Spotlight: Daniel Priest on Trial

Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 – 1899), Saturday 11 October 1845, page 6


THURSDAY, OCTOBER 9.

Messrs. Jas. Henty, (foreman), Martin Edwards, W. S. Button. John Barrett, Wm. Birch, H. Gurr, Thos. Button, M. Mason, James Nokes, B. Francis, George Ross, and William Clarke.

Daniel Priest was arraigned this morning, and, in consequence of the wound in his foot, was accomodated with a seat in the dock. His countenance presented no expression of concern for his fate; on the contrary, he gazed about the court with an air of indifferent curiosity. He was charged with the robbery at Mr. Geo. Lucas’s, on 25th June, being at the time armed with a gun, and pleaded guilty. His Honor reminded the prisoner that the offence of which he stood charged was of a capital nature. Priest hesitated a moment, and said he did not plead guilty to using violence or attempting to take any man’s life, but admitted robbing the place whilst under arms. His Honor said that was the charge against him, but it was a capital offence.

Priest.—Your Honor, I plead guilty.

The plea was then recorded. There was another information against him, but he was not called upon to plead to it.

[…]

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 10.

His Honor the Chief Justice took his seat at nine o’clock this morning, for the purpose of passing sentences.

Daniel Priest was first brought up for judgment, and being asked in the usual form whether he had anything to say why he should not be adjudged to die, merely shook his head.

His Honor then addressed him as follows :— “You stand convicted of robbery, being at the time armed with a gun, which, as no doubt you well knew at the time, is by the law of this colony a capital offence. Since you were last here, I have looked carefully through the depositions, and find that with reference to some of the property it appears doubtful whether it was actually taken in the presence of the prosecutor so as to constitute the offence of robbery, but respecting the money there can be no doubt whatever, as it was taken from the person of the prosecutor, and upon that at least conviction must have ensued had the case gone to a jury. On the evening mentioned you and your companions presented yourselves suddenly at the sitting room of Mr. Lucas and exhibited your arms; your companion then brought in a servant and part of the family who had been previously secured, and desired them to stand in a corner, whilst you yourself presented the piece at them keeping your finger on the trigger; then the work of plunder was commenced. This of itself was a shocking outrage not to be tolerated in any civilized country. I am aware of the merciful lenity with which the government have acted, in sparing the lives of men convicted of similar and more aggravated offences, but I do not think and cannot hold out to you the slightest hope of such result in your case. You have acquired a notoriety throughout the colony scarcely equalled, and although I have made no enquiry into other cases of robbery, alleged against you, I cannot but look upon you as a man who has been for years carrying on a lawless system of plunder, to the great terror of the colonists. If you have not actually resorted to personal violence, you have carried arms and uttered threats, by which people have through fear, suffered their property to be taken from before their very eyes. I cannot conceive, whatever disposition the government of the present day may have to extend mercy to persons of your description, not having attempted life or used actual violence as in the case of which you stand convicted. I cannot conceive, continued his Honor, that they will extend mercy to a person, who, like you, is known to have been a general terror — to have outraged all law — for years eluded all attempts at apprehension, and lived only by that system of lawless robbery to which this colony is particularly exposed. It is my duty to warn you solemnly: I feel that your life will not be spared, — and I hope sincerely you will from this moment make up your mind that the sentence I am about to pass will be carried into execution. I implore you to make the best of the little time you may expect to remain upon this earth.” His Honor passed sentence of death but having omitted a material part, repeated the words, adding with great earnestness, “May God have mercy on your guilty soul.”

Priest appeared restless, but his manner was not indicative of mental agitation. Notwithstanding his Honor’s remarks, the prisoner whilst receiving sentence appeared to be anticipating a reprieve. He limped out of the dock nodding familiarly to the people in the gallery.

William Gillan, the companion of Jackey Jackey was also sentenced to death, without hope of mercy, and implored with earnestness by his Honor, to prepare for the execution of the sentence.

[…]

John Wilson, James Lemon, larceny. His Honor said the prisoners (Nile bushrangers) had a narrow escape, for if it had been proved, the property was taken in the presence of the prosecutor, they would have been found guilty of the capital offence of robbery. Transported for seven years.

[…]

The court then broke up.

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