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

R. v. Doyle, 1837

attempted murder, New Zealand, Supreme Court jurisdiction over, stealing from dwelling house, aliens, jurisdiction over

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Dowling A.C.J., 1 August 1837

Source: Sydney Herald, 3 August 1837[1 ]

Tuesday, August 1. - Before the Acting Chief Justice.

Edward Doyle late of New Zealand and Sydney, was indicted for that he at New Zealand, within the jurisdiction of the Court, on the 25th June, laid his left hand on the trigger of a pistol and did attempt to kill and murder one John Wright a British subject.  The prisoner pleaded not guilty, and chose a civil jury, but applied to have his case postponed, as his witnesses who could prove an alibi were at New Zealand.  The Crown Solicitor said that the prisoner had handed him a list of four witnesses all residing at New Zealand.  One of the witnesses who was named he could answer would attend, but there were no means of compelling attendance.  The prisoner said he had no doubt the witnesses would come up if they were subpoenaed, and the Attorney General offering no objection, the case was postponed to next session.

Edward Doyle was indicted for breaking into the dwelling-house of John Wright at New Zealand, and stealing therefrom sundry articles.  This case was postponed on the same grounds as the former.


Dowling A.C.J., 1 November 1837

Source: Sydney Herald, 6 November 1837[2 ]

Edward Doyle, late of Sydney and New Zealand, labourer, and a subject of our Lord the late King, and of our Lady the Queen, was indicted for stealing twenty yards of calico, ten shirts, twenty pounds of gunpowder, and sundry other articles, from the dwelling-house of John Wright, at New Zealand, within the jurisdiction of the Honorable Supreme Court, on the 18th June, the said John Wright being therein put in bodily fear.

The facts in this case are very simple: - The prosecutor, Mr. John Wright, is a British subject residing at the Bay of Island, New Zealand.  On the evening of the day laid in the indictment, about nine o'clock, hearing the dogs bark, he, accompanied by his step-daughter, Miss Featherstone, went out to see what was the matter; when they got outside they saw a boat lying at a point a short distance off, and saw three men coming from that direction; when they drew near the house Mr. Wright asked them what they wanted, when one of them replied they wanted some tobacco, to which Mr. Wright replied that he was not in the habit of selling tobacco on a Sunday evening.  At this moment one of the ruffians, who was distinctly and solemnly sworn to be the prisoner at the bar, both by Miss Featherstone and Mr. Wright, jumped over a stile and laid hold of Mr. Wright, at the same moment presenting a pistol to his breast, the other two men, known as Fell and the shoemaker, rushing past and entering the house.  Mr. Wright struggled with Doyle, and kept hold of the barrel of the pistol, and in the struggle they both went down observing that Doyle was endeavouring to point the pistol towards him as they laid on the ground, Mr. Wright managed to knock Doyle's hand from the trigger, and fired the pistol into the sand.  During this time Miss Featherstone remained with Mr. Wright, begging Doyle not to murder him, when the shoemaker desired Doyle to knock his brains out, and because Miss Featherstone refused to leave Mr. Wright, the savage laid hold of her by the hair of her head and dragged her away, knocking her against the fence with considerable violence, and at the same time striking Mr. Wright a violent blow on his head with a piece of wood, injuring him very much; hearing the screams of Miss Featherstone, Mrs. Wright came out of the house, and was met by the shoemaker, who made a blow at her with the piece of wood he had in his hand, and missing her he struck her mouth with his fist and knocked out four of her teeth, loosening several others.  In the mean time Mr. Wright and Doyle had struggled into the verandah of the house, when the shoemaker went up to them and gave Doyle a second loaned pistol, desiring him to shoot Mr. Wright at once, and using an oath because he had not done so before; Mr. Wright laid hold of this pistol as he had done the first one, when the shoemaker wrenched the pistol from both of them, and, retreating a couple of yards, deliberately pulled the trigger as Mr. Wright rose from the ground, but providentially the pistol only burnt priming, and while he was endeavouring to re-prime it the family got into the house, and Miss Featherstone stood holding the door in her hand, when Doyle told her if she did not open the door he would knock her brains out, at the same time making all of them go into the bed-room, when they deliberately went into the store, and plundered it of property worth £120, which they took to the boat; during the outrage one of the ruffians demanded six hundred dollars, which he said Mr. Wright; had received from the master of a vessel, and on the family declaring they had no money in the house they threatened to place a barrel of gun-powder against the door and blow the house down.  When they went away Fell remained sentry at the door until the whole of the property was in the boat, and desired none of them to look which way he went, or it would be the worse for them.  The next morning an alarm was given, and the Rev. Mr. Williams, one of the missionaries, went to a native paah [sic], about three miles off, where the natives pointed out the prisoner and three other men as having committed the robbery, and produced a quantity of tobacco, which exactly resembled Mr. Wright's tobacco, which they said they had taken from them; it was several days before Doyle was taken into custody by a Mr. Maher, and shackled to the ground, but by means of a gimlet he liberated himself, and was at large until given up by the natives and placed on board H.M.S. Rattlesnake.  The prisoner cross-examined the witnesses as to his identity, but could not shake them in the least; for as Miss Featherstone, in answer to a question from Doyle, said with great naivete, ``You know it was a very beautiful bright clear night, and when I stood in the door and you stood in the verandah there were three lights on the table behind my back, so that I had a good opportunity of seeing your face, and what occurred that night made such an impression on me that I shall never forget you."  Mr. Jilks deposed that when the prisoner came to the Police-office he told him he had done his original sentence in this Colony before he went to New Zealand.  In his defence the prisoner denied all knowledge of the robbery, and stated that on the Saturday before the robbery was committed, he laid out £7 or £8 at a store, which accounted for his having the tobacco in his possession; he also stated that he was a native of New Bedford, in America, and had been left at one of the South Sea Islands, and been brought to Sydney by the man of war brig Zebra, where he shipped on board the Psyche whaler, which he left up; he said that the New South Wales Act very properly gives the Court jurisdiction over all offences committed in any of the Islands in the South Pacific Ocean by British subjects, and therefore they must be satisfied that the prisoner is a British subject.  His Honor made some remarks respecting the nature of the evidence of Mr. Wright and Miss Featherstone, and the jury, after an absence of a few minutes, returned a verdict of Guilty.  Remanded.


Dowling A.C.J., Burton and Willis JJ, 18 November 1837

Source: Sydney Herald, 20 November 1837[ 3]

Saturday  Before the Acting Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Burton, and Mr. Justice Willis.

The Attorney General prayed the judgment of the Court on Edward Doyle, convicted of stealing in a dwelling-house, at New Zealand, and putting in fear therein.

The Acting Chief Justice said that the circumstances of this case were marked with great outrage; the crime contemplated by the prisoner was not merely robbery, but if necessary to carry it into effect, loss of life was to occur.  When the crime was contemplated he probably imagined that from the remoteness of the place at which it was committed he would be exempted from the penal visitation of the law; but the Court trusted that the example which would be made in this case would remove from the mind of lawless ruffians a delusion that by distance they were secured from the visitation of justice.  Those in authority in this Colony would have failed in their duty had they spared any trouble or expense in bringing this case home to the prisoner; the Court had reason to know that the expenses on the case had been immense, but they could not look upon the expense in a case where it was so necessary.  After recapitulating the facts of the case, His Honor said that it was marked with every circumstance of aggravation, and the prisoner need not delude himself with the hope that he would escape.  Sentence of Death was then passed in the usual form.


[1 ] See also Australian, 4 August 1837.  See also Sydney Herald, 3 August 1837.  On New Zealand see also Sydney Herald, 18 May 1837.

[ 2] See also Australian, 3 November 1837; Sydney Gazette, 4 November 1837; Dowling, Proceedings of the Supreme Court, Vol. 143, State Records of New South Wales, 2/3328, p 156.

[3 ] See also Australian, 21 November 1837; Sydney Gazette, 21 November 1837.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University