Convicts and Drunks

The digitised newspaper project from from the National Library of Australia (aka Trove) is awesome. I love it. I’ve known a fair bit about my convict ancestors, as their lives were reasonably well documented through official government records. But searching through the newspapers, I have discovered a whole bunch of reports about many of my others ancestors family members that I hadn’t known previously, and would have been near impossible if I’d had to spend thousands of hours reading microfilms of country newspapers.

For example, both of my grandfathers appeared in court on charges of public drunkeness and obscene language.

The Southern Star (Bega) on Saturday 1 December 1906, page 4 reported that my paternal grandfather James O’Brien appeared in court along with Joseph Noonan (his brother-in-law) on using obscene language in public.

James O’Brien was charged with using obscene language in Bega Street on the morning of November 11. He pleaded not guilty, and was defended by Mr. Curtis. Constable Turner deposed to being attracted to the Bridge Lane after midnight on the 10th by a row which could be heard all over the town; he stood by the roadside, and heard defendant use the words complained of.

By Mr. Curtis : Was in Gipps street when I first heard the noise; there were five men there; was sure defendant was the right man; did not know who the two were who cleared out; he was not making fish of one, and flesh of another; they were all under the influence of liquor; did not know whether there were two horses or one in the buggy.

James Sirl deposed to having been in bed, and hearing bad language on the road. Defendant denied using the language; there were six of them altogether; he was holding the horses when the Constable arrived; asked him what charge he had against me, and be would not say.

By Sergeant Scott: Had two whiskies and three beers that night, but was not drunk (laughter) ; used no bad language; Noonan wanted to fight; am sober now; had two drinks this morning.

Mr. T. J. Bateman, J.P., of Numbugga, whom accused works for, gave him a good character, and said he had never heard him use a bad word. The Bench were unanimous in convicting defendant, and fined him 5s and 6s costs.

Joseph Noonan was charged with using indecent language on the same occasion, and pleaded not guilty, being defended by Mr. Curtis. The constable’s evidence was similar to the former case. Defendant denied using the words complained of, although he may have used other words; he was half-drunk. The P.M.: Which half — the head or the legs?

Witness said they were on their way home, and had a quarrel with two men on the road; O’Brien had a bit of a tussle with Bourke. Jas. 0’Brien deposed that defendant did not use the language.

Larry Bourke was also called, but he stated that he was too drunk to know what was said; he and O’Brien had a row, and he thought he got the worst of it. Mr. Bateman also gave Noonan a very good character, and addded he had never heard him use a bad word. Fined £1 and 65 4d costs. Mr. Curtis gave notice of appeal. Larry Bourke was fined 5s and 4s 4d costs for riotous conduct

My maternal grandfather, Charles Henry Dunn also appeared in court for being drunk in public, as was reported in The Northern Star of June 19, 1940…

Pleading guilty at the Lismore Police Court to having been drunk in Molesworth-street on Saturday night, Henry Snook (72) was fined 5s, with the alternative of three hours’ hard labour. Patrick James Daley (52), who was charged with being drunk in Molesworth-street on Saturday after noon, and Charles Henry Dunn (50), charged with drunkenness in Union street, South Lismore, on the same day, failed to appear, and forfeited their recognisances of 10s each.

I, of course, have never been drunk and have never used obscene language :)

Through Trove, I also recently discovered my uncle, Henry O’Brien was involved in an alleged robbery (though discharged) in Lismore, as was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of Monday, 16 April 1928 (page 12)…

GRAFTON, Saturday. Before Mr. Justice ferguson, in the Supreme Court, two young men, John Joseph Creen, and Henry Augusta O’Brien, were charged with having, at Lismore, broken and entered the jewellery premises of Michael Phillips and stolen 12 watches, 50 bangles, and 24 rings. A plea of guilty was entered by O’Brien, but Green pleaded not guilty. The Crown Prosecutor stated that as O’Brien was an accomplice, and would be wanted to give evidence, the Crown prayed that no judgment be entered against him. His Honor (to O’Brien): You are released. After evidence had been heard, His Honor said the only direct evidence against Green was that of O’Brien, who was an accomplice. It was dangerous to take the evidence of an accomplice unless corrobated by some material evidence. The Jury returned a verdict of not guilty, and accused was discharged.

Most of these stories would never have appeared in a major newspapers whereas, of course, in country newspapers they received top billing. There’s also a tendency for newspapers to report the negative and salacious, but thankfully, the newspaper search has not all been resulting in doom and gloom, as I’ve also found some lovely reports of weddings, engagements and such.

Anyway a big “thumbs up” to the National Library of Australia for this project and a recommendation to go for a search if you dare :)

2 responses to “Convicts and Drunks”

  1. Wonderful, I’m sure there will be plenty of my family reported upon, lots of pub owners amongst them. I need to find the time to get into Trove. Once you start……well, that’s the day gone for sure.

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