Spotlight: The Trial of Captain Melville

[This report of the trial of one of the most infamous bushrangers of the 1850s, Francis McCallum aka Captain Melville, gives a brief run down of the charge and the trial. McCallum was a Scottish convict who used a myriad of aliases and preyed upon the goldfields of Victoria. After his conviction his behaviour was erratic and violent, at one point he tried to bite off a guard’s nose. He was eventually found in his cell having choked himself to death with a makeshift rope.]

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Prison ship Success
THE case of Melville and his fellow-prisoners, charged with murder committed in an attempt to escape from the hulks – or rather from the boat that was conveying them back to the hulks from labour on shore – is exciting the deepest interest among all classes of the community. The disclosures, says the Herald, made by Melville-corroborated by the other prisoners, unshaken in cross-examination and uncontradicted by any evidence tendered by the crown-have excited perfect horror and consternation. People say that if only one tenth or one twentieth,—or, indeed, if any part of it be true, the balance of guilt is against those who have perpetrated or tolerated such enormities. The feelings of human nature are aroused to sympathy with fellow-men; and, whatever crimes they may have committed, it is felt that nothing can justify the cruelties which remind us of those ascribed to the dungeons of the Inquisition. It is monstrous indeed, that within sight of Melbourne such floating hells should have been suffered to exist, and that men who are of the same flesh and blood with ourselves, and who will have to stand with us before the same Almighty Judge, should be treated as if they were already consigned to final torment, and we the executioners of their doom.
The trial of Thomas Smith, better known as “Captain Melville,” commenced on the 20th, before Mr. Justice Molesworth, and terminated at midnight, when the jury found the prisoner guilty of murder, but were not unanimous that it was he who actually struck the blow. The “Captain” was indicted for the wilful murder of Owen Owens, in Hobson’s Bay, on the 22nd October last, the prisoner then being in custody, and serving a sentence for felony. He defended himself, Dr. Mackay watching the proceedings on his behalf. Melville during the day displayed much coolness, effrontery and intelligence, but in his cross-examination, as is frequently the case with those who act as their own lawyer, he occasionally overshot the mark. The evidence against him seemed conclusive, but a point of law, viz., that he was not in legal custody when the offence was committed, has been reserved in his favour. Every available nook and corner of the Court was densely crowded, and the police experienced some difficulty in keeping in order numbers whose admission was impossible.
Source:
“VICTORIA.” The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 – 1859) 27 November 1856: 2.

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