I would like to draw attention to a fascinating and very useful online resource that most Canadians, at least, are not aware of. It’s a project run for a number of years now by Professor Bruce Kercher at Macquarie University in New South Wales. The project collects, and makes available online (via AustLII or Professor Kercher’s website) hundreds of decisions, plus related documentation from the early days of the Australian colonies. These decisions are culled mainly from newspaper files and hitherto unpublished records, such as those kept in the offices of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
The value of the cases being made available through this project is enormous and the decisions have cast much light on the attitudes of colonial judges, in particular with respect to their treatment of indigenous people (see, e.g., R v Bonjon). Some of the secondary materials made available, such as extracts from judge’s notebooks and diaries are also inadvertently amusing. This entry from the 1794 diary of Judge Richard Atkins seems to show more of a concern for the weather than the murder of one Lewis:
January 1.t 1794. We begin the New Year with very seasonable rains which will ensure us a tollerable, tho’ late crop of Indian Corn. Wind S E. Fine genial Showers. Wind East. Showers. Went to Sydney The Governor as usual very polite. Wind East. Showers, came up from Sydney Wind East. Cloudy. The Francis a Colonial vessel sailed for Norfolk. Ration this week ld Wheat, 2 ld Paddy [a]nd 4 ld Beef. Wind S E. Rain Wind S E. Rain Wind N E. Continual heavy rain. Wind N E. Fine growing weather. Fine [w]eather wind East. Cloudy – Wind North. A most atrocious murder was committed by persons unknown on the body of one Lewis, he was supposed to be worth some money which he allways carried about him, he was found buried under some wood, his throat cut and two stabs in [h]is side. Sultry, Wind North.