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

R. v. Edwards [1842] NSWSupC 34

whaling - ship's crew - ship's mate, assault by - perjury

Burton J., 12 January 1842

Source: Sydney Herald, 13 January 1842 [1]

            The Attorney-General appeared to prosecute, and in stating the case to the Jury, said, that the prisoner who stood on the floor of the court had been the chief mate of a whaling vessel called the Woodlark , belonging to Mr. Henry Moore of this town. At the time of the assault, committed by the defendant, which he (the Attorney-General) should hereafter allude to, the vessel in which it took place was on very profitable whaling ground, which the captain of the vessel had been compelled to quit in consequence of the assault. The loss to Mr. Moore, the owner, was a very serious one; he (the Attorney-General) was informed, amounting to several thousand pounds. - The learned gentleman then gave a detail of the circumstances constituting the assault, and stated that in consequence of the spirit of disrespect and disaffection which had been excited against the captain's authority, by the outrage on his person, he had been compelled after being out only eleven months, to put back to Sydney, and prematurely close the voyage.

John Moore examined by the Attorney-General - was the brother of the owner of the Woodlark, and second-mate of that vessel. At the time of the assault alluded to, the ship was off Reynold's Island, in the South Seas, going under easy sail. Between twelve and two of that day the chief-mate, the prisoner, was in charge of the deck, and the ship being a little off the wind, the prisoner cried out to the man at the helm to luff. The wheel then slipped from the steersman's hands, and the mate used some very coarse language to the man at the helm. The captain then came on deck, and said such language was not fit to be spoken on his quarter-deck. The mate said he was not making a noise. The captain again said bad language must not be used, and the mate then challenged the captain to come out and fight. The mate then struck the captain several heavy blows, and knocked his head through the skylight. The captain rose, and again was struck on the temple and jaw, and fell against the mizen-mast. He remained prostrate on the deck about ten minutes. No one went to lift him up, and he remained on the deck until he recovered from the assault sufficiently to be able to rise up himself.

Cross-examined by Mr. Purefoy. - previous to the assault there was general dissatisfaction in the ship. The men complained of the quantity of brine in the beef. Several weeks before the assault, there had been a proposal to return to Sydney . The captain, whilst witness was looking another way, might have attempted to strike the mate, but witness saw no such blow.

Alexander Abbott examined by the Attorney-General : had been commander of the Woodlark, and was the subject of the assault for which the prisoner was being tried. The witness then went on, merely confirming the testimony of the evidence of the last witness, in respect to the circumstances of the assault. The hand of witness, in falling, was forced through a square of the skylight. His hand bled much when he recovered and rose up. He was unable to open his mouth for six days after; and took no nourishment but arrowroot and tea. Never before the assault had he had any intention of returning to Sydney . After the assault the crew came forward, and demanded to be taken back to Sydney , as they believed blood would otherwise be shed in the ship. He had returned accordingly; with very little oil in the ship.

Cross-examined by Mr. Purefoy - Had never raised his hand to strike the prisoner, Had not always given an order to his men to take fish whenever they were seen. The voyage was eleven months, and had been a very unsuccessful one.

Francis Le Clare examined by the Attorney-General. - Was steward of the Woodlark. On the day of the assault spirits had been taken by the officers; the captain did not take any. This witness also described the assault in the same terms as the other witnesses.

Cross-examined. - When the captain was struck he had his face towards the prisoner, and raised his hands as a defence against the blow.

Mr. Purefoy, for the defence, contended that the evidence had not sustained the indictment; and that the unfortunate measure of returning to Sydney, which had been resorted to, was entirely attributable to the want of energy in the captain. He (Mr. Purefoy) would, he trusted, be able to show that the assault which had been proved had been caused by the captain first challenging the mate to come out and fight like a man.

Thomas Amfield examined by Mr. Purefoy. - Was on board the Woodlark, on the 7th March last. On that day witness was sitting on a locker abaft the main mast, talking to the mate about some twine that had not been tarred. The mate looked towards the head of the ship, and seeing that she was off the wind cried to the man at the wheel, "d---h you, don't let her off the wind." The man answered, shoving down the helm, and said he was "wild, and d---d wild." The mate told the man at the wheel, "that if he did not bring the ship too less rapidly, he'd be d---d if he would not make him." The captain rushed up stairs, and said he'd not have such language in his ship, and that the black man was as good a man as any white man in the ship. The mate then said, "Ay, the man you threw overboard at Kingsmill's Group for that." - This man was a black man. The captain said "I would serve you the same if you were like him." The mate answered to this - "I dare say you would if you were able." Upon this the captain rushed the mate to the side of the ship. The witness then went on to describe the assault in very nearly the terms of the other witnesses.

Cross-examined by the Attorney-General. - Lived in Cockle Bay; had seen the prisoner on Tuesday night; went to prisoner's lodgings to borrow a book; had not talked about the trial any further than enquiring when it would come on; was supported and had been supported by Mr. Downs at his lodgings, and could be supported by the same person, on credit for three months longer.

Mr. James Williamson, captain of the Lindsay, gave the prisoner an excellent character.

The Attorney General replied.

His Honor summed up, and commented on the evidence; and the Jury returned a verdict of guilty .

His Honor directed that the Jury should find specially whether they believed the evidence of Hamfield. The foreman of the jury answered that they did not believe that evidence; on which his Honor immediately ordered that Hamfield should be committed to take his trial for perjury.

Dowling C.J., Burton and Stephen JJ, 18 January 1842

Source: Australian, 20 January 1842

William Edwards, chief mate of the Woodlark, was brought up for sentence, for assaulting Alexander Abbott, Captain of that vessel, on the high seas in October last. His honor Judge Burton, having commented on the serious nature of the crime, and the aggravation thereof, which the tale that appeared to have been got up between the prisoner and Amphill created, sentenced the prisoner to be confined in Sydney Gaol for six months.


[1]  See also Sydney Gazette, 13 January 1842; Australian, 13 January 1842.   Sentencing was postponed: Sydney Herald, 17 January 1842.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University