Body of feared bushranger, Joe Governor was laid-out on the dining table of Singleton’s Caledonian Hotel

The Caledonian Hotel, Singleton. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

WHEN the body of bushranger Joe Governor was laid out on a table of Singleton’s Caledonian Hotel several hundred curious people gathered to gaze at his corpse.

Crowds prevented from entering the pub by police gathered around the windows of the improvised pub mortuary, “gaping their fill of morbid curiosity at the mortal remains of the murderer”, whose life was the basis for the book and film The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith.

Known as ‘The Cali’ to local drinkers, Singleton’s oldest pub was where the inquest into the death of the infamous bushranger, Joe Governor was carried-out.

Indigenous brothers Joe and Jimmy Governor committed a series of nine murders, including four members of one family, in the Central West region of NSW in 1900.

Publican, Tom Melody in 1949 told a newspaper reporter that the dead bushranger was carried into what was then the dining-room and laid on a table.

“Triumphant Singletonlans – there were about 800 of them then – struck matches on the soles of the bandit’s feet to light their pipes,” Melody told the journalist.

Singleton’s first pub was the “Barley Mow”, run by Benjamin Singleton from around 1825. Before the Caledonian was built, there was a temporary wooden building operating on the same property from 1841, by the name of the “Sir Thomas L. Mitchell Inn”.

The Caledonia (as it was named at the time) is one of the oldest hotels in the district, being first licensed under that name on December 4 1849.

coledonian hotel singleton small old
The Caledonia Hotel, Singleton early last century. Picture: Supplied.

Arguably the historic pub’s greatest claim to fame is the story of the inquest into the police shooting of bushranger Joe Governor.

Governor was shot and killed on October 31, 1900, near Mount Royal via Singleton. His body was brought back to Singleton by his pursuers and it was in the Caledonian Hotel that the body of the multiple murderer, was laid out.

Joe and his brother Jimmy, who were greatly feared in the district at the end of the 19th century, were passing through Singleton on the run from the law.

Joe was trying to get to an Aboriginal mission at St Clair when he was split up from his brother Jimmy after an ambush.

The Bathurst National Advocate reported on Friday November 2 1900:


Singleton, Thursday. Mr. John Wilkinson, who shot the outlaw, is a well-known resident of the district. He said that on Tuesday evening he saw a fire on his run, and presuming that Joe Governor was there, he prepared to make him surrender or shoot him. He kept a good look-out; just before daylight he crept into a secluded spot near the outlaw. Shortly afterwards the black began to move, and he called on him to surrender. Instead of doing so Joe Governor fired his rifle. Seven shots were exchanged between the parties, and Joe fell dead, the bullet entering the back of the neck and coming out at the front. Several of the police and Mr. G. E. Bloomfield undertaker, and his assistant went out yesterday to bring the body into town. The body arrived at 10 o’clock, and a large crowd were present at the river crossing, over which, the body had to be taken. It was brought to the Caledonian Hotel, and it appeared to be that of only a young man, with only a week’s growth of beard on his face. The feet were bare and terribly hard.

joe governor post mortem
The body of Joe Governor laid-out on a table in the Caledonian Hotel, Singleton in 1900. Picture: Albert Francis Saunders.

The Northern Star reported on Wednesday November 7 1900:


There was a regular stream of people into the room at the Caledonian Hotel, where the body of Joe Governor lay. The police endeavored as much as possible to restrict the entry of curiosity mongers, but without avail, and several hundreds of residents have gazed at the corpse with varied sensations of horror and, to some extent, pity. Those who were refused admission to the improvised mortuary crowded round the windows and gaped their fill of morbid curiosity at the mortal remains of the murderer.

The most remarkable thing about Joe Governor’s body was its excellently nourished condition. No one, looking at his stalwart and well-knit form, can behove that he had recently gone through such privations and exposure as have fallen to his lot. His splendid chest and shoulders would serve as a model for a sculptor, and his legs were masses of muscle, which in life must have possessed great strength. His bare feet showed no indications of the wear and tear of the past three months. There was not even a cut or bruise upon them. The appearance of his face, also, led one to believe it very likely that, of the two brothers, Joe was the general. Comparing his almost coal-black but intelligent features with the pictures published of his brother in flesh and in crime, one unhesitatingly decides that in Joe’s countenance there was greater strength and determination of mind, and also more cruelty than in his brother.

Next day the stream of sightseers who wished to see the body was again large. It had flowed on until late at night. The remains were placed in a shell, and in a plain coffin, and were buried in Singleton cemetery.

Among those who looked wt the body while it lay on view on Thursday were severel aboriginals and half-castes of the district. One of the former, a fine-looking man, shook his fist at the face of his dead countryman, and exclaimed excitedly, “You scoundrel! You wicked man!”

Joe’s last little bits of portable property were in the room near his corpse. His gun, which, fortunately, he did not reach when Wilkinson disturbed him, is an old pattern rifle. One of the two barrels was loaded with cartridge, and with that exception, he had no ammunition. A child’s toy bucket upon which were some words in undecipherable lettering (possibly “a present for a good boy”), he had used as a billy. He had a worn child’s straw hat, of the kind known as Galatea, and it was many sizes too small.

Caledonian Hotel, Singleton, 1924. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.
caledonian hotel singleton small 2
The Caledonian Hotel, Singleton. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

Joe’s grave can be seen a the Whittingham Cemetery (3km south of Singleton) and a plaque set into a one-metre high boulder marks the site. His corpse was not permitted within the bounds of the graveyard. His brother Jimmy was captured on October 27 1900, convicted of murder, and hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol at the age of 25 in 1901. He’s buried in Rookwood cemetery.

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