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

R v Bates [1825] NSWSupC 12

murder - domestic violence - drunkenness - defences - indictments

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Forbes C.J., 8 April 1825

Source: Australian, 14 April 1825.

 

The trial of Edmond Bates, of Kissing Point, master sawyer, for the murder of Julia Bates, his wife, came on this day. The circumstances proved in evidence are as follows:  On the 24th December last the prisoner, in company with one John Cochrane, a sawyer, who was at that time in prisoner's employ, returned from Sydney, and brought up with them a gallon of strong rum.  They arrived at the prisoner's dwelling in the night time, (i.e.) very early on Tuesday morning.  After breakfast the wife of the prisoner, Julia Bates, the deceased, scolded him, because he had not returned home on Christmas eve, saying, "She was sure he had been with his w in Sydney."  The prisoner acknowledged afterwards to have been in improper company while at Sydney.  However, the deceased was appeased, and they all sat down in good humour to reduce the gallon of spirits.  The company consisted, at first, of the prisoner, the deceased, Cochrane, and Clarke, who all lived together.  About half-past two a young man named Pearson, came in, and took two glasses of raw rum; and in about two hours departed, in company with Clarke.  By this time all parties, save the prisoner and young Pearson, were drunk.  Clarke and Cochrane, however, both swore the prisoner was drunk also; but Pearson, who swore to his sobriety at five o'clock, when he left the house. Cochrane was at that time so intoxicated as to be nearly senseless.

About 8 o'clock in the evening, one Porter, how [sic] lives about half a quarter of a mile from the prisoner, while retiring to bed heard the prisoner at his gate, calling "Porter, Porter come over, for my wife is killed and burnt to death."  Porter accordingly sent his wife and son along with the prisoner, while he went to get his cutlass, and then followed himself.  When he got to the house of the prisoner, he saw the deceased lying dead, within about six inches of the fire, which was nearly out, but would not examine nor remove the body till the Coroner and Doctor arrived, whom he instantly sent for; and also the district constable.  In the mean time some conversation took place between Porter and the prisoner.  Porter said, ``Ned  long looked-for is come at last."  Prisoner replied, "Do you think I've killed my wife?"  Porter answered, "I do."  Prisoner re-joined, "If I had killed her I would have put her where you could not have found her; no, not for six months.  I'll go and drown myself."  Porter told him that he should not do that.  Prisoner said, "Then I'll go away" ----  Porter answered he should either stop or go without his head.  Prisoner continued to allege, as at first, she was killed and burnt to death; but did not say who had killed her.  Close to the body of the deceased lay Cochrane, so drunk as to be speechless ---- when he came to himself so far as to speak, which was more than 3 hours afterwards he complained of sore ribs --- the prisoner acknowledged he had made them sore by kicking him in order to awaken him.  At length Small the constable arrived, and he immediately put a pair of handcuffs on the prisoner, which he afterwards attempted to break off.  When the Surgeon arrived, (Mr. Allen, of the medical department Parramatta) he examined the body, and found it mangled and bruised to a great extreme.  The following wounds were sworn to by Mr. Allen:---- Three small wounds on the right side of the head ---- a contusion on the forehead, near the root of the nose ---- nearly all the ribs of the right side fractured and rent from their articulation with the spine, which could only have been effected by an axe, a mall, or what was more probable, from the flattened appearance of the corpse, from jumping on it.  Bruises on the right butock, near and upon the loins ---- a small lacerated wound on the inner and upper part of the thigh ---- severe bruises on the knees, legs, and right arm, which last limb also shewed two cuts near the elbow ---- a compound fracture near the ancle of the left leg ---- burns on the buttocks and right leg ---- and from an effusion of air under the skin.  He was decidedly of opinion that the disjointure of the ribs alone, would cause the death of the deceased.

Thorn, chief constable of Parramatta, swore, that on the 27th Dec. the day after he had had the prisoner in his custody, the latter acknowledged to him he had killed his wife, and that nobody touched her but himself, but at the same time the prisoner said all he could remember of the affray was throwing a kettle at the deceased, which he supposed was that which broke her leg.  To Small the constable also, the prisoner used this expression, "If I killed her I did it when I was drunk."

Mr. Wentworth was Counsel for the prisoner.  It was endeavoured to be shewn that the prisoner was jealous of Cochrane.

The prisoner was described as a hard-working man, of unoffending and quiet manners, not given to quarrels.

In recapitulating the evidence, the Chief Justice dwelt particularly on the prisoner's own expressions, from first to last, as being strongly presumptive of his guilt --- "Porter come over, my wife is killed and burnt to death" ---- and afterwards the prisoner never alluded to any one killing her except himself, ---- which confession he afterwards deliberately made to Thorn ---- again ---- "Do you think I killed her? if I had killed her I would have put her where you could not have found her; no, not for six months" ----"I'll go and drown myself;" and when Porter said he should sooner lose his head, he replied, "Then I'll go away" ---- when all this was coupled with his fright, unaccompanied as it was with any distress of mind or remorse of conscience, it looked like guilt --- why not say who killed his wife, if he knew, or if he suspected any one? for the prisoner was in his senses, he could walk on the foot-path, and conversewith [sic] distinctness.  As to the quarrel mentioned, the prisoner did not say to Thorn that if he killed his wife, he did it on that account; but that he did it because he was drunk.  Now the deceased met her death by blows ---- the prisoner had been proved to be present, and had acknowledged to have thrown a kettle, which he supposed was that which broke her leg.  It was established then, that the prisoner not only met her death by blows, but that one of those blows at least was inflicted by the prisoner.

The prisoner's excuse to Thorn was, that he was drunk, and that he was therefore insensible of his actions.[1 ]   But drunkenness, unless it can be proved that it was involuntary, and had produced an aberration of the mind, is not by English law admitted as an excuse or justification of a criminal act.  But the drunkenness of the prisoner produced no such aberration of the mind; if his inebriety existed to any extent, it was at all events voluntary ---- he himself brought the liquor to his house ---- there was in this instance no seduction to inebriety ---- the transactions all took place in his own dwelling, where he was particularly responsible ---- he was therefore equally accountable for his actions, as if he had been sober ---- the evils of such kind of drunkenness admitted in law of no excuse or mitigation.  But the prisoner, it appears, was not greatly intoxicated at any time on Christmas day.  Cochrane says he was drunk by four in the afternoon.  Clarke says the same.  But Pearson says, that at five o'clock he was not so drunk but he could converse rationally.  Now, between 4 and 8, or at least between 5 and 8, there was in evidence no account of the acts or state of the prisoner ---- but at 8 he walked in a narrow path, from his own house to Porter's, and afterwards conversed distinctly ---- there was not time, then, to have become so sober, if the prisoner had been just before extremely inebriated.

Again ---- the number and nature of the blows shew the animus ---- there could be no possible motive for such extreme, such continued violence, except malice and cruelty.  Some little shew of jealousy has been set up, but the prisoner himself has vindicated Cochrane from adultery, as he also did from the murder.

The Jury returned a verdict of Guilty.

HE WAS EXECUTED ON MONDAY.[2 ]

The prisoner was a tall man, of respectable appearance, but his countenance displayed no higher feeling than that of dismay mingled with sullenness.

 

Notes

[1 ] The trial was reported by the Sydney Gazette on 14 April 1825.  It reported the Chief Justice as giving the following charge to the jury: ``This is an information against the prisoner at the bar for the wilful murder of his wife, Julia Bates, on the 25th of December, 1824.  The information sets forth, that she came by her death in consequence of blows inflicted by the prisoner with an axe.  The precise circumstances as to how she came by her death, is not in evidence before you.  On the morning after the murder she was found lying near the fire, with several wounds on her body.  From the testimony given by Mr. Allen, the Surgeon, it appears to have been the fracture of the ribs which caused her death; but, on his cross-examination, as to the instrument with which the wounds were inflicted, he does not think they were given by an axe.  The exact instrument does not appear in evidence; but, Gentlemen of the Jury, it is not necessary that the precise instrument, with which the murder was committed, should be proved -- though it is necessary to state it as near as possible, in the indictment.  It appears that by blows, stamping, or some violence, she came by her death; but I beg to state to you, Gentlemen, that it is not necessary to prove the exact weapon, if the general features of the case will bear out the indictment; and it is in evidence that Julia Bates came by her death in consequence of blows inflicted by the prisoner at the bar. The defence set up, is drunkenness.  Gentlemen; drinking is no excuse for that mental incompetency which causes such acts as those before you.  The law says, that drunkenness is no excuse for crime; but even if it were, it cannot be found in evidence that the prisoner was in a state of intoxication which would render him insensible to the enormity of the crime he was perpetrating.  The witness, Porter, distinctly states, that the prisoner was not drunk; that he was only tipsy.  Gentlemen; there are various names for various grades of this frightful propensity; but this witness describes exactly the manner of the prisoner; that he was perfectly collected; that he held conversations.  If it had been proved that he was actually drunk it would have been no legal excuse; but no such evidence is before you; and it is my duty to state to you, that, in my mind, there is not doubt of the guilt of the prisoner."

[2 ] 11 April 1825. In this case, as in many other murder cases, the trial was held on a Friday and the prisoner condemned to die on the following Monday.  This was consistent with the provisions of a 1752 statute (25 Geo. III c. 37, An Act for Better Preventing the Horrid Crime of Murder).  By s. 1 of that Act, all persons convicted of murder were to be executed on the next day but one after sentence was passed, unless that day were a Sunday, in which case the execution was to be held on the Monday.  By holding the trials on a Friday, Forbes C.J. gave the condemned prisoners an extra day to prepare themselves for death.

On the day of the trial, 8 April 1825, Forbes C.J. sent his notes of the trial to Governor Brisbane, saying that he could see no favourable circumstances to recommend mercy.  On the next day, Brisbane replied, confirming the sentence: Chief Justice's Letter Book , Archives Office of New South Wales, 4/6651, pp 30-31; and see Mitchell Library document A 744 Letters from Governor Brisbane to Forbes C.J.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University