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Decisions of the Nineteenth Century Tasmanian Superior Courts

R. v. Lawrence [1841]

stealing - "man of colour"

Supreme Court of Van Diemen's Land

Montagu J., 31 August 1841

Source: Hobart Town Advertiser, 7 September 1841[1]


John Lawrence, a man of colour, stood indicted for having, on the 21st August, stolen from his master, Mr. Hewitt, some shirts, sheets, napkins, and two petticoats.

            James Chitty, constable deposed, that on the night in question, he went to the prisoner's house, accompanied by Mr. Morgan, the chief constable, and found four shirts, two sheets, and five or six napkins, two white silk handkerchiefs, two pillow cases, and two petticoats. A part was in a box at the prisoner's house, and the other in a trunk at Mr. Hewitt's store.

            [The articles being produced were identified by the witness.]

            The prisoner had told him that they belonged to him. Mr. Morgan was present at the finding of the property.

            Cross-examined by Mr. Macdowell, counsel for the prisoner. - Have been a constable four years; seven months of which I have served in Hobart Town. Never went to the prisoner's house before.

            Mr. Thomas Hewitt, stated that the prisoner had been his hired servant for some years. He had missed some shirts and towels, on the subject of which he had six weeks or two months before spoken to the prisoner, who answered that he knew nothing about them. When cross-examined, Mr. Hewitt spoke as to the good character, which the prisoner had always borne for honesty, and that he had been entrusted with the care of his linen and clothes generally; and that he had fregiven him clothes he had left off wearing, but not the articles produced.

            Mr. Macdowell, in addressing the Jury, mentioned as extraordinary, that the evidence of Mr. Morgan (who was too well known to every one for his evidence not to have great weight) had not been elicited in support of Chitty's, than whose testimony none could be brought before a court more likely to work upon the credulity of a Jury.

Verdict - Guilty, with a recommendation to mercy.

His Honor then expressed his regret at seeing the prisoner in such a situation, as he had often observed him employed on his master's premises. The court had the power to condemn him to fourteen years transportation, but in consideration of the Jury's recommendation, and the good character he had heretofore borne, his Honor would only sentence him to six months, with hard labour, which his Honor hoped might prove a sufficient warning against such acts for the future.


[1] According to AOT SC 41/5, p. 81, by order of the Colonial Secretary Lawrence was sent to a Road Party and employed as a cook as this was his first offence.


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