Monday, 6 April 2015

Murder at the Family Hotel - 1908

** This article, along with all others on this blog, is Copyright to Trisha Fielding**
The true motive behind the murder of a young waitress at the Family Hotel in Flinders Street in 1908, remains one of Townsville’s enduring mysteries.
A sketch of the Townsville Family Hotel (later called the Family Hotel, and later still the Carlton Hotel, c. 1887.
Image is from the Townsville Herald Supplement, 24 December 1887.

Early on the afternoon of Thursday, 23 July, shots rang out from the kitchen of the Family Hotel in Flinders Street West.  Soon after, a laundress named Tessie Brennan found the bloodied bodies of two of the hotel’s employees – 35 year-old “Charlie” Tanaka, the cook, and 18 year-old Maggie Gallagher, a waitress.

Miss Gallagher was filling an enamel water jug in the hotel kitchen, when the cook followed her into the detached building and fired a single shot from a revolver at point blank range, into her right temple. Tanaka then promptly turned the gun on himself and was found slumped against a wall just a few feet away from the young woman.

Tanaka, whose real name was Temesabro Shintani, was a Japanese national and had been a cook at the Family Hotel for two years. The hotel’s publican, John Schau said that Tanaka was a steady worker and a good cook, but that he had a temper and was prone to bouts of heavy drinking.

Maggie Gallagher had also worked at the hotel for about two years, and was described by Mr Shau as a “bright, inoffensive girl, and a general favourite”.

As for a motive for the murder, a jealous nature and a bad temper seem to be the only explanation that could be found.  Apparently, Tanaka had taken a liking to the young woman, but she did not return his feelings.

According to witness testimony at an inquest into the murder-suicide, Tanaka had threatened, on more than one occasion, to kill Maggie Gallagher and her younger sister Lizzie.

Hotel staffer, Mrs Maurice, said that a couple of weeks before the shooting, Tanaka had been “strange in his manner”, and more excitable than usual.

Then about a week before the shooting, Tanaka reportedly told both Mrs Maurice and Miss Brennan in the hotel laundry that, “If Maggie and Lizzie go to the play I'll shoot them”.

Tanaka also told them he had received a letter from Japan, and that if he went home he would be shot for deserting the army.

“I don't care now. I want to die. I will kill all you girls. I will kill somebody before I die,” Tanaka is reported to have said.

Apparently at this, the two women laughed at him, thinking it was some kind of idle threat.

“You laugh, but I mean it. There will be blood in this hotel before a month,” he said.

Mrs Maurice testified that she then told Maggie Gallagher about Tanaka’s threats, and said she would tell Mr Shau.  But Miss Gallagher reportedly didn’t want Mr Shau told, nor did she want Mrs Maurice to worry her mother with the information either.

The story was covered in newspapers throughout the country.  Even Sydney newspaper The Catholic Press reported on the tragedy.  The paper’s Townsville correspondent described the anti-Japanese sentiment, after the tragedy.

“The Japs are largely employed here as cooks, yardsmen, and even as domestic servants, and as this is the third tragedy of a similar nature perpetrated by these yellow barbarians in North Queensland during the last couple of years, it is not surprising that white girls should have a feeling of unrest where the ‘Jap’ is included as a fellow servant.”

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