A “most submissive” Robert Campbell sat quietly when he learned of his doom.
He would be the first man sentenced to death in Wagga.
Campbell was in 1870 found guilty of wilful murder, after human remains were discovered near Narrandera, two years earlier.
As part of the Wagga Rewind series, The Daily Advertiser this week explored the first of about five executions carried out in the town.
According to archived accounts, Campbell seemed resigned to his fate as the verdict was handed down. But until he took last breath on January 10 in 1871, he maintained his innocence.
The late John and Louis Pohlman had been travelling across what was a sparse land, selling their wares from a cart at various stations, villages and towns.
The Germanic peddlers were last seen at Yanco in March 1868.
Their ransacked cart was found abandoned at Cudgell Sandhills – later known as Murdering Sanhills – days later.
Small human bones and a number of buttons were discovered scattered among the ashes of a nearby fire. These were deemed to be all that remained of the Pohlman brothers.
North Yanco manager W. Elwin’s account read: “After half day's riding I saw the remains of a fire, and we both raced up to it. When we got there [Sergeant] Foley's horse became very bad with gripes, and the Sergeant said, 'Murder, by God. It is the smell of blood that is wrong with my horse’.”
Witnesses, including Mr Elwin, placed Campbell near the scene at about the same time as the murders. He had been travelling under the alias Robert Palmer, with ‘Big Jack’ and Andy Digman.
Big Jack and Digman were never heard from again.
Days following the grisly discovery, Campbell was seen selling goods, including watches, that resembled those the Pohlman brothers had been offering.
He was found some time later and arrested. Reports at his trial described him as “a thoroughly bad man [who] had a very violent temper”.
Despite the circumstantial evidence, no confession and a plea of not guilty, Campbell was sentenced to death.
He would have heard the hammering of the gallows as they were built for him, but until the white hood was pulled across his face, he appeared unaffected.
An overly-inspired journalist later described Campbell’s last minutes in graphic and disturbing detail, which was recorded in the Wagga paper.
While there were only 20 or so residents in the prison yard, sneaky onlookers took up posts on the branches of gum trees on the river flats.
Some residents even found a good view outside The Farmers’ Hotel, where they took in the scene with telescopes.
Read more in the Wagga Rewind series: