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

R. v. McLeod [1842] NSWSupC 37

ship's crew, desertion - stealing, boat

Stephen J., 12 January 1842

Source: Sydney Herald, 13 January 1842

            This prisoner (a mariner) was indicted for stealing a whale boat, value £40, and one oar, value 5s., the property of Mr. Henry Moore, from the whaling vessel Woodlark, on the 7th July last, she being then on the high seas, within the jurisdiction of this Court.

            The Solicitor General conducted the case for the prosecution, and called

Alexander Abbott, who deposed. - I was master of the Woodlark. On the 7th July last, while I was down below, at 8 p.m., I heard a boat being lowered away; I went on deck, and saw the prisoner and four others in a boat belonging to the vessel; I called them to come back, but all I heard them saying was, "come, be quick, get your oars out and let us pull back to the land." We were then from ten to fifteen miles off Pleasant Island , which bore at the time N.N.E. It was about four days after before I recovered the boat which was given to me by one of the men belonging to the island, who told me that he could not persuade the men to come back again. After we had made the island, I wrote to them saying, if they would return I would say no more about it, but they refused; it was a man named Jones, who had been several years on the island who brought back the boat; all the men had complained of was that they had short allowance of provisions; I had twenty-five men on board in all, the daily allowance was one pound of pork per day, or one pound and a quarter of beef; had left the port in November 1840, and believe the prisoners took the boat for the purpose of going ashore with it rather than to make gain of it; the prisoner was a boat steerer, and had a 1-120th share of the oil; I saw the prisoner and heard him near the [???] of the boat when leaving the vessel off Pleasant Island.

Anthony Moore, the second officer of the Woodlark, remembered the boat being taken away; the men had been complaining of the small allowance of provisions, - all hands had complained on that day; the allowance which had been made while he, witness weighed out allowance, was one pound and a half of beef or one pound and a quarter of pork; I am brother of the owner, and while I did not live in the cabin I had the same allowance as the men - it was not enough for us to live on.

The prisoner, in defence, stated that if they had got fair usage or a fair allowance of provision they would not have left the vessel when they complained of the short allowance the captain refused to enlarge it, saying he was making a long bad voyage of it, and if they got it now they could not have it afterwards; the prisoner also stated that he only remained on the island until the arrival of the Jessy , another whaler belonging to the same owner, which he went on board of and returned to Sydney; he denied that they took the boat with the intention of stealing her, as he wrote a note to the Captain telling him that his boat and all belonging to it would be returned to him.

In putting the case to the jury, his Honor left it to the jury to say whether the men had taken the boat with a felonious intent or merely to enable them to get away from the vessel for the purpose of getting clear of the alleged ill treatment.

The foreman of the jury stated that they had made up their minds; and immediately pronounced the prisoner not guilty.

His Honor said, he had no doubt that the men behaved very improperly in taking away the boat, at the same time he would have returned the same verdict, as it did not appear that their complaints were made without foundation while the Captain declined giving them redress. It would be a serious evil if the men in vessels could leave them by taking away the boats on the high seas with impunity, at the same time, he trusted the present case would act as a warning to ship-owners and Captains against the evils of not supplying their men with plenty of proper food. It was short sighted policy to act in this way, and there was every reason for believing that many otherwise good men were unnecessarily ill used in this way.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University