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

R. v. Grieves [1839] NSWSupC 87

ship's crew - murder, by ship's captain - trial by jury, disagreement

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Willis J., 13 November 1839

Source: Australian, 19 November 1839[1] 

Thomas Grieves, master of the ship Royal Admiral, lately arrived from Liverpool, was indicted for the wilful murder of Thomas Armstrong on the high seas, by shooting him with a pistol, on the 24th June last, of which he died on the 27th of the same month.

It appeared that the Royal Admiral had on board about two hundred emigrants, and that on the evening of the 24th June, between the hours of ten and eleven o'clock, several of the sailors were down in the steerage (against the express orders of the Captain and Surgeon), and were fighting with some of the male, and abusing many of the female passengers.  Mr Bottomley, the second mate, whose watch it was on deck, hearing the disturbance, went down and endeavoured to prevail upon the sailors to go to their own berths.  They would not, and one of them struck him a severe blow.  He found it utterly impossible to quell the disturbance himself; and as two of the sailors had previously shewn a mutinous spirit, he went to the Captain's cabin and called him, saying, ``Make haste, Captain Grieves, there will be murder committed in the steerage, and bring your pistols with you."  One of the passengers, hearing the noise as he was retiring to rest, also went down to the steerage, and implored the men to go to their quarters, but they would not, and one of them drew his knife and made a stab at him.  He immediately went and called the Captain, saying ``For God's sake make haste, or murder will be committed."  The same passenger went to the main hatchw[a]y, and seeing that matters below were getting worse instead of better, he again went and called the Captain.  He (the Captain) then came out in his trousers and shirt, with a brace of pistols in his hands, and advanced to the main hatchway, where he had no sooner arrived than he was knocked down by a sailor named Kerr, and his elbow catching upon a cask which lay against the bulwarks, one of the pistols went off and shot the boy.  Immediately upon the Captain getting up from the deck, Kerr seized the other pistol by the barrel and endeavoured to wrench it from the Captain; but the latter, in order to prevent Kerr from obtaining possession of the pistol, and u[s]ing it against him, discharged it over the gunwale.  The father of the boy, and White, Polson, and Campbell (three of the crew), swore that the ball from the second pistol shot the boy.  C. B. Brewer, Esq., Barrister-at-Law, who was [a passenger on board the Royal Admiral], swore positively that the second pistol was fired by the Captain over the side of the ship, to prevent Kerr from gaining possession of it.  Several respectable gentlemen, passengers on board the vessel, spoke to the mutinous spirit that had, for some time previous, been manifested by the crew, and considered the Captain perfectly justified in arming himself.  They spoke of him as a most humane man, and that he had felt much at having been the cause of the boy's death.

The Jury retired to consider their verdict, and, after being absent a couple of hours, returned to say that they could not agree.  His Honor the Judge allowed them further time, but still they could not come to an unanimous verdict, in consequence of which they were shut up until they could return one; the Judge, at the same time, telling them that they could not be allowed either fire or candle, meat or drink.

At six o'clock the following morning, the Judge having opened the Court, the Jury were called in, when they informed his Honor th[a]t one of their body would not agree to the verdict of the other eleven.  A Juror was withdrawn by consent, and the Captain [d]ischarged.

The prisoner was most ably defended by Messrs a'Beckett and Brewer.



[1]  See also Sydney Herald, 18 November 1839.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University