George Worrall Trial Report

SYDNEY GAZETTE MONDAY FEBRUARY 5, 1827.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 1827.

George Worrall was indicted for the wilful murder of Frederick Fisher at Campbelltown on June 16 last. The information charged the death to have been caused by sundry wounds inflicted on the skull with a stick.

The Acting Attorney-General, W. H. Moore, Esq., stated the case, and then called Mr. Daniel Cooper, who deposed that he was acquainted with the deceased and also with the prisoner. Their residences adjoined each otber in Campbelltown. Witness, in answer to questions by Mr. Moore, believed that the deceased lived on the premises of the prisoner at the time when he disappeared. The deceased and witness formerly had dealings together, and when he disappeared deceased was in witness’s debt about £80. Witness remembered the deceased being confined in Sydney Gaol for an assault on a man named Booker; the prisoner appeared to act as agent for him at that time. Between the time the deceased was missing and when his body was found the prisoner frequently called on witness respecting the debt due to him by the deceased. He offered to pay the money provided witness would give him up some papers belonging to the deceased which he had in his possession. Some time after the deceased disappeared witness received a letter from his overseer at Bumbury Curran, stating that the deceased had left the country, and that the prisoner knew, and was authorised to let him know, after he was gone. Witness spoke to the prisoner about it, but he would give no satisfactory reply. He said he supposed that all witness wanted was his money, which he would pay upon his giving up the papers. Witness asked the prisoner to tell him whether the deceased had gone or not, and told him if he was not gone out of the country that he would wait for his money, as he did not want to distress the deceased’s estate; but the prisoner would give no direct answer. The prisoner showed considerable anxiety to settle the debt due to witness, and called frequently to know if witness would give him up the deceased’s papers, but when questioned as to Fisher’s absence Worrall always spoke and acted in a very evasive manner. Witness suspected at this time that all was not right, and that the deceased had been made away with. The deceased was very near becoming free and witness never could have supposed that he would haye gone away and left his property behind him. Witness considered the deceased at the time of his disappearance to be a perfectly solvent man. The prisoner told witness in conversation that he was acting as agent for the deceased, and had a written authority for so doing, which he said he would show to witness, but never did so. Cross-examined by Mr. Rowe: The prisoner said he had a power which witness understood to be a written document. He did not positively say it was, but he said he would show it to witness. Witness had known the prisoner about three years, and never heard anything against him up to the time of this accusation. Witness was perfectly satisfied the deceased was solvent, and was not in court on an occasion when he swore he could not tell whether he was solvent or not. By the Court: The papers which the prisoner wanted were some title deeds belonging to the deceased.

James Coddington deposed that he was overseer to Daniel Cooper at Bumbury Curran, near Campbelltown, and knew the deceased personally, but had no acquaintance with him. Witness had occasion to be at Campbelltown about July 8, and met the prisoner at the house of a person named Hammond. He proposed selling witness a young horse, the price of which was partly agreed on, but on coming to look at it witness had every reason to believe that it belonged to the deceased. Witness asked the prisoner where the deceased was. He replied that deceased had left the country with £300 in his pocket. Witness inquired what authority he had for selling Fisher’s horses. Prisoner said he had purchased them from him, and had his receipt, but could not find it then; and said also that it was a secret about the deceased leaving the colony. Witness did not purchase the horse, and on his return home wrote to Mr. D. Cooper informing him of what he had heard from the prisoner about the deceased. Witness went to Campbelltown a few days after and called on the prisoner, who showed him the receipt; but witness, from having seen the deceased write, had considerable doubt that it was genuine, and did not think it was like the deceased’s writing. On account of his doubts he would not purchase the horse. The prisoner never stated to witness what reason the deceased had for going away so suddenly.

Thomas Hammond stated that he knew the deceased. He was living at Campbelltown up to the time of his being missing. He was building a house there, and witness heard was residing with the prisoner. In the beginning of July last the prisoner came to witness, and stated that as the deceased had left the colony, he had got some sawn timber to dispose of, which he wished witness to purchase and take immediately, as he apprehended an execution. He said the deceased had left the colony, being afraid of a prosecution for forgery. The prisoner also said that he had writing that empowered him to dispose of Fisher’s property, which he would show to witness, but never did. Witness came down to Sydney in the month of August last, in company with the prisoner in a gig, which he told witness belonged to the deceased. Witness had some conversation with Mr. Cooper when he came to Sydney that time about the disappearance of the deceased. Witness told the prisoner Mr. Cooper had said it was his opinion and the opinion of the world that the deceased had been murdered. The manner in which the prisoner received the communication induced witness to think that Worrall had had some hand in making away with Fisher. When witness and prisoner came to Sydney on that occasion it was agreed they should put up at the Emu Inn, at which place witness saw the prisoner after his return from Mr. Cooper. Witness told him what Mr. Cooper had said. He then made no reply, but turned pale, and endeavored to force a smile. Perceiving the effect it had on him, witness ceased the conversation for some time, and afterwards told him if he knew anything of the deceased it behoved him to give an account of what he knew. He said he had left the colony, and that was all he knew. Witness did not see the prisoner again that day, and had reason to believe that he did not sleep at the Emu Inn that night, as it was understood they were to sleep in the same room. When he saw him on the following morning he said he had been to Parramatta. Witness advised the prisoner to go to Mr. Cooper and inform him how the deceased had left the colony, and in what ship. The prisoner was at this time in possession of all the deceased’s property, which consisted of land, houses, and horses. After his return from Sydney witness had some conversation with the prisoner, and strongly advised him to give some account of the deceased. He said he could satisfactorily show that he had purchased the property of the deceased, and all he knew of him was that he had left the colony, and was on the salt water. He afterwards showed witness a receipt, which he said he had from the deceased, but which witness, being well acquainted with deceased’s handwriting, immediately said was a forgery. The prisoner said the deceased had given it to him, and witness replied if he had, it must have been a trick, as he knew it was not Fisher’s handwriting. Cross-examined: He had some reason to believe that the prisoner could neither read nor write. The prisoner acted as general agent of the deceased as well before his death as after. Witness never heard the deceased say he intended to leave the colony.

William Sykes deposed that he knew the prisoner and the deceased and had had some conversation with the prisoner after the disappearance of the latter. The prisoner always said Fisher had gone out of the country. Worrall told witness that he purchased from the deceased a grant of 30 acres of land, a gig, and some horses, for which he had a receipt. Witness had heard that a man named Talbot purchased one of the horses from the prisoner. The prisoner, after his arrest, desired witness to tell Talbot if any one came to inquire after a mare he was to say he had rented her for three months. Cross-examined: Could not say what might have been the prisoner’s reason for desiring him to give that message to Talbot, but witness suspected that the prisoner had sold him the horse, which afterwards turned out to be the case.

Mr. Lewis Solomon stated he was well acquainted with the deceased; he had often seen him write. The receipt which the prisoner said he had obtained from the deceased, and which was exhibited to witness, he positively swore was not in the handwriting of the deceased.

Edward Weston deposed that he resided with the prisoner about six or eight months ago at Campbelltown. He was Government servant to him, and knew the deceased. He resided on the adjoining farm. He disappeared in June last. Witness had known him for four years and never knew of his being in debt. He was a man in good circumstances, and was possessed of farming implements, horses, and other property. He had four horses. Two of them were sold by prisoner about a month after the disappearance of the deceased; one to a man named Wood and the other to Talbot. The prisoner said they were his, and that he had purchased them from the deceased. They were sometimes on his ground and sometimes on the prisoner’s. After the deceased had disappeared the prisoner said he had purchased them from him, and also branded them afresh with his own initials.

Saml. Hopkins deposed that he resided in the same house with the prisoner, and the deceased in May and June. The last time he saw the deceased was on the evening of June 17. He left the house in the evening, and did not return. The prisoner afterwards took possession of his property. Cross-examined: Witness could not say whether the prisoner was in the house when the deceased went out. A man named Laurance and four others went out shortly after the deceased. Witness did not see the prisoner in company with the deceased that night at all. Laurance and the others were about an hour and a half away. Could not say whether they all returned or not. Laurance remarked when he came back that it was strange the deceased had not come back. By the Court: The prisoner made no inquiries on the morning after, nor did he exert himself in any way to have an inquiry set on foot after him.

Nathaniel Cole stated that he resided in the same house with the deceased and prisoner in the previous June. Witness remembered the evening the deceased disappeared. They all supped together on that night. The prisoner was there. The deceased gave a man named Laurance, one of the laborers employed on his building, a pierced dollar previous to his going out. Laurance and four others went to a public-house in the neighborhood and remained away some time. When Laurance and the others came back, Laurance said he wondered where the deceased was, that he wanted to got some more money from him. On the following morning they were all wondering where the deceased had gone to, and there was some talk of a gig having been seen coming near the house in the night time, and that the deceased went away in it. It was not reported that he had left the colony for some six or seven days afterwards. Cross-examined: Witness was sure that the deceased left the house before Laurance and the others.

Robert Burke, chief constable, Campbelltown, deposed that he apprehended the prisoner. Witness knew the deceased, and believed he was a man possessed of considerable property. When the prisoner was apprehended a mare and colt belonging to the deceased were found in his paddock. The colt appeared to have been lately branded with his mark. It appeared formerly to have borne the deceased’s brand. The prisoner said he had bought the whole of the horses, and had a receipt. Witness searched the house, and found several papers belonging to the deceased, but no receipt. He afterwards gave a paper, which he knew was not in the handwriting of the deceased, to witness in the watchhouse in Sydney. The prisoner always said the deceased had left the colony.

George Looland, constable, stationed at Campbelltown, stated that by order of the bench of magistrates he commenced search for the body of deceased on October 29. Witness went to a place where some blood was said to have been discovered, and saw traces of it on several rails on a fence in the corner of deceased’s paddock, adjoining the fence of Mr. Bradbury, and about 50 rods from the prisoner’s house. Witness proceeded to search with an iron rod over the ground, when two black natives came up and joined in the search till they came to a creek, where one of them saw something on the water. A man named Gilbert, a black native, went to the water and skimmed some of the top with a leaf, which he afterward tasted, and then cried out it was the fat of a white man. They then proceeded to another creek about 40 or 50 yards further up, still led by the natives, when one of them struck the rod in some marshy ground and called out there was something there. A spade was procured and the place dug, when the first thing which presented itself was the left hand of a man lying on his side which witness, from a long acquaintance with him, immediately declared to be the hand of Frederick Fisher. The body was decayed a little, particularly the under jaw. Witness immediately informed Mr. Wm. Howe and the Rev. Mr. Reddall, and obtained a warrant to apprehend the parties who were supposed to be concerned in the murder. The coroner was sent for, and the body being taken out of the earth next morning several fractures were found on the head. An inquest was held, and a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown was returned. Witness particularly examined the fence where the blood was found. There appeared to have been a fire made under the lower rail as if to burn out the mark. The blood seemed as if it was sprinkled over the rails. Dr. Patrick Hill examined the body. It was so much decomposed that the injury done to the bones only could be ascertained. The head was extensively fractured, and the features could not be recognised. Cross-examined: He could not say with what instrument the fracture was given. The body was not decomposed so much as witness would have expected from the length of time it had been there, owing to the place being swampy and the creek near it strongly impregnated with alum.

Thomas Lethbridge Robinson was one of the persons who sat on the inquest on the body of the deceased. He could swear positively it was the body of Frederick Fisher.

Rev. Thos. Reddall, a magistrate, was present at the examination of the prisoner. He made a declaration, which was taken in writing.

Mr. Rowe, for the prisoner, cross-examined the witnesses at considerable length as to whether any promises or threats were held out to the prisoner to induce him to make any confession, the declaration of the prisoner being put in and read. It stated that on the evening of June 17 a man named Laurance got some money from the deceased, and together with four others went to a neighboring public-house to drink. After some time they returned. The prisoner being then outside the house, and not seen by the others, saw two of them enter, whilst the other two, one of whom was Laurance, remained at the door. The prisoner then went down to the bottom of the yard, and after a little time heard a scuffle, and saw Laurance and the others drag something along the yard, which they struck several times. The prisoner then came forward, and called out to know what it was. One of them replied, “It is a dog.” The prisoner coming up, said, “It is Fisher, and you have prevented him from crying ont any more.” They said that they had murdered him in order to possess themselves of what money he had, and bound the prisoner by a solemn pledge not to reveal it.

For the prisoner Nathaniel Boon deposed that he knew the deceased and had dealings with him. Witness intended to institute a prosecution against him for forgery about the time he disappeared. Cross-examined: It was the prisoner who informed witness that the deceased had run away from a fear of being prosecuted.

The Chief Justice summed up the evidence, and observed it was a case entirely of circumstantial evidence. The jury were first to consider whether they were satisfied that the testimony brought forward sufficiently established the identity of the body which was found with that of Frederick Fisher. If they were not, then it was unnecessary to proceed one step further. If, on the contrary, they were satisfied of that fact — and his Honor proceeded to read the evidence by which it was supported — they would then go on to the other parts of the testimony affecting the prisoner, which, as he had already stated, though entirely circumstantial, was in its character of a particularly strong nature. His Honor recapitulated the circumstance of the case, and concluded by observing that when a train of circumstances, all meeting at one point, were brought together, it was almost impossible to have any stronger evidence, more particularly in cases like the one before the Court, where the crime was usually perpetrated in such a way as to preclude the probability of obtaining direct proof. He left the case without offering any opinion entirely for the consideration of the jury.

The jury returned a verdict of guilty, and sentence of death was then passed on the prisoner.

Source: National Library of Australia http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/71232119