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Decisions of the Nineteenth Century Tasmanian Superior Courts

R. v. Lawrence [1836]

burglary - capital punishment

Supreme Court of Van Diemen's Land

Montagu J., 17 August 1836

Source: Cornwall Chronicle, 27 August 1836

            Nathaniel Lawrence stood charged with feloniously entering the dwelling-house of Matthew Ralston, on the night of the 12th of December last, and taking therefrom divers articles of property.

            Jane Ralston, sworn - I live at Hampden, on the Nile River, with my brother, Matthew Ralston; I was living there before Christmas last - quite a month before; remember two men coming into the back-room of the house; it was about ten o'clock in the morning, the prisoner Lawrence was one of the men - he remained outside; the other came in and said - "Stand!" I saw but little of the prisoner; they were both armed; the prisoner walked to and fro with two guns in his had; the other man searched and rifled the house; he took two lbs. of tea, six lbs. sugar, twenty lbs. flour, half a ham, half a blanket, some silk handkerchiefs, and several books - one of the books belonged to my cousin; he took them outside, and put them in a knapsack; they were not longer than a quarter of an hour, or twenty minutes in the house; they had each a gun - and the one that came into the house had a pistol; the property taken away belonged to my brother, Matthew Ralston. I was not the least afraid of myself - they were very quiet; my Christian name is Jane; my sister was in the house at the time; I was standing in the back room; they were both of the armed when they came to the door; the prisoner turned to a man (Riley) and said - "I thought you said your master was in!" There was no threatening or violence used; they allowed us to go where we liked; they might have been there about a quarter of an hour; there was no other person about the premises but Riley; they left, going up the hill at the back of the house. From first to last, I never heard a threat used; never saw them attempt to use any violence to Riley; they neither of them told me to be alarmed; I certainly should have been afraid to make any attempt to interfere with them; it never occurred to me to do so; I should have considered it useless; there was no farm within call; Mr. Pike has a farm a quarter of a mile off; I was much afraid my brother might return, and some act of violence ensue. The prisoner Lawrence was outside the door; he did not speak to me - he had a hat on.

            This witness was much affected, and almost overcome by her feelings in giving evidence.

            John Riley sworn - I am in the service of Mr. Robert Ralston, of the Logan Falls; I was at Mr. Matthew Ralston's, at the Nile River, in December last; I remember two armed men coming there about that time; they had two fowling pieces and two pistols; a man, that I supposed to be Hunt, took off his neck-kerchief, and tied my hands behind me; the prisoner Lawrence stood over me with his piece, and said, if I offered to stir, he would blow my brains out; he then walked up to the door, and continued marching up and down before it, whilst the other went in; when they came out, they put the things they had taken into a knapsack; Lawrence then untied my hands, and told me to put the knapsack on my back, and come with them; I remained in the bush, about a mile and a half from the farm, from eleven that morning until six or seven o'clock the next day. I have no doubt as to the prison being the man.

            William Jones sworn - I am the Keeper of the Penitentiary at Launceston; I know the prisoner Lawrence; he was confined in the Penitentiary on the 9th September last; I saw him in the morning of that day; I missed him in the evening; in the December following I again saw him; another man escaped at the same time; cannot say whether he absconded from the Penitentiary or chain gang.

            John Ralston sworn - This witness merely appeared to identify the property alleged to have been stolen from Hampden, by the prisoner, to belong to his brother, Matthew Ralston.

            This closed the case for the prosecution.

            Upon His Honor asking the prisoner if he had aught to urge in his defence -

            He replied - "I am innocent of the crime for which I now stand before your Honor."

            In summing-up, Mr Justice Montagu told the Jury, that if they felt satisfied in their own minds of the guilt of the prisoner, he should feel it his [?] duty to tell them his life would become forfeiture; and, knowing the responsibility they had, he was quite sure they would most carefully weigh the evidence that had come before them, and form their decision accordingly.

            The Jury returned a verdict of Guilty.

            His Honor then told the prisoner, he could not hold the slightest hope that mercy would be extended to him in this world, and trusted that he would not deceive himself with such an expectation.

            The Judge remanded him, however, waiting the final determination of the Solicitor General, who, as yet, has not decided whether he will proceed on another information now pending against him.

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