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

R. v. Taylor [1829] NSWSupC 30

piracy - mutiny - ship, discipline on - ship's crew - convict ship

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Dowling J., 23 May 1829

Source: Australian, 26 May 1829


This trial excited considerable interest, especially amongst persons connected with shipping.  It was determined before Mr. Justice Dowling, and did not conclude before half-past four p.m.  The prisoner is named John Taylor, a seaman belonging to the ship Edward, Captain Gilbert.  The indictment charged him with having attempted to instigate the crew of the Edward to commit piracy on the voyage from England to New South Wales.[1 ]

Mr. Kerr conducted the case for the prosecution.  The prisoner defended himself.

Mr. Gilbert, master, deposed, that owing to his receiving information that the prisoner was endeavouring to incite the crew to pirate the vessel, he had placed him in irons, and took depositions in writing as to the circumstances, from some of the crew, which depositions were subsequently read over to the prisoner in February.  Antecedently to which, he had caused two other men, named Davidson and Robinson, to be ironed, on the ground of interference with the woman prisoners on board, as well as for giving them spirits, and encouraging several of them to stand out of their place of confinement, for the purpose of mutually cohabiting.  His information also went to charge the prisoner Taylor with inducing part of the crew to go aft to release Davidson, and to throw the iron overboard, whilst the vessel, about the latter end of February, was not far off the island Tristan de Achuna.  The Edward arrived in Port Jackson on the 26th April.

After a cross examination by the prisoner, which elicited nothing material, with the prisoner's consent a letter directed to Captain G. was put in evidence, and read aloud to the Court.  This letter had been written by the prisoner, and was well put together.  It set out with a denial of the charges -- contained an acknowledgment of his having given rum to the women, and concluded with an expression of his determination to continue to do his duty as a seaman, if allowed, during the remainder of the voyage, and a readiness to answer all charges against him, when the vessel should reach her destined port.  Captain G. further deposed to the man's general good conduct on board, up to the period of his confinement.

Robinson, it was admitted had been ironed, but not confronted with his accusers.  [Here Mr. Justice Dowling remarked, that although there was no express law existing on this subject, yet it certainly was not advisable to put men in irons, unless they first were confronted with their accusers, except in particular cases; as when violence was to be apprehended, which did not appear to have been the case with Robinson.]

David West, a carpenter of the Edward, deposed, that on the occasion of Davidson and Robinson being put in irons, for intriguing with the women, there was considerable murmuring amongst the ship's company, and that prisoner said, before several of the crew, if any one joined him, he would go aft and take Davidson out of irons, and pitch the bilboes overboard,; and prisoner also frequently said "How easy it would be take the ship, there being so few hands to make any opposition -- that he had been on board a Brazilian frigate, when they had seventy hands, and that they intended taking the vessel, and he was the man appointed to cut the Captain's throat."  This, West did not believe, and rather considered it might be all "brag".  The men, generally, on board, had no esteem for the prisoner -- being in the habit of swaggering and threatening, and trying to intimidate the crew -- out of whom, the carpenter could not swear that prisoner possessed a single "chum."  The master was a kind man.

Samuel Porter, the steward, deposed to a similar purpose, adding that prisoner said "I will not go in irons alive" & that if the crew were of his mind, no one should go in irons or be flogged -- that they had better not say any thing injurious of him, or they would find a tiger in their path; as also something about cutting away the topsail haliards, his having served on board a piratical vessel, and that the crew had cut out a man's heart, alive, to prevent being served out themselves.

This witness admitted he disliked the prisoner, and that he had words with the Captain, who found fault with him for thieving.  Three of the crew deposed to a similar effect, but concurred in opinion that the prisoner did not mean to do all he "bragged" about.

Prisoner having called two or three shipmates as evidences, entered on his defence, which, throughout, displayed much ingenuity and shrewness.  He said he had been in the patriots with Lord Cochrane, and that those who had given evidence against him mistook his use of the word "patriot" for "pirate -- the patriot vessel he was on board of happened to be taken by the Brazilians -- the officers and men contemplated rising and retaking the vessel -- and this was the piracy alluded to by the witnesses against him -- but the vessel was not recaptured -- and he, with the crew, were taken into Rio de Janeiro, himself being ironed and sent to work as a prisoner of war; whilst his party was despatched to the island of Scorbia, to dig stones.  After enduring about nine months captivity he joined the Brazilian service -- to get rid of this bondage, and leaving Brazil, finally got to London, where he joined the Edward.

With regard to pirating the vessel, he argued how preposterous the bare supposition of such a thing would be.  The Edward was unarmed, she carried a short supply of provisions, and more than 200 women.  What then could be done with her, supposing she were pirated?  He next adverted to the several ports on the American coast, where he considered now-adays it was not possible to do any thing with a contraband vessel; and as for the islands that lay in their track, so many British men of-war visited them constantly, it would be next to impossible to escape detection.

The prisoner having concluded his defence, the learned Judge summed up at considerable length, and the Jury retiring for a few minutes returned into Court with a verdict of not guilty.



[1 ] See also Sydney Gazette, 26 May 1829, citing the relevant statute as 11 and 12 Wm IV c. 7, s. 9.

On piracy, see also R. v. Hackett, Foley, Donoghue, Kanes and Sweeny, 1829.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University