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

R v Wise [1825] NSWSupC 8

stealing - military pay - women defendants in crime

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Forbes C.J., 9 February 1825

Source: Australian, 17 February 1825


Mary Ann Wise, wife of Isaac Wise, harness-maker of Pitt-street, was indicted for stealing one thousand pieces of silver coin; to the value of £250, from the quarters of Captain Bishop, of His Majesty's 40th  Regiment.   Prisoner pleaded Not Guilty.

Captain Bishop, of His Majesty's  40th  Regt. stated, that on the 27th Oct. last, he went to the Commissariat Office, and drew 2 bags of dollars, containing 1000 each, to pay the troops  as acting Pay-Master of the Regt.  The two bags of dollars were brought to his quarters, in the barracks, by two soldiers attached to the regiment, about three o'clock in the afternoon.  He took the dollars and bags, and carried them from his sitting room into his bed-room, and put them into a chest, and then put the key of the chest into his secretaire; locked the same, and put the key in his pocket.  About 6 o'clock he went to the mess, and returned home to his quarters about ten o'clock.  He locked the outside door when he went out, and left the key in the door; and when he returned, he found the door open; he went to bed, and in the morning, about ten o'clock, he went to his chest to take the dollars out to pay the troop, and found one bag, containing 1000 dollars, gone; did not observe the lock of the secretaire, nor that of the chest to have been picked; they were common locks; the prisoner could have no knowledge of the money being there  he usually pays the troops on the day he drew it from the Commissariat; but on account of the Head-quarters of the 40th Regt. landing on that day, was the reason it was delayed until the following morning.  His servant was out when he came home, and there was no person in the barrack when he went out at 6 o'clock.  Two women, attached to the regiment, informed him, that they saw the prisoner come out of his room on the night of the robbery.

Cross-examined.  It might or might not be known to the regiment, that he had received the money that day; the two soldiers might have told them; but don't think it likely.  The weight of the dollars might be about 60lbs.; and thinks the prisoner might have carried them.  A sentry was examined before the Police; but cannot say where he is now.

Sarah Mulligan, wife of a soldier, servant to an officer attached to the 40th regt. stated, she resides in the barrack, next door to Captain Bishop's quarters.  Knows the prisoner by sight; and remembers the Head-quarters of the 40th regt. landing, but could not tell the day.  To the best of her knowledge saw the prisoner come out of Captain Bishop's quarters, on that evening, about 8 o'clock.  Is sure to her person; she had a small bundle under her arm; had on a straw bonnet, plaid scarf, and a lilac gown.  A woman named Hill (a soldier's wife), was in company; told her to go one road, and she would go the other, to see who the woman was; saw her with Captain Bishop about a fortnight before that, walking arm in arm.  She pursued the prisoner, and went to Captain Stewart's water-closet, at the rear of the officers barrack.  Catherine Keef was coming out at the time, and met the prisoner; heard some conversation pass between Catherine Keef and the prisoner; and the prisoner went towards the barrack wall towards the front gate; staggered when she came up to her; it was a fine moon-light night; had no doubt as to the prisoner; the bundle was under her scarf.

Cross-examined.  She saw the prisoner go towards the front gate; saw no sentry brought before the Police; saw the prisoner once before, with Capt. Bishop; saw her face both times, and is positive to her person; has no animosity against the prisoner; never said she would hang her if she could; don't know Jane Jeffries, nor did she ever speak to her about the prisoner; had no conversation to her knowledge with any woman who keeps a fruit shop, in George-street, about the prisoner, nor ever saw Michael Burne.

Charlotte Hill (a soldier's wife) stated, she resides in the barracks, one kitchen between the quarters of Capt. Bishop; corroborated the testimony of Sarah Mulligan, as far as her going after the prisoner, when she went out of Captain Bishop's room; but did not see her face, as she held her head down, when she passed her.

Catherine Keef, servant to Captain Stewart, stated, she was in Sydney when the Head-quarters of the 40th landed.  She was in the closet about 8 o'clock at night, when a person came to the door; she was coming out, and observed it to be a female; she desired her to go about her business, and shut the closet door  the woman begged her pardon, and went away.  She had on a dark scarf, with a black border; a straw bonnet and light spotted gown.  She came out, and saw Sarah Mulligan, who asked if she saw a woman pass by; she said she did  she had her arms folded.

Cross-examined.  Knew the woman by her voice and figure; heard her speak in the Police office; and is positive to her person.

Elizabeth Lear, keeps a butcher's and victualling house, known by the sign of the ``City of London Arms," in Pitt-street.  Knows the prisoner at the bar, for some time past.  On the 27th October last, was sitting in her room, her back was towards the window; it was then from eight to half-past eight o'clock in the eveuing,[sic] when she heard a person coming along breathing very heavy; the person came inside the door, shut it, and sat down in the passage.  Her butcher came in, when the person asked him to go to Mr. Wise, and tell him she wanted him immediately, and she would pay him well for his trouble; witness replied, she never allowed her servants to go of errands for any one; the person pressed, but she refused; the person then called for a glass of porter, which her husband drew and gave her.  On asking for payment, she replied, ``She had no money;" witness insisted on being paid; when she observed the person to be the prisoner, the prisoner offered to leave her bonnet or ring for the glass of porter, and gave her the bonnet; witness took the bonnet into the bed-room, and on her return she observed the prisoner with her lap full of dollars, trying to put them into a bag or cloth; she observed her for five minutes; when the prisoner looked up, and saw witness, she pulled up her gown, and covered the dollars.  She had on a light spotted gown.  She went away; and the next morning the prisoner's husband came and released the bonnet.

James Wilbow, constable, stated, that on the 28th or 29th October last, he went to search the house of Isaac Wise, for some dollars; he searched the house, and went to the box in the bed-room, when Wise pulled out 41 dollars and a 5 dollar bill, which he claimed as his property.  The gown and scarf produced, he also brought from Wise's house.

Several evidences were called on behalf of the prisoner.[1 ]

The Chief Justice summed up at considerable length.  The Jury retired for about 20 minutes, and returned a verdict of Guilty against the prisoner.



[1 ] According to the Sydney Gazette, 17 February 1825 a ``silly defence was set up".  This kind of comment made the Gazette a less reliable reporter of what happened in court than the Australian.

On dollars as currency, see Forbes to Wilmot Horton, 29 June 1825, Catton Papers, Australian Joint Copying Project, Reel M791.  He pointed out that the military complained about being paid in dollars at an unfavourable exchange rate.  He then discussed the older system of payment in kind, such as wheat; on the latter, see B. Kercher, Debt, Seduction and Other Disasters: the Birth of Civil Law in Convict New South Wales, Federation Press, Sydney, 1996, pp 143-145.  On dollars, see also Brisbane to Bathurst, 9 February 1825, Historical Records of Australia, Series 1, vol. 11, p. 518; and 25 June 1825, p. 676, transmitting a copy of the local Act on the question

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University