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

R. v. Flannigan [1838] NSWSupC 40

murder - insanity, defence of - Mudgee - Mounted Police - Aborigines, help police

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Burton J., 1 May 1838

Source: Sydney Gazette, 3 May 1838[ 1]


Bryan Flannigan was indicted for the wilful murder of John Nagle, by striking him on the head and body with an axe, near Mudgee, on the 5th February.

The Attorney-General, in opening, said, that he understood that the defence would be, that the prisoner was insane, and he hoped, for the honor of human nature, that it might be proved that he was so.

John Sheering. - I am assigned to Mr. Kinnerly and reside in Bringelly; I have been at the station near Mudgee; John Nagle was overseer there; he was a married man; Riley was a free stock-keeper; I slept in a hut with a shepherd named Martin; the prisoner lived in a hut with Nagle and his wife, and Riley; they had moved there the evening before; Flannigan came to me at break of day in the morning; he asked me if I was asleep, and told me to get up; he told Martin he wanted a pair of trowsers; Martin asked his wife where they were, and she told him, and he handed Flannigan a pair of trowsers out of the door; when I was dressed Flannigan came to me and said, ``I have put an end to them three;" I asked him what he meant, and he said he had murdered them three over the way; I said I could not believe him; Nagle's hut was across the Mudgee River; Martin came out and he told him the same; Martin's wife came and she said she could not believe it, when the prisoner held up a pair of trowsers covered with blood, and said, will you believe it now; he had just taken the trowsers off, and put a clean pair on; I went over to Nagle's hut, accompanied by Martin, and his wife, and the prisoner; the prisoner as we went along said the black boy had run away, but he would not have hurt him; there was a bark shed near the hut, where Riley used to sleep, and there we saw Riley dead; he was lying on his face on the ground; there was a wound in the back of his head; we went into the hut, and saw Nagle and his wife lying dead on the floor; Martin told me that I had better go to Mr. Lackey's and report it; the prisoner said he would go with me; I ran as fast as I could, leaving him at the station; the prisoner gave no other account of the murder than I have told; I saw the bodies of Nagle and his wife in the afternoon; the woman had some cuts on the back of the head; the man had one cut in the back of the head; his left wrist was nearly cut off, and there was a large cut in the knee; it looked to me as if the wounds had been made with an axe; there was an axe there the morning before, but I never saw it afterwards; I was there when Lieutenant Beckham held an enquiry; the sculls were fractured, cut open; Flannigan had been on bad terms with Nagle and his wife, and Riley lately; Flannigan had a garden and some fowls and ducks, and Nagle used to say he would have them, and then they had words; I was afraid of Flannigan in the morning; I had no arms, nor had he, but as he murdered them, I thought he might murder me.

When asked if he would cross-examine the witness, the prisoner said it was no use.

By the Court - The body of Riley was quite warm, and the blood was oozing out; they had had no quarrel the night before, that I am aware of; Flannigan was dairyman; he was right in his mind he never was otherwise; the prisoner appeared to rejoice in what he had done; he said he had put three bad members out of the way, and he was very happy; there was nothing to distinguish his manner from any other morning; it was Flannigan's hut Nagle had moved to, and Flannigan told me he did not like it; Flannigan was to go as hut-keeper to a sheep-station; he said he did not like going, and would rather stop until his master came; I had often heard Riley and the prisoner have words, because Riley told tales of him to Nagle; Riley did not like Flannigan's getting up so early in a morning to milk.

Lieutenant Whitting - I was in the Mounted Police; in February last, having heard of a murder, I went to Mr. Kinnerly's station, accompanied by Lieutenant Beckham and two troopers; I should think the station is about ninety miles from Bathurst; I got there on February the 6th, towards evening, and saw the bodies of John and Mary Nagle, and John Riley, all dead; they appeared to have been killed recently; the body of Mary Nagle was not cold; I saw Martin and his wife, and Sheering there; the body of the stockman was in an outhouse, with the scull quite cut open; the bodies of Nagle and his wife were in the hut, and had a great number of wounds, apparently inflicted with an axe; they were both undressed; there was not much blood in the bed; they appeared to have been dragged from the bed; the floor was covered with blood; I saw a shirt, which was said to belong to the prisoner, very much covered with blood; I and Lieutenant Beckham held an enquiry; we examined Martin and his wife, and Sheering, and a black boy; the black boy was not sworn; the prisoner had left the station when we arrived; we sent after him, I think, without a warrant, and he was brought to Mudgee the next morning, and committed to take his trial; the depositions were all read over to him; he made no defence; he made no admission in my hearing; he declined saying anything; the prisoner was very sullen, and apparently fatigued from walking; I asked him how he came to murder the unfortunate woman, and he said -- ``For what I have done I am the sufferer;" I have no reason to suppose there was any insanity about him.

Corporal Sheedy - I belong to the Mounted Police; I recollect going to Kinnerly's station and saw the bodies; I was sent off immediately to apprehend the prisoner; I came up with him at the Murrumbi Creek, about seven miles from Kinnerly's; he told me he was going to see a friend of his, and that when he had seen him, he should die happy; the prisoner was on his knee near a hut striking a light; thinking he might have some firearms, I said, hold up your hands, you murdering thief; he said, if he had taken their lives, he was not going to take mine; I said, I would take pretty good care of that; I secured him and took him to Mudgee; I asked him what he had murdered the people with, and he said with an axe which he had thrown into the river; I had blackfellows searching for the axe for two days, but there was a large quantity of timber in the river and they could not find it; the prisoner told me he had supper with them that night, and could not sleep; in the morning he got up and murdered the stockman, and had to pull him out of bed to get the axe out of his head; that the little black boy who was with him in bed was frightened and ran away, he said he then went into the hut, and as he could not see which way Nagle and his wife laid their heads, he chopped about until he killed them; there were some cuts in the bed ticks as if some blows had missed the bodies; he said he could get no rest on account of Nagle, and I asked him why he had killed the man and not the woman; and he said he might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb; he said he was guilty of it, and willing to die; he was sufficiently in his senses to lead me astray; I did not know the road, he said, he did, and he led me astray.

Mr. Alfred Kinnerly - I have a station near Mudgee; John Nagle was my overseer; I had a free stockman named Riley; the prisoner was assigned to me for about six years; I received information about the murder three days after it occurred; my homestead was about two hundred miles from the station; I was aware of the ill-feeling between Nagle and the prisoner; as I was going up the country I met the prisoner coming down under an escort; he asked me if I had received a letter from him, I said no; he said he had left a letter for me which would explain all; he asked me if I had ordered him to be sent hut-keeping; I said I did not, but had ordered Nagle to discharge Martin and his wife as I considered they had been the cause of the quarrel; immediately upon my arrival at the station, I received this letter; (the letter could not be sufficiently traced to the prisoner, to make it evidence,) I have no reason to suppose Flannigan is out of his mind; when I met him on the road he was very cool and collected; Riley had been a great mischief-maker at the station, and there had been a great deal of ill will between him and Flannigan.

Cross-examined - The prisoner has been an industrious, hard working servant for me for the last six years; he is a man that I always put great confidence in.

Mr. F. Hawthorn - I am a surgeon; I saw the bodies of Nagle and wife, and Riley; Nagle's body had five or six wounds on it; the top of the head was almost cut off; the left hand was severed at the wrist joint almost entirely; there was a deep wound about five inches in length on the shoulder; and a wound on the right side of the thigh near the knee; the wound on the head was sufficient to cause death; a large portion of the brain had fallen out; they must have been inflicted with a heavy sharp instrument; Nagle's wife and Riley had apparently been killed by the same means; the woman was pregnant, and there was a slight degree of warmth at the abdomen; I should think she had advanced to the seventh month of her pregnancy; Riley had one very extensive wound in the head, so large that I could put my hand in it; the skull was laid completely open; all the bodies were undressed as if they had been in bed.

This was the case for the crown.

The prisoner in his defence denied all knowledge of the crime; protested his innocence, and said that he had neither act, part, or knowledge in the affair.

His Honor said, that in consequence of the humane suggestion of the Attorney General, he had narrowly watched the evidence, but could see nothing that shewed that the prisoner was insane.  His Honor went through the whole of his notes and the jury without retiring from the box, returned a verdict of guilty.  Sentence of death was passed on the prisoner.



[ 1]See also Sydney Herald, 3 May 1838.  This case was also recorded in Burton, Notes of Criminal Cases, vol. 34, State Records of New South Wales, 2/2434, p. 82, Burton noting that the defendant was ``bond", i.e. a convict, at the time of the trial.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University