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

R. v. Bowerman and others [1820] NSWKR 7; [1820] NSWSupC 7

highway robbery

Court of Criminal Jurisdiction
Wylde J.A., 26 November 1820
Source: Sydney Gazette, 2 December 1820[1]

           George Bowerman, Solomon Bowerman, James Bowerman, and Martha Carter, were indicted for robbing Mr George Bowman, and Miss Ann Bowman, his cousin, on the King's highway on the night of Friday the 15th of September, near the 18 mile stone on the Windsor Road, near to Parramatta.

           The trial commencing with the evidence of Mr George Bowman, he deposed, that conveying some goods to Richmond in his cart for the consumption of his farm, and preferring travelling by night, which is a common practice, he left Parramatta after sun-set; and the moon not shewing herself it became very dark: he could nevertheless perceive moving objects at a short distance. From the forest that skirted the road he saw a man come out, and then another. One stopped the horse, and the other with an uplifted bludgeon commanded him to stop with the most terrifying menaces. A third appeared and occupied the other side, while the man at the horse's head, with a long black barrelled gun, which, though too dark to distinguish features at five or 6 feet distance, impressed Mr Bowman with the idea of its having no ramrod, he kept constantly levelled, with as constant threats of shooting him, expressed with frightful imprecations. While ransacking the property, always aiming to keep Mr Bowman in a state of inconceivable trepidation, one of them said they had murdered a man that day already, and they did not wish to kill any more, while the man on the left side was engaged in plundering his cousin. These two men approaching so very near, their faces became perfectly distinguishable, and were as perfectly regarded by Mr and Miss Bowman, though repeatedly commanded not to look at them on pain of death. Mr Bowman used expressions of commiseration to calm their apprehensions: he assured them he considered them as unfortunate men, driven by necessity to that unhappy course of life: to which one replied, "We are unfortunate fellows, and I suppose that this will be our ruin." At this juncture a cart was heard coming up; and with all the haste they could make they made off with their booty, consisting of calico's, wearing apparel, sundry articles of family consumption, and two jars of spirits.

           Mr Bowman described George Bowerman as the man upon the left hand; and the one upon the right, whom he had most attentively regarded, he swore positively to have been Solomon Bowerman, who did not appear at all tenacious of his being looked at.  The other cart was unable to afford Mr Bowman any assistance. Information was without delay forwarded to the chief constable of Parramatta; and in eight days Mr Bowman was sent for to view the persons apprehended of suspicion, and knew two of them at first sight. A great part of his lost property had been found among them, and the long black barrelled gun, without a ramrod, was also in safe custody, and now produced in Court, minutely corresponding with Mr Bowmann's description of it. A great part of the property on which Mr Bowman had been robbed was too remarkable to be mistaken, particularly the wearing apparel, and some canvas bags marked with his initials in paint, which Mr Bowman identified and swore to.

           Mrs Anne Bowman deposed to all the previous account of the robbery, and also identified most of the property produced; and swore particularly to George Bowerman being the man who had seized her by the shoulder, and demanded whatever property he might have about her person.

           Mr Sherwin, chief constable of Parramatta, deposed, that in consequence of the information he had received, he took two constables with him, Murray and Dillon, to search for the delinquent; and recollecting the circumstance of hearing two voices  among the North Rocks, bounding Parramatta, on the Saturday morning after the robbery upon the Friday night, the distance from the scene of the robbery three miles, he repaired thither, and sent one of his attendants into the house of George Bowerman, on Sunday morning the 15th of September, he being unknown. George was so much inebriated as to be wholly insensible: his wife was there, and articles of property visible, wholly unsuitable to so poor a habitation. A  search immediately was made, and the greater part of the property found that was now produced and sworn to by Mr and Miss Bowman; and the gun found slung, loaded, and the ramrod upon a shelf. At the prison and James's he found two of the pieces of muslin concealed among some dirty coarse bags. These the female prisoner at the bar claimed as her own, saying that she had purchased them during that life-time of her late husband, not being then aware that being matched with the pieces found at George's; Solomon lived in the same house with James and being equally implicated, were directed to attend at an examination before the Bench of Magistrates next day.

           Murray and Dillon, constables, corroborated the foregoing testimony; both adding that they had found articles of Mr Bowman's apparel concealed on James's out-grounds, they cultivating small detached allotments of ground.

           The evidence for the prosecution terminating, the prisoners went upon their defence, which was chiefly confined to George Bowerman; who called witnesses in its support; but all was incongruity; the facts were incontrovertible. It was in evidence however that George Bowerman had sold small bits of tobacco, and that the female prisoner lived at James's, at the George a feeble effort was made to the sustentation of an alibi.

           The defence concluding,

His Honor, the Judge delivered his charge, which was plain, perspicuous, emphatical, and convincing. All the prisoners at the bar, His Honor commenced by observing, stood charged with a capital offence; and the duty that devolved upon the Court was of a truly serious nature, as was the charge against the prisoners. One had attempted the proof of an alibi, in which too great caution could not possibly be observed; it should be always such as to leave no doubt behind: but here all was contradiction, and was only calculated to affect the minds of a Court in a most extraordinary manner, as the proof against all the prisoners had been very strong, and the more especially against George Bowerman. Both the prosecutors had sworn positively to his person. They had had perfect opportunity of seeing his face, being close to them, and they were from five to ten minutes looking at him. Again and again they had declared him to be the person as soon as they had seen him; and now, before the Court, they still persisted in their declaration made under the awful solemnity of their oaths "that is the man;" yet had there been nothing else to come in support of this their positive declaration, but their own personal observation made at such a time, and under such circumstances of terror; notwithstanding that two persons had agreed in the identity of the person, yet the judgement would have been extremely embarrassing to the Court: but here the case was very different; for in support of this identity of the person, the greater part of the property of which the prosecutors had been robbed was found in possession. The prisoners are of one family; they lived in close connexion with each other; and they were three in number, the very number by whom the crime had been effected. It was impossible to say whether they had had any previous information of the prosecutors going that night; they lived near Parramatta, and might have been so informed, or whether they had acted as robbers do who take the chance of the road. His Honor remarked on several expressions which the prosecutors had stated their having used while in the act of plunder, and compared them with circumstances that had subsequently disclosed themselves; and then turning to the line of evidence in the order that it had been received, compared, and remarked at length upon it. The Court His Honor remarked finally, were now fully in possession of the charge; but as far as respected Martha Carter, the consideration remained, whether as she had made herself a party by owning a part of the stolen property, she was to be deemed an accessory after the fact, or in any other light: which under the relative circumstances and incidents that accompanied the case, was a truly interesting question: but after a short conversation of the Members, a verdict was returned; All Guilty.

Note

[1] See also the report of R. v. Geary and others, 1821, particularly the comments of Geary on the day of his execution; and see Court of Criminal Jurisdiction, Informations, Depositions and Related Papers, 1816-1824, State Records N.S.W., SZ792, p. 121 (no. 5).

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University