100 years on: Ching family massacre

Descendents of the survivors, including (from left) Paul Steindl, Hanni Steindl and Lance Steindl, at the family grave in Sarina Cemetery, will meet this week to pay their respects to their slain ancestors.
Descendents of the survivors, including (from left) Paul Steindl, Hanni Steindl and Lance Steindl, at the family grave in Sarina Cemetery, will meet this week to pay their respects to their slain ancestors. Lee Constable


TERROR and fear struck the heart and soul of every man, woman and child living in the Mackay-Sarina region when a mother and five children were massacred at Alligator Creek, about 25km south of Mackay.

The Ching family tragedy remains the worst of its kind in Queensland history and its 100th anniversary falls this week.

There will be no celebrations, but the descendents of the survivors will meet to pay their respects to their slain ancestors and give thanks that the family line has continued for 100 years.

The Daily Mercury was notified of the tragedy at nine o'clock on Saturday night, November 17, 1911. A reporter was sent to the scene where police were already starting an investigation and Government Medical Officer Dr William Hoare had driven down by car. Two Justices of the Peace, several neighbours and Plane Creek Mill chairman Alex Innes were there.

Inside the corrugated iron house, with a dirt floor, front and back doors and one window on each side, were four bodies huddled together.

They were Agnes Ching, 45, and her children Maud, 15, Hughie, 5, and Winnie, 1.

The husband and father of the children was Hong Kong-born Charlie Ching. It was a Friday and he had gone to Plane Creek to talk about cane production.

On return he was met by his farm hand of six months, George David Silva, 28.

He found his house was locked. It was late in the afternoon so he cooked a meal with his farm hand in the kitchen house, which was separate to the residence. He thought his family was visiting neighbours.

After dark he went to several neighbours' residences and one suggested he get into his locked house to see if his family was there.

He broke in via a side window, with Silva's help, and discovered the four bodies.

His wife Agnes and Maud, 15, had been shot with a revolver and/or muzzle-loaded rifle and the two children had been battered to death.

The rear room was splattered with blood and witnesses said it looked like a slaughter house.

For some unknown reason, the four bodies were dragged into the sitting room, were thrown together, near a coloured table, and a rug was placed over them.

Mr Ching sent Silva to a neighbour's property to raise the alarm.

Telephone communications were sparse but eventually Sarina police were notified. The phone line to Mackay police was not working.

Another neighbour gave the farm hand a horse and told him to ride to Mackay to alert police.

A report at the time said: "George Silva had intentions to tell the police what happened but when questioned he was not displaying much anxiety to carry out his intention."

As the investigation was in full swing on the Saturday, there were very grave concerns for the two children who had attended school on the Friday.

They were last seen walking home from school.

The bodies of the four victims were taken by cane tram to Sarina for immediate burial.

Two of the Ching children were still missing.

A great tragedy was about to become much worse.

Topics:  massacre

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