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

R v Rookes [1831] NSWSupC 55

stealing in dwelling house - convict escape - Broken Bay - Brisbane Water - death recorded

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Dowling J., 24 August 1831

Source: Sydney Gazette, 27 August 1831[1 ]

Richard Rookes was indicted for stealing three pistols, 100 percussion caps, and sundry articles of wearing apparel, above the value of £5, the goods of William Locksdale, in the dwelling-house of John Herring Broughton, at Patterson's Plains, on the 15th of April last.

The prosecutor, Mr. Locksdale, is the agent of Mr. Broughton, now in England, and has the management of that gentleman's estate, at Hunter's River.  In April last, Mr. Locksdale being in Sydney, received information that the house in which he resided on the farm had been robbed; and on his return, found that his bed-room, and also the store, which was under the same roof, had been forcibly entered during his absence, and a quantity of property, of various descriptions, and to a considerable amount, part being his own, and part belonging to Mr. Broughton, carried off.  The prisoner and three other men, who were assigned servants on the farm, were at this time absent; having absconded on the day on which the robbery was stated to have been committed, taking with them a large boat, also the property of Mr. Broughton.  It subsequently appeared, that they proceeded down the river Hunter, having constructed a set of sails for the boat, of some sheets stolen with the other property; reached Newcastle, where they were in danger of being lost; and had neared the coast in the district of Brisbane Water, when the boat was upset in a heavy surf.  Three of the men were drowned, but the prisoner succeeded in reaching the land, where he was afterwards apprehended.  The body of one of the other men was washed ashore, and buried in the sand, by a constable at Brisbane Water, and other persons; who, also, found near the spot, some trifling articles which were identified by Mr. Locksdale as part of the property stolen from his residence.  Some time after, the boat was found on the beach at Broken Bay, where it appeared to have drifted.

The prisoner stated in his defence, that he was proceeding in the boat, on his master's business, when the three other men forced themselves on board, took the management of the boat out of his hands, and obliged him to go with them; that they narrowly escaped being lost near Newcastle, but at length succeeded in clearing Nobby's Island, and had arrived off the coast, at Brisbane Water, when the boat was capsized in a heavy surf; that he and his companions sat on the bottom of the boat for some time; but, at last, as their only chance of escape, determined to attempt swimming to the land, in which effort the three other men were drowned, and the prisoner was almost exhausted, when he was cast on shore by the force of a breaker.

The learned Judge told the Jury, if they believed the statement made by the prisoner, that he was forced, against his will, to accompany the other men, they would give him the benefit of that view of the case and pronounce him not guilty.  His defence, certainly, rested upon a mere statement, unsupported by any proof.  A prisoner, however, might be placed in such a situation as to preclude the possibility of producing witnesses to substantiate his innocence; and it was therefore the duty of the Jury to weigh the statement made by him, and to judge whether it was a consistent and probable explanation of the prima facie case raised against them.

The Jury found the prisoner Guilty, and the Court ordered Judgment of Death to be recordedagainst him.


[1 ] See also Sydney Herald, 29 August 1831; Australian, 26 August 1831.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University