When police were called to a home at Bellambi that had been burned to the ground in May 1877, they could not have imagined the horrendous sight that awaited them.
The circumstances were so shocking the Mercury described it as "the most tragic event that has ever taken place in the Illawarra, within the history of its European inhabitants".
The alarm was raised after neighbours discovered the smouldering timber home of Peter Brawen on the morning of May 26. In the ashes were the remains of the 51-year-old and his two children, George, 11, and Mary, 13. The family dog lay nearby, having bled to death after being almost decapitated.
A message written on a slate in Mr Brawen's hand left little doubt as to what had occurred: "I cannot live any longer. During the last 10 years I have wished a thousand times I had never been born. I love my little children too well to leave them to be tormented by their brutal mother, that dirty, drunken, selfish and unfeeling Irish savage. I bequeath her to Satan and curse her with my last breath, and rejoice at the near approach of my end. I am not afraid, Peter Brawen."
At the family's inquest, it was established that the marriage of Mr Brawen, an accomplished market gardener, and his wife Bridget, was "of a most unhappy character", he being intellectual and reserved, she "a compound of volatile ignorance and eccentricity".
Neighbour Henry Hicks said Brawen had complained of his wife's conduct; that she was given to drunkenness and that her violent behaviour had caused him to lose a respectable job in Sydney.
Despite this, their children were "of a very pleasing and engaging manner", and young George was an accomplished musician.
The inquest established that Brawen turned his wife out of the home because she was drunk. Three days later, on the evening of May 25, it appears he "murdered the two children in bed, and then killed the dog, and after so doing that, having well set the house on fire, he committed suicide within the building".
The verdict given by the jurors was that the Mr Brawen and his children had died after being burned in their home, "but how or by what means the fire originated, there was not sufficient evidence before them to show".
Mrs Brawen said she would not bury her husband, but relented after the coroner threatened her with prosecution for failure to do so.
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