Skip to Content

Decisions of the Nineteenth Century Tasmanian Superior Courts

R. v. Jeffries and others [1826]

murder - stealing in a dwelling house - assault - arson - bushranging - capital punishment, public spectacle - criminal sentence, burn on the hand

Source: Colonial Times, 6 January 1826

It is with feelings of the utmost horror, that we have to make public the following appalling circumstance.  On Saturday last, Jeffrey, the notorious villain, who lately broke out of the Launceston watch-house, accompanied with the two miscreants who followed him, after having robbed Mr. Barnard's hut, proceeded to the residence of a respectable Settler named Tibbs, about 5 miles from Launceston.  They arrived there about noon.  Mr. Tibbs and his wife, a young and respectable woman, to whom he had been married about two years, with their child, and a servant of a neighbouring Settler, named Basham, were in the house.  The ruffians attempted to bind them, but, upon their offering resistance, these diabolical murderers shot them both.  The man fell dead; Mr. Tibbs was dangerously wounded, but he escaped with his life, and contrived to give an alarm.  The whole town of Launceston, with one accord, rushed out after the murderous villains; but the unhappy female and her child were gone.  About 3 o'clock on Sunday, she returned to her forlorn residence.  She was in a state of distraction.  The dæmons had murdered her infant.  We cannot relate the rest.  The agitation this dreadful event has excited is beyond expression.  We hope and trust the execrable monsters may be quickly brought to condign punishment.

Supreme Court of Van Diemen's Land

Pedder C.J., 22 April 1826

Source: Hobart Town Gazette, 29 April 1826 [1]

On Saturday, Jeffries the murderer, Perry, and Hopkins, were found guilty of stealing a gun, meat, and other articles, from the dwelling-house of Joseph Railton, near Launceston.  They had been brought up on the Thursday previous, but owing to the absence of a witness on the part of Hopkins, the trial was postponed.

Jeffries and Perry were afterwards arraigned for the murder of Mr. Tibbs's child, an infant only five months old.  When Mrs. Tibbs came into Court, and her eye glanced on the insatiate murderers of her babe, she was so affected as to be unable to stand.  Her situation powerfully excited the commiseration of every one present.  The bare recital of the dreadful journey which the monster had compelled her to take with him in the woods, was a painful addition to her sufferings.  When it was necessary for her to look at the prisoners, in order to prove their persons, the suddenness with which she withdrew her eyes, and the tears with which the effort was accompanied, was an instance of detestation more strongly depicted than any assembly of spectators perhaps every witnessed.  The child was proved to have been taken away from the arms of the mother, and killed by Jeffries and Russel, and its remains were discovered about a week afterwards in a decayed state, and mangled by the carnivorous animals in the woods.  When Mrs. Tibbs had asked Jeffries, who called himself Captain, and was dressed in a long black coat, red waistcoat, and kangaroo skin cap, to point out the place where she might find the body, he said ``it was no odds it had not suffered a moment's pain in leaving the world," and both he and Russel, who was afterwards shot and partly eaten by the monster, expressed themselves as regarding the life of a child as nothing.  Both the prisoners were found guilty; the trial lasted till 11 at night.

On Tuesday, morning the bushrangers Brady, Bryant, Tilley, McKenney, Brown, Gregory, and Hodgetts, were put upon their trial for making an assault on William Andrews, a private of the 40th, at Bagdad, on the 26th December last, and stealing his gun.  The jury returned a verdict of guilty against Brady, Bryant, Gregory, Tilley, and Brown, and acquitted McKenney and Hodgetts, their being no evidence to prove that they were present at the time.

Brady, Bryant, Tilley, and Goodwin were then tried for having committed the crimes of felony and arson at Mr. Lawrence's, on the Lake River, on the 26th February, when Brady and Bryant pleaded guilty to the charge, the former declaring that he should plead guilty to every other information that might be filed against him.

On Thursday, Brady and Bryant pleaded guilty to the murder of Thomas Kenton, with malice aforethought, and at the instigation of the devil, on the 5th ultimo.

The same two also pleaded guilty of stealing four horses from Mr. Lawrence, in which charge Tilley and Goodwin were included, and upon trial, found guilty.

Jeffries and Perry were then tried for the murder of Magnus Bakie or Baker the consta[b]le from George Town, who was deliberately shot through the head by Jeffries, as they were travelling through the woods on the 11th of January last.  The circumstances were exactly as stated in our Journal of that date.

It is with great pain we state, that most of the men convicted of robbery and murder, in gaol, whose days of probation must now of necessity be very short, continue with hardened and untouched consciences; apparently insensible of their approaching fate.  Jefferies is said to have been brought at last to a sense of his unhappy state, but Brady, Bryant, McKenney, and Perry, excite both disgust and compassion at their insensibility.  The whirl of their late lawless and dissipated life seems scarcely to have subsided.

We understand the various criminals now convicted in Gaol, will be brought up to receive the sentence of the law from His Honor the Chief Justice this day.

Source: Colonial Times, 5 May 1826 [2]

The late Bushrangers. &c.


On Saturday last, the twelve following criminals received sentence of death:-- Matthew Brady, Patrick Bryant, James Goodwin, James McKenny, John Gregrory [sic], William Tilly, William Brown, and Samuel Hodgetts, (the above eight composed the residue of the gang of bush-rangers, of which Dunne only remains at large.)  Thomas Jeffries, John Perry, and James Hopkins, whose horrid crimes are fresh in the recollection of the Public, and John Thompson, for the murder of Margaret Smith in the watch-house.  His Honor Chief Justice Pedder addressed the unhappy men in the most feeling manner.  He stated to them, that the Law had awarded the punishment of death to the crimes of the least magnitude amongst them.  Those of the greatest were attended with circumstances of such atrocity, that he should only shock the feelings of the auditory by repeating them.  His Honor addressed this to Jeffries and Perry.  He then made some impressive observations upon the offences of Brady and the rest, and finally passed the awful sentence of death upon the whole, in a manner which powerfully excited the feelings of all present; and in the course of which, he himself was most seriously affected.  Brady behaved with the utmost fortitude and firmness; Jeffries appeared much agitated, as did several of the rest.  On the return of these unfortunate men to the gaol, Tilly offered to shake hands with Brady, who refused with much contempt.  McKenny also refused to speak to him - this was on account of their supposing that he had given information.  Brady, McKenny, and Bryant being Roman Catholics, were then conveyed to the cell adjoining the debtor's side, which they had hitherto occupied.  The two former seemed serious, though cheerful.  The remainder (except Perry, who was alone) were confined in one cell.  Jeffries who was amongst the rest of the Protestants, became penitent, and fully sensible of his approaching fate.  During the whole of the week, the Rev. Messrs. Bedford, Conolly, and Carvosso, have been unremittingly attentive in their endeavouring to bring these unhappy criminals to a due sense of their awful situation.  The death warrant arrived on Tuesday, by which fatal instrument they were ordered for execution as follows: -- Jeffries, Perry, Thompson, Brady, and Bryant, yesterday; and this morning the whole off the remainder.  The Reverend Ministers of Religion were with the unhappy men at an early hour of the morning, and rendered them every consolation which in their wretched situation could be afforded.  At a few minutes after eight o'clock the Sheriff, D. Fereday, Esq., attended by the usual cortege, arrived.  The criminals were then brought out into the lodge, to undergo the usual awful preparations.  Mr. Bedford (of whose attentions to these unhappy men, and indeed upon all similar occasions it is impossible to speak in terms of sufficient praise), first led out Jeffries; he appeared firm and composed; while the executioner was pinioning his arms, Mr. Bedford exhorted him in the most feeling manner to let his repentance be sincere, and from his heart, in which case he might trust safely to the Divine mercy for forgiveness. --  Jeffries prayed fervently, and seemed really penitent.  Then followed Perry and Thompson, to whom Mr. Bedford shewed similar attention.  When the executioner had adjusted the ropes, these unhappy men retired to a bench, where they knelt down in prayer, while the same awful ceremony was undergone by Brady and Bryant, who were attended by the Rev. Mr. Conolly, with whom they had performed the devotional duties of their Church, and by whose zealous exertions they appeared to have become truly and sincerely penitent.  When this ceremony had been gone through, and all was ready, the melancholy procession was set in motion.  Mr. Bedford, with the deepest solemnity, commencing with reading aloud that portion of Scripture, ``whosoever sheddeth man's blood, by man also shall his blood be shed."  This passage was so peculiarly applicable to the crimes of the wretched sufferers, and the tone in which Mr. Bedford uttered it was so solemn and emphatic, that the whole five seemed to feel deeply their dreadful situation.  Jeffries first ascended the fatal scaffold - he was firm and composed.  Mr. Bedford occupied his attention with devotional consolation, while the executioner affixed the rope.  During which interval Messrs. Conolly and Carvosso administered all possible consolation to the unhappy men who were at the foot of the ladder.  When they had all ascended, and the necessary preparations for their entering upon the awful change before them had been concluded, Mr. Bedford addressed the people who had collected in great numbers outside the gaol, nearly as follows:-- ``The unhappy man, Jeffries, now before you, on the verge of eternity, desires me to state, that he attributes all the crimes which he has committed, and which have brought him to his present awful state, to the abhorrent vice of drunkenness.  He acknowledges the whole of the crimes with which he has been charged, and he implores of you all to take warning by him, and to avoid the commission of the sin of drunkenness, which infallibly leads on to all other crimes."  During this, Brady and the rest preserved the composed deportment which they had exhibited from the first, wholly without levity, but firm and resigned. - Nothing now remaining, Mr. Bedford commenced reading certain portions of the funeral service; and when he came to a particular passage, the drop fell, and this world closed upon the wretched men for ever!

This morning the following criminals underwent the awful sentence which had been passed upon them:-- James Goodwin, James McKenney, John Gregory, William Tilley, William Brown, and Samuel Hodgetts. - The whole of the Rev. Clergymen were unremitting in their assuidities, [sic] by which the unhappy men had been brought to a state of the most sincere penitence, trusting to the Divine mercy for that forgiveness hereafter, which the magnitude of their offences prevented them receiving here.


[1] See also Colonial Times, 28 April 1826; and see 24 March 1826.

The rampages of the bushrangers (usually escaped convicts) were often in the news in 1826: see, for instance, Colonial Times, 6 January 1826, 24 and 31 March 1826, 14 April 1826, 9 and 16 June 1826, 4 August 1826, 27 October 1826; and Hobart Town Gazette, 1 April 1826, 5, 12 and 19 August 1826, 18 November 1826.  Seventy one prisoners were before the court for sentencing on 2 September at the end of the session: see Colonial Times, 8 September 1826.  One of them, John Clarke, for killing Paul Bishop, was sentenced to be burnt on the hand and discharged.  This was the traditional punishment for those convicted of felonies subject to the benefit of clergy, that is, those not capital in practice.

[2] See also Hobart Town Gazette, 6 May 1826.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University and the School of History and Classics, University of Tasmania