The Coffey Affair in Burketown

From the Reminiscences of Robert McGregor “Greg” Watson of “Gregory Downs”

A man called Tom Coffey shipped in some stores to Burketown by boat to start another pub. The stores were accompanied by his wife whilst Tom came overland with the horses from Normanton.

When Coffey arrived, some months later, he found a most unfavourable state of affairs at his wife’s shanty, tried to drown his cares in drink and then proceeded to destroy his property and cases of whisky, and including any trunks belonging to his wife, with an axe.

Greg Watson was looking after their Burketown store at the time and had to enlist the help of a sober stockman to chain Coffey up. Watson then bought all Coffey’s goods including a billiard table which was later at the Commercial Hotel, Burketown until 1934, still showing the axe cuts on one side of it.

As Watson collected the goods he had purchased, Coffey’s wife said that he was robbing a lone woman and drew a revolver on him. Thinking the revolver might go off, as it was shaking so much, Greg Watson ducked behind some sheets of iron and drew his big Colt revolver. Mrs Coffey dropped her weapon and then ran over to Read’s shanty where she had taken her goods.

Watson picked up the revolver and things settled down for a while, however next day she was back in Watson’s store when her husband approached and began to relate some unfavourable history about his wife who immediately rushed at him with a tomahawk and made a chop at his head. Watson pushed her to one side and the axe struck Coffey on the shoulder. Coffey then got into a wrestling match with her and Watson put them both out the door. They fell to the ground and Coffey got hold of her ear with his teeth and bit the lobe off and swallowed it.

The Coffey’s then left Burketown and later Coffey was shot dead by his wife’s brother who was subsequently arrested and whilst being taken, by train, to Brisbane, jumped from the train and was killed.

Read Fires on the German

Then Read, at the second hotel started playing up, and threatened to shoot Baedertcher, a German who was the book keeper at Watson’s store.

One night the German was to camp at the Albert River, to look after the loading just left there, but Watson would not let him camp there, which was just as well as in the morning the kerosene tins next to where he had made his bunk had bullet holes in them.

The next night Watson and the German were sitting on sawn timber alongside the store when Read came by and fired his revolver at the German, the bullet passing between Watson and the German and through the corrugated iron wall.

Watson pulled out his revolver and handed it to the German but he would not use it.

Read was approached the next day by Watson and told him that it would be pre meditated murder, should he kill the German to which Read responded by writing a note stating that he intended to shoot the German.

Watson passed this on to Commissioner of Police in Brisbane. In 1882 Read left town without having shot the German and purchased a schooner and tried to do a bit of smuggling.

The Gregory Hotel

In 1882 the Watson’s moved the goods out of their store at Burketown to Gregory Downs to the present site of the Hotel and started a pub and store.  This was the spot that they had at first settled and built on when they arrived on the Gregory River but they found that travellers became a nuisance so they moved the homestead across the river to the present site.

Watsons at Pub
Gregory Downs Hotel and Watson Bros

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