On September 26 1948, wealthy pastoralist James Lyon Walker Barton (aged 54) and his unmarried sister Lue Loveday Barton (45) were shot dead at their grand home, Barton Park, at Wallerawang (New South Wales). They were buried in the Barton Park private cemetery.
The couple’s killer was a 17 year old farm worker; a petty criminal from Sydney who had been engaged only 16 days earlier.
The body of Lue Barton was discovered by a friend in the pantry. She had been shot twice in the back. Her brother’s body was found in the barn, covered with some hessian bags. He had two bullet wounds in his head, one from point blank range.
The beneficiary of Barton’s will was another unmarried sister, Hazel ‘Helen’ Barton, who lived in Brown’s Bay, New Zealand. She inherited some £75,000. Still in a state of shock, 55 year old Miss Barton returned home to wind up the estate. As part of this, an auction of the contents of Barton Park was held. The event began on December 7, and was like nothing the community had ever seen.
Here was a huge, mysterious house few local residents had ever been in. It had the added, macabre fascination of being the scene of a recent double murder. The crowds were incredible. Many people were simply sightseers, with no intention of bidding on anything. The National Advocate (Bathurst) reported;
They arrived in cars, trucks, sulkies, bicycles and on horseback…..The visitors fossicked through the many rooms in the house, crawled through windows, lounged in chairs and read the works of Byron, Dickens and Burns in the big library. It was apparent that many of the rooms had not been used for many years judging by the dust that had collected in them and the piles of junk there which included very old books and magazines, broken furniture, old kitchenware etc. One article was a rocking horse which had belonged to the late Mr Barton’s father.
The grounds around the homestead presented a gala appearance at lunchtime, when the crowds sat down for lunch under a huge tree on the spacious lawn. Children paddled in a nearby billabong and an enterprising vendor had set himself up in business selling fruit and vegetables to the visitors.
Among the crowd were many antique dealers from Sydney and Melbourne. At lunchtime many of them sipped iced whisky and gin under the big tree on the lawn.
Many prospective buyers protested to the auctioneer that noisy sightseers in the house were making it impossible for them to view the lots or make bids. The following article appeared in the Lithgow Mercury;
One of the most prized antiques of the Barton Estate, which several Sydney dealers said might bring up to £300 in London, was sold at the auction for £32/11/-. The antique was a heavy easy chair in claret material bearing the coat-of-arms of the present Queen, a member of the Bowes-Lyon family, of Scotland. Beneath the drape covering the chair was an imposing coat-of-arms carrying rampant lion above shield and knight’s visor. The chair was purchased by Mrs Raymond for Connoisseurs Corner Pty. Ltd., Sydney antique fine arts dealers, because it carried royal arms. One Sydney dealer, representing Chinese interests, said he was prepared to bid to £95, but because of the crowd was unable to enter the auction room.
The Bartons claimed a link to the Scottish Lyon family through their mother Georgina, which the chair does seem to give credit to.
A total of £5,200 was realized at the sale over two days. The highest price was paid for Lue Barton’s two-door 1939 Pontiac, which went for £790. Her brother’s larger Pontiac could not be offered as it was still in police custody. The young man who had confessed to killing the Bartons had driven to Sydney in the vehicle. He then travelled by train to Brisbane, where he was arrested. His trial was due to begin on Monday, December 13.*
It was noted that various items of furniture and books were stolen in the chaos of the auction. Fortunately Helen Barton, now virtually the last member of her family, had decided not to attend. The safe, secure world at Barton Park had been shattered when the murders took place, and the auction almost seemed like a second violation.
In 1979 the entire estate slipped under man-make Lake Wallace, formed to provide cooling water for the Wallerawang Power Station. I believe that a piano from the old homestead is preserved at Eskbank House Museum, in Lithgow.
*The killer’s defence team entered a plea of not guilty owing to insanity. However, he was judged to be perfectly sane and of above average intelligence. He avoided the death sentence due to his age and instead served a life sentence, He was released in 1967.
UPDATE – I visited Eskbank House Museum after the curator contacted me. Here is what I found relating to Barton Park.