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

R. v. Ward and Power [1827] NSWSupC 30

robbery in dwelling house - capital punishment

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Forbes C.J. and Stephen J., 14 May 1827

Source: Australian, 16 May 1827


Wm. Ward and Thos. Power, convicted of a robbery in the dwelling house, and putting the persons therein in bodily fear, were put in the dock for judgment.[1 ]

The Chief Justice addressing the prisoners said, at last that justice which, though it may be slow is sure to reach criminals of your character, has overtaken you.  It did not escape my observation on the trial, the extraordinary levity[2 ] with which you appeared to regard your serious situation.  You were under trial for a capital felony.  It must have been on your minds that you were old offenders, and that if that trial terminated in a verdict of guilty - that verdict would bring down upon your heads an awful judgment; and that you could not expect to escape that doom the law affixes to the crime.  Yet, with all these circumstances in your case, likely to prove so serious to yourselves, you put forth a smile of contempt and indifference, and displayed a degree of depravity seldom or ever witnessed.  I felt for your situation; for I foresaw the consequences that must be attendant if you were convicted.  I had feelings on the subject, if you had not.  Melancholy is the task I am called on to perform, in assigning men to their last homes; but the verdict of guilty, which stands recorded against you, leaves me no alternative than to pronounce that sentence upon you.  You have been convicted for robbing the peaceful habitation of one Michael Poley.  [Here the learned Judge recapitulated the evidence given on the trial of this case.]  The sentence of the Court is that you be severally hanged by the neck until your bodies be dead.  The Judge still addressing the prisoners said, that in pronouncing that sentence he must caution them to employ the short time that would be allotted them to live on this earth, to the wisest purpose - that while they had life to improve it - to make atonement for the numberless offences they had committed - and that when this world should close on them for ever, they might die in peace with God and all mankind.

The wretched culprits were then led from the dock.  They were in heavy irons; and, on their return to the gaol, they were also pinioned with handcuffs.



Execution, 21 May 1827

Source: Australian, 23 May 1827


Execution. - William Ward, Thomas Power, John Curry and William Webb suffered death at the usual place of execution, on Monday morning last.  The awful sentence had been passed upon the two former for stealing from the dwelling-house of a person named Michael.  Foley living at Bringelly on the previous Monday, Curry was convicted of a highway robbery, and Webb of house robbery, both heard their awful doom pronounced on the Wednesday proceeding.  Ward and Power exhibited an unusual degree of levity and apparent indifference on trial.  The Sub-Sheriff entered their place of confinement on Thursday, and made all four acquainted with the near and awful fate that awaited them.  Their manners became, from that moment, altered, and their conduct exemplary.  On Sunday evening they applied to the gaoler to be permited the use of a candle, as it was their wish to spend the last remaining night of their lives in reading and prayer.  Their request was, of course, complied with, and till between two and three o'clock of the following morning, the unhappy men continued, unremittingly, to offer up to the throne of grace the most fervent and penitent prisons, and then stretched on the cold pavement of their cell, forgot, for a while, in sleep, the awful atonement which the violated laws of their country demanded.  Early on Monday morning the Rev. Mr. Power entered the condemned cell; the four men professed themselves Roman Catholics.  They continued praying until about nine o'clock, when it was intimated by the sub-sheriff that it was time to appear at the place of execution.  The mournful procession, consisting of the four unhappy culprits, the clergyman, sub-sheriff, constables, and others, then moved off along the interior front of the gaol, and by a middle passage to the yard at the rear where a military party was drawn up fronting the gallows, and the confines of the gaol, as usual, at one side four coffins were placed under the scaffold, and near those the men knelt, and joined in prayer for some moments with the Rev. Clergyman; they afterwards stood and ascended to the fatal platform with an appearance of resignation, fortitude, and humility.

Ward nodded familiarly towards some of the persons who crowded the heights outside of and surrounding the gaol yard; and when they had again prayed with the Reverend Clergyman, and the hangman had clearly completed the necessary preparations.  Power stepped forward and begged the attention of those around him.  He unfolded a paper and read "the last true and dying declaration of Thomas Power.  I acknowledge myself guilty of the offence for which I am about to die.  My good friends take warning by my sad example, and don't go bushranging.  'Twas bushranging brought me to this disgraceful end.  Through a desire to regain my liberty, I escaped from the hulk, but do you, my good friends, remain satisfied with the punishment which the law awards you, and put your trust in the Lord.  Good bye.  God bless you all."  God bless you responded the numerous prisoners who were ranged beside the gallows and who preserved a death-like stillness and attention during this short but salutory address.  Power then read very distinctly three other papers which were handed him by his fellow sufferers.  Ward confessed that he was guilty of former offences, and deserved to die, but denied any direct participation in the death of Ratty, the deceased constable, though present during the affray, as none of the party to which he, (Ward) belonged, had discharged their pieces.  Curry confessed himself guilty.  Webb spoke to one witness that deposed against him, having sworn falsely.  As the executioner was arranging the rope round Ward's neck, he appeared to look anxiously among the crowd as if wishing to speak to some one - and in reply to a question from the Sub-Sheriff, said, "I'd like to speak to Tom Hughes, but I can't see him."  Tom Hughes was one of the confines; he was heavily ironed, and he stepped out in front.  The unhappy culprit then addressed him - "Well, Tom, how are you lad?  Take care of yourself, you see what I've come to - don't follow in my bad steps, but pray for your poor soul.  Good bye.  God bless you."  He then declared that it was he, and no other person, that shot at and robbed Mr. Commissary Clements of £2 and a steel purse.  Ward and Curry, two Englishmen, fastened a handkerchief round each others wrists.  Power and Webb held one between hem;[sic] they shook hands together with the hangman, and as they exclaimed "lord Jesus deliver us," the drop was let fall and a few moments after put a period to their sufferings.  Ward, Curry, and Power were young men; Webb was an elderly man; he was married, and a parent.  Round his neck was attached a locket, containing a portion of his wife's hair.



[ 1] See also R. v. Ward and Cooke, May 1827.

[2 ] The Sydney Gazette, 14 May 1827, reported the following exchange at the start of the trial:

"The Clerk of the Court having read the information, to which the prisoners pleaded Not Guilty, put the usual interrogatory, `How will you be tried?'

Prisoners --- `Oh, the easiest way to yourselves; any way you think proper!' Being asked in the usual way whether they would challenge any of the Jury.

Prisoners --- `O it's all the same to us who you have; a parcel of black fellows would just do as well!'"

See also Australian, 16 May 1827 on this exchange.

The Sydney Gazette reported the sentencing hearing on 16 May 1827.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University