William James Chidley was born in Melbourne in 1860. He was one of five children adopted by English immigrants, who after a period in the Victorian goldfields, settled in Melbourne. He returned to England with his parents at an early age and whilst there his father engaged in the book trade, albeit unsuccessfully. The family returned to Australia when Chidley was five. Upon his return the family moved itinerantly throughout Victoria, with his father operating a transportable photographic studio. At times Chidley remained in Melbourne, boarding at School where he completed his education to age 13 at St. Kilda College. After assisting his father for a period in his photographic studios and working for a solicitor, Chidley was articled as an architect for four years. He found this “too dry” and engage in the profession of an itinerant crayon and water colour artist, drawing portraits for up to £10 each.
Chidley was working in Adelaide in October 1882 when he, together with his canvasser Arthur Edward Saddler, was involved in a street fight. The events ensuing were to have a profound effect on both Chidley and the future formulation of his philosophies. Chidley and Saddler had hired a horse-drawn cab at around 11.45 pm on the Monday night, 2 October, to take them to Waymouth Street. Shortly after the commencement of their journey they noticed an altercation between two people unknown to them, Thomas Maloney and Mary Ann Hewitt, and asked the cab to stop. Saddler embarked from the cab and began to defend the woman by fighting with Maloney. After a short time he called for Chidley’s assistance. Chidley and Saddler then tackled the man to the ground, after which Maloney retreated to the middle of the road and commenced throwing stones at the pair. Another man, apparently a friend of the women, then commenced fighting with Maloney, who collapsed and subsequently died after several days in hospital.
Chidley and Saddler were arrested at Bridgewater on 18 October 1882 and charged with the murder of Maloney. They had evaded the warrants for their arrest for several weeks and were remanded in custody to appear at the City Coroner’s Court. Before a coroner’s jury on 23 October 1882 a committal verdict of guilty of manslaughter was returned. Chidley and Saddler were remanded in custody and committed to trail before the next Supreme Court sittings.
At the Supreme Court trial on Thursday 7 December 1882 the jury returned a verdict of not guilty to the charges of manslaughter against Chidley and Saddler. The evidence adduced at the trial was that the deceased died on 12 October from inflammation of the membranes of the brain, the consequence of skull injuries sustained from a “fall on to the rail or stone, but not a blow from a fist or an ordinary boot”. The evidence suggested that an unknown man had been fighting against the deceased prior to his collapse onto the newly laid tram tracks.