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Colonial Cases

R. v. Gebhard, 1823

[murder of slave]

R. v. Gebhard

Court of Appeal, Cape Town
Source: The Times, 7 February, 1823

CAPE TOWN, Nov. 16, 1822
  On Saturday, the 21st of September last, the trial of Mr. J. W. L. Gebhard, son of the Rev. Mr. Gebhard, Clergyman at the Paarl, at the instance of the Landrost of Stellenbosch, ratione officii, prosecutor, came on before the full Court at this place, for the murder of a slave the property of his father, by excessive and unlawful punishment. He was found guilty, and sentenced to death; but having noted an appeal from the sentence, it was brought before the Honourable Court of Appeal, on Wednesday, the 13th instant, and the opinion of the Court was delivered by the Secretary in the following words:-
  The Court having read, and duly considered the appellant's memorial, and other documents produced by him, setting forth his reasons for appealing, and praying a reversal of the said sentence, and to award such other punishment as this Court shall deem equitable and just, according to the merits of the case; and the ratione officii prosecutor replied thereto; and having also read and duly considered the whole of the proceedings had before the Worshipful Court of Justice, and the cause having been duly assessed:- doth dismiss this appeal, - doth affirm the sentence appealed from, and doth direct the cause back to the Worshipful Court of Justice, to forthwith carry unto execution their aforesaid sentence.
  After the Court had given its decision on this melancholy case, the Secretary of the Court of appeal by command of His Excellency the Governor, observed, that "the Court having confirmed the sentence of the court below, he was directed to state, that it is the intention of His Excellency the Governor to call the particular attention of the Landrost of the district of Stellenbosch to the future welfare of the slaves who have given evidence in this case; and also, that it is His Excellency's intention to take into his immediate consideration the limitation of domestic correction of slaves, both in its nature and extent, as well as every other  subject connected with their welfare and treatment.
  The awful sentence of the Court of Justice was enforced yesterday. At about half-past 8, the prisoner, attended by Dr. Philip, who, from the moment of the affirmation of the sentence, had administered spiritual comfort, ascended the waggon, at the prison door, and repaired to the hall of justice; from which, accompanied by the Rev. Dr. Philip and the Rev. Mr. Wright, he was conveyed to the place of execution; on entering the waggon, his step was firm, and his countenance animated by the fervour of religion. Hymns, in Dutch and English were sung until they arrived, about 10 o'clock, at the fatal spot. Soon after 10, the members of the Court of Justice arrived - the singing of hymns continued, in which the prisoner joined. Just before he ascended the platform,  which he did without the least embarrassment, he requested leave to sing one other hymn alone, which he did, in the English language, with an undismayed voice, and with a glowing countenance; he then addressed those who were present: "I have a few moments to live; I wish you all may receive the full benefit of my example I acknowledge the justice of my sentence; may its example not be lost upon you! - I see you are much affected; but I call upon you, in the language of our blessed Saviour, 'Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves.' We are all weak, sinful creatures. Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall.  I forgive all my prosecutors, and those who bore witness against me. I die in peace with all mankind, and hope for salvation, only through the merits of Christ! May he wash you all from sin. Soon after he was launched into eternity.
  A circumstance so unusual at the Cape, where slavery is in its mildest form, made a great sensation. An immense concourse attended the execution. There was no symptom of exultation in the conduct or appearance of the slaves, who were present in great numbers.  They all expressed gratitude for the protection afforded them by the Governor, in confirming the sentence of the court of justice, but at the same time manifested sorrow for the sufferer.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School