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

Ready v Macquoid [1830] NSWSupC 30

false imprisonment, imprisonment for debt, sheriff's liability, sheriff's fees, fee system of administration

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Dowling J., 7 April 1830

Source: Australian, 9 April 1830[1 ]

There being no criminal business pending to-day,

Mr. Justice Dowling took his seat in the old Court House, Castlereagh-street, when a Special Jury was sworn in, composed as follows:---

Mr. Pitman    Mr. McLaren

Chisholm        Terry

Pritchett         R. Cooper     

Simmons        Rickards

Rapsey          Cohen

Taylor            Maziere.


This was an action to recover compensation for false imprisonment.

Mr. Foster and Mr. Keith appeared for the plaintiff; ---and

Mr. Therry and Mr. Norton for the defendant.

It appeared by evidence for the plaintiff, Ready, that he was confined as a debtor in Sydney gaol during a part of last October.  Mr. Williams was plaintiff's attorney, and on the debt being accommodated, sent his discharge to the plaintiff, who forwarded it to Mr. Prout, Under Sheriff, for his signature; but on being presented to that gentleman he tore it in pieces; declaring the plaintiff should not be released.  In explanation of this the Under Sheriff stated subsequently, by letter, he understood from a certain gentleman that plaintiff's attorney had quitted the Colony.  Hence that the discharge was a forgery, and he would not on such shewing involve himself by granting any surreptitious release.  The discharge subsequently proved to be correct, and the plaintiff was discharged from custody, after being illegally and against his will detained, it seems doubtful whether during 7 hours or 3l. 

For the defendant it was contended that the poundage fees, arising from debt and execution, had not been paid into the Sheriff's Office, which caused the plaintiff's detention.

A Solicitor of the Court (Mr. Poole) was called to prove the practice of the Sheriff's offices in London.  Mr. P. stated himself to have been a legal practitioner since 1795 and conversant with the forms of Sheriff's and Attorney's business.  During term time it had been the practice to keep the several offices open during a better part of the day, and sometimes in the evening; and out of term between 10 o'clock and 3.  A few hours delay was frequently occasioned in fulfilling discharges and seeing that no fresh detainers had been lodged, for which the Sheriff could be held liable.

But the plea of poundage failing; and Counsel on both sides having pretty well exhausted their powers of rhetoric, --- On the summing up of the learned Judge, the case went to the Jury, who found a verdict for the plaintiff --- damages 10l.



[1 ] In 1830, the Supreme Court decided that "A dying debtor in execution removed from goal [sic] to his own house until he recovered, without prejudice to the Sheriff."  The case, In re Wilson v. Still, Dowling, Select Cases, Vol. 2, Archives Office of New South Wales, 2/3462, p. 285, concerned a debtor who had been made ill by the conditions in the prison: Forbes C.J. to Dr. Maire, Chief Justice's Letter Book , Archives Office of New South Wales, 4/6651, p. 254.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University