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Decisions of the Nineteenth Century Tasmanian Superior Courts

R. v. Lacey and others [1827]

murder - convict escape - Macquarie Harbour

Supreme Court of Van Diemen's Land
Pedder C.J., 7-8 December 1827
Source: Tasmanian, 14 December 1827 [1]

George Lacey, Samuel Measures, John Ward, John Williams, John M'Guire, John M'Millan, William Jenkins, James Kirk and James Reid, were arraigned on an information charging them with the crime of murder, in having, on the 17th day of October last, at the penal settlement of Macquarie Harbour, severally been actors, aiders and abbettors, in causing the death of a man named George Recks, a constable at that place, by means of suffocation or drowning.
The Attorney General having, in an able, clear and distinct manner, opened the case for the prosecution, elucidating, by coloured sketches, the settlement of Macquarie Harbour, with marked references as to the different situations of it mentioned in the information, the first witness called was
Dr. John Barnes, - who was a Colonial Surgeon at Macquarie Harbour, and having been shewn the sketches already alluded to, declared upon oath, that, to the best of his recollection, they were true and correct, both as to their resemblance of the islands represented, and their relative situations.
Michael Slaughnessy - was a prisoner at Macquarie Harbour in October last; was hut-keeper in the middle room of the Penitentiary on the small island; was there on the 17th October last, - between 8 and 9 o'Clock on that evening was going to carry in the night-tub, when he heard a voice say "Stop Slaughnessy;" Williams then came up and tied his hands behind his back, with a cord above each elbow; when tied he was gagged by M'Guire and M'Millan, while Lacey was standing close by; - [Here the prisoners were pointed out by Witness;] - was then taken to the water side in front of the Penitentiary; saw Cock, Grew, and Recks at the water side, in the same situation as myself; Henley and Clark were then brought to the same place; they were tied before I saw them, and gagged afterwards; M'Guire was standing sentry; then saw Measures and Jenkins, with the other prisoners, carrying boards from the Penitentiary to make a catamaran; next morning saw the birth [sic] (or sleeping-place) which had been erected for a constable and hutkeeper broken up, the door gone, and a ladder and water cask likewise carried away; saw this cask on the catamaran during the night, and thinks there was water in it when carried off; the catamaran was made by Williams in 3 or 4 feet of water, 56 feet from where witness was then placed; saw it finished, and heard some one ask Williams whether it was ready, to which he replied, yes; M'Guire, Jenkins (and I think Ward) then came up and separated those who were tied; Recks and witness were placed together, by M'Guire and Jenkins, in a neuk underneath the small room in the Penitentiary; our feet were tied quite close with stripes of blankets and our wrists roped; our gags were likewise fastened afresh, and much tighter than before; neither of us could stand now, but lay stretched on the ground; saw all the prisoners at the bar then assist in shoving off the catamaran; heard some one say it would not answer, and that they would be obliged to stop on the island; saw catamaran sinking; Measures said it would not answer when he came to unloose Recks, which he did by taking the cords off his feet, and assisting him off the ground; he then led him away, but did nothing else in my presence; saw Measures and Kirk turn round the corner leading to the Penitentiary; from my situation could see nothing more at that time; it is possible to get to the water side where the catamaran was made by the direction they took; Witness was still lying on his back; a few minutes after Recks was taken away heard a noise as of a rush into the water, and immediately afterwards a gurgling sound as of water getting into a man's mouth, - the two noises lasted about four or five minutes; saw five or six men where the catamaran was made, some stooping and some standing: Measures came up to witness in about 10 or 12 minutes, and said - "I have come to loose you;" - (this was about 11 o'clock;) he loosed the string from Witness' feet, and assisted him up from the ground; Measures then brought him to where he was first placed, where he found Grew and Cock with their hands tied behind their back; Grew, Cock and Witness were then conducted by Ward, Lacey and Measures near to the cook-house; he was still gagged; here Williams untied Witness' arms and wrists, and then they were taken into the cook-house by Ward, who stood sentry inside for about half an hour, who ordered us to lie down, which we did until day-light, but did not strip; Ward then went outside, and shut the door after him; at day-light Cock asked one of the men whether he should make a signal, and was answered yes; Cock then made a fire opposite the cook-house door, as a signal for the guard-boat to come over; the guard-boat then came, in which was Serjeant Reid and five men; - (this was about seven o'clock in the morning;) - the guard-boat was then pulled to where the catamaran was made; there saw the body of a man in the water, - told Serjeant it was Recks; Hegley and I got the body into the boat, - his arms were tied behind him above the elbow, and he lay on his face; the depth of the water where we picked up the body was about two feet, - from the surface of the water to the back of his head was about half a foot - his mouth and eyes were open; we then all prepared to go in the boat for the large island; on arriving there we informed the Commandant of the whole affair, and then went to Mr. Douglass, (his clerk,) and gave in our depositions. - Thinks that the body of Recks, where he first saw it in the morning, was lying within where he saw the men standing and stooping the night before.
James Cock was then examined - Where the noise of the splashing came from, heard one of the party say, - "Why don't you keep the b-- down?" next moment heard another say, - "Get me a knife and I will settle him at once." Lacey and Ward then came towards me, Lacey said - "Old man, don't be afraid, we'll not hurt a hair of your head; we have put one tyrant aside on purpose that the Commandant should not flog us. We would rather go to Hobart Town and be hanged than stop here and work in irons." - The whole of the witness' evidence corroborated the former.

Saturday, December 8th.

William Henley corroborated the evidence brought forward yesterday, with the following addition:- Saw Measures, Reid and Kirk lead Recks past me, and Jenkins walking slowly about four or five yards behind. Kirk (speaking of Recks) said - "Pull him along." Measures and Reid had hold of Recks, one on each side; they stopped opposite my cave, and turned him round to the water; when desired to go in he seemed unwilling, and several times turned his head about, looking them full in the face, endeavouring to speak, but could not, being gagged. Reid then said, - "Give me a knife and I'll settle him at once" Kirk shoved him by the back of the shoulders, Measures and Reid still holding him; saw Recks shoved up to his middle in water, and Measures, Reid, and Kirk force him down overhead into it, while Reid pulled him upon his back; Measures and Kirk held him in the water, and Reid beckoned the rest of the men to come into it, but they would not; Kirk, Reid, and Measures then came out of the water, and joined their companions on the beach; then saw Recks' body floating on the water.
William Clark and Robert Grew fully corroborated the foregoing.
Robert Baxter - Is a private in the 40th regiment, and on the 23d October last was sentry over the gaol on the large island at Macquarie Harbour; Lacey, Ward, and two others, were confined in the outer room, and I being placed at the outer door could hear any passing conversation; heard a voice enquire, "Ward, how do you think this will go with us?" - and a reply made, "We'll be all hung or turned up." - I'm sorry said the first, the other three did not get away on the catamaran, and then there would have been nothing about us;" to which the other replied, - "I'm sorry we did not put them all out of the way, the same as we did that tyrant, and then there would be none to prosecute; and as for that false-sworn old rascal, Manchester, I am sorry he was not finished, at any rate." - Here the conversation ended, and Lacey was called upon for a song.
Edward Connor - is a private in the 40th Regiment, and has been at Macquarie Harbour from April until the present month; was one of the party sent after runaway prisoners on the 18th October last; apprehended M'Guire, Williams and Kirk on the main-land; - they made no resistance.
This ended the case for the prosecution.
The Prisoners having no defence, his Honor the Chief Justice proceeded, in an able and impartial manner, in the course of which he observed, - that if any of the prisoners at the bar were found to have been actual perpetrators of the cold-blooded crime with which they stood charged, and that the others were in a situation to render them assistance if required, they were as equally guilty as if each of them had put forth their hands to the commission of it.
The Jury then retired a few minutes, and brought in a verdict of Guilty, against all the prisoners.
His Honor then said, - he felt conscious that the Jury, in returning this verdict, had done their duty, however painful to him was the task which he consequently had to perform; and, in a most feeling and impressive manner, and evidently much agitated, he exhorted the unhappy men to employ the short time that would be allowed them in this world, in making their peace with God, seeing that they could entertain no hope of mercy at the hands of man; - then, calling each of the Prisoners by name, his Honor proceeded to pass upon them the awful sentence of the law, which was, - "that you and each of you be taken to the place from whence you came, and from thence to the place of execution, and there be hanged by the neck till you are dead. And may the Lord have mercy on your souls;" to which one of the Prisoners (Lacey, we believe) answered, Amen.


[1] See also Hobart Town Courier, 15 December 1827.

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