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Decisions of the Nineteenth Century Tasmanian Superior Courts

R. v. Johnston [1836]

escaped convict - capital punishment - attempted murder - African, criminal defendant

Supreme Court of Van Diemen's Land

Montagu J., 9 February 1836

Source: Tasmanian, 12 February 1836

            After the fate of the three unhappy men had been decided on Tuesday, Mr. Justice Montagu proceeded to pass sentence upon the African Black, Johnston, who had been found guilty of cutting with intent to kill a constable who was endeavouring to apprehend him as an absentee Crown prisoner. His Honor commented with much force upon the atrocity of the offence, the wounds inflicted by the prisoner on the constable being so severe that his recovery was almost miraculous. The unhappy man seemed overwhelmed with suffering, and to feel his situation most acutely. He put in a paper soliciting mercy. His Honor, however, held out no hope to him, and entreated him to prepare for death. The manner in which His Honor addressed the unfortunate man, and the effect it had upon his own feelings, produced a universal commiseration on the whole crowded auditory. Atrocious certainly as was the offence, yet the dark ignorance of this miserable African, and other circumstances connected, may, we earnestly hope, induced the sparing his life. The punishment of Port Arthur is"worse than death," without the shedding of blood! 

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