The Parramatta River Murders

In March 1872 Australians were shocked by one of the most cold-blooded murders the colonies had ever seen. The nightmare began with the discovery of a badly decomposed body that had been weighed down with a heavy stone in the Parramatta River. Even more chillingly, it soon emerged that this victim, John Bridger, had been lured to his brutal death via an employment advertisement in The Sydney Morning Herald. Then it became clear that this murdered man wasn’t the only victim.

John Bridger, who hoped to start a new life in Australia, was deceived into thinking he had a new job, only to be shot, savagely beaten and sent to the bottom of the Parramatta River while he was still alive.

George Nichols – intelligent, handsome, well-dressed, father-of-two and a cold-blooded murderer.
While the banks of the Parramatta River today are lined with houses and apartments, in 1872 there were many lonely spots just perfect for murder.

The Sydney Morning Herald ads. Apply for these positions and you were applying
to be murdered.

The Parramatta River Murders were a newspaper sensation, leading to thousands of people crowding around the inquest and trial venues.


  1. Hi Michael
    Thank you for your podcast. They are well-documented but also narrated at a pace and style and with a structure that maintains interest. Combination of history and narrative – wonderful. I am interested in whether you use any sources that are police records etc. The reason I ask is that the Detective Elliot mentioned here also in the middle of 1874 was in charge of a case against an American Charles Burdett and a Dutch doctor Abraham van Heekeren both of whom were charged with procuring an abortion on a young woman from Parramatta, Phoebe Hanks. The Dutch doctor was my direct maternal ancestor and gets into trouble a couple of times and is also mentioned by a retiring copper in 1904? as the go-to doctor for abortions from 1860s to 1885 particularly for the well healed who apparently would discreetly go to his home Lufra in Double Bay. The retiring policeman retells Abraham’s efforts to claim 10 pounds from the Duke of Edinburgh in 1868 before he left from Sydney. There is a fair amount on trove and some jail records but I am wondering if any police records may have survived such as Elliot’s diaries. I think the answer is no but any suggestions would help. Meanwhile keep up the good work and as a Hugh School teacher I am letting any of my History colleagues know of your podcast and website.
    John Summers

    1. Hi John,
      Thanks for your very kind comments. I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast, especially as a teacher. And I appreciate you spreading the word. That’s fascinating about your ancestor. For this story, I only used Trove. The newspapers all covered the inquests and trials in great detail, so that was sufficient. But I did dig into George Nichols’ on and there were various police records (from Gazettes) referring to him, though they’re pretty much just statements of charges, etc. I reckon there’s a good chance Elliott would be mentioned in these, though how much detail there would be I couldn’t say. Anyway, many thanks again.
      All best,

  2. The comic book comedy and the titanic part 1 & 2 are coming up

    as a 404 error…

    can’t open to listen .. this series one but page 2…


      1. So much more than a podcast, bravo. I first heard your Perth Ballroom Murder story, realized what a treasure I’d found (fascinating history with so many photos and ephemera), and came back to check out your first season. So far, first rate, love the subtle sounds like flies buzzing in the outhouse…a treasure, all right, and a needed distraction from 2020. So, great work, and thanks!
        Vivia, Seattle

  3. Thanks, Vivia. I’m glad you’re enjoying the show over there in Seattle – and I hope all’s okay in your world. We really do need distractions in 2020. All best, Michael

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