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

In re Ravenscroft [1850] NSWSupC 8 [insolvency, imprisonment]

insolvency, imprisonment

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Dickinson and Therry JJ, 13 February 1850

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 14 February 1850, Supreme Court Collection, vol. 3, pp 64-64


BEFORE their Honors Mr. Justice DICKINSON and Mr. Justice THERRY.


The Commissioners had refused the above-named insolvent his certificate, on the grounds that he had contracted debts by purchasing goods, without the intention of paying for them, without having reasonable or probable expectation of being able to pay for them, and for fraudulently contracting debts by misrepresentations, as to his means and expectances.

The insolvent had been ordered to appear before the Court to-day.

It appeared that the insolvent had at one time been the clerk of the Bench at Singleton; he also subsequently had been a clerk at Marsh's registry office; latterly, and at about the time the debts were incurred, he was living by doing odd jobs.

The opposing creditors were Messrs. Bicknell, of King-street, now booksellers. Of them the insolvent had bought a variety of goods, very expensive of their kind, being all more or less very valuable. Amongst them were rings, valued at twelve guineas each, dressing cases, watches, and guns, &c. In all the goods amounted in value to the sum of £221 19s. 6d; the insolvent had reduced this sum from time to time by small payments on account, to the sum of £188 16s.; and this latter sum the creditors proved for in the Insolvent Court .

An account of the items and sums charged against the insolvent in the Insolvent Court , had been filed and certified to be correct. The first item on the debit side was a sum of £75, stated as money due, &c.; no further explanation being given. This debt was entered under date, August, 1848, and the remainder of the goods were furnished between that date and the subsequent October. On the 11 th July, the insolvent wrote a letter to the Messrs. Bicknell, apparently in answer to some request for money, which was in effect, that he was sorry he could not keep his promises in that behalf, but that the next packet from England would bring him out £500, &c. Upon the strength of this letter, the insolvent got further credit with the Messrs. Bicknell, as they or one of them swore. The money of course did not come out. It appeared further, that some time prior he had sold to one Vallack a reversionary interest he had in some property in England . Upon receiving the goods purchased of the Messrs. Bicknell, it was proved that he used to sell them at a great sacrifice, or pawn them.

Mr. DARVALL now, on behalf of Messrs. Bicknell, who appeared to be the only opposing creditors, moved that the decision of the Chief Commissioner not only be confirmed, but that the Court would order the insolvent to be punished under the 19 th section of the last Insolvent Act, by sentencing him to prison for any period not exceeding one year.

Mr. BROADHURST, for the insolvent, contended that the decision of the Chief Commissioner could not be sustained in the evidence, and that that evidence did not bring the insolvent's case within the class of offences mentioned in the category, on which the insolvent's certificate had been refused. As to the obtaining credit on the false representation contained in the letter, he thought the alleged fact that credit had been obtained on so slight an assertion, was a most improbable circumstance, and certainly if the creditors were so easily gulled, they deserved to suffer for their folly. It was clear, however, credit was not given on account of the assertion as to the supposed expectancy of £500. The assertion was not made with the view of getting credit; it was merely advanced for the time to pacify the enquiries of the Messrs. Bicknell, who no doubt were most importunate. The letter indeed did not ask for further credit on account of the assertion; and if it were not intended in the mind of the insolvent to have the effect and to bear the interpretation put upon it by the creditors, it could not be contended, as he would submit, that the supposed offence had been committed.

Independent however of this, it had not been shown that the assertion was false or unfounded. Secondly, as to another ground made---the buying goods without intending to pay for them: This ground, he submitted, had not been substantiated at all by the evidence. On the contrary, the very account filed by the creditors showed that the insolvent had paid for the goods partly, when in the course of delivery, or afterwards. The fact was, speculative credit had been given the insolvent. In conclusion, he contended that there was no evidence to show that the insolvent had not, at the time of buying the goods, any reasonable or probable expectation of paying for them. If, however, the Court should think that the Commissioner's decision ought to be confirmed, still, he would submit no fit case had been shown to induce the Court to make the insolvent suffer the strictest penalty of the law.

Mr. DARVALL replied. As to the first point answered on the other side, he said there was no getting over the fact sworn, that in consequence of the representations made, credit was given the insolvent. The credit given in consequence of that letter applied to the jewellery supplied subsequent to its reception. The letter would not bear the gloss given to it by the other side. It was written artfully and purposely to deceive. This ground had been clearly substantiated, and he might add the other two also. It was clear the insolvent at the time he bought the goods, had no reasonable or probable expectation of being able to pay for them. At that time he had no means of living even, except by pawning the very articles he obtained from the Messrs. Bicknell. And though he could not acquit these gentlemen entirely from blame, in so easily and readily giving the insolvent credit, yet he must characterise the insolvent's case as one of the most gross and flagrant that was ever mentioned in this Court, and one that was worthy of being punished with the greatest severity allowed by the Act.

His Honor Mr. Justice DICKINSON delivered the judgment of the Court, in the course of which he said he was of opinion, that the decision of the Commissioner ought to be confirmed, and not only to be confirmed, but a further punishment ought to be superadded. The present case was one above all others that it was meet to punish severely---in order to act as a warning to other persons in the colony---where unhappily people generally get most recklessly into debt. As to the first ground---he said, the Court had some doubt whether the insolvent had incurred debts by false representations; and of the doubt would therefore give him the benefit. As to one of the remaining grounds of refusal, viz., as to the having no reasonable or probable expectation of paying for the goods, there was no doubt. The evidence showed that the insolvent had been at one time a clerk of the Bench, then a clerk in a registry office, and lastly living by odd jobs; what right, therefore had he to be incurring debts by the purchase of expensive gold watches, rings, &c. When obtained, the evidence showed that he sold them for much less than their value.

The Court was of opinion, under all the circumstances, that the decision ought to be confirmed, and the insolvent to be confined in the Darlinghurst Gaol for six months.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University