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

R. v. Lynch [1827] NSWSupC 36

robbery in dwelling house, reward, arrest of judgment, piracy, convict escape, hulk, sentencing discretion, death recorded

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Stephen J., 1 June 1827

Source: Australian, 6 June 1827

John Lynch, for a robbery in the dwelling house of one Thomas Parnell, urged in arrest of Judgment, that the Government had offered a reward of twenty pounds, for his conviction; and inferred from this that a hope of reward led to his apprehension, and final condemnation.  The prisoner added, that he expected to die for the offence, but hoped "for a long day."[1 ]  The Acting Attorney-General[2 ] being applied to by the Court, said, that this statement of the prisoner was not strictly true; that the reward offered by Government, was only for the prisoner's apprehension, as being one of the five pirates who escaped from the hulk some time ago.

Mr. Justice Stephen addressed the prisoner.  You have been found guilty of a robbery committed on the 23d of last April, in the house of a settler, whose peaceable habitation you violently entered, and stole therefrom property to a considerable amount.  The Court has given every due consideration to the observations you now offer, but they by no means can have any effect in your favour on the present prosecution, of which you have been convicted.  The government, it appears, had offered a reward for your person but it was for your apprehension, not on account of the offence of which you have been found guilty.  You have been one of those unfortunate beings supposed to be guilty of pirating the vessel which was conveying you and others to a distant settlement. - The government thought fit to issue a proclamation, offering a reward to any person who should apprehend and bring to gaol any one of the five persons, and you were of that number, who effected their escape from the Hulk.  If there had been any person brought forward to give evidence against you who might have been interested in promoting your conviction for the sake of reward, there might be more weight in the observations you had to offer.  But this is not your case.  You are brought here, not in consequence of any reward offered for the conviction of those persons implicated in the robbery you stood charged with; your prosecutor was not interested in the reward - he came forward perfectly uninfluenced and unprejudiced, and gave his evidence in a manner which bespoke, he entertained no ill-will against you.  I lament to see you once more in this Court, for it was my painful duty, a few months ago, to pass upon you the awful sentence of the law.  The circumstances attending your former offence were peculiarly atrocious.  They are equally so in the present case.  In company with other misguided men, you entered the house of Thomas Parnell, the prosecutor.  You came there armed, and first made prisoner the person of Parnell and some others, whilst you went into a chamber and robbed it of all the valuable property you could lay your hands on.  This was effected in the dead of night.  You, yourself, stood over a servant maid of the house, endeavouring to get into the place where she had retired to for the moment, when you broke in, and had such a conflict with her, that she had a full opportunity to discover your person.  There was sufficient light to observe your person, and the whole circumstances attending the robbery.  You at length burst open the door of this room, into which the young woman had fled for sanctuary, and carried and made her prisoner in the same room where her master and others were confined.  In this room also your person was distinctly seen, and upon your retiring from the house the young woman told her master that she would know you again among a hundred people.  This person swore she identified you when in confinement; that though there were no particular marks about your face, yet it had made such an impression on her mind, that she could not be mistaken.  In corroboration of the statement she made, in what situation was you afterwards apprehended?  It was on the 23d of April that the robbery took place.  On the 26th you were not seven miles distant from where it took place.  In consequence of some information and suspicion, grounded on that information, you were found near the house by a constable in the dead of night, concealed in an adjoining barn.  You made your escape from the constable, but he coming up with you, you attempted his life, by drawing a pistol from your breast.  When you were afterwards apprehended, a pair of pistols, which you had at the time of the robbery, was found on your person.  You could give no reason for being found in that situation, and of having such deadly instruments about you, nor could you justify the circumstance of attempting to add to your aggravated offence, by an attempt to murder a constable in the execution of his duty.  Under such circumstances as these it would be the highest pitch of folly to hope for any mitigation of your punishment.  I have no doubt, in signing my name to your warrant, that I shall be able to protract the date of that sentence which I am about to pass upon you, to such time as will give you an opportunity to devote yourself to religious purposes.  Let me then caution you to make the best use of your time, and be prepared, when the summons shall reach you, to leave this, for another world.  Sentence of death was then passed on the prisoner.[3 ]


Execution, 18 June 1827

 Source: Australian, 20 June 1827


Scarcely one week succeeds another without causing us to occupy some portion of our columns in detailing the last closing scene of some victims to justice.  Four culprits suffered on Monday; one of them a man name Coogan, for a forgery on the Bank of Australia; the other three, Quinn, Lynch and Geary,[4 ] for being the perpetrators of various robberies.  Accompanied by the three Clergymen who attended, the Sub-Sheriff and others, the four culprits proceeded from the condemned cells, at about half-past nine, to the place of execution in rear of the gaol.  An officer's guard occupied as usual a station in front, and the numerous confines of the gaol on one side of the fatal drop.  A dense mass of people appeared on the heights outside, and a greater number than usual within the yard.  On the entrance of the unhappy culprits, a general silence ensued.  Coogan, with the Rev. Mr. Cowper came first.  In one hand he held a prayer book, and in the other an end of the fatal rope which was wound about him.  He knelt on one of the four coffins which lay at the foot of the gallows, and seemed to pray with a fervency of devotion not often exhibited or exceeded.  His demeanor was calm, but his countenance betrayed the workings of a mind ill at ease.  He seemed ready to sink at the prospect of the inevitable and ignominious end which awaited him, and thought he eagerly inhaled the consoling balm of religiou devotion, intense mental suffering was pourtrayed in his features.  The other culprits followed, and continued for some time in prayer on their knees, with the Rev. Messrs Therry and Power.  A brother of the unfortunate man Quinn was present, and seemed deeply affected.  When the executioner had pinioned the arms of each, they prepared to ascend.  Coogan mounted the ladder with a slow but firm step, and stood on the right of the platform.  He addressed some of the prisoners beneath in a low plaintive voice, and spoke a few words respectfully to the Sub-Sheriff, expressive of a consciousness that his fate was justly decided.  After this, his mind seemed to become abstracted from the scene which was acting near him.  He continued gazing intently towards the heavens, and to be intuitively wrapped up in his devotions.  Quinn, upon getting on the drop, kicked off his shoes, and they fell with a hollow sound on his coffin, which lay directly under.  Geary followed his example, calling out to some man among the crowd to pick them up.  They communed with the clergymen, until it was intimated that the moment of execution had arrived.  Lynch pulled out a paper, and read from it the following:-

"Fellow-men and Brethren, the awful spectacle which is now going to take place before you, will, I sincerely hope make such an impression on all those present, that it may be the means of deterring them from the unlawful pursuits which have been the cause of bringing me to this ignominious and premature end: for, being always of an impetuous disposition of mind, I could not brook the restrictions under which I was placed in this country, and therefore, was determined to exonerate myself from bondage the first favorable crisis that offered.  I own that I was one of those who bore an active part in capturing the brig Wellington at sea, but I solemnly protest, that there was never any proposition made of using any violence towards the military, besides keeping them in security, and ensuring our own safety.  On the contrary, we behaved like Christians and Britons; our liberty was our sole view; and only being deceived in the capacity of the person who took the command, we should have managed things in a different manner from what they were.  We should have been in a free country long before this.  But we are well aware that he did not know much of the theory or practical part of navigation.  May the Lord forgive him, for I am of opinion, that if he had said he was inadequate to the undertaking, that she would not have been re-captured.  Before we came to Sydney we were of opinion that the most rigorous examples would be made of all those who had any hand in it, this was the stimulus which made us escape from the hulk; and the government subsequently offering a reward of twenty pounds for the apprehension of our persons, made us conclude that they meant to sacrifice us whenever we were taken.  These severe proceedings often drive men to extremities, and make them commit crimes, which very probably if milder means were tried, they would desist from.  I hope that the Supreme Creator of the universe will now forgive me my many offences, through the all attoning blood of a crucified Redeemer.  I hope you will all pray to the Almighty to receive our poor souls into his celestial kingdom.  I have received every kindness from the officers of gaol, more particularly Mr. Wilson and Mr. Deegan; and at the time when I was confined here before, I experienced every kindness from Mr. Steel, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Toole; and we allow the present Inspecting Surgeon to be a gentleman of the most humane disposition.  I hope that all those who are present will take a timely warning by the unhappy scene before them; and may the Lord in his infinite mercy forgive me and my unhappy companions who are going to face an awful eternity.


Geary said he was guilty, but not of many offences with which he had been charged, particularly that of being accessary to the burning, &c on Dr. Elliard's farm.  However, he hoped all good people then present would pray for their poor sinful "sowls."  "Give us a shake of your hand, won't you?" cried one; and they shook hands together, warmly.  They joined again in prayer with the two clergymen.  Mr. Cowper having retired, when made acquainted with the necessity for doing so, Coogan remained apart from the others, and was kept for some time in a pitiable state of suspense, seemingly absorbed in silent meditation.[6 ]  At length the criminals were left alone - the executioner descended, laid hold of the spring which sustained the fatal drop, and, as the culprits struck their breasts, and invoked the Saviour's mercy, it was let fall.  Coogan's limbs were horribly convulsed for some time after - to the other three the executioner had allowed a greater length of rope, particularly to Geary, whose neck hung nearly on a line with the feet of the unfortunate sufferer on his right.  Coogan was a slight, middle-sized man, about thirty years of age; of him it might be truly said -

"Sharp misery has worn thee to the bone."

Quinn had an appearance of considerable muscular strength - the other two were active looking men, but of a lower size.

When their bodies had remained suspended the usual time, they were resigned to their friends.  Coogan's was a decent coffin, and was covered with a black pall.


[1 ] The Monitor, 8 June 1827 gave a longer version of Lynch's statement: "I have no hope that His Excellency will extend any mercy to me, so I hope your Honor will allow me time to make my peace with God, and give me `a long day.'  The Governor may think it a beneficial plan to offer a reward of 20l. for our apprehension, but it only drives men to extremities.  We understood when we were at large, that the Governor meant to sacrifice all of us."

[2 ] W.H. Moore.

[3 ] Under (1823) 4 Geo. IV c. 48, s. 1, except in cases of murder, the judge had considerable discretion where an offender was convicted of a felony punishable by death.  If the judge thought that the circumstances made the offender fit for the exercise of Royal mercy, then instead of sentencing the offender to death, he could order that judgment of death be recorded.  The effect was the same as if judgment of death had been ordered, and the offender reprieved (s. 2).

[4 ] The Australian, 6 June 1827, and Monitor, 8 June 1827, reported the sentencing hearing of Geary and Quinn.  Justice Stephen noted that they had both recently been extended royal mercy, but had escaped from gaol and returned to robbery.  Neither could expect mercy again.  Lynch, Geary and Quinn were all pirates who had escaped from the Phoenix Hulk on the morning they were due to be tried: Sydney Gazette, 15 and 20 June 1827; Monitor, 8 and 19 June 1827.  See R. v. Flanagan, 1827; R. v. Walton et al., 1827.  Coogan also had a history of piracy: Monitor, 8 and 19 June 1827; Sydney Gazette, 20 June 1827.

[5 ] The Sydney Gazette, 20 June 1827, reported that after reading it, he "threw the paper from him with an apparent bitterness of feeling, and exclaimed, `Give that to the Monitor!'"

[6 ] Coogan was by birth an American of very respectable family.  When still a boy, he  had stolen £600 from his mother and run off with a female domestic.  He was transported from the Cape of Good Hope where he, with others, seized a vessel.  He later committed a series of forgeries, and tried again to seize a ship.  See Sydney Gazette, 20 June 1827; Monitor, 19 June 1827.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University