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Judicial CP - February 1884

Corpun file 22638

Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, New South Wales, 16 February 1884

The Recent Assault at West Maitland.

Three of the Prisoners Flogged.

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The case against the four young men charged with having committed a cowardly assault on Mr James F. Kerr, proprietor of the Adelphi Hotel, West Maitland, on Sunday evening last, has resulted in the infliction of corporal punishment on three of the offenders -- Michael Stapleton, aged 18 years; William Cush, aged 17; and Henry Hannigan, aged 17 years. A full report of the case appears on another page.

The three prisoners, with two others -- Frederick William Browne and William Lawler -- came to Mr. Kerr's Hotel on Sunday evening about 10 o'clock, representing themselves to be travellers, and demanding to be supplied with refreshments. Mr Kerr was in bed at the time the call was made, and on the strength of the prisoners' statement that they were travellers he opened the bar for the purpose of supplying them with refreshments. Lawler stood in the hall, and the other four entered the bar. He had served Stapleton and was drawing some beer for Browne when the others rushed out of the door. Mr. Kerr afterwards missed three bottles of spirits from the shelf, and went in search of the fellows. He found them, with two others lying in a paddock some distance away, all apparently under the influence of drink. On proceeding close to them for the purpose of identifying them Stapleton rushed at him and struck him with his fist twice. He afterwards picked up a brick and struck Mr. Kerr on the arm, the power of which he lost for a time. Another brick hit him in the head, leaving a wound. The brick cut the hat Mr. Kerr was wearing. A third stone passed over his shoulder. Feeling cause for alarm, Mr. Kerr took to his heels, and was followed by four or five of the fellows. Browne apparently took no part in the assault, but he was convicted of being concerned in the theft, and was sentenced to be imprisoned for two months with hard labour.

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The bench found Stapleton, Hannigan, Lawler, and Cush guilty of the assault, and ordered Stapleton to be detained in custody for ninety-six hours and to receive twenty lashes; Hannigan to be detained for a similar period, and to receive eighteen lashes; and Cush to be detained for a like period, and to receive eight lashes. There was no previous conviction in Lawler's case, and be was ordered to he detained for six hours, and to find a surety in 40 for his good behaviour for six months. The bench pointed out that other modes of punishment having failed, flogging had become a necessity.

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The castigation took place yesterday in Maitland Gaol, and the instrument was used by the castigator with great discretion, and there was an entire absence of brutality. The three prisoners had been detained at the West Maitland lockup up to 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon, when they were conveyed to the gaol in the prison van. About 60 persons, chiefly boys, had assembled in front of the gaol to await the arrival of the three prisoners. The triangle and horse were erected in the outer yard at the rear of the hospital, and the punishment was witnessed by about twenty-five persons -- magistrates, policemen, gaol warders, and representatives of the Press. Mr. H. Maclean, Comptroller-General of Prisons; Dr. Blackwell, Government medical officer; Mr. Abbott, P.M, the Governor of the Gaol; and Dr. R.J. Pierce, J.P., were among those present. At twenty minutes past 5 o'clock Cush was brought forward and strapped to the horse -- a wooden bench. Cush evidently dreaded the punishment, and he cried very bitterly during the process of strapping. A leather band was placed round each arm and leg, and his buttocks only were exposed. A strap containing nine thongs was used. In Cush's case the punishment was not severe, owing to his youth. After the first stroke he called out "murder," and declared that he was innocent of the crime and others could swear it. He appeared to feel the chastisement very keenly. Hannigan was then lashed to the horse. At the first he appeared to be unconcerned, but after the leather had been applied three or four times he flinched and appeared to suffer some pain. He is a strong robust fellow for his age. His buttocks were very much marked, though there was no breaking of the skin. He will probably feel the effects of the lash for some days to come. After the eighteen strokes had been administered he exclaimed, as he was being released from the bench, "I am innocent of this." Stapleton was strapped to the triangle, and his back was quite bare. The instrument used for the infliction of punishment in his case was the real cat-'o-nine tails, made of whip cord with knots at the lower end. He remained perfectly cool till the first stroke was given, when he began to flinch severely, and cried "Oh, my God." The strokes were rather severe, and Stapleton uttered a succession of groans. The cat was laid on the back, and by the time the last stroke was given, the skin was very much contused, though there was no actual cut apparent. One of the tails struck him under the jaw, from which he seemed to suffer some pain. It will doubtless be some time before the bruises will disappear. After the castigation had been concluded, Dr. Blackwell visited the prisoners in the gaol surgery, and examined them. Each of them appeared to realise the degrading nature of the punishment, and suffered anguish. The flogging lasted about twenty minutes. While Hannigan was being punished the male prisoners, who had all been locked up by five o'clock, began to hoot, but the disturbance was soon quelled.

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It is sincerely to be hoped that the castigation the three young fellows received yesterday will have a beneficial effect on their future lives and conduct, and that it will act as a warning to others. The punishment is degrading, and painful to witness, and it is greatly to be wished that its repetition may not be necessary. If young men of the class to which the prisoners belong could only realize the ugliness of the punishment administered yesterday, we venture to think that they would consider well before committing offences which may lead to the application of the lash. Imprisonment has not been found a potent remedy to check the growth of lawlessness in the colony, and the infliction of the cat has become a dire necessity. The prison system has been found to be far from reformatory in most cases, and more repressive measures have had to be taken in the interests of society.

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