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

R. v. Morris [1839] NSWSupC 81

murder - Bargon River - Port Phillip - insanity - sodomy

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Dowling C.J., 2 November 1839

Source: Sydney Herald, 4 November 1839[1] 

Saturday -- Before the Chief Justice.

William Morris was indicted for the wilful murder of Thomas Renton, alias Waugh, at the Bargon River, on the 22nd of January, by shooting him.

The prisoner was a freeman in the employment of a gentleman named Matson, at Port Phillip, as hut-keeper, at a sheep station, the shepherds at which were named Renton and Sumner and all the parties had been known to each other in Van Diemen's Land.  On the evening of the 22nd of January, the shepherds returned home about the usual hour, and found their supper, some mutton, standing before the fire; Renton said that it was not fit for a dog to eat, and Sumner told Morris to put it in the pan and warm it, which he did.  Morris asked them whether they would have their suppers inside or out; they said inside, and sat down, when the prisoner passed across the hut, took up a musket, and without saying a word shot Renton through the neck, and taking a powder flask from Renton's pocket reloaded his gun and made his escape, and was not taken for four months, when he was apprehended by a gentleman named Sullivan.  Renton lingered about twenty-four hours, and expired.  No cause whatever could be assigned for the act, the parties having been friendly.  The Chief Justice examined the witnesses as to the prisoner's sanity, and they all agreed in thinking him of sound mind.  Mr. Keck[2] said that when Morris first arrived in Sydney he made some clumsy attempts at insanity, but upon his threatening him and telling him he would not be imposed upon, he left off his attempts, and he believed him to be sane, but he was always very much depressed.  Guilty.

After the jury had returned their verdict Mr. Matson stated that he had taken some pains to enquire as to the motives of the prisoner, and he believed that he had committed an unnatural offence, and was afraid that Renton would inform against him, and that was the reason he had committed the murder.

His Honor immediately passed sentence of death upon the prisoner.



[1]  See also Australian, 5 November 1839; Sydney Gazette, 7 November 1839.

[2]  The gaoler.  The Sydney Gazette, 7 November 1839 reported this as follows: ``Mr. Keck the governor of the gaol, was then called and sworn.  His Honor asked him if he had observed anything strange in the conduct of the prisoner since he had been in his custody in the gaol.  Mr. Keck replied that when Morris was first received he made several clumsy attempts at insanity; but he told him he would not impose him as he would be punished; after which time he appeared perfectly sane.  He, witness, continued closely to watch him, and he observed nothing which led him to suppose him of unsound mind."

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University