happened…

The Crime

15th January 1917

Ballarat Courier

Murder Alledged

Sydney Saturday. In the Central Police Court this morning Christian William Benzing was held with the murder of Dorothy Myra Small at Rockdale. Benzing a native of New South Wales is a short thick set man 22 years old. Remand until 19th January was granted.

The above medical conditions do no way excuse the seriousness of this crime but possibly more weight could have been taken into account when sentencing this man.

central police station

The Inquest

23 January 1917

Young Examiner.

ROCKDALE HORROR.

WHAT A BOY SAID.

BBNZINO “WRITES TO HIS FATHER

VERDICT OF MURDER.

An Inquest  was held yesterday morning by Mr. Jamieson at the Coroner’s Court, Sydney, concerning the death of Dorothy Myra Small, aged 10, which took place at her home at Rocky Point Road, Rockdale, on January 12th January.

Christian William Benzlng, 22, who has been charged with murdering the girl, was in court.

Mr. ,W. P. Blackmore (Crown Law Office), represented the police, and Mr. E. J. Spear appeared on behalf of Bemzing.

Ernest Albert Small, a cooper, living in Rocky Point Road, Rockdale, stated ‘that .there were seven children in his family. Dorothy was his daughter, and was 10 years of age. She was born at Rockdale. He last saw her alive in Rocky ‘Point Road at 3 p.m. on January 12th 1917.

He was then about 300 yards away from his home. He gave her come money, later in the day, witness, who was working at Rockdale, was told something, and went to the Royal Hotel. A man said, “Your daughter has been murdered and criminally assaulted, come with me. Witness went to the home of Mr; Willoughby, which ls near witness’ place at Rockdale.

On arriving there he saw the daughter who was dead. Witness did not know Christian William Benzing personally, but he remembered seeing him once prior to his daughter’s death.

Dr. Sheldon said that on’ the 13th Instant he made an internal examination of the body of Dorothy Myra Small. She was 4ft. 4in. in height and about 11 years old.

About an inch below and a little anterior to the Jaw angle there were two abrasions, one on each ,side. There was very little bruising underneath these. Below thls on the left side at short intervals there were a few abrasions, which were more diffuse.

Tho upper part of the chest showed some signs of escape of blood into tho tissues. The lower, parts of the body were bruised, and the injuries had been inflicted just before her death.

There were two bruises on the tenor and anterior aspect of the right thigh. Tho lower one was peculiarly marked by certain straight lines. The buckle of a strap produced peculiarly corresponded with the mark on the thigh. The lateral margins were quite distinct. The tongue of the buckle had actually cut into the skin superficially, and a deficiency of leather of the buckle made a triangular gap which was distinctly apparent in the bruise. The roller at the end of the buckle had made a mark by the end of its margin corresponding with the deficiency of the lateral.

There was another “bruise, Dr. Shcldon said above this. It was much deeper in colour, and had a serrated edge, formed by something with more actual points at the end than the general something, which caused the bruise. The bruise itself was about an inch in diameter, There were some other abrasions. One above the left hip had been marked as if by a hand. The little girl’s ‘hair was plaited, and entangled in It, especially on the right side, were numerous -Bathurst burrs, and a good many in her loose hair. There was a spot of candle grease on her left thlgh. There were marks of haemorrhage on the left lung, and the lungs were filled with frothy fluid.

Mr Blackmore: What  was the cause of death?—She died from shock and exhaustion, as the result of strangulation.

Were her finger nails long?—Yes.

ln answer to ‘Mr. Blackmore, the witness said that if the belt produced had been worn by a person violating the deceased It would have made the mark spoken of. The belt would have had to be undone and to “be below where it is normally worn by a man. The marks on the little girls neck could have been made by a man’s fingers.

Dr. Asplnall, who was present when Dr. Sheldon made the post mortem examination, said he agreed with that evidence. Assuming that the “buckle produced had made the mark on the girl’s thigh, it might have been caused during the struggle before the belt was unbuckled. The whole of the injuries, in his opinion, had been inflicted at about the same time, which was shortly before death.

Dr. Meeke, of Rockdale, said he examined the girl at (Rockdale, at about 4.50 p.m. on January 12th. She was dead. He noticed swelling and bruises below tho angle on the left jaw. On moving here there was a copious discharge of blood. There was a large bruise on the upper part of her thigh. Some torn underclothing was shown witness which belonged to the girl.

Dr. J. Cahill, Assistant Government Medical Officer, Sydney, said at 8 o’clock on the evening of January 12th he saw Benzing at the Rockdale Police Station. Benzing was not drunk, but smelt strongly of drink. There were two scratches on Benzlng’s right wrist, which could have been caused by finger nails. Later, witness made an examination of Dorothy Small’s body. ‘He agreed with the evidence given by Dr. Sheldon. At about 9o’clock on the following morning he saw Benzing at the office of the Inspector general of Police, and ‘beyond being more depressed Benzlng appeared in the same state of mind.

Sergeant Stevenson, police .photographer, said he went to Rockdale on January 13th. In company with Constable Langworthy he took a photograph of the place where the body was found. There was a lot of “Paddy’s lucerne” growing there. He took another photograph showing the track of a bicycle wheel from the spot leading to the roadway.

Dr. Oleland, Government Microbiologist, detailed tho results of an examination of certain exhibits. On the man’s’ hat produced he found a trail, the coat was also stained near the right side pocket. There were blood stains on two pieces of girl’s underclothing handed to him by Constable Langworthy.

Mrs. Jessie Amy Small said that about half past three o’clock on the afternoon of January 12th she saw her daughter playing with some other children at the store in Rocky Point Road. On the previous Saturday, she saw a man outside her home, whom she now recognised as Benzlng. He asked her about her son “Herbie.” Witness said, “What’s your name ? He pronounced it and spelt It as “Bensing” At the time Dorothy was not there, but witness’ eldest daughter was present.

Arthur Cyril Willoughby, aged 8,living with his parents in Hegarty Street, Rockdale, who was a playmate of Dorothy Small’s, said to remembered being with a boy named Henry Goodwin on a Friday about a week ago. They were going to the Chinaman’s garden, and while crossing a small bridge saw a girl’s hat In a bush. A few yards away he saw the body of Dorry” Small.

 Just before this he saw a man get up and look around. The man had a bicycle, which had black things on the handles He wheeled the bicycle along the bank of the creek as far as witness’s home, and rode along the avenue. The man was wearing a “black suit, hat and boots. The bushes were about 18 Inches high at the spot.

Mr. BJackmore: Would you know the man if you saw .him?—No.

Mrs. Felicltas “Mary Martha” Willoughby, who lives on the corner of The Avenue and Hegarty Street, Rockdale said that on the afternoon of 12th January her son, Arthur, came running home and said “There’s a man down In the bushes with a little girl, I didn’t know whether she is alive or dead. The man rode away on his bike.

Witness ran towards the creek near the Chinaman’s garden, and found Dorothy Small lying on the grass. The lower part of her body was flat on the ground, although her head was slightly turned to one side. The clothing was disarranged. She was frothing at the nose. “Witness picked her up, but could not carry her, so she sent her son to bring “Mr. Willoughby.

Thomas James Willoughby, a brick maker, said that at about 4.45 p.m. on January 12th his son called out, Come at once, dad, a man has killed a little girl.” He went with his son a distance of about 100 yards, and saw “Mrs. “Willoughby with the child in her arms. Ho took the girl, who was dying to his home.

John Joseph Kain, aged 8, of Rocky Point Road, Kogarah, said that while he was going a message for his mother he saw a boy in Skidmore’s paddock, near the Chinamen’s garden, with a girl. The boy and girl were about three feet apart. The boy then got up and went away with a bicycle. The girl did not move from the-spot.

John Thomas Nicholson, a Blacksmith, of Rocky Point Road, said that at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon he was standing in the entrance of his shop, when he saw Benzing sitting on a bicycle talking to Dorothy Small. They were together for about 10 minutes. Benzing lifted his bicycle onto the footpath, and the two of them walked along past witness’ shop, and disappeared In. the direction of the Avenue.

Arthur Joseph Sweeney, telegraph linesman, said that at about 3:30 he, was working on the telegraph wires in ‘Rocky Point Road. Some children were playing in the garden at a cottage a little distance away. Witness noticed a young man sitting on a bicycle, with one foot on the. pedal, and the other on the gutter, kerb. He now identified Benzing as that man. Benzing was watching the children closely, and one or two youngsters’ said “Dorry’s got a sweetheart.” ,The child referred to as “Dorry” left’ the others, and went over to Benzlng.

“Detective Lynch said that Benzing made a statement at Rockdale Police Station on the night of January 12th. In it Benzlng stated that he had been In Sydney in the morning, but arrived at Farmer’s Hotel, Rocky Point road, at about 2 o’clock, He admitted riding past Smidmore’s bridge twice during the afternoon, adding that he did not speak to any girls, and did not know Dorothy Small. At Mrs. “Willoughby’s residence witness saw Dr. Cahill fit the buckle of a strap, which Benzing had been wearing, into the mark on Dorothy’s Small’s hip. Witness also showed Benzlng the girl’s body and looking at it ho said, No, I don’t know her, but I know her two brothers.” Later Benzlng said, ‘This looks very black against me.” Witness said, “Do you think so’ He then said, “If they find me guilty do you think they will hang me?”

In a letter to her father, written, while under arrest, he wrote:—

“I am sorry for what has happened. I did not hurt the girl wilfully as I do not  know what happened half the time. ‘I could not have been, responsible for my actions and I must have had one of these changes over me again.

In answer to Detective Lynch, Benzing said he had written the letter. The girl referred to in it was Dorothy Small.

Tho “Coroner returned a verdict of murder against Benzlng, who was committed for trial.

 

The Trial

23 March 1917

Sydney Morning Hearld

CENTRAL CRIMINAL COURT.

 (Before Mr. Justice Sly and a Jury.)

Mr. Herbert Harris, Crown Prosecutor.

ROCKDALE MURDER.

Christian William Benzlng pleaded not guilty to a charge of having murdered Dorothy Myra Small at Rockdale on January 12 of this year. Mr. Martin, instructed by Mr. H. E. McIntosh, appeared for the defence, assigned by the Crown.

For the prosecution the case was that the victim was, on the afternoon of January 12, playing with other children near the Rocky Point Road at Rockdale, and that’ accused lured her Into some bushes nearby and outraged her, also maltreating her to such an extent that she died the same day.

 She was found after the offence seriously injured, and was taken to a house. A doctor was sent for, but tho child died before he arrived.

Accused, at the conclusion of the Crown case, made a statement in which he detailed his movements on the day of the murder, and said he had never Interfered with the girl, and had no desire to do so. He had served four months and a half at Gallipoli, and had been drinking on the day of the alleged offence.

The accused was found guilty, and sentenced to death.

The Appeals

14 April 1917

Bendigo Advertiser

ROCKDALE MURDER CASE.

APPEAL REFUSED.

“GUILT CLEARLY ESTABLISHED.”

Sydney, 13th April

Today the Full Court refused the application of Christian William Benzing for leave to appeal against his conviction on a charge of having murdered Dorothy Myra Small at Rockdale.

BENZING was tried before Mr. Justice Sly at the Central Criminal Court, found guilty, and sentenced to death.

The grounds upon which the application was based were that on the day of the alleged murder he had lost his reason, that he had witnesses to call as to his character, that since he had returned from the war, which he blamed for his bad luck, he suffered at times from loss of memory.

Mr. Justice Pring, in delivering the judgement of the court, said that, the evidence clearly established the guilt of Benzing and in the reasons given by him in his application, he had practically admitted that he had committed the offence.

He now set up that he had lost his reason such defence had been put up at the trial. He wished to examine witness’s of his character, but such witnesses had nothing to do with the crime.

-long-bay

The Hanging

17 June

Sunday Times

ROCKDALE MURDER

BENZING HANGED

YESTERDAY AFTER TWO DAYS

 POSTPONEMENT

Christian William Benzing was hanged yesterday morning for the murder of the child Dorothy Small at Rockdale on January 13. He was to have been hanged on Thursday, but last-moment representations to the Government induced the postponement of the execution, and he was withdrawn from the condemned cell a few minutes before he should have gone on the drop. 

Late on the night of Wednesday a deputation, of which Messrs. Brookfield and Hickey, M.L.A., were members, waited on the Acting Premier (Mr, Fuller), and stated that there was evidence available which would satisfy the Minister that Benzing had been subject to epileptic fits, and at time could not be responsible for his actions.

In other words, there were periods when the man was of unsound mind. This information was not before the Executive when it decided that Benzing should hang on Thursday, and Mr. Fuller took the responsibility of ordering the postponement of the execution. Further consideration was subsequently given the matter by Cabinet, with the result that it was decided not to alter the original decision.

THE STORY OF THE CRIME.

The locality of the assault and murder was a spot within a hundred yards of a group of houses. The child had been playing with other children, almost in sight of her parents’ home, and was on her way to spend a penny given her by her mother, when she was overtaken by Benzing. Shortly afterwards she was found dying in the scrub. There were marks on her throat which showed that she had been held tightly, probably to prevent her crying out, and other marks.

 Benzing was arrested, and at the Coroner’s inquest into the cause of death of the girl a confession by Benzing was read. In this he stated his sorrow, for what had happened, and said he was quite confident in his mind that he did not hurt the child wilfully. He said he forgot half what happened from the time he left the scene of the crime, had felt out of sorts all day, one of his changes (fits) had come over him, and he was not responsible for his actions on the day.

He concluded : ‘God alone knows I am not guilty, and not responsible for my supposed action. Fancy me doing such a thing like that in cold blood. I cannot realise that such a thing could have happened. ‘In the dock at the Central Criminal Court on March 22 the man denied that he had committed the crime, and said he had no recollection of having seen the little girl. He was found guilty.

Three weeks later there was an application to the Full Court of Criminal Appeal for leave to appeal, on the ground that on the day of the crime he had lost his reason, but as this line of defence had not been taken at the trial of the matter, and as the evidence had established the fact of the killing of the child, the application was refused. Benzing is an unknown. He was adopted by his foster-parents in 1895 in answer to an advertisement inserted from an address in the Richmond River country. When a boy he received a sunstroke, which caused him severe pains in the head and rendered him more or less irresponsible at time, subsequently.

 

He enlisted in June, 1915, and took part in the operations at Gallipoli. While there he was tried for assaulting a comrade, but was released on his application to volunteer for a difficult and dangerous service. He contracted fever while with the forces, and was invalided home, and from the time of his return till he was arrested on the charge on which he was convicted lived with his foster-parents at Bexley.

benzing grave

 

      

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