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

R. v. Bland [1818] NSWKR 5; [1818] NSWSupC 5

criminal libel - seditious libel

Court of Criminal Jurisdiction
Wylde J.A., 24 September 1818
Source: Sydney Gazette, 26 September 1818

On Thursday Mr William Bland, formerly a Surgeon in the Royal Navy and who came to this Colony under sentence of the law between four and five years ago, and would shortly after emancipated by His Excellency the Governor, was brought to trial on a charge of libelling the Governor, by the composition and publishing of various letters and verses contained in a manuscript book dropped on the Parramatta Road, and thence brought to light.

To recapitulate any part of the libellous matter would be to distress or agitate the feelings of our Readers. It is enough to say that their sentiment and expression were held in an odium which every well disposed man would be certain to feel upon occasions of this especial kind, wherein the character of the Officer who governed the Colony had been basely slandered.

The case was opened by Mr Garling in a very impressive speech; and this Gentleman was followed by Mr Wylde in an elucidatory series of remarks upon the general tendency of libel, and the mischievious design of the libels contained in the book before the Court. The proof of the hand-writing, he observed, was the only point to be weighed; the libels in themselves admitting of no sort of question as to the criminality of their author and publisher, and to his base design of traducing His Excellency the Governor of these Colonies both in his public and private character.

The information contained several counts; upon two of which, one a copy of verses called Lavater and the other an anonymous letter signed "The Farmer," the prisoner was convicted, and sentenced to be in prison 12 calendar months; to pay a fine of £50; and to give security for his good behaviour for two years after, himself in £200, and two sureties in £100 each; and to remain in prison until the fulfilment of the sentence; previous to the passing of which His Honour the Judge Advocate remarked at considerable length on the criminal daring which had manifested itself in the composition of these writings. His feelings, as were those of the Gentlemen who formed the Court, and the auditory also, appeared to be strongly excited by various passages of the wretched nonsense which made up the component parts of those most wretched libels, conceived in malignity, and brought forth in the blackest ingratitude. Were there any single passage in either of the productions entitled to notice, we should not permit them to perish in the oblivion which is alone their due? No; the very shafts of malice, pointed with ability, would at least have shewn that the assassin was well armed for his purpose; but this was not so; and however lenient sentence passed upon the young man, yet, it is much to be hoped, that from his example pipe making will in future be reposed solely in the hands of Mr William Cluer of the Brickfield Hill.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University