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

R. v. Collyer [1817] NSWKR 9; [1817] NSWSupC 9

murder - bushrangers - capital punishment, dissection - Van Diemen's Land

Court of Criminal Jurisdiction
Wylde J.A., 29 October 1817
Source: Sydney Gazette, 1 November 1817

           Richard Collyer, was indicted for the wilful murder of Charles Carlyle, at or near the settlement of New Norfolk, on Van Diemen's Land, on the 24th of April, 1815. The facts stated in evidence against the prisoner minutely correspond with the accounts published in this Paper on the 20th of May 1815, detailing the melancholy particulars of an expedition composed of eight persons, of whose number was Mr Dennis McCarthy, proceeding against a collective body of bush rangers who were committing outrages at the settlement of New Norfolk, and who, being all armed with muskets and pistols, engaged the party, killed Mr Charles Carlisle, and wounded all the rest; Mr. James O'Berne, one of the wounded persons, died at few days after in consequence of his wound. The assassins, there were 8 or 9 in number, besides a native black woman, were securely posted behind trees, and thereby rendered the fire of their opponents ineffectual. The prisoner at the bar was indicted as being present at and aiding in the affray, and as a principal in the murder for which he was now arraigned.

           Mr Jermott, of Hobart Town, being called on as an evidence, deposed to his being of the party who had proceeded in quest of the bandits, and was one who was wounded by them. He narrated the circumstances of the unfortunate contest, but could not swear the prisoner was among the assailants.

           Patrick Flaherty, who lived as a servant with the deceased at the time of his death, deposed, that on the morning of the 25th of April the gang of bushrangers, by whom his master was murdered, had previously robbed his house, and were soon after pursued by the party which his master accompanied to check their enormities, but that he never returned to his home alive. The prisoner at the bar he swore to positively as being one of the assailants.

           George King deposed, that he was the same morning pursued by a gang of bushrangers, and was made prisoner by them after being thrice fired at, and that the prisoner at the bar, Richard Collyer, was one of the men who fired at him; he remained their captive, and was compelled to obey such orders as they chose to impose on him. They had in the morning robbed the house of the deceased; and a few hours after, the party who had ventured to oppose them made their appearance; the witness was left with the booty they had then in possession, and the gang proceeded to the encounter; witness saw five of the unfortunate persons fall, and the others discontinuing a further fruitless opposition to superior numbers, who were much better armed than themselves, effected a retreat. The witness made his escape during the affray; and among the party of the bushrangers engaged in work, Michael Howe, Peter Geary, John Jones, John Whitehead, and the prisoner at the bar.

           No further evidence being called, the prisoner was called on for his defence; which consisted in a brief denial of his guilt, alleging also that he was ten miles distant when the encounter had taken place; but the contrary fact was decidedly clear, and he was pronounced Guilty.

           His Honor the Judge Advocate now proceeded to the denunciation of the awful sentence, endeavouring to awaken in his mind a proper sense of his condition, which imperiously demanded an earnest and unrestrained solicitude for the forgiveness of his crimes, and the future destiny of his now fleeting spirit in a world which was eternal. His lawless courses had in these colonies unfortunately been of long continuance. He had of his own accord withdrawn himself from the duties of his condition in society, and had abandoned its intercourses for a life of wild irregularity and enormity. He had been long a terror to the peaceful inhabitants of the country in which his destinies had placed him, and to mind inured to crime as his had been, the magnitude of each defence depended upon chance, and murder was itself resorted to, when unhappily needful to the perfection of his guilty projects. The avenging arm of justice had at length determined his career, while the enormity of his offences had cut him off from every hope of earthly clemency: but there was another life to come, which now demanded his entire care. A long eternity awaited him, and he wished for mercy there, so would he endeavour to deserve the promised boon, by true repentance, and by constant fervent prayer. Sentence of death was then pronounced, to be carried into execution on such a day as His Excellency the Governor should think proper to a point, and the body to be after given for dissection.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University