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

Anonymous [1811] NSWKR 2; [1811] NSWSupC 2

Aborigines, civil action by - ship, lay of profits

Bench of Magistrates, 16 February 1811
Source: Sydney Gazette, 23 February 1811[1]

On Saturday last a complaint preferred to his Excellency the Governor by native who had gone the last voyage in the King George, was by his Excellency transmitted to A. Riley esq. the sitting magistrate, with a request that every possible pains might be taken to come at the facts and strictly to redress the grievance, if any should appear. The circumstances of the case were, that the native had shipped on lay as others did, and returned with a broken voyage, the cargo procured being scarcely sufficient to cover the men's advances; independent of which, the complainant, whose natural inclinations were his greatest bias, had deserted the ship at Port Dalrymple, and put the owners to the expence of a reward for his caption. The result of the enquiry therefore was that nothing was due, and of course the complaint was dismissed. The care bestowed in the foregoing enquiry is satisfactory of the determination of the government to afford every protection and support to the natives that they may stand in need of; and particularly to encourage them to useful industry by requiring a scrupulous observance of every contract in which they may be interested.


[1] This is the first civil claim brought by an Australian Aborigine for which records survive. It is significant that the action was not brought in the usual fashion, in the Court of Civil Jurisdiction. It seems that the hearing was made available as a concession rather than a right. Other sailors in this position who sued for their "lay" (or share of the profits of the voyage) did so as of right, but they too were usually unsuccessful in these claims. See Bruce Kercher, Debt, Seduction and Other Disasters: the Birth of Civil Law in Convict NSW, Federation Press, 1996, pp 87-88.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University