Skip to Content

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

R. v. Curran [1834] NSWSupC 7

murder - presumption of innocence - women defendants in crime

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Dowling J., 7 February 1834

Source: Sydney Gazette, 11 February 1834[1 ]

(Before Mr. Justice Dowling, and a Jury of Civil


Nicholas Curran was indicated for the wilful murder of Frances Perring, at Goulburn Plains, by striking her on the head with both his hands, and throwing her violently on the ground, on the 11th November last, from the effects of which she died on the 13th following; and Thomas Curran and Mary Curran were charged as principals in the second degree, for aiding, abetting, and assisting the first named prisoner in the commission of the said murder.

The second count charged the offence as having been committed with a piece of wood, of no value.

The third and fourth counts differed only from the first and second, in charging Thomas Curran as principal, and Nicholas Curran and Mary Curran as abettors in the said crime.

The prisoner pleaded not guilty.

The Solicitor General conducted the case for the prosecution; Messrs. Rowe and Nichols appeared for the defence.

The deceased met her death under the following circumstances: - The female prisoner is the wife of Nicholas Curron; he is the brother of the other male prisoner; and all are neighbours of John Pering, the husband of the deceased, who lives at Goulburn Plains.  On the day laid in the indictment, the prisoners brought a gallon of rum to Perring's house, where two or three other persons were assembled; drinking then commenced until all the parties became more or less intoxicated, and a general fight was the result.  John Perring was so much beaten by the two male prisoners, that he was compelled to leave the house, in order to avoid worse consequences, and during his temporary absence the deceased received her death blow.  None of the witnesses produced on the trial saw the fatal stroke given; but John Smith, who appeared to have been the most sober person of the party, deposed, that when he last saw the deceased, before she received the injury, she was standing out side the door of the house, where the two male prisoners were fighting with the legs of a stool which they had broken up for the purpose.  This witness had occasion to retire to the back part of the premises for a few minutes, and at his return found the two male prisoners still fighting with the stool legs inside the house, the deceased lying on the floor, and the female prisoner standing by, and looking on.  The deceased was raised up by Smith, but she was insensible, and continued so until her death, which occurred two days afterwards.  Mr. William John Kerr, a Member of the Dublin College of Surgeons, examined the body of the deceased some hours after her death: the external part of the back of the head was very severely contused; on removing the skull-cap, a large quantity of extravasated blood was found on the surface of the brain, the membraneous covering of which was excessively vascular.  The principal extravasation of blood was under the left temporal bone, upon which no external injury appeared, but that, the medical gentleman observed, frequently happened in cases of contusion from blows and violent falls.  The deceased seemed a stout low-sized woman, but exhibited no predisposition to apoplexy, of which there was no appearance whatever.  The injuries on her head were quite sufficient to have caused death, and might have been occasioned by a blunt instrument, such as a stick.  They might have been caused by frequent falls, and the head coming in contact with some hard substance.

The learned Judge, in his charge to the Jury, observed that, in the absence of all positive evidence as to the manner in which, and from whom the deceased met her death, the presumption was as strong as otherwise, that it was occasioned accidentally while the two brothers were fighting with sticks: perhaps the deceased went between them to prevent worse consequences ensuing, and met the fatal blow in that manner: but the fact of the male prisoners themselves fighting, seemed to rebut the allegation of intended malice to the deceased, and rather favoured the idea of the blow having been accidental. - His Honor was about to go through the whole of the evidence, when the Jury expressed themselves satisfied, and without hesitation acquitted the prisoners.

The prisoners were discharged by proclamation.



[1 ] See also Sydney Herald, 10 February 1834; Australian, 10 February 1834; Dowling, Proceedings of the Supreme Court, State Records of New South Wales, 2/3275, vol. 92, p. 26.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University