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

R. v. Puckeridge, Holmes, Sneid and Lee [1827] NSWSupC 17

murder, provocation, Crown mercy

Supreme  Court of New South Wales

Forbes C.J., 16 March 1827

Source: Australian, 20 March 1827

William Puckeridge, Edward Holmes, Richard Sneid, and James Lee were indicted for the wilful murder of Patrick McCooy, on the 19th of February last.

JOHN DUNNOVAN examined --- is a housekeeper living the Brick-fields, Sydney --- Patrick McCooy, deceased, lodged in his house at the time he met his death --- this was on the night of the 19th of Feb. last --- about eight o'clock on that evening, witness had occasion to go into a paddock adjoining his house, to look after some cattle, which he suspected had broken out of the enclosure --- he discovered that a calf was missing --- happening to see McCooy, whom he had a few minutes before left in the house, standing by the paddock fence, he called to him for his assistance, to secure the stray calf --- McCooy did so --- whilst employed in securing the fence, two of the prisoners, Puckeridge and Holmes, came up --- the former laid his hand on McCooy's shoulder, enquiring, at the same sime [sic], who he was?  McCooy evaded the question, but Puckeridge insisted on an answer --- McCooy then told him his name --- Puckeridge asked him if he recollected a particular night, and mentioned some street --- McCooy said he did not --- the prisoner Homes said he did, and addressing his companion, Puckeridge, said "now's the time, sheet it home to the -----."  Puckeridge replied "I've been looking out for you, McCooy, some time, and now I'll McCooy you" -- he thereupon struck him in the breast, knocked McCooy down, and afterwards falling on the man, rose himself from the body, and with his whole weight fell on his knees upon the man's bowels --- this he repeated two or three times.  Holmes appeared to be the instigator of this act of violence --- his language appeared to excite Puckeridge to proceed to those extremes.  Holmes said to Puckeride "stamp his guts out."  McCooy, in a faint voice, said, "Oh, oh, oh, I am dead."  Witness then interfered, to prevent any further outrage, when Holmes caught hold of his throat and said, if he took part with him, meaning McCooy, he would serve him in the same way.  Puckeridge thereupon struck witness several blows, and likewise kicked him --- he eventually knocked him down.  Puckeridge was pursing the same course of treatment towards him, and he had used to McCooy, having once jumped on him, with the whole weight of his body, when a woman of the name of Kennedy was seen approaching with a light --- a voice, which witness could not recognise, but thought it to be that of some spectator, cried out "knock off, knock off, here are lights coming" --- the person came up with a light, and a crowd of person soon became assembled.  Puckeridge and Homes still remained on the spot --- witness had known Puckeridge for four years past, and Homes for a considerable time --- there were six or seven persons who stood at a short distance, witnessing the affray --- a woman called Ann Puckeridge, who is reported to be the mother of the prisoner Puckeridge, was not present at the scene of those occurrences --- she was not at witness's house during the whole of that day on which the fatal occurrence happened.  Ann Kennedy corroborated much of the testimony of last witness.

Wm. FULLER --- remembered the night of McCooy's death --- about eight o'clock on that evening, he was proceeding along Goulburn-street, on his way homewards, when interrupted by four men, who were standing against the fence of Dunnovan's paddock - the night was dark - but previous to being interrogated by the men, and being within a short distance from them, heard one of the men say to each other "here comes the ---, now's the time" --- on witness's approach, the prisoner Puckeridge asked him if he lived in yon corner house, alluding to the dwelling of Dunnovan --- witness replied in the negative.  Puckeridge then told one of the party to look at witness in the face, and see if he was the person they wanted - the person who was spoken to said not.  Puckeridge then apologized to witness, for interrupting him, and bid him good night --- witness proceeded on --- about a quarter of an hour after, there was a considerable tumult in the street, near to Dunnovan's house --- witness went out to ascertain the cause --- he came up to a concourse of persons, who had assembled, and then witnessed McCooy lying on the ground, apparently in a dying state, and McCooy's brother, with Dunnovan standing close to him --- amongst the number of spectators were some girls --- one of whom observed, that it had just served McCooy right --- the person who said this was a stranger to witness.  Felix McCooy corroborated some of the testimony of first witness.

- FORRESTER deposed, that on the same night as the outrages occurred, he saw a man leading the mother of the prisoner Puckeridge round the corner of Dunnovan's house --- this was a little before the assault took place on McCooy --- the man had his arm round the woman's waist --- witness, however, was at thirty yards' distance from them, and the night was dark --- he could not distinguish the features of the man --- about ten minutes after, or a little better, heard a noise in the street --- went up to the place where several person were collected together --- witness enquired what was the matter --- Holmes said some person had been ill-using Mrs. Puckeridge --- Dunnovan was standing by at the time --- Puckeridge struck him, and afterwards kicked him --- witness interfered, and succeeded in persuading Puckeridge not to repeat the violence --- deceased, McCooy, was lying down at the time --- the woman witness alluded to, appeared to be intoxicated --- the man appeared the same --- but the woman seemed particularly so, --- she appeared to resist the man --- observed her to hang back, as if unwilling to go with the person --- heard the woman cry out "don't kill," or "murder me" --- the prisoner Lee, was also a witness to this occurrence.

Dr. BLAND deposed to examining the body of deceased; on opening the body, he found an extensive lacerated wound of the liver, apparently the effect of some mechanical violence; considered it to be the cause of the man's death; is certain the death was occasioned from external violence.  This was the case for the prosecution.  Witnesses were called for the prisoners.

The CHIEF JUSTICE summed up at great length.


Source: Sydney Gazette, 20 March 1827

The EXECUTIVE COUNCIL sat on Sunday afternoon, to take into consideration the case of the native youths, Puckeridge and Holmes, who were condemned to death on Friday for the crime of murder.[1 ]  The circumstances in this case were of so peculiar a nature, that several Gentlemen of rank, and other respectable individuals, together with a number of Ladies, were constrained to subscribe their names to a petition, which, to his credit be it recorded, was attended to by Mr. George Smith, of Pitt-street, Sydney, who, though only allowed half an hour to complete the number, still effected his mission within the period allotted him, and the petition, in favour of the condemned, was conveyed to the GOVERNOR in Council in the very nick of time.  It did not, of course, enter into the merits of the case, but merely begged the Chief Justice to point out to HIS EXCELLENCY any favourable circumstances that might, by possibility, have appeared in the course of the trial, as the petitioners were well aware His Honor would not omit interposing in behalf of life where mercy could be urged.  HIS EXCELLENCY, in the exercise of those high powers with which the SOVEREIGN has judiciously invested him, and in answer to the call the Public, strengthened by the recommendation of the CHIEF JUSTICE, was graciously pleased to respite the culprits during pleasure.  We hope this very narrow escape will not be lost in influence on the rising members of our Community; as, even in the event of parents being insulted and abused, children are not illegally to take the law into their own hands, and undertake to inflict that corporal chastisement, which, in all probability, may be followed by DEATH --- by MURDER!

We have ascertained, from respectable authority, since the above was written, that the Chief Justice entertained some doubts at the trial that there was a material chasm in the evidence that would have been favourable tot he prisoners, which, however, was not then within reach; and His Honor was consequently precluded from stating his feelings to the Jury, where there was nothing in the evidence upon which a case could be put, as to this fact, by the Court.  His Honor, however, with his usual anxiety to render impartial justice, had two witnesses examined at the Police Office on Sunday, and from these parties the facts were elicited, upon which doubts, favourable to the condemned, originated in the mind of the Court during the trial.  On the representation, therefore, of the Chief Justice, HIS EXCELLENCY the GOVERNOR felt sincere pleasure in sparing the lives of the young men, who will have to mourn over an act of indiscretion through life, which will not be less lacerating to their feelings, when it is recollected that a human victim has been offered on the altar of their ungovernable passions.  It is an awful thing to shed human blood, and the justice of the GREAT ETERNAL is yet to be satisfied --- to which there is only one narrow access: but we will leave the Minister and the Bible to do their own work.


[1 ] On 17 March 1827, Forbes C.J. sent the case to Governor Darling for consideration of Crown mercy.  He said that "No malice appears to have been entertained by the principal Puckeridge towards McCooey personally, but he appears to have acted under an impression of indecency and violence being offered to his mother, Ann Puckeridge by some person; and it further appeared that McCooey was in some way or other pointed out to him as the person who had taken attempted liberties with his mother - whether such was the fact or not was not very clear in the evidence".  He said that it was not a case in which he could recommend mercy, but thought it should be referred to the Executive Council: Chief Justice's Letter Book , Archives Office of New South Wales, 4/6651, pp 96-97.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University