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

R. v. Clives [1827] NSWSupC 3

murder, domestic violence, Field of Mars, capital punishment, public

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Trial, 9 February 1827

Source: Australian, 10 February 1827

John Clives, alias Malkland, alias McLane was capitally indicted for the wilful murder of Catherine Douglas, on the 17th December last.[1 ]

John Bennett sworn - is a settler living in the district of the Field of Mars, situate on the Parramatta river - knew deceased - she was in witness's service at the time of her death - prisoner rented an adjoining farm of witness - he was in the habit of coming to witness's house, though he had been repeatedly desired not to do so.  About three o'clock on the 11th December last, witness went with deceased to the house of one Williams, a relative and neighbouring settler, to spend the afternoon - a man servant also accompanied them - as they were leaving the farm, the prisoner joined them - when the party reached W's. house, deceased told prisoner not to sit in her company - they were in the habit of having repeated quarrels - but witness did not take much notice of it, at first, as it was so usual - prisoner went into another room, and drank some beer; while deceased and witness continued to sit for about an hour, drinking some wine, moderately - at the expiration of that time, witness and deceased got up, to go away - on coming out at the door, prisoner was standing there - witness desired him to go home - there appeared to be some angry feeling subsisting between prisoner and deceased - witness returned into the house, in search of his man-servant leaving deceased standing outside - upon his return, which was in the course of a very few minutes afterwards, deceased said she had been a good deal abused by the prisoner, who charged her with incontinency - witness desired her to take no notice of it, but go home - deceased called prisoner some opprobrious name, when he immediately stooped down, and taking a large stone in his hand, threw it at deceased - it struck her on the right side of the head - she instantly fell to the ground, and became insensible - the prisoner attempted to kick the deceased, whilst in this situation, but was restrained by witness and another person, who came to his aid - the prisoner maddened with disappointment in being forcibly held - caught hold of witness's throat and attempted to strangle him - he likewise bit his hand in several places - he was at length overpowered and removed from the spot - deceased continued to be insensible - her head bled profusely - she was conveyed into the house and put to bed - a temporary return of reason occurred, during which she said the prisoner had killed her - the woman died the same night.

John Allsopp deposed to seeing the prisoner throw a stone, which struck deceased.  Prisoner, on learning next day that the woman was dead, confessed he had occasioned it. - Other witnesses were called in corroboration of the foregoing testimony.  The Jury found the prisoner Guilty.

The Judge then proceeded to pass the awful sentence of death on the unhappy man, and ordered him for execution on Monday morning next.[2 ]


[1 ] The Sydney Gazette's report of this trial (10 February 1827) said that the defendant was called Clines, alias Mulkley, and that the victim was 60 years old.

[2 ] In this case, as in many other murder cases, the trial was held on a Friday and the prisoner condemned to die on the following Monday.  This was consistent with the provisions of a 1752 statute (25 Geo. III c. 37, An Act for Better Preventing the Horrid Crime of Murder).  By s. 1 of that Act, all persons convicted of murder were to be executed on the next day but one after sentence was passed, unless that day were a Sunday, in which case the execution was to be held on the Monday.  By holding the trials on a Friday, judges gave the condemned prisoners an extra day to prepare themselves for death.

The public execution was reported by the Monitor on 17 February 1827.  It described the Field of Mars (which is near Sydney) as being "a famous district for murder".  It also reported that the prisoner insisted on publicly expressing his innocence, even on the scaffold.  The Monitor reported that "notwithstanding that such a proceeding was in direct contravention of the wishes of his spiritual attendant, he was obstinate in his determination, insomuch that a gentle contest arose after mounting the scaffold, the worthy Priest entreating him not to commit a breach of charity which he strongly apprehended, but to abstract his mind from worldly concerns, and forego any public declaration."  The execution took place in the Sydney gaol yard (Australian, 14 February 1827), but it could be observed from outside the gaol.  The Australian said that Clives accused the principal witness, Bennett, of having committed the crime.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University