Skip to Content

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

R v Bowles [1835] NSWSupC 7

murder - domestic violence - prostitution - oaths, children - children, evidence by

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Dowling J., 13 February 1835

Source: Australian, 17 February 1835[ 1]


(Before Mr. Justice Dowling and a Civil Jury.)

Wm. Phineas Bowles was indicted for the murder of Sarah Bowles, his wife, by stabbing her in various parts of the body with a knife.

Mary Ann Williams, a child of about ten years of age, was examined by His Honor as to her knowledge of the responsibility of an oath, her religious and moral education, to all of which she gave satisfactory answers, proving her competency to give evidence:-- I am in the service of Mrs. Hoddle, in Bathurst-street; remember having Sarah Bowles' baby in my arms on a Saturday morning, about 7 o'clock; while Sarah was cleaning the verandah, prisoner came up and said, ``how are you Sarah," she said she did not want any thing to do with him; he went away and then came back again, and offered her a letter; she would not take it; somebody rapped at the window inside, and called deceased in; she was going in, when prisoner caught her; she ran up to the end of the verandah and screamed murder; she wanted to get over the rail but could not; prisoner got her into a corner, he took a knife out of the left sleeve of his jacket, and stabbed her, I could not well see where; he then knelt down upon her and stabbed her again in other places; I called to Mr. Flood, and George, the butcher, came up and took the prisoner away; deceased pulled the knife from out one of her wounds and threw it down; a painter picked it up; some women took her to a doctor; I know no more, I saw her once after, when she returned to the house, and when she was dead.

Cross-examined by the prisoner - I took away the things deceased was cleaning the verandah with; I saw no knife; only a flannel, brick, and bucket of water.

By His Honor - I once saw the prisoner before, it was on the Tuesday, he came to the door, deceased went to open it; Mrs. Hoddle came out, he wanted to give her a letter, but she would not take it, Mrs. J. told him to go about his business.

Thomas Leggatt - I am in the employ of Mr. Dargin, coach proprietor; I was starting the coach on a Saturday morning before Christmas, from the Elephant and Castle, about seven o'clock; it was next to Mrs. Hoddles house; I saw a scuffle in Mrs. H.'s verandah, between deceased and the prisoner; he had a knife in his hand, covered with blood; I said to him, ``are you going to murder the woman, you villain?"  I was rather timid at taking him, but picked up three bricks that lay by me, and threw it at him; but before I could get assistance to take him, he gave the deceased three stabs, the last one he gave, he had his hand upon the knife, the blow from the brick made him let go, he left it in her side; Mr. Flood and some more people came up and took him to the watch-house; I saw the knife at the inquest - this is it (the knife was produced, it was stained with blood.)

Cross-examined by the prisoner - I believe this is the knife; it was the blow from the brick that made it go into the side of she deceased; I know nothing of any other knife.

Henry Feltham - I am a carpenter, I sleep at Mrs. Hoddle's house for its protection, I know the deceased, I saw her about 2 o'Clock on the day she was wounded lying on her bed in Mrs. Hoddle's house - also, on the Wednesday following, she spoke to me about two hours before her death, she said it was a hard struggle to die, she said she wished to state something respecting her character before she died, which she would state to the persons present - she said she had been accused of perjury, and that she was married to another man before she was married to the prisoner.  She added on her oath she was never married to any but him.

Cross-examined by prisoner - I never knew any thing about another knife in the verandah, never saw her using one while cleaning there.

By the Judge - Deceased was 33 years old, she came to the Colony in the Bussorah Merchant; she was confined after her arrival and before her marriage to this man.

Edward Flood - I am a builder, live in Bathurst-street, remember about 7 o'Clock on the morning in question I was sitting in my house, (with my back to the window) opposite Mrs. Harrels I heard a female scream, I saw the prisoner and a woman retreating from him to the far end of the verandah, he gave her a blow and she fell, he with her, she still kept screaming, a minute after, Mr. Dargin's servant came up, I then armed myself with a stick and went over to deceased's assistance, she was in the verandah and prisoner about a yard off her; I seized prisoner by the collar, he said that ``I might now do my own duty, for he had done all he wanted," I called for asssistance [sic] and took him to the watchhouse, whilst going there, some one called out that the woman was dead, he said ``he hoped not, and trusted she would linger" - a person also called to me by name and gave me me [sic] a knife, saying, this was the knife he stabbed deceased with - one of the persons who accompanied us said - ``this is a pretty instrument I'm sure" - prisoner answered, ``yes, I borrowed it for the purpose this morning" - this is the knife produced.

By His Honor - I was excited at first, when I saw the blood flowing from the woman's breast, but at the time I speak of, whilst taking prisoner to the watchhouse, I was perfectly cool and collected, as much so as I am now; I am perfectly sure the conversation was as I have stated.

Cross-examined by prisoner - When I returned from the watchhouse I went to my house, I believe I made the same statement respecting your conversation about the knife at the Police Office.

Doctor Robert Band - I am a surgeon residing in Bathurst-street, I was called to attend the deceased, I examined her, and found four wounds upon her, apparently inflicted by some sharp instrument -- the wounds were as follows:  one in the left breast, two in the left side, one in the back at the bottom of the right side of the spine.  I probed them, found them to penetrate about two or two and a half inches her death was occasioned by cramp or lock jaw, which was caused from the irritation consequent on the wound.  In conjunction with Doctor Bland, I attended her till the day of her death, she died on the 14th December, was a healthy woman in the prime of life, the baby was about eight or ten months old.

Cross-examined by prisoner - Carrying her about the streets might make matters worse in one respect, and beneficial in another - as if much blood came from her it would reduce the inflammation which might arise from the wound.  I never heard Doctor Bland say I would be hanged.  This was the case for the prosecution.

The prisoner when called on for his defence, commenced by stating, that not to prolong life, but to explain to the jury, and to his friends and the public generally, that he was incapable of the attrocities [sic] which had been alleged against him - some persons had publicly said he would be hanged - the newspapers had pronounced him guilty - one had gone as far as to hang him - had it been a person of no education and moving in a still humbler sphere, it would not have excited so much interest, but occurring in the house of a lady - (here prisoner impugning the conduct of Mrs. Harrell, when he was very properly stopped by His Honor) the public seemed to view him with additional horror.  He threw much odium upon his deceased wife, stating that she had imposed herself upon him as a widow, after the marriage he discovered her child to be illegitimate, and herself inconstant, he had used various means to reclaim her, but unsuccessfully, he would prove that it was her who commenced the attack, and he struck her in defence only of his own life, he would prove that she had frequently endeavoured to induce him to assault her, that she might have him bound to the peace, which eventually was done.  He would prove that on one occasion she ran at him knife in hand, threatening his life; she had said he was jealous - he had no occasion for being so through the young man with whom she cohabited had found her incontinent, and on one occasion took her out of a notorious brothel.  After seeking her seven days, he (prisoner) found her at Mrs. Howell's - he entreated Mrs. H., to bring about a reconciliation, likewise of the Rev. Richard Hill - he had continually exerted himself to keep her from prostitution up to the day he struck her.  He had been told she was to be sent to England, and he left here a married man without a wife.  Prisoner then proceeded to call the following witnesses, but in his examination of them, he evinced so much malice against the deceased wife, that His Honor on more than one occasion stopped him.

James Thomson, shoemaker - I lived in Elizabeth-street in Dec., prisoner called at my house on the 6th December, borrowed a knife, he appeared depressed in spirits, said he wanted it to trim the holes in his dulcina - the knife produced is the one - I thought at the time that a pen-knife would be better.

Mrs. Mary Hoddle, Bathurst street - Deceased lived with me as servant, did not know her before she lived with me, I knew she was married, she had an infant, her first cousin, she said, was its father, remembers prisoner calling at her house on 5th Dec. made himself known as her husband - prisoner offered me a letter, I declined taking it, I desired him to be gone, and threatened him with the police if he again came to my house - I remember having said his wife should be sent to England - I received a letter from prisoner since he was in jail - don't know what has become of it.  I tapped at the window on the morning of the 6th, called prisoner in - don't know which was most irritated.

Rev. Richard Hill - I married prisoner to deceased, I received a letter from him, enclosing one also fer Mrs. Hoddle - prisoner desired an interview with me, which, at that time, I could not give him - he afterwards called and left a letter for me containing most gross charges against his wife, accusing her of cohabiting with others before and after her marriage, I returned the letters, stating my reason for declining to interfere, that if she was so bad as he represented her, she was unworthy of his solicitation,

Elizabeth Chepwood lives at MR. Solletts in Goulburn-street, lived once in the same house with prisoner and deceased 3 weeks - deceaeed [sic] appeared pleased at having prisoner bound down to the peace - I saw deceased with a knife in her hand in a great passion, demanding a letter from him - it was a letter from the father of her child in England to her, which was then in prisoners possession; remembers on one occasion deceased tore prisoners clothes as he was going down Goulburn-street - have heard deceased say she lodged at a Mrs. Laverick's in in [sic] Phillip-street, she admitted she had connexion with one John Farthing - I have kept the baby ever since.

Elizabeth Brown, assigned to Mr. Moore, Pitt-street - Deceased acknowledged she had taken a knife to her husband about 3 months since, and that she would provoke him to strike her, she said he was too fond of her.

Colonel Wilson, Chief Police Magistrate - Deceased was examined at the Police Office before me, in a charge of assault against the prisoner.  Prisoner was a constable in the Police when taken up upon this charge - bore a good character, or I should not have taken him into the constabulary.

Rev. Mr. Jarratt knew but little of prisoner, that only from one interview, believed him to be a good character.

Conductor Abbot - I met prisoner about six o'clock on the morning in question, I thought he was returning from duty.  I knew prisoner 16 years ago in Ireland, he always bore a good character, his father was a magistrate for the county of Roscommon, and he an only son.

This was the defence - The learned judge before summing up, desired the jury to dismiss from their mind any opinion they might have formed previously, and to drive from their recollection any statement which they might have heard or read.  His Honor went minutely over the evidence, both for prosecution and defence - pointing out the connecting parts of the evidence and its descrepancy [sic] - begging them to act fearlessly and conscientiously, to do their duty in upholding the laws of their country, but to do so mercifully - to give the prisoner the benefit of any reasonable doubt they might have.  The jury retired for a few minutes, when they returned with a verdict of guilty.  The prisoner was sentenced to be hung on Monday.



[1 ] The trial notes are in Dowling, Proceedings of the Supreme Court, State Records of New South Wales, 2/3290, vol. 107, p. 14.  Dowling added the following marginal note at the end of this record: ``Ill assorted marriage - after so short a courtship.  Violated the solemn compact of marriage.  Divine commandment.  Fulfilling."

See also Sydney Gazette, 14 February 1835.

On his execution, witnessed by Aboriginal prisoners, see Australian, 20 February 1835.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University