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Frederick Bailey Deeming (1853–1892)

by Barry O. Jones

This article was published:

Frederick Deeming, c.1891

Frederick Deeming, c.1891

Victorian Police Museum

Frederick Bailey Deeming (1853-1892), murderer, was born on 30 July 1853 at Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire, England, son of Thomas Deeming, brazier, and his wife Ann, née Bailey. Little is known of his early life but Deeming asserted that he had spent years in asylums (as had both parents) and that he was epileptic from the age of 18. (His brother Albert denied these claims.) He ran off to sea at about 16.

On 28 February 1881 at Tranmore, Cheshire, he married Marie James. In August he deserted the Vereus in Sydney, worked there as a plumber and gas-fitter and in April 1882 was sentenced to six weeks gaol for the larceny of eight gas-burners. Marie joined him in Sydney on 1 July: they had three girls, of whom two were born in Sydney, and a boy. After working as a gas-fitter in Melbourne and at Rockhampton, Queensland, he returned to Sydney in 1884 where he prospered briefly in business on his own account, but in December 1887 he was declared bankrupt and received fourteen days gaol for perjury. By January 1888 he was in Cape Town, using the name Harry Lawson, and was involved in successful frauds and theft in Klerksdorp and Johannesburg.

In England on 18 February 1890 he went through a form of marriage at Beverley, Yorkshire, with Helen Matheson, posing as Lawson, an Australian sheep-farmer. He paid for the wedding with the proceeds of fraud, then hurriedly left England alone in the Coleridge. Arrested at Montevideo, Uruguay, he was extradited and spent nine months in gaol at Hull for fraud, but was not prosecuted for bigamy. After his release in July 1891, he rented Dinham Villa, at Rainhill, Lancashire, under the name of Albert Oliver Williams, and was briefly reunited with his wife Marie and children.

On 22 September at St Anne's, Rainhill, as Williams, 'army inspector', Deeming married Emily Lydia Mather and the wedding was followed by a lavish banquet. The couple left England, arriving in Melbourne in the Kaiser Wilhelm II on 15 December. Under the name of Druin he rented a brick cottage, which still stands, at 57 Andrew Street, Windsor, and there on or about Christmas Day he battered his wife round the head, cut her throat and buried her under the second bedroom hearthstone, cementing her body in with materials he had bought a week earlier. During January 1892, as Dawson, he auctioned his African effects and Emily Mather's clothes, defrauded a jeweller, wrote to a matrimonial agency (as Duncan) seeking a wife, sailed to Sydney, and became engaged to Kate Rounsefell at Bathurst. He then departed to Western Australia, and, as Baron Swanston, sought work as a mining engineer.

On 3 March a disagreeable smell at 57 Andrew Street led to the discovery of Emily Mather's body. A banquet invitation from Rainhill in the name of A. O. Williams was also found in the house. On 11 March Deeming was arrested at Southern Cross, Western Australia. Investigations of his Rainhill activities were begun, and on 16 March the recently cemented floor of the Dinham Villa kitchen was dug up and the bodies of Marie (née James) and their four children were found.

Deeming was returned to Melbourne by 1 April and, after a two-day inquest on Emily Mather, Dr J. E. Neild, acting coroner, committed him for trial. He was subject to enormous, even frenzied, vilification, and all Australia was affected by the mass hysteria of 'Deemania'. His counsel, William Forlonge and Alfred Deakin, sought a month's adjournment to enable evidence of Deeming's psychiatric history to be secured and to allow the hysteria to abate. (Sir) Henry Hodges granted one week. The trial took place on 28-30 April and 2 May. Deeming, who was tried under the name of Williams, relied on a defence of insanity but the psychiatric evidence by doctors J. W. Springthorpe and J. Y. Fishbourne was inadequately presented, although it seems clear that he was epileptic. The jury speedily convicted Deeming and he was sentenced to death. On 9 May the Executive Council confirmed the death sentence, on 19th the judicial committee of the Privy Council refused leave to appeal, and on 23rd Deeming was hanged. He wrote an autobiography in gaol which was destroyed.

Melbourne's newspapers proclaimed Deeming guilty before his trial, describing him as 'the criminal of the century' and 'a human tiger'. A play, Wilful Murder, based on the Windsor murder, was performed in March and April. Some writers accused him of being 'Jack the Ripper'. Certainly his right to trial before an unprejudiced jury was destroyed. A few newspapers described his appearance as 'ape-like', and years later Sir Colin Mackenzie said that his skull resembled that of a gorilla. Contemporary photographs do not suggest any physical abnormality and there were many, including his victims, who must have considered him charming and personable.

Select Bibliography

  • The Windsor and Rainhill Murders (Melb, 1892)
  • J. A. La Nauze, Alfred Deakin (Melb, 1965)
  • J. S. O'Sullivan, A Most Unique Ruffian (Melb, 1968)
  • Ex parte Deeming, Law Reports, Appeal Cases (House of Lords and Privy Council), 1892, p 422.

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Barry O. Jones, 'Deeming, Frederick Bailey (1853–1892)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Frederick Deeming, c.1891

Frederick Deeming, c.1891

Victorian Police Museum

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Swanston, Baron
  • Lawson, Harry
  • Williams, Albert Oliver
  • Druin, Frederick
  • Dawson, Frederick

30 July, 1853
Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, England


23 May, 1892 (aged 38)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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