Blackwood Religious book with bullet hole to be returned to Blackwood.

The History of Blackwood – Blackwood Religious book with bullet hole to be returned to Blackwood.       

 Compiled by Margot Hitchcock, Historian for the Blackwood & District Historical Society.  July 2019.

The biggest tragedy that ever happened in Blackwood took place on 19th June 1908.  Billy Pincombe in a fit of mental illness shot and killed the Anglican Minister, Mr. Harold Robinson through the heart, while he was reading a religious book in front of his chest.  The Religious book was on display at all Saints Anglican Church then removed to the Anglican Archives, when the church was sold, but after much negotiating it is to be returned to Blackwood for display at the Blackwood Historical Society Museum.  This book has a story in itself to tell.

The story has been researched and written in a recently published by Margot Hitchcock entitled – “The Billy Pincombe Tragedy”.    The story tells of the events leading to an incident involving a man, his wife, the local preacher, the local Policeman, the bible, some guns, an axe and a deranged woman and some of the people of Blackwood.

pincombe book -2 (2)

William (Billy) Torrington Pincombe was a Gold Miner in Blackwood in 1908.  The bullet which shot Robinson went through the religious book he was reading as he walked on his verandah of the Vicarage next to All Saints Church in Blackwood.  Billy Pincombe fired the shot from his house opposite the Vicarage, through a partly open window, while lying on a bed, and resting his rifle on the window sill and taking careful aim.

Billy and his new wife Annie May Morrish lived in Blackwood after their marriage in January 1906 and ten months later a son, was born in Blackwood.  A month after Annie’s son John Pincombe was born, Annie was admitted to the Kyneton Hospital on 20th November 1906 suffering from mental illness and insanity brought on by confinement.  Annie was admitted to the Sunbury Mental Hospital in 1906 age 21 yrs. Annie’s insanity was recorded as being in the form of religious mania whereby she had got out of bed and nearly chopped her right hand off with an axe.  The Leader newspaper report on the 21 June 1908 stated:  While at home, her madness, which took the form of religious mania, became more acute.   During a raving fit, she kept repeating the biblical injunction, “If thy right hand offends thee, cut it off – my right hand hath offended me.”  She was found in the yard later with an axe in her left hand and her right hand severed at the wrist.  She is now in the asylum hopelessly insane.

 After Billy Pincombe shot the Minister, the local policeman, Constable Charles Saunders, shot Billy Pincombe through the head after which he died in the local Blackwood jail. (The Police Station is where the Special School Camp is now in Martin Street Blackwood. The Police Stables is where the Blackwood & District Historical Society currently has their museum, and is on the same property where the Police Station was.)

 So what became of the Religious book with the bullet hole in it ???  The religious book, was amazingly said to have been found at a church fete and returned to Blackwood and given to Tom Garnett who lent it to Bert Oliver a trustee of the church for safe custody.  It used to be on display in a glass show-case in the Blackwood General Store, but was later removed when the store was sold in 2001.

The book in the glass show-case was then in the safe keeping of All Saints Church of England in Blackwood.  But members of the Blackwood Historical Society were concerned about the safe keeping of the Religious book when All Saints Church closed down and recently later sold.  The Anglican Archives in Melbourne got permission from the Anglican Diocese to come to Blackwood and removed the book in its glass showcase to the Anglican Archives in Melbourne.  This book with the bullet hole ripped through the pages, was thought by some to be a bible.  After the author had an article on Billy Pincombe published in the Blackwood Newsletter, August-September Issue 2002, she received a letter from Bishop John Stewart, Rector for the parish of Woodend which also covers Blackwood.  Bishop Stewart was able to provide the history behind the book as was told to him as follows:

Harold Robinson, the lay reader at All Saints, Blackwood, was reading a copy of “On Faith and the Creed” by C.A. Heurtley on the verandah of the Rectory at All Saints when he was fatally shot by Billy Pincombe in June 1908.  The bullet passed through the book.  He then revealed how several people were responsible for the return of the book to All Saints Blackwood.

The title page of the book has at the top in pencil, presumably in Robinson’s writing; H.G.Robinson, Blackwood.  The title page reads – On Faith and The Creed by the late Rev. Charles A. Heurtley, James Parker & Co Oxford 1896.  Making this book 123 years old.

Harold Robinson was buried the Blackwood cemetery and his headstone reads – ‘In memory of my loved husband, Harold Gamil Robinson, Stipendiary Reader, suddenly shot at Blackwood Parsonage 19th June 1908, age 44 yrs.’  Billy Pincombe is also buried in the Blackwood Cemetery but in an unmarked grave with a concrete edge.

As Rev. Harold Robinson was reading the book it is evident that the bullet grazed the spine of the book, passed through the back cover, and emerged in page 49 before fatally wounding Robinson.

bible book.-1

Photocopy of book showing bullet hole, courtesy of Sandra Fletcher from the article written in the Age newspaper 6th March 1984 ‘From the Country by T.R.Garnett’ and below article by Tom Garnett. 

bullet hole book article

Tom Garnett in his retirement wrote articles for the Age newspaper, under the heading of ‘Melbourne Living’. One such article appeared on Tuesday 6th march 1984.  His article ‘From the Country’ by T.R.Garnett – Godly Book Fails to Stop Vengeful Bullet, deals with the incident of Billy Pincombe shooting the minister through the book.  It reads:  “There is only one memorial on the walls of the church of ‘All Saints’, Blackwood – to Harold G.Robinson, Reader, 19 June 1908.  The story behind that undistinguished piece of beaten copper at the foot of a hymn-board is so bizarre that it deserves to be told.  It is also so tragic that it needs to be handled with sympathy because the grandchildren of at least one of those involved are still alive.  Blackwood is officially part of the Diocese of Melbourne.  In 1908, Mr. Harold Robinson was stipendiary lay reader and lived beside the church in the parsonage (Vicarage) which still stands.  Opposite lived his churchwarden, Mr. Pincombe, with his wife and son. Mrs. Pincombe was a devout, Bible reading woman fearful of hell-fire.  Whether the winter was harder and darker than usual or for some reason now undiscoverable – perhaps a sermon of Mr. Robinson’s – the burden of some imagined and intolerable guilt weighed heavily upon her……” 

The bullet hole can be clearly seen in the pages through which it passed.  On page 49 Mrs. Robinson has written; “Last study of dear husband, Harold Robinson. Was held in hand when shot at Blackwood by lunatic. Shot 12 o’clock June 19 1908.”  There are pencil marks on pages 48 and 49, and pencil markings and notes up to these pages as Robinson was evidently noting the book as he read it.  The section he was reading when he was shot was St Augustine’s ‘Sermon to Catechumens,’ and the meaning of the ‘quick and the dead’.. “He doth judge both, giving to each their due reward.”   Go ye into fire eternal, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Thus will the quick and the dead be judged by Christ.

minister book-2

Copy of the page from the book, ‘On Faith and the Creed’  purchased from the National Library of Australia’, which was the page the bullet hole went thru. 

Did Billy Pincombe be judged to ‘Go into eternal fire, prepared for the devil’ and did the Minister “Come blessed of the Father to receive the kingdom prepared for him from the foundation of the world?”

Now how ironical is that in this story and almost too true to be told. To hold the book in one’s hand, one can understand the power of relics after knowing the full story behind this remarkable book.  Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction and leaves you wondering about the circumstances that surround this remarkable and tragic chain of events. ©

 On Saturday 3rd August at 12 noon a member of the Anglican Archives will return the book to Blackwood at a special invitation only meeting, at the Blackwood Hall for members of the Blackwood Historical Society and invited guests.  You are welcome to come and view the book at the Historical Museum on the 1st Saturday of each month during the hours of  11am – 1pm. New Members welcome.

For further reading – Copies of “The Billy Pincombe Tragedy” available from the Blackwood Historical Society Museum,  or by contacting Margot Hitchcock for a copy mailed to you..  

 Researched by Margot Hitchcock from her forthcoming book ‘The History and Pioneers of Blackwood’, hopefully to be published soon.  Other books published by Margot Hitchcock – “Aspects of Early Blackwood”, Some History of Simmons Reef, Blackwood” and “The Billy Pincombe Tragedy”. See – www.blackwoodpublishing.com

For help with information on Blackwood ancestors contact Margot Hitchcock – email – margothitchcock@bigpond.com