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

Past news items

November 2010. We are continuing to work on the third volume of colonial law reports for New South Wales. As part of that project, we have now given full references to all cases on this site. References include reports such as those of Austlii, L egge's Reports and others. We have an agreement with Austlii under which they will publish all of our New South Wales cases.

July-August 2010. While continuing on with the Moreton Bay and Port Phillip District cases, we have added the Sydney case of R. v. Collins, 1888, the final trial of the last woman hanged in New South Wales. We have also included all newspaper cases we could find up from the middle of the 1860s to 1899 concerning Aborigines (including the sad case of R. v. Charlie, 1866). While waiting for further material from Moreton Bay and Port Phillip, we have also gone through all the Sydney Morning Herald cases we could find between the middle 1860s and 1899 concerning the related actions in seduction, criminal conversation and breach of promise of marriage. When we found newspaper accounts of cases that have been reported, we included them in the indices but not the full text of the case. See, for example, Horwitz v. Horwitz, 1884. Browsing through the online newspapers also revealed the highly entertaining case of Besomo v. Keating, 1895, which touches on alternative medicine, the Tichborne case and a bizarre fraud.

June 2010. We are now working on New South Wales cases from 1827 to the 1860s. These include cases decided at Moreton Bay in the 1850s. We will do the same for the Port Phillip District.

5 October 2009. At this date, these interconnected Macquarie University websites now contain 2734 cases across all British colonial jurisdictions. 2064 of them are from New South Wales, and that will be the main focus of work for the rest of 2009 and into 2010. We are currently placing online NSW cases from the mid-1840s onwards, concentrating on civil actions first. I'm aware that there is so much more to do in the other Australian jurisdictions, and, particularly, of the rich opportunities among the Canadian colonies. Bruce Kercher

September 2009. We have now placed Alex Castles' Index to Van Diemen's Land Cases online.

September 2009. We are now preparing cases for the period between 1828 and the 1860s. These will be published in a final volume of law reports. We have begun putting 1840s cases online.

July 2009. We are now placing citations into the names of cases to be reported in the Kercher Reports, 1788-1827. Cases without a citation such as [1788] NSWKR 1 are published only online, and will not be in the book.

January 2009. We have begun publication of a few case records from a number of new jurisdictions, including South AustraliaWestern Australia, and a number of North American and Caribbean colonies, listed under Colonial Cases to the left. These are online temporarily under the U.R.L. of N.S.W. cases. The Western Australian cases are of particular interest to those concerned with the impact of British law on indigenous people. There is a new Colonial Cases website to explain the development of these new sites.

In a major development for the legal history of the Pacific region, the New Zealand Lost Cases project has begun appearing online.

November 2008. We have now completed proofreading the book, and will gradually transfer the proofread cases to this site. The book will be called The Kercher Reports: Decisions of the New South Wales Superior Courts, 1788 to 1827 (edited by Bruce Kercher and Brent Salter). It should be published in the next few months.

We have replaced the existing case text with newly proofread cases for the cases which will appear in the book. Some text is still difficult to read, and we have indicated where we are uncertain of the correct transcription.

December 2007: In anticipation of the 200th anniversary of the military coup against Governor Bligh on 26 January 1808, we have gathered together the most important cases concerning that dramatic event. Known as the Rum Rebellion, this coup was essentially a legal event. The cases precipitated the crisis, particularly R. v. Macarthur, 1808. The courts then heard repeated arguments about the legality of the post-coup trials.

We have now completed transcribing all but a few of the cases between 1788 and 1824. We have now begun final editing and proofreading for the book, which should be finished by the middle of 2008. When we proofread the cases for the book, we will transfer the proofread transcripts to this website. At present, we are quite unsure about some of the transcribed words online, usually marked here in yellow highlighter.

August 2007: We are making good progress through the criminal cases between 1788 and 1824, many of which are now online. Among them is the startling R. v. Kirby and Thompson, 1820, the earliest case we have discovered in which a European was executed for killing an Aborigine. See also the important decision in R. v. Powell, 1799, in which the result was very different despite very similar circumstances.

July 2007: We are nearing the end of the selection and transcription of civil cases between 1788 and 1824. Most are online now, with only some tidying and final proofreading to be completed.

We are now turning our attention to criminal cases, beginning again in 1788. Some are already online, including the first criminal case in Australia, R. v. Barsby, 1788. We have now completed a careful proofreading of that case, but need some help. At page [8] of the Barsby transcript online, there is a reference to Richard Clark, Serjeant of the Marines. The handwriting is unclear at that point. We cannot find a person called Serjeant Clark in 1788. (A photo of the page is online.) If any reader has a suggestion as to the correct name, please let us know. Also there are references in the case record to the prisoner being struck with a cane or case. The word looks more like case than cane in the manuscript, though case makes more sense in context. Suggestions would be very welcome here too. (We have now changed the text: the references are to cane and to Richard Clinch. Thanks to Jan Daly for helping us with these words.)

Some of the very early criminal cases we have put online are not yet finally proofread. We will replace the text after we finish proofreading. In the meantime, we wanted these important cases to be made available as early as possible. This applies particularly to decisions before 1800.

The criminal cases will take us most of the rest of 2007 to complete.

February 2007: We are making good progress with the addition of cases before 1824. The Case Index is the easiest way to find the early cases. New cases online include R. v. Sutter, 1808, in which the defendant rejects the legality of the rebel courts after the Rum rebellion of 1808; and the great case of Boston v. Laycock, 1795, in which soldiers were held to the same rule of law as the rest of the community. We have also placed online digital images of the first civil court records in Australia, Cable v. Sinclair, 1788.

January 2007: We have now commenced a new project, which will lead to the creation of Australia's earliest set of law reports, going back to 1788. This new project has the combined financial support of the Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History and Macquarie University. We anticipate that the law reports will be published towards the end of 2008. In the meantime, we will publish selected cases here, from 1788 onwards. The first fruit of that project is now online: we have just published the oldest case in Australian legal history, Cable v. Sinclair, 1788. We have also published Australia's earliest civil legal claim by an Aboriginal person, and a rare Australian case of wife sale.

January 2007: Most of the documents about relations with Aboriginal people that were collected by Justice Burton are now online. We have linked these documents to the most important cases, the three Myall Creek trials, R. v. Lowe, 1827 and R. v. Murrell, 1836.

September 2006: We are working on the 1842 cases which should be online in October. We are also working on a file of documents which is located in the State Records Office of NSW, called "Miscellaneous Correspondence relating to Aborigines". These are the documents collected by Burton J, the trial judge in the second Myall Creek trial and the judge who wrote the lead judgment in R. v. Murrell, 1836. There are over 800 pages of handwritten notes and correspondence, which we intend to put online.

June 2006: In preparation for the publication of Outsiders: Tales from the Supreme Court of NSW, 1824-1836, a page has been attached to this website. The book is designed for general readers, but some readers may wish more detail. The page contains extended notes for the book.

June 2006: We have continued placing online some newly uncovered cases concerning Aborigines. (See R. v. Hatherly, 1823. This is the first case we have published that was decided by the Court of Criminal Jurisdiction, which operated between 1788 and 1824.)

May 2006: Willis J. has a reputation for compassion towards Aborigines. We have just added a newly uncovered case of his, R. v. Bolden, 1841, which might lead us to reconsider our views of the judge.

April 2006: R v Ballard, 1829, an important decision on the autonomy of Aboriginal peoples, was cited by McPherson JA in Stevenson v Yasso [2006] QCA 40 at [85].

February 2005: we have now published a couple of 1843 Port Phillip District cases, from the New South Wales Supreme Court. They are Ailsa v Wilson, 1843 and Atkins v Manton, 1843.

April 2004: We have now published the surviving records of pre-1850 appeals from the Australian colonies to the Privy Council in London. Concentrating on the unreported decisions of the Privy Council, these records are taken from the office of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and from the National Archives in Kew, London.

April 2004: the 1841 cases are now online.

March 2004: we have put an important 1842 Aboriginal case from Western Australia online.

October 2003: we have now put th1840 cases online.

August 2002: after a delay of about a year, th1839 cases have now come online. They include R. v. Lamb, Toulouse and Palliser, 1839, which is the last of the Myall Creek cases.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University