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

In re Macarthur [1833] NSWSupC 72

lunacy - Macarthur, John, lunacy of

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Forbes C.J., Dowling and Burton JJ, 6 July 1833

Source: Dowling, Proceedings of the Supreme Court, Vol. 83, State Records of New South Wales, 2/3266[1 ]

[p. 151]Lunacy  The Three Judges carefully & painfully consd - qw[2 ] to see him we c.d call on Committee of Lunatics to report quarterly as to his state -Dub.[3 ] How we c.d originate.



[1 ] On 18 May 1833, Forbes C.J. wrote to James Macarthur about his father, advising him to present a petition through his solicitor to the Supreme Court so that it could consider whether John Macarthur had been unnecessarily restrained, or ``whether his reason be restored," or whether there was any ground for intervention by the court.  Forbes went on: ``Your own opinion appears to be that your father's reason is still obscured - a petition therefore from you, with such an impression, could have no tangible purpose - to be of any Service it should proceed from some person of behalf of the lunatic, praying to be released from his Committal, and restored to the full enjoyment of his lawful rights.  A proceeding of this kind will, I think and trust, bring the subject under full consideration, and enable the Court to do right in the case."  Forbes noted that he had consulted with Burton J., who agreed that this was the best approach to take.  Source: Chief Justice's Letter Book, 1824 - 1835, State Records of New South Wales, 4/6651, p. 318, and see further correspondence at p. 323.

James Macarthur replied to Forbes on 27 May 1833 (p. 324) to say that he and his brother had decided not to apply to the court as suggested, though they hoped the matter would reach the court in some other way.  He referred to the malice of unnamed persons who were attempting to injure the reputation of the Macarthurs.  He said the following about his father's condition at this time: ``I rejoice to say that I found my father in the enjoyment of excellency bodily healthy and far more cheerful and composed than I had ventured to hope.  The symptoms of his afflicting visitation are however distinctly perceptible not only to my brother and myself but to others who have had the means of forming a correct opinion. ... The subjecting our father to an examination at this time desirable as it would be to us in other respects could produce no beneficial result to him personally, but in the opinion of our medical advisers would be attended with highly prejudicial effects upon his health bodily as well as mental believe me."  The family may have been concerned to conceal his mental ill-health from the public.

In 1832, Macarthur began to rave about the house at Parramatta with pistols and swords in his hands.  By the middle of 1833, his wife, Elizabeth, tried to place him under restraint at Parramatta, but he sometimes slipped out and chatted inanely in the streets.  One day in May 1833 while he was shouting loudly in the streets, the family bustled him into a carriage and hurried him off to seclusion in Camden.  He died there on 11 April 1834.  Source: C.M.H. Clark, A History of Australia, Vol. 2, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1968, p. 210.

[2 ] "Question whether"?

[3 ] "Doubtful"?

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University