Text Size

The documentation of our history has to me always been a very important aspect. Although victories or celebrations are seldom part of this history, it’s important that it is put on record.

The cases recorded verbatim here, cover a very wide spectrum of emotions ranging from sadness, humour, violence, to compassion and even love.

For gay historians, this material gives an interesting insight into the lives of what we might call our ‘tribal ancestors’, for not only is the legal process on full view, but the evidence presented in each case gives us a window into these people’s lives, and how they managed their desires in a hostile society: where they might meet, how they might interact, and how they saw themselves and their ‘condition’.

Foreword by
Gary Wotherspoon

Peter de Waal

In the Central Police Court, George Harrison, alias “Carrie Swain,” an effeminate youth, was charged with vagrancy.

From the evidence of Senior-constable Sawtell and Constable Brown, it appeared that the prisoner was in the habit of frequenting Hyde Park and College-street, painted, powered, and bedecked so as to represent a female.

In this state he perambulated the streets and parks after dark. When arrested, it was found that he was wearing stays. The prisoner was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

Gaol Photo - "Said to be a Pouftah"

1889, George Harrison

1889, George Harrison


The position of Darlinghurst Gaol is well known, and the prison forms a conspicuous object to persons travelling along the eastern tramline near where Botany-street branches off from Oxford-street. It covers an area of about 4¾ acres, and is situated on about the highest point of a ridge having between it and Oxford-street the Darlinghurst Courthouse, with the large plot of tree-planted land in front.

Darlinghurst gaol and courthouse, in foreground, complex, c. 1930.

"I looked over the rocks. I saw the two prisoners now before the court committing an unnatural crime. The prisoner Weston was in a stooping position with his head down and trousers down, and the prisoner Blackwell was behind him with his trousers down; and both in the act of copulation."

Blackwell and Weston were both sentenced in 1845 to twelve months hard labour in Darlinghurst Gaol.

The Sydney Morning Herald, Mon 8 Mar 1886

Mr George Newbolt, Assistant Superintendent on Cockatoo Island.

Darlinghurst gaol and courthouse, in foreground, complex, c. 1930.

He took me into his wife’s bedroom.
He brought into the room a bottle of Vaseline.

He said “I can easily do it with a little Vaseline.”

I said I didn’t believe him that kind of thing.
I said “What good will it do me?”

Vaseline Advert

1899, Simeon Alexander Moss

1899, Simeon Moss

Charge of Indecent Assault.

Simeon Alexander Moss was charged with having committed an indecent assault on Stanley Lake at Bowral on 20th July, 1899.

‘We are glad to be able this week to present to our readers an illustration of the new court house at Yass, now in course of erection, the ceremony of laying the foundation-stone of which, on this 20th of July last, by the Honourable the Colonial Secretary, in the presence of the Premier, Minister of Works, Attorney-General, &c, was duly recorded in our columns. The design has been prepared by the Colonial Architect, and is on a scale commensurate with the requirements of the district. The style chosen is classic of the Roman Doric order. Advantage has been taken of the site to give effect to the design by its approach, which is by a very broad and imposing flight of steps.’

The April sitting of the Yass Circuit Court opened before his Honor Mr Justice Faucett on Wednesday last. Mr Plunkett acted as Judge’s Associate and Clerk of Arraigns, Mr Mann, prosecuted on behalf of the Crown, while Mr Ould represented the Crown Solicitor. The other legal gentlemen present were Mr Colonna Close, barrister-at-law, and Mr EA Iceton, solicitor. Mr T Colls JP represented the Sheriff.

1885, Henry Smith was found guilty of having committed bestiality and sentenced to three years’ hard labour in Yass gaol.

Australian Town and Country Journal, Sat 31 Aug 1878

The Yass Courier, Fri 17 Apr 1885

IN writing this pamphlet my sole desire is to bring before the public the present injudicious system of treating juvenile delinquents, and those unfortunate children whose only crime is their poverty.

That a lad should be imprisoned simply because he is poor, is both brutal and unwise; but that he should he indiscriminately herded with young criminals is the height of folly and injustice.

That it is so, is undeniable.

On 25 January, 1867 the Colonial Secretary purchased the wooden sailing ship the “Vernon” and at a cost of more than eight and a half thousand pounds it was fitted up as an Industrial School. The ship, moored in Sydney Harbour between the Government Domain and Garden Island was declared a Public Industrial School on 6 May, 1867.

Industrial Schoolship - Vernon



The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Tue 4 Feb 1834  1 


    Among the prisoners for trial at the present sittings of the Supreme Court, is a little boy named Samuel Rooney, committed on a charge of arson. This precocious criminal affords a striking instance of the bad policy at present in practice of punishing prisoner boys for their offences, by sending them to Iron Gangs. He was on his arrival in the colony, about eighteenth months back, placed in the Carters’ Barracks; from whence for some fault, he was sent to a Mountain Iron Gang about April last. Those only, who have resided near the Stockade can form an adequate idea of the state of society there. Composed in a great measure of men who have visited every penal settlement, it was not very probable, that when cast among them, young Rooney would realise the great object of all criminal law, viz: reformation, and so the results have proved, for shortly after the completion of his sentence, he was sent to a respectable settler at at [sic] Bathurst for the purpose of assisting at harvest. Here, he had only been a day or two, when his conduct occasioned him to be turned in, and sent to another, who soon did the same. Less than a fortnight, saw him in the service of a third party, and from thence he stands committed to stake his existence on a charge of burning his employer’s stack of wheat; one of the very blackest in the catalogue of crimes.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Depositions for Samuel Rooney, 17 Feb 1834, Sydney Trial  2 

In the fourth Year of the Reign of
Our Sovereign Lord William the Fourth,
by the Grace of God, of the United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland,
King, Defender of the Faith.

New South Wales
(TO WIT)–         }
Be it Remembered, That John Kinchela, Esquire, Doctor of Laws, His Majesty’s Attorney General for the Colony of New South Wales, who prosecutes for His Majesty in this Behalf, being present in the Supreme Court of New South Wales, now here, on the first Day of February in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty- four at Sydney, in the Colony aforesaid, informs the said Court, that Samuel Roney [Rooney] late of Bathurst in the Colony of New South Wales, Labourer, not having the fear of God before his eyes but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil
on the twentieth Day of January in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty-four with Force and Arms, at Queen Charlotte’s Vale in the Colony aforesaid, in the District of Bathurst in the Colony aforesaid unlawfully maliciously and feloniously did set fire to a certain stack of wheat the property of James Parker and another [George Schofield] then and there being; against the form of the Statute in that case made and provided and against the peace of our Lord the King his Crown and Dignity.
[Signed] John Kinchela, Attorney General.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

[On the reverse of the above is the following]

45 43 arson
In the Supreme Court
The King against Samuel Roney
Witnesses: John Bradley, Samuel Taylor, George Schofield, Henry Hazlet
[Initialled] JK

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

17th February 1834
Mr Justice Burton and Military Jury arraigned and pleaded not guilty
adjudged Guilty
[Signed] George John Rogers

February 24th 1834 Judgment of Death [see NSW Executive Council Minute regarding commutation of sentence] recorded against Samuel Roney

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Justice WW Burton's Notebook  3 


17th February [1834] 1st Case
Samuel Rooney – Bond – a boy about 13 yrs. of age.
Plea NG

    John Bradley I live at Bathurst on a farm of James Parker & George Schofield – two partners – a place called the Vale – the prisoner came to work at the farm – his Master had given him a pass to go & (deliver ?) himself in he had been lent for the harvest to George Schofield – he was only there three days – I saw him go to the stack, & I ordered him off twice. He got on it by a ladder. Why & what business had he there after the wheat was stacked – I ordered him down a third time & he then came to the door of where I was & said goodbye I’m off Jack & ran away, I looked out & saw the stack on fire – the (third ?) time the ladder was down & the stack on fire – there was no one else near the stack within half a mile of the place. I do not know how he set the stack on fire, I saw no fire with him – the stack was the property of my two masters.

    By the Court: He had been living with me 3 days


no one else – I lived in a thatched house – the prisoner had slept with me. I had charge of the stack – I had known he had been in my masters’ service – did no work – (it was a stack of wheat) the ‘wheat’ had been stacked about between a week & a fortnight – I had a fire in my house that morning – he set fire to the stack between 8 & 9 o’clock – on the 20th of January – the ladder had been standing at the stack ever since it was stacked – I had not seen him on the stack before that Day – on that morning, I did not see him carrying anything up – I ordered him off twice, & the third time when I saw him he was coming towards my door from the stack which was between 5 & 6 rods off – did not see the stack smoking 1st time or 2nd time – it was on fire right on top of the stack – in a blaze – near where the ladder stood – right by the side


of the ladder – 20 feet high – the ladder about 30 foot a heavy ladder. The prisoner could have pulled the ladder down by the foot – it was not broken – there was much straw on which it had fallen. The ladder had fallen on that – there had been no rain for 2 months before. The wheat was quite dry when stacked – I am sure the stack could not have sweated & caught fire by that means – the prisoner smoked & broke his pipe that time – he had no business up that ladder – it was between ¼ and half an hour whilst I was washing my milk (coolers ?) between when I first saw him go up the ladder, & saw the stack on fire – when he ran away – he was close to the door when he bid me good bye – I said you young Dog you have set the stack on fire – he was near enough to hear – made no answer – I was not aware that he intended to go away that morning.

    I don’t know what motive or reason he had – he never said anything to me of doing it – nothing about his Master – I don’t know


whether his master had ever used him ill, I had never beaten him --- I never knew him to do anything malicious before – he slept all day, the three days he was with me -- I did not see him again till I saw him at the Court on the 23rd – three days afterwards – I first gave information to the Constable (Jeremiah ?) Field on the same day it happened – in one hour after the constable saw it on fire – the stack was quite consumed. 

    George Schofield I live at Bathurst – Queen Charlotte’s Ponds – I never knew it called Queen Charlotte’s Vale it is in the District of Bathurst. It is always called the Vale. I am in partnership with in the farm with James Parker. The prisoner came assigned to me for the harvest. He was not long there but at a place called (Wymondale ?) Creek – 8 miles from the other farm – – – On the


20th of January the prisoner came to me between 3 & 4 in the afternoon & said that the old man had sent for me – & let nothing stop me something very particular – I asked what it was, he said he did not know – I asked him what he did there, as I had sent him into the police office to give himself up, as I had done with his services.

    I went along with the prisoner as far as (Kite’s ?) Lane – about 3 miles or 3½ from the Vale where I met old Parker the father of my partner who was (crying ?) – & he told me all the particulars – he told me that the wheat was burnt – & that the constables were looking for the boy – I soon afterwards met (Mr? ?) – then went a little further met Taylor the constable who had information that he said he was the boy who burnt the wheat. Taylor said he would be hanged – the boy said if he were he would have more with him in it – he would not suffer alone,


he said he knew nothing (about ?) – the wheat was the property of James Parker – he is a native of the Colony – I am holder of a ticket of leave – no other partner but us two – there was about 200 bushels in one stack – & 60 or 70 in the other – about 225 – all concerned.

    I know of no ground of malice or revenge that the prisoner had against me – never knew him before to do anything malicious on the farm but he was idle – – –

    The boy is sharp enough – he had his proper senses – quite aware of what is right & wrong, I am satisfied of that.

    He came to my house to me & went back with me towards the Vale freely enough – never attempted to run away.

    He never mentioned that he did it –


& when the constable said he had done it – he gave no reason for it.


    Henry Hazlet I lived with George Palmer on the bank of Queen Charlotte Ponds (I was shepherd) – which is sometimes called Queen Charlotte’s Vale – I recollect the 20th of last month – I ordered him off from the stack on that day twice – (between 6 & 7 o’clock in the morning) because I saw him pull large pieces of wheat out of it – in the lower part of it – – – I did not remain at the house – after getting my breakfast I went to look after my flock – my place is an adjoining farm – I had been milking some cows for the old man – When I went away the old man (last witness) was just getting up to wash up his things after breakfast. After I had left the house


2 hours or 2¼, I saw the stack on fire – I saw it from the place where I was attending to my sheep – I had not slept at the house that night – I had been there (several ?) Days – prisoner was there three or 4 mornings before that – never had any conversation with him about Parker or Schofield – never knew that he had any malicious intent – I went down to the place – prisoner was away.

    Saw the ladder against the rick where prisoner was pulling at the rick (I asked what he was doing it for – he made no answer) – he did it openly for any one to see it who passed – I had not seen him (rub ?) the wheat & cut – a hole in the stack that a man might put a good sized calf in it –


I told the old man he was pulling the stack to pieces – he went out & called him a young rascal & said if he caught him there any more he would give him a good beating for it.

    John Bradley I did not know that the boy was pulling the stack till the last (witness ?) told the told me. I saw him twice after that when (witness ?) told me – he was pulling at the lower part of the stack.

    The ladder was standing full in sight – any person going past might see it – – – an Error: he was trying to conceal himself – his body was on that side of the stack where the house was – he had his arm over the top. I did not see him take fire out of the house. He could not take fire out of the house without my seeing him – I was


washing my tins off in that part of the house where the fire was – he never came into the house after he had his breakfast. He had been out an hour & a half when I ordered him off the stack.

    He was burning tinder the night before – I saw him burn it – of a piece of cotton shirt. I did not ask him what he wanted [it] for – he tore the lining out of his jacket & wrapped it up in it. (put it in his jacket pocket)

    Samuel Taylor The prisoner was brought to me by George Schofield – he was charged with burning a stack of wheat.

    On the way to (gaol ?) I observed that both arms from the wrist were black as if they had been rubbed upon a burnt log – & the (little ?) hair was quite close


to the skin – asked for a smoke, said he had burnt his pipe that morning – searched him – found nothing on him. I told him a serious charge – very (?) to (?) – he said I don’t care there will be some one else along with me.

    Verdict – Guilty – remanded

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Thu 20 Feb 1834 

(Before Mr Justice Burton, and a Jury of Military Officers.)

    Samuel Rooney was indicted for arson. The prisoner, who is a mere child, apparently not more than 14 or 15 years of age, was found Guilty, on strong circumstantial evidence, and remanded. His master’s wheat stack, which it appeared he had set fire to, was entirely consumed.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Australian, Tue 23 Dec 1828  5  


    MONDAY.– [17 Feb 1834] Before Judge Burton, and a Military Jury.

    Samuel Rooney, a lad between 14 and 15 years of age, was indicted for setting fire to a wheat stack, found guilty, and remanded.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Thu 27 Feb 1834  6 

Forbes CJ., Dowling and Burton JJ, 24 February 1834

    Samuel Rooney, convicted of setting fire to a stack of wheat, was ordered to have judgment of death recorded against him. Mr Justice Burton, addressing this young criminal, told him that the crime of which he had been found guilty left the Court but one alternative – either to pass upon him the awful sentence of death, or to order judgment thereof to be recorded against him. By destroying this wheat he had deprived two poor men, in all probability of their whole support till another harvest; at all events, he had scattered to the winds a very considerable portion of their property. In compassion however to his youth he had adopted the latter method, and should lay his case further before the Governor, recommending His Excellency to commute that sentence to one more suitable to his age; of which he would not fail to suggest that frequent whipping should form a part.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

The Sydney Herald, Thu 27 Feb 1834 

    Samuel Rooney, convicted of Arson – Death recorded.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Australian, Fri 28 Feb 1834  8

    Samuel Rooney, a mere boy, convicted of arson, had judgment of death recorded against him, when the Court passed upon him in consideration of his years. Judge Burton observed, that he should recommend his Excellency to commute that punishment to one more suitable, frequent whipping would be a part of it.


[See also 1834, Samuel Jones].  


1  The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Tue 4 Feb 1834, p. 2.

2  SRNSW: NRS880, [SC T37] Information No. 43, Supreme Court, Papers and depositions, 1834.

3  SRNSW: NRS5730, [2/2412], Judiciary, WW Burton, J. Notebooks Criminal Sessions, 1833-38, pp. 181-91. Emphasis added.

4  The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Thu 20 Feb 1834, p. 2.

5  The Australian, Fri 21 Feb 1834, p. 3.

6  The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Thu 27 Feb 1834, p. 2.

7  The Sydney Herald, Thu 27 Feb 1834, p. 6.

8  The Australian, Fri 28 Feb 1834, p. 3.