It is hard to think that a lawyer or solicitor in the Inner West of Sydney is the latest in a long line of lawyers working for justice in Australia. When we learn about Australian history, either as children or adults, what is often missed is the development of the criminal law system, including the first recorded criminal law trial in Australia’s history. It actually occurred quite soon enough the first colonists arrived in Australia and it is eerily similar to what a criminal lawyer in the Inner West would see as a case today.
It was February the 6th, in 1788. After a long and harsh sea voyage, the female convicts came ashore at Sydney Cove. During the ship’s voyage from England to Australia, the male convicts had been kept apart from the female convicts. However, after successfully making it to Sydney Cove, continuing this separation would be impractical for the day-to-day work required by colonisation. In the coming months and years, many convicts married, but on the night of February the 6th, many men celebrated.
One such man was Samuel Barsby who had stolen 40 shillings worth of cloth, earning him a sentence of seven years of transportation. Barsby was drunk for two days and on the afternoon of the 8th, he personally abused the Drum Major, Benjamin Cook, and he repeatedly abused the sentinel and other guards while in custody after striking another drummer from the marines, John West, with a cooper’s adze (a woodworking tool similar to an axe).
And so the first criminal trial in Australia began. Cook and another marine gave evidence stating that Barsby had been fighting or attempting to fight with another convict while he was drunk. When he was confronted by Cook, Barsby began to argue and tried to hit Cook with his adze. Other officers and West came to help control Barsby, and that is when he hit West. A number of other witnesses corroborated this story.
Barsby claimed he had broken his adze while working, and while going to get it fixed, some seamen asked him where the women’s camp was and gave him nearly a full bottle of rum. After drinking it, he met the other convict and he could not remember his actions. Barsby was found guilty and received 150 lashes.
From that day, justice has been a priority in Australia. If you are interested in a lawyer in Sydney’s Inner West, visit CM Lawyers or call (02) 9568 6266.