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

R v Webber [1831] NSWSupC 35

highway robbery - Parramatta - bushranging - indictments - counties - capital punishment

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Stephen J., 13 and 14 June 1831

Source: Sydney Herald, 20 June 1831[1 ]

William Webber was indicted for a highway robbery, and putting in bodily fear Francis Watkins, and taking from his person 1 pair boots, 1 hat, a pair of gloves, snuff box, two dollars, and a one pound note, at Parramatta, on 19th December.

Mr. Watkins stated, that on the day in question, about half past nine o'clock in the morning; he and Mr. Hartley, of Minchinbury, were proceeding along the Parramatta road in a chaise, when about the 13 mile stone, two men armed with a fowling piece each, and a brace of pistols in a belt at their waists, rushed from the bush, and presenting the fowling pieces, commanding Mr. Hartley, who was driving, to stop, or they would fire; the vehicle stopped accordingly, and prisoner lead the chase into the bush; he then got into the chaise and rifled Mr. Watkins, taking from him, a one pound note and two dollars; he then took off his hat and boots, and took from his pockets a snuffbox and a handkerchief, and was about taking his watch, which was secured by a guard, when prisoners said if he had known that it was Mr. H. he would not have robbed them, and immediately returned every thing but the money, and also returned Mr. H.'s watch, which had previously been taken; prisoner then desired his companion, Walmsley, to go into the road, and see if he could not capture some one else; Mr. Watkins asked the prisoner what induced him to lead such a wild life; he replied starvation and tyranny in the first instance caused him to take the bush, and now it was impossible to return to society; about twenty minutes after, Walmsley returned alone; Webber then asked Mr. Hartley if he had any money to pay turnpikes; he replied no and asked him to return a shilling from the money he had taken; he said ``a shilling - heres a dollar for you," and handed one over; Webber asked if they had any spirits in the chaise, they told him no, and he sent Walmsley into the bush, at a little distance, to fetch some, of which they took of a small quantity after good deal of persuasion; Walmsley asked if they had any pistols in the chaise they answered no, (although they had two brace in the driver; Walmsley replied it was fortunate for them, else they would have been dead men, as they allowed no one to travel with fire arms; Webber said they had been long enough there, and leading the chaise through the fence onto the road, he bid them good morning.  Mr. Hartley corroborated this statement, with the addition that they were robbed at Liberty Plains, in the County of Cumberland.

Mr. Rowe, who appeared for the prisoner, then took several objections to the information; 1st, there was no County named in the information; 2nd, no parish was named in the information; and lastly, the locus in quo was far from the place laid in the information - the Parish of Concord being off one side of the road where the robbery was committed, and Liberty Plains on the other - the whole being in the County of Cumberland.

His Honor did not think the objection valid, but would put the facts to the Jury, and reserve the point for future consideration.

The prisoner was found guilty of a robbery, but not at Parramatta.  Remanded.

Tuesday. June 14. - Before Judge Stephen, and the usual Commission.

William Webber was again indicted for a highway robbery, and putting in bodily fear Thomas Wood, at Cabramatta, on the 14th Jan.

The evidence having been gone through, Mr. Rowe on behalf of the prisoner, observed, that he should take the same objection as on the former day, and on the same ground; it was clearly laid down in Leach, 631, in the case of the King v. Thomas Thomas, where the prisoner was indicted for an offence in the County of Middlesex, but there was no evidence to prove that the offence had been committed in that Country, the Jury found the prisoner guilty, but not of taking the letters in the County of Middlesex.  The point was reserved for the opinion of the twelve Judges, who decided that the prisoner had been improperly convicted, as the special finding of the Jury went to prove that the offence had been committed in some other County, the prisoner was therefore clear from that indictment.  He (Mr. Rowe) therefore contended, that in the present case, there was no evidence to show that the offence had been committed in Cabramatta, and no evidence to show that it was done within the Colony of New South Wales.  There was further no proof even that Cabramatta was within the jurisdiction of this Court.  Prisoner was therefore entitled to an acquittal.

Judge Stephen, since the trial of the former case, had had an opportunity of fully considering the point raised, he had also consulted his brethren on the Bench, who fully concurred with him, that the objection was immaterial.  The ancient strictness of that rule in such cases was almost entirely done away with, if the offence was committed within the jurisdiction of the Court, it was formerly applicable, when the Jury had to come from a particular part to try the case, but here the judges had authority to enquire and investigate into all offences committed within the territory; if the offence, therefore, was committed at Cabramatta, or any other place, it was clearly within the jurisdiction of the Court, he would therefore put the case to the Jury on the facts, who immediately found the prisoner guilty.

The prisoner was then called up for judgment, and the learned Judge in ordering him to suffer the extreme penalty of the law, remarked, that he could not hold out to him a glimmering of hope.[2 ]


[1 ] See also Sydney Gazette, 16 June 1831; Sydney Herald, 20 June 1831.  See also R. v. Moore, 1831.

[2 ] Webber was hanged on 11 July 1831 (Sydney Gazette, 12 July 1831; Australian, 15 July 1831).  The Gazette claimed that he had been guilty of numerous other highway robberies as well, in company with Walmsley.  The Gazette also said that when he reached the gallows, he acknowledged the justice of his sentence.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University