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

R v Byrne, Wright and Murphy [1825] NSWSupC 28

Black Act - confession

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Forbes C.J., 24 June 1825

Source: Sydney Gazette, 30 June 1825


Thomas Byrne, John Wright, and James Murphy, were indicted, under the statute of the 9th Geo. I. commonly called the Black Act, for maliciously shooting at Mr. William Ikin, Chief Constable of Liverpool, on the night of the 28th of March last.  The prisoners Byrne and Wright, pleaded Guilty; Murphy, Not Guilty.

Mr. Wm. Ikin examined; is Chief Constable of Liverpool; witness, together with James Atwood and Henry Bridges, constables, was in search of some robbers in the neighbourhood of Liverpool, on the night of the 28th of March last; about 11 o'clock they fell in with the prisoners, who were all armed; witness called out to them to stand, and was immediately fired at by the prisoner Byrne; two of the shots went through the neck-cloth of witness, and some through his hat; the prisoner Murphy also discharged a pistol; witness, and the other constables, fired in amongst the prisoners, who immediately fled; on the following morning a search having been made, Wright was found desperately wounded in the bush near to the spot where the rencontre had taken place; and a few days after, Murphy surrendered himself in the fear of dying of the wounds he had received, two balls having lodged in his arm; when in hospital he confessed having been one of the party, and apprehending a mortification in his arm, he had been induced to surrender in order to obtain assistance; he frequently begged of witness not to prosecute him, as it was his first offence.

James Atwood and Henry Bridges, constables, corroborated the evidence of the last witness.

The prisoner Murphy denied having ever made any confession, and alleged that he received the wound in his arm by a shot from a bushranger as he was proceeding homeward on the night in question.

The Chief Justice summed up the evidence, and the Jury returned a verdict of Guilty  remanded.[1 ]



[1 ] Byrne, Wright and Murphy were sentenced to death (Sydney Gazette, 30 June 1825), but their sentences were commuted to life at Norfolk Island: Mitchell Library document A 744 Letters from Governor Brisbane to Forbes C.J., 30 June 1825.

On the background to the Black Act, see E.P. Thompson,  Whigs and Hunters: the Origin of the Black Act, Penguin Books, London, 1977. For other Black Act cases, see R. v. Flanagan, Bayley and Browne, November 1825; and R. v. Storey, Percival, Bishop, and Mitchell, 23 November 1825, Sydney Gazette, 28 November 1825

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University