Skip to Content

Decisions of the Superior Courts of New South Wales, 1788-1899

R. v. Barrett [1788] NSWKR 4; [1788] NSWSupC 4

stealing, food rations - capital punishment, first in the colony

Court of Criminal Jurisdiction

Collins J.A., 27 February 1788

Source: David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in N.S.W., Vol .1 (Originally Published 1798) [1]

[7] The mildness of these punishments [referring to the sentences handed down on the first day of the court, 11 February 1788] seemed rather to have encouraged than deterred others from the commission of greater offences; for before the month was ended the criminal court was again assembled for the trial of four offenders, who had conceived and executed a plan for robbing the public store during the time of issuing the provisions.[2] This crime, in its tendency big with evil to our little community, was rendered still more atrocious by being perpetrated at the very time when the difference of provisions, which had till then existed, was taken off, and the convict saw the same proportion of provision issued to himself that was served to the soldier and the officer, the article of spirits only excepted. Each male convict was that day put upon the following weekly ration of provisions, two-thirds of which was served to the female convicts, viz 7 pounds of biscuit; 1 pound a flour; 7 pounds of beef, or 4 pounds of pork; 3 pints of peas; and 6 ounces of butter.

            It was fair to suppose that so liberal a ration would in itself have [8] proved the security of the store, and have defended it from depredation, but he saw with concern, that there were among us some minds so habitually vicious that no consideration was of any weight with them, nor could they be induced to do right by any prospect of future benefit, or fear of certain and immediate punishment. The charge being fully proved, one man, James Barrett, suffered death: his confederates were pardoned, on condition of there being banished from the settlement. Another culprit was sentenced to receive three hundred lashes; but, not appearing so guilty as his companions, was pardoned by the Governor, the power of pardoning being vested in him by his Majesty's commission.[3]

 

[7] The mildness of these punishments [referring to the sentences handed down on the first day of the Court: 11 February 1788] seemed rather to have encouraged than deterred others from the commission of greater offences; for before the month was ended the criminal court was again assembled for the trial of four offenders, who had conceived and executed a plan for robbing the public store during the time of issuing the provisions. This crime, in its tendency big with evil to our little community, was rendered still more atrocious by being perpetrated at the very time when the difference of provisions, which had till then existed, was taken off, and the convict saw the same proportion of provision issued to himself that was served to the soldier and the officer, the article of spirits only excepted. Each male convict was that day put upon the following weekly ration of provisions, two-thirds of which was served to the female convicts, viz 7 pounds of biscuit; 1 pound a flour; 7 pounds of beef, or 4 pounds of pork; 3 pints of peas; and 6 ounces of butter.

It was fair to suppose that so liberal a ration would in itself have [8] proved the security of the store, and have defended it from depredation; but he saw with concern, that there were among us some minds so habitually vicious that no consideration was of any weight with them, nor could they be induced to do right by any prospect of future benefit, or fear of certain and immediate punishment. The charge being fully proved, one man, James Barrett, suffered death: his confederates were pardoned, on condition of there being banished from the settlement. Another culprit was sentenced to receive three hundred lashes; but, not appearing so guilty as his companions, was pardoned by the governor, the power of pardoning being vested in him by his Majesty's commission.

Notes

[1] See also J. Scott, Remarks on a Passage to Botany Bay, 1787 - 1792 (1963) p. 36; J. White, Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales (ed. Alec Chisholm 1962) p. 116; A. Bowes, A Journal of a Voyage from Portsmouth to New South Wales and China in the Lady Penrhyn, Merchantman -William Cropton Sever, Commander 1787-1788-1789 p. 116; R. Clark, The Journal and Letters of Lieutenant Ralph Clark 1787 - 1792 (eds Paul Fidlon and R Ryan ) p. 97; G. B. Worgan, Journal of a First Fleet Surgeon (1978) p. 38; J. Nagle, Collins the Courts and the Colony: Law and Society in Colonial New South Wales 1788-1796 (1996) pp 96-99.

[2] State Records N.S.W. holds no records of the Court¿s second day of sitting : 27 February 1788.

[3] This was the first instance of capital punishment in New South Wales. State Records N.S.W. holds no records of the court's second sitting day (27 February 1788), leaving us to rely on the account given by Collins J.A.

Barrett was executed. The death sentences of Henry Lavell (or Laval) and Joseph Hall were commuted, and John Ryan was pardoned.

See Nagle, Collins, 96-99.

 

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University