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

R v Bennett [1825] NSWSupC 6

murder - domestic violence

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Forbes C.J., 28 January 1825

Source: Australian, 3 February 1825


Trial for Murder. - John Bennett stood indicted for the wilful murder of Mary Bryant, a woman with whom he had cohabited for several years.

The Attorney-General[1 ] opened the case, and called the following evidence:----

Mr. Allan, Assistant Surgeon on the establishment at Parramatta, stated he was called upon to examine the body of the deceased, in October last, at the house of the prisoner, in the Field of Mars; that he found the body lying on the hearth stone, very much burned about the waist and body; on examination found a wound on the upper and back part of the head, an inch and a half long; could see no cause of death, but by being burned, and not from the wound in the head.  On cross-examination, admitted that deceased was burned more about the waist, than any other part, which caused her death: has been informed deceased was subject to fits; said that had deceased been put on the fire, she must have been nearly doubled; had deceased fallen on the floor, she might have received such a wound on the head.

Cornelius McCarthy was next called; knows the prisoner's house, was working for him at the time of the deceased's death, with Joseph Newton and Darbey Connor; that on the night of the fatal occurrence, Newton was called by deceased to make her bed, but as he had a sore hand, deponent did it; came and told the prisoner, who was sitting in the kitchen, the bed was made; that prisoner and deceased both went to the bed room; deceased came out, and told deponent, that if the prisoner had a drop of rum, it would do him good; he then fetched a pint and a gill, of which the prisoner took a glass a half; and deceased also partook of it; witness then made prisoner some punch; heard prisoner call the deceased a variety of opprobrious names, and threatened to hang the deceased as round as a hoop; saw the deceased go into a fainting fit, and after recovering, went into another; left the deceased sitting on a stool, near the fire; prisoner was then in bed; saw Connor light a pipe of tobacco for deceased; they all wished her a good night, and the door was closed after them; in half an hour after heard deceased cry murder; he got up and went to the door, but all was silent, when he retired to rest again; in the morning, when he awoke, saw the prisoner, who told all the people in the house to go to the neighbours and tell them his wife was burned to death; examined the body, which was much burned, as well her clothes; nothing but the fragments were left; has seen the prisoner and deceased several times quarrelling.

On cross examination stated the prisoner's house was robbed a few days previous, and that deceased was much hurt from blows she had received from one of the robbers.  Darbey Connor corroborated the testimony of former evidence.  On cross examination said, prisoner seemed much distressed.

Joseph Newton also spoke in corroboration of the preceding testimony; admitted he gave deceased a lighted pipe, bid her good night, and left her; got up at day light in the morning; heard prisoner exclaim, "Mary is dead, Mary is dead;" afterwards saw deceased lying quite straight, with little bend in her knees.

On cross examination stated that a great deal of spirits had been drunk on the night in question; had seen deceased have many fits; did not observe the floor was black.

The only witnesses called on behalf of prisoner, were Mary Finland and Thomas Collins.  The Chief Justice then summed up;[2 ] and the Jury having retired for about twenty minutes, returned a verdict of Not Guilty.  The prisoner was discharged.



[1 ] Saxe Bannister.

[2 ] The Sydney Gazette, 3 February 1825 reported the Chief Justice's summary as follows: ``The Chief Justice, in summing up, observed on the circumstance of the prisoner not being awoke by the smoke, as well as the unusual blaze that no doubt took place, not disregarding the smell which invariably accompanies the slightest destruction of linen by fire: --- His Honor also called the attention of the Jury to the circumstance of the knocking at the door, upon the cry of ``murder."  But, upon the other hand, the presumption that the deceased might have fallen into a third fit, with a lighted pipe in her hand, and thus been the unconscious instrument of her own hapless destiny, was not to be lost sight of; neither was the extraordinary good character the prisoner bore, in this instance, unworthy of due consideration."

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University