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

R. v. Macmanus [1829] NSWSupC 71

murder - insanity, defence of

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Dowling J., 12 October 1829

Source: Australian, 16 October 1829




Before Mr. Justice Dowling, James Macmanus was indicted for the wilful murder of Edward Vales, at Parramatta, on the 4th of October.[1 ]

Dr. Wardell, for the prisoner, urged that the man was unsound in his mind at the time of committing the murder.

Seven officers were then sworn to determine whether the prisoner was sane or insane at the time charged.

Rev. Samuel Marsden deposed, that he had known the prisoner, but was not aware of his derangement till within the last ten days.  On the 3rd of October he observed the man pulling at the tomb-stones in Parramatta church-yard, by which he tore off two of his finger nails, and on the Sunday evening subsequently, about five o'clock, he again beheld prisoner, who then betrayed a deranged state of intellect, and seemed to be incapable of judging right from wrong.

Mr. Marsden's coachman, George Savage, deposed, that he went to bed on Sunday evening, Oct. 4, about nine o'clock, and shortly after heard the prisoner walk out of a house opposite, and begin counting the stars as far as nine; the man continued after this walking up and down for about an hour and a half, talking all the time most incoherently; about twelve o'clock, hearing a crash of broken glass, Savage continued to depose, that he got up and alarmed the chief constable, who dispatched a sub-constable with him to the church yard, when after climbing over the gate, and glancing an eye about, he spied the maniac in a small lodge, sprinkling water about him; on getting nearer the door, the maniac was heard to cry, ``I'll wash my hands, and wash them clean;" as he turned to wash his hands, Savage ran up to the door, and pulled it to -- then opened it a little, and peeped, when the maniac flung water in his face, saying, ``thou art saved;" Savage said, ``Jem, come along with me, and I'll take you home to your brother's;"  Macmanus replied, ``Ah, do you know me, I have conquered the devil;" on looking round the room Savage beheld a dead body stretched along the ground, the neck and face of which were desperately lacerated, an axe lying near it appeared to be covered with blood; Savage exclaimed to the constable outside, he's killed old Neddy, meaning deceased, who was 74 years of age, and both secured Macmanuss [sic] in the church-yard a short time, after being obliged to knock him down, as he defended himself furiously.

Mr. Justice Dowling having put it to the Commission to say, whether from the evidence that had been adduced, they could consider the prisoner as a madman, or one in possession of his intellects.  Without retiring, a verdict was returned, that the panel [sic] was of unsound mind at the time of committing the act described.

The Judge then directed, that the prisoner should be kept in close confinement till his Majesty's pleasure be made known upon the subject, which in all likelihood will be a period of 10 months.[2 ]

The prisoner did not exhibit any symptoms of insanity at the bar.



[1 ] That is, the trial took place only eight days after the death of the victim.  On the insanity defence, see also Sydney Gazette, 4 September 1830.

[2 ] According to the Sydney Gazette, 15 October 1829, the court sentenced him to confinement at the Lunatic Asylum during His Majesty's pleasure.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University