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

R v Claig [1825] NSWSupC 18

murder - domestic violence - drunk witness - contempt of court

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Forbes C.J., 20 May 1825

Source: Australian, 26 May 1825


John Claig was arraigned on a charge of having committed wilful murder on the body of Lucy Claig, his wife.[1 ]

Dr. Alexander Nesbitt examined. -  I was applied to on the 10th of January last to attend the house of the prisoner.  Upon examination I found the upper part of the body rapidly advancing to a state of putrefaction.  I observed a cut on the head, just above the right ear, in length from one inch and an half, to two inches deep.  I also examined the state of the brain: when I turned it out of its place a quantity of blood was diffused in the base of the brain.  From the state of the body it was impossible to discern any marks.  I am decidedly of opinion the deceased died from an effusion of blood in the brain.  I conceive, from the appearance of the deceased, she had sustained an injury some time previous to her death.

Warby stated, that he was at the house in the evening previous to the decease of Mrs. Claig; sat down to tea with her and the prisoner at the bar.  Said, by way of joke, Mr. Claig, "I think you was very greedy at Liverpool, in having so many women."  Observed deceased colour in the face.  Witness assured her it was a joke.  She got up in haste, apparently irritated; in doing of which she flung the chair from under her, suddenly reeled round, and struck herself against the table; deceased fell.  Having recovered, she caught hold of a tea-pot, and flung it out of her hand.  Prisoner begged of her to desist, as such conduct would offend his customers.  Prisoner pushed her, he told her if she had a drop in the head to sit down and be quiet.  Prisoner appeared greatly concerned when he afterwards discovered his wife was seriously ill.  He said, if she dies I shall lose my right hand.

Mr. Walker, surgeon, examined. - Attended the deceased. - Considered that she was afflicted with epilepsy.

His Honor the Chief Justice summed up.[2 ]  Verdict - Not Guilty.

Upon the motion of the Solicitor General, John Turner, witness in the above case, was brought forward for a contempt of court, having appeared as witness in a state of intoxication.

It having appeared that this witness had not been regularly subpoened to attend the court, but came voluntarily at the request of the prisoner,

The Chief Justice observed, that upon those considerations, he should not inflict any punishment in this case, but merely cautioned him to be more careful for the future in what state he entered a court of justice again; - it was no trifling matter for a witness to appear in a box, in a state of intoxication in a case of life and death.



[1 ] The Sydney Gazette, 26 May 1825, reported this case under the name Clegg.  It said that the Solicitor General (John Stephen) argued that in all cases of murder, the law assumes a malicious intent and, according to Blackstone, the defendant had to prove otherwise.

[2 ] The Sydney Gazette, 26 May 1825, noted that Forbes C.J. said ``that the subject of the present prosecution was of the highest kind which could happen in human society, and aggravated in the present case by the relationship existing between the parties."

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University