The murder of an Aboriginal man by a runaway convict, 1820

This report from Morisset, the Commandant of the Newcastle settlement, outlines an incident in which the Chief of the Newcastle tribe was seriously wounded in the course of recapturing escaped convicts John Kirby and James Thompson.

‘Jack’ died some days later. He had been assisting the authorities in apprehending Kirby and Thompson, who (as escaped convicts) were effectively outlaws. It was decided that Kirby should be charged with murder, and he was subsequently convicted and executed. He is believed to be the first white man executed for the murder of an Aboriginal person.

Source: NRS 897 Colonial Secretary Main series of letters received, 1788-1826. Report 31 October 1820 from Commandant, Newcastle on the capture of runaway convict John Kirby by Aborigines; and stabbing by Kirby of ‘Jack’,  the Chief of the Newcastle tribe [4/1807 pp.135-137]


Newcastle, Oct 31st 1820
Two Prisoners of the names of
John Kirby and James Thompson who
Ran from this Settlement on last Thursday
morning, but were taken by the Natives
(Blacks) who were bringing them in,
when Kirby drew a knife and wounded
Jack the Chief of the Newcastle Tribe
in a most dangerous manner, and
had it not so happen’d that he was
at the time of receiving the wound
close to the Town and received immediate
John Thos Campbell Esq
etc etc etc
Medical assistance it would certainly
have proved mortal, Kirby is a most
desperate Villain, Thompson had formerly
made his escape from the Colony and
got to India for which he was sent to
Newcastle some short time ago – I
have made this particular report
in case His Excellency should think
it necessary to have them Tried by
a Criminal Court, but as the Crime was
Committed only in the presence of Black
Natives I fear it would be extremely
difficult to procure such evidence as
would convict them, I therefore beg
you will inform me if it is His
Excellency[‘s] pleasure that they should be
punished here – Kirby ran sometime
ago and was taken and punished,
he well deserves to be made a severe
example of. _
I have the honor to be
Your Obdt Humble Servt
J T Morisset
Comdt of Newcastle

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