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

R. v. Hartland [1828] NSWSupC 3

murder, manslaughter, domestic violence

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Stephen J., 8 February 1828

Source: Australian, 13 February 1828

John Hartland, a middle aged man; was capitally indicted for the wilful murder of Eliza Watkins, on the 10th of January last.

It appeared in evidence that the deceased, who was a married woman, but had lived apart from her husband for some years, had cohabited with the prisoner for some months antecedent to her death.  On the 10th of last month the prisoner and deceased having been out drinking, returned home, neither of them remarkably sober, and deceased having in the course of the day occasion to go to a box, wherein she kept some money, missed a few shillings, and taxing the prisoner with taking them, protested she would complain of him.  The woman was in the act of leaving the house hastily, and as if for the express purpose of procuring a constable, to take the prisoner in charge, when the latter following, overtook the deceased, and as she was stooping, bestowed on her two kicks between the ribs, which occasioned a rupture of the spleen, and the woman having immediately fallen, expired within a few minutes after receiving the injury.  In summing up the learned Judge recommended that the Jury should be ruled in giving their verdict by the circumstances under which the rash act was committed.  If the Jury were of opinion with him, that there had been on the prisoner's part a total absence of malice prepense, of any premeditated intention to murder, they might find an acquittal for the prisoner of the capital charge, and convict him of the less capital one, of manslaughter.[1 ]

After retiring for a few minutes, the Jury returned into Court, acquitting the prisoner of the charge of murder, and finding him guilty of manslaughter.[2 ]


[1 ] The Sydney Gazette, 11 February 1828, summarised the charge to the jury as follows: "Mr. Justice Stephen summed up the evidence, leaving it to the Jury to say, whether, from the circumstances of the case, there was that malice prepense either direct or implied, which His Honor explained to them, was necessary in law to constitute the crime of murder.  If they were of opinion that no previous malice existed in the mind of the prisoner, but that the unfortunate occurrence had taken place during a gust of passion, for which, in consideration of the frailty of human nature, the law had made allowance, they would acquit the prisoner of the crime of murder, and find him guilty of the minor offence of manslaughter."

[2 ] On 29 February 1828, he was sentenced to imprisonment for two months: Australian, 5 February 1828.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University