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

R v Webb and Webb [1825] NSWSupC 36

execution - capital punishment\

Source: Australian, 25 August 1825

Execution. ---- James Webb, who was convicted on Friday se'nnight with Peter Carline, for the wilful murder of James Collett, a settler at Toongabbee in the month of May last, underwent the awful sentence of the law, at the usual place of execution on Friday last.  The circumstances attending the trial, and the subsequent conduct of the prisoners, were somewhat of a novel nature.  It appeared that Webb was a government assigned servant to Collett, and the other prisoner had lived in a similar capacity on the adjoining farm.  The murdered man was found lying in front of his own house weltering in a gore of blood, caused by a severe contusion on the forehead.  Suspicion was attached to the prisoners, and on their being taken before a Bench of Magistrates at Parramatta, were fully committed for trial at the present Criminal Court for the murder.  On the verdict being pronounced by the Jury the prisoners urged their innocence in the strongest terms.  The Judge, however, ordered their execution on the Monday following, but in consequence of Webb's confession, and other circumstances, an order was received at the gaol to delay the execution until some particulars which were stated by Webb were investigated.  Webb was then ordered for execution, and his companion reprieved.  The former having been led to the fatal scaffold, was permitted to see his comrade, with whom he shook hands most cordially.  He again confessed his own guilt, and declared the other's innocence.  Having ascended the platform, he requested of the Rev. J.J. Therry, who had attended the unhappy culprit with the most unremitting anxiety since his conviction, to state to the assembled multitude that the horrid deed which he had perpetrated, and for which he was then about, most justly to expiate, by his death, was owing to his having drank to a great excess on the day that the melancholy circumstance took place; he therefore wished to caution the multitude against becoming a prey to that baneful habit.  The Reverend Clergyman having shook the unhappy culprit by the hand left him; and, in a few moments he was launched into eternity.[1 ]



[1 ] As a result of Webb's confession, Carline did not hang.  The governor was unable to extend pardons to cases of murder, but he could  reprieve the defendant until the King's pleasure was known.  On 18 November 1825, Governor Brisbane wrote to Lord Bathurst, recommending a pardon for Carline.  He enclosed a report by Forbes C.J. outlining the circumstances.  Forbes said he had told the jury that he did not think that there was sufficient evidence against Carline, but they found him guilty.  Forbes immediately respited Carline and sent the case to the governor on 14 August 1825.  He said that he had had doubts about Carline's guilt even before Webb's subsequent confession made clear that Carline was innocent.  Governor Brisbane replied to Forbes on 16 August, saying that he had decided that Carline's sentence should be commuted to transportation for life at Norfolk Island.  The documents are in Historical Records of Australia, Series 1, vol. 11, pp 900-903; and in Chief Justice's Letter Book , Archives Office of New South Wales, 4/6651, pp 54-55, 57, 62-63.  See also Sydney Gazette, 18 August 1825, 1 December 1825; and Stephen to Horton, 27 March 1825, Historical Records of Australia, Series 4, vol. 1, pp 603-604.

Carline was transferred to the hulk, where an attempt was made on his life.  His attempted murderer was hanged for this offence.  Carline was then put on a ship for Norfolk Island, but she was seized by convicts and taken to New Zealand.  The vessel was recaptured with the assistance of Maori warriors and the convicts, including Carline, were returned to Sydney and tried for their lives on a charge of piracy.  Carline was acquitted, and eventually received his pardon for the murder conviction.  See R. v. Griffiths, 1826 (the attempt on his life); R. v. Flanaghan and others, 1827.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University