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

R v Woodhead [1835] NSWSupC 2

rape - Maitland - felony attaint, right to sit on jury

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Forbes C.J., 10 February 1835

Source: Sydney Herald, 12 February 1835[ 1]

Tuesday. - William Woodhead, Peter Gordon, and Robert Hutchins, stood indicted for a rape on the person of Sophia Wordsworth, at Maitland, on the 18th January.  The prosecutrix and her husband were at a public-house on the day in question kept by a person named Grant, where they met the prisoners, one of whom (Woodhead) was known to Wordsworth, and the parties drank together; about dusk, prosecutrix and her husband left the house for the purpose of proceeding home, inviting Woodhead and his friends to accompany them to take tea, which they complied with.  Their way home lay through the bush, and they had not proceeded more than a mile, when the treacherous villains suddenly struck Wordsworth down, and seizing the prosecutrix, dragged her into a scrub, where she was struck and kicked about the head in such a brutal manner as to render her incapable of protecting herself from the atrocities which they had designed to subject her to; after robbing her of nine half-crows, a one-pound note, and her handkerchief, they successively committed the offence laid in the indictmont; apprehensive that they would destroy her, she begged the remorseless villains to leave her, and she would not report the circumstance, when Gordon observed that they might depend upon it she would betray them, and seemed evidently disposed to put an end to her; Hutchins and Woodhead went away, leaving Gordon in charge of their victim, who remained standing over her a few minutes, when he also left her; in about half an hour after they were gone, she made an effort to crawl to the road side, almost in a state of nudity, her clothes having been destroyed by the violence of her brutal assailants, and remained until the arrival of her husband, who had gone in search of her.  With much difficulty he supported her home, where she lay during a fortnight unable to rise from their bed.  The prisoners were taken on the following morning.

For their defence, the prisoners called Grant, the person who kept the public-house before spoken of, and who was now brought from the hulk, he having been subsequently sentenced to transportation, to prove, that on the evening the transaction was said to have been committed, they returned to his house in less than half an hour, and consequently could not have remained with he prosecutrix during the time sworn to, and have had time to return.  His Honor summed up elaborately, and put the case to the Jury, who returned a verdict of Guilty against all the prisoners, and Sentence of Death was passed upon them.[ 2]

[These worthies, under the law passed by Governor Bourke and the Legislative Council, would have been eligible as Jurors, to the moral degradation of the country, and to the annoyance of every respectable man in the community. - EDS.]



[1 ] See also Australian, 13 February 1835; Sydney Gazette, 12 February 1835.

For a case of rape on a nine year old girl, see R. v. MorrisSydney Gazette, 9 May 1835: convicted and sentenced to death.

[2 ] The sentences of all three were commuted to transportation.  Gordon and Hutchins, being convicts, were sentenced to Norfolk Island for life, and Woodhead, being free, to Van Diemen's Land for life: McLeay to Forbes C.J., 16 March 1835, in Chief Justice's Letter Book, 1824 - 1835, State Records of New South Wales, 4/6651, p. 395.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University