John Hassett – Four Generations …

The story of the Hassett family was thought to be a simple one, of a son gone wrong who ended his life while a prisoner in Geelong Gaol in 1901. But the Hassett family story is so much more complicated and expands over four generations.

Patrick Hassett

Patrick Hassett was transported to NSW arriving aboard the Waterloo in 1836. He had been transported for Life for manslaughter. In 1841, he married Catherine Gleeson and they had eight children between 1843-1860. Patrick obtained his Certificate of Freedom and the family had moved to Geelong by the late 1850s.

But that did not mean they kept their noses clean! In 1859, Patrick was before the courts for disturbing the peace by dragging his son by the hair through Market Square, refusing to stop even when ordered to do so by the Police. Catherine would summon Mary Tye for assaulting her with a brass candlestick. Evidence was supplied that Catherine had called Mary a number of bad names before she was struck.

In 1860, both Patrick and Catherine were before the courts again this time for using 3 teenagers to steal food and other items around Geelong for them. John Hassett, their eldest son, would make his first appearance before the courts in 1860 as a 17 year old for assault after coming to his mothers aid with an unwelcome guest.

Wreck of Convict Ship Waterloo, 1842 – State Library of Tasmania

John Hassett Senior

John Hassett was born at Goulburn Creek in 1843. John married Eliza Minns in 1863 but the marriage does not seem to have been a happy one! According to the records, they would have six children but even John himself would question the parentage of some of the chidren.

John worked as a blacksmith and due to the lack of work in the Geelong area, travelled all over the state looking for work and money to send back to support his family. The first hint of trouble was when Eliza summoned John for desertion in 1868. He was cautioned to “live peacefully with his wife”. It wasn’t to be.

In 1871, John Hassett was brought up on a charge of beating his wife with an iron bar. The case was dismissed on Eliza’s insistence saying John was drunk and there were jealousies on both sides. However a few months later, Eliza would once again summon John for desertion. Eliza stated that they had not lived together since the beating four months earlier. John agreed to pay maintenance for 3 of the 4 children, refusing to accept that he was the father of the youngest child. There were many reports of Eliza and of alleged improprieties when her husband was away including living with other men. John was ordered to pay maintenance.

John continued to spiral and in 1875 was committed to the Kew Lunatic Asylum as an inpatient for delerium tremens and satyrisis (hypersexuality). Initially he was confined for a 3 week period and then released as cured but he was readmitted in July 1875 after he amputated his penis. He absconded from the Asylum in October and was recaptured a month later. He was released as cured in June 1876.

But John would get himself into strife again when on his release he married Brigdet Mangan – whilst still being married to Eliza! He would find himself in court once again this time on a bigamy charge. It was struck off when John was recommitted the asylum.

John died in Richmond in 1888.

Kew Lunatic Asylum

John Hassett Junior

John Hassett Junior was the eldest son of John and Eliza. Born in 1869 in Geelong, its not surprising he came to the attention of authorities as a teenager given his dysfunctional family.

John was just 6 years old when he was brought up for slinging stones with a shanghai. Over the next few years he was brought up on charges for stealing fruit, stealing pigeons and stealing boots. Eventually he would be sentenced to the reformatory school for 5 years and labelled as a neglected child.

John next appeared in the Victorian Police Gazettes charged with larceny a few times and enjoying a couple of short stints in prison. Around this time, he had a relationship with Mary Redmond out of which his son, Robert John Redmond was born in 1889 in Carlton.

At the same time, John and Francis De La Veilles were tried for the attempted murder of Constable Vizard in August 1889 in Carlton. The two men had been having an altercation near the intersection of Lygon Street and Queensberry Street in Carlton, when Constable Vizard asked them to move along. The men did so but began arguing again and when Vizard interfered, he was set upon by the two men. Vizard had a fractured skull and his brain was so swollen that it necessitated removal of part of his skull. Hassett was convicted despite having an alibi and witnesses that he was in Gippsland at the time. The main evidence being the scars on his forehead, despite these being noted previously when he was arrested!

Hassett’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment on the 19th March, 1890, although he maintained his innocence right up until his death.

Incarcerated initially in Pentridge, John was moved to Geelong Gaol in August 1898, where he was employed in the Gaol infirmary.

On the 7th December 1901, Hassett had asked one of the other prisoners to say good bye to his mother for him. He returned to the infirmary and drank a poison containing belladonna, arsenic and opium. Hassett had armed himself with a lance and kept warders at bay, threatening to stab them until the poison took effect. The Doctor tried to administer a strong emetic to rid him of the poison, which at first was thought to be successful, but he succumbed to the poisoning at 6pm that evening. It was stated that Hassett had been in a melancholy state for the past few months.

Geelong Gaol today

Robert Redmond

The records don’t indicate if John was aware of the existence of his son and given he was called by his mothers maiden name, I think it unlikely.

Like his father and grandfather before him, Robert would get into some minor scrapes with the police as a youngster.

By 1897, aged 8 years, Robert would lose his mother and when his father John committed suicide in 1901, he would become an orphan.

In 1903, Robert came to the attention of the police again, although this time in tragic circumstances. Robert was working as a messenger boy when he crossed Collins street and was struck by a tramcar. The impact would break his spine and he would be taken to the Royal Melbourne Hospital. He would survive for about 3 weeks before he succumbed to his injuries aged just 14 years old.

This would end the this particular line of the Hassett family. But it gives us a fascinating insight into one families journey from Ireland to Australia and Geelong.

Collins Street c1890s – State Library of Victoria

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