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

R. v. Stanaway [1842] NSWSupC 48 R. v. Chown

arson - Brisbane Water

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Burton J, 12 October 1842

Source: Sydney Gazette, 13 October 1842

James Stanaway and John Chown[e?] were indicted for arson, in having wilfully and maliciously set fire to the house of John Moore, in Brisbane water, on the 17th of August last.

The Solicitor General, opened proceedings appropriately stating the circumstances of the case, and called.

Matthew Lock, who deposed that he was servant to Mr. Moore, and knew the prisoners who were also employed as sawyers by Mr. Moore; he recolled [sic] the occasion of the fire, and at the time that house was shut up in consequence of the absence of Mr. Moore in Sydney. The house was of wood and consisted of merely a sitting and bed room. On inspecting the house on that day in question, the witness perceived that the shutters were opened, which led him to suspect that some attempt had been made to rob the house. He found nothing then, at some time afterwards, he heard the sound of some person or persons, running across his master's floor with shoes on; he pursued the parties, but they escaped him; he then called up all the men, and search the house, in order to see whether any thing had been taken, when he found that part of some wine, which stood in his master's bed room, had been stolen; he had a candle with him when he made the search, that he was very careful; after this he went to bed, but in the course of the night and alarm was given that the premises were on fire, and notwithstanding all the attempts that were made to save them from destruction, they were burnt to the ground; nothing was found that night, but on the following morning. They found a handkerchief and an iron pot in the garden, the former of which belonged to Chowne and the latter to Stanaway; the track of two men without shoes, was also discovered leading from the house to the place where the prisoners resided.

Cross-examined by the prisoner Chowne - Witness could swear to the handkerchief found, having seen it on Chowne's neck, but he never had it in his hand.

Dennis Dwyer, Chief Constable of Brisbane Water, deposed that he went to Mr. Moore's house, while it was burning, and was shewn the bookmarks, which he found upon measurement to correspond exactly with Stanaway's foot; Chowne's foot was also compared with the footprints, but did not correspond with any of them the witness also measured the feet of all the other men on the farm, but this measurement did not take place until afterwards, when the feet could not be compared with the tracks supposed to be Stanaway's.

            Henry Whiley, a constable at Brisbane Water, corroborated the evidence of the last witness, except that he believed the tracks to have been made by one man only.

            The witness Dwyer was recalled, and stated that he could not be positive.   Whether there was the foot marks of one man, or two.   Lock, who was also recalled, persisted in stating that he believed the foot marks to be those of two men.

            Margaret Atkinson, deposed, that she was the wife of a sawyer, in the employment of Mr.   Moore, and getting out on the night when the alarm of fire, was given, she saw two men running in a direction. as if they had come from the house.   She could not swear to these men.

            William Hallam, deposed, that he was a sawyer in the employee of Mr.   Moore, at the time of the fire; when Lock went in to examine the premises, in order to see whether anything had been taken out, he held a lighted torch, from which the witness saw several sparks fall during the search.   Lock appeared to have put out, what ever fire fell from the torch, but the witness could not say whether he succeeded in putting it all out or not.

            Margaret Trelfell, deposed, that the two prisoners resided in the same house with her, and her husband. On the evening of the fire, the men were in the heart, and she could not say that they have gone out during the night.   The iron pot produced was similar to one which had been borrowed in from her a few days before, by the prisoner.   Stanaway, to take to the saw pit, but she could not say that it was the same.

            This closed the case for the prosecution.

            His Honor, then, summed up, pointing out to the jury that so far from there being any case against the prisoners, the whole of the evidence tended rather to exonerate them, and that it appeared singular.   How they could have been committed on such slight grounds.

            The Jury, without quitting the box, returned a verdict of not guilty, and the prisoners were both discharged.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University