Crim. Con.

In my list of Andrew Bent’s printing I have included a number of items which, while known to have been printed and published, have no surviving copies.

There were also a number of projects which were contemplated but probably never saw the light of day. The nature of most of these is obvious and their non-appearance no great loss for posterity, although I can’t help being curious about this little pamphlet

HTG 14 Nov 1828

This advertisement appeared from 14 November to 19 December 1828 but there is no evidence that The Secret ever went on sale.

A scandalous affair

One of the projected publications which fell off the table is, however, a significant loss to historians. It concerned the action brought by Edward Lord against Charles Rowcroft for criminal conversation (adultery) with Lord’s wife Maria. The long running case (it was still a record for the colony in 1832) was compared by two contemporary observers to the trial of Queen Caroline in England. Alison Alexander has made a creditable reconstruction of the circumstances of the love affair and of the trial itself in her books Governors’ Ladies and Corruption and Skulduggery but the surviving evidence is fragmentary, and in some cases cryptic. Many questions remain unanswered. Her job would have been so much easier if Bent’s printing, promising all the salacious detail of the lengthy trial, had actually come to fruition.


Edward Lord had arrived in Hobart Town at first settlement as a Lieutenant in the Marines. He became the richest and most powerful man in the colony, his success being attributable at least in part to the business acumen of his former convict wife Maria (nee Risely) who conducted one of the colony’s earliest shops. During one of her husband’s long absences in England Maria appears to have had an affair with a recently arrived younger man, Charles Rowcroft, who, like Lord, was a Justice of the Peace.

Lord got wind of the infidelity and returned to Hobart Town, apparently with no other purpose in view than to mount the prosecution. He arrived on the Deveron on 22 October 1824 – coincidentally the ship which brought Andrew Bent’s state of the art Columbian printing press. Lord endured a most unpleasant voyage and on arrival was subjected to a series of petty annoyances from the new acting Naval Officer. These did nothing to improve his mood and were later highlighted by ‘A Colonist’ (Robert Lathrop Murray) in a letter to the Hobart Town Gazette. The ‘Colonist’ letters, collectively, helped set Andrew Bent on his inexorable trajectory towards the dock for libeling the local administration.

In court

The case began on Monday 6 December in the newly constructed court house on the corner of Macquarie and Murray Streets. The building had opened in May 1824 but was still not completely finished.

H. Melville. The Court House, Hobart Town (lithograph from the Hobart Town Magazine, v. 3, March 1834) W.L. Crowther Library, TAHO

Proceedings were still in full flight when, the following Friday, the Gazette advised

HTG 10 Dec 1824

While it is not clear exactly what Bent meant by ‘in sheets,’ it is worth noting he had recently published the proceedings of a Commission of Inquiry in pamphlet form, ostensibly because, even in his enlarged newspaper, there was not enough room to print a court report taking up nearly two whole pages.

Mitchell Library DSM/343.97/R

As the Gazette noted on 10 December, it had become patently obvious that Lord v Rowcroft was going to be a very long trial indeed.

The Supreme Court has been occupied all the week with a cause that will probably remain pending for a fortnight longer, and respecting which we are now only justified in remarking, that Edward Lord, Esq. J.P. is the Plaintiff, and Charles Rowcroft, Esq. J.P. Defendant.

The journals of William Sorell junior (Clerk of the Court and present throughout) and Rev. Robert Knopwood (intimate with all the dramatis personae and called as a witness) do not always totally agree, but they both indicate the extraordinary length of the proceedings. On the opening day the court sat until midnight, and one witness (a Mr. Forbes) was in the witness box for four hours. According to Sorell a C. Robertson (probably Charles Robertson who appears to have worked as a clerk for the Lords) was examined for the whole of the second day. On Wednesday the Lords’ servant John Drummond was in the box for seventeen hours, until two o’clock in the morning. Knopwood was appalled that there was only one hour’s break for refreshment during this marathon session and during it Sorell was ‘writing all the time taking down the evidence.’ We know that Bent’s editor and court reporter Evan Henry Thomas was present too, probably scribbling just as furiously, although at least he had the advantage of knowing shorthand. Also present was William Parramore who remarked in a letter to his betrothed that ‘much nauseous detail’ had been produced and that his attendance in the court house over the course of a fortnight had resulted in ‘a very severe cold.’

Lord was represented by the Attorney General, Joseph Tice Gellibrand, who had been appointed to that position largely through the influence of Lord and his brother Sir John Owen. Rowcroft’s counsel was Joseph Hone, Master of the Supreme Court. From what we know of the ability of these two lawyers, Gellibrand would have had the upper hand.

Also in the court room, apparently sitting next to Lord throughout, was the notorious Robert Lathrop Murray, a former army officer who had been transported to New South Wales for bigamy and arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1821, shortly after he became free. Prior to Gellibrand’s arrival in the colony in May 1824, Murray had been Lord’s main legal advisor, and was possibly hand in glove with Lord in various dodgy schemes. According to ‘Expositor,’ who wrote a violent attack on Murray the following year, Murray was the chief ‘concoctor and conductor’ of the whole Crim. Con. business. This view is supported by Murray’s own account of the affair in a letter to D’Arcy Wentworth. Murray was even planning to go back to England himself afterwards, to arrange a divorce for Lord, although he never did. During Lord’s recent absence Murray and Maria Lord had obviously fallen out, and it was most likely a vengeful Murray who gave Lord the tip-off about Maria’s infidelity. He was also the author of a spiteful squib on Rowcroft entitled ‘The Spunger.’

It would appear that during the course of proceedings Joseph Hone made some sort of attack on Murray’s character. This obviously became town talk as it was mentioned later by ‘Expositor’ but we also learn of it from evidence given by Evan Henry Thomas to the Gellibrand Commission of Inquiry in 1825. He had been asked about the Attorney General’s alleged intimacy with Murray, which became a major factor in Gellibrand’s downfall. Thomas described how, on the final day of the crim con case, he had lunch with Murray, Gellibrand, and some others in the judge’s rooms. Murray asked Gellibrand to take notice of Hone’s attack on him, and when they returned to the court room the Attorney General did just that. It is a great pity that we don’t know what Hone actually said, although it was probably along the lines of remarks made by George Meredith and others earlier in the year.

When the Gazette next appeared on Friday 17 December, the trial was still going and the task of printing the proceedings was beginning to look both daunting and perhaps financially risky.

HTG 17 Dec 1824

The next day (Saturday 18 December) the case finally came to a conclusion. This was reported in the following Gazette on Christmas Eve

The action for Crim. Con., respecting which a general interest has been excited and for the conclusion of which we and the Public long anxiously wished was decided between eleven and twelve o’clock on Saturday night last, by a verdict for the Plaintiff of £100, after engaging the Supreme Tribunal of this Colony for fourteen days! — a period of length that, we believe and may venture to assert, was never engrossed in any other Court by such an Issue.

Mission accomplished, Lord did not hang around in Hobart Town. The very same day the Gazette advised that Lord was about to leave the colony and he departed on the Denmark Hill on 29 December. Rowcroft left the colony the following year.

Nothing more was ever heard about the proceedings being printed, in sheets, or otherwise. Alison Alexander does not mention Bent’s proposed publication, but speculates that Lord, not wishing to appear a fool, may have used his powerful influence to suppress reportage in the newspaper. This may be true, but even before the trial had finished Bent announced that he would publish the proceedings separately and it is equally possible that there were simply not enough takers prepared to pay two dollars to read about something that had already circulated widely via the town gossip mill. Two dollars was expensive. The 1825 Almanack (88 pages) then in the press only cost one dollar. In 1826 Bent printed the proceedings of the Gellibrand Commission of Inquiry, which, at just under 200 pages, was the largest pamphlet he ever printed. This was also priced at two dollars. People were obviously prepared to pay to read proceedings which had been largely conducted in camera. But Lord v Rowcroft was held in open court and had been the talk of the town for weeks.

A concerned citizen

On 16 December Hobart Town schoolmaster James Thomson wrote to Governor Arthur in high dudgeon, expressing his disgust at the plan to publish the court proceedings. It was bad enough that this scandalous breach of domestic peace had occurred at all and had become a subject of common talk, but if the ‘filthy and disgusting’ evidence were to be printed this would have most dire effects on the population (especially the already depraved part of it) and be a dreadful influence on the rising generation. This is the first page of his letter.

Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office CSO1/1/91/2098

The second page continues in similar vein about hotbeds ‘from which will spring weeds of the most baneful and pernicious description.’ Then, under the misapprehension that a censorship of the press still existed, he asked that publication should be suppressed.

The Press of this Colony is, I understand, subject to a censorship, and if ever there was occasion for this control being exerted it is now. It is not a pernicious political doctrine which time and just reasoning would correct that is to be checked, but the very life springs of society are about to be corrupted and poisoned and the future hopes of this Colony are to have their eyes insulted and their minds contaminated with statements, which make every virtuous mind shudder. That this publication should be stopt, is, I am sure the wish of every man of honourable feeling and of every man of principle in the colony. The question of the expediency or the inexpediency of a control over the press is not at all entered upon, but as such a control exists, for the ostensible purpose of correcting profligacy, I now submit to Your Honour, that it be now exerted and a stop put to the publication of what can contain nothing beneficial, but will abound with every thing that is prejudicial to virtue and domestic happiness.

This letter probably had no influence whatsoever. Arthur may not even have seen it. The only annotation on it, which does not look like Arthur’s hand, is that it should be ‘put up’ (i.e. filed away.) Bent had shaken off government censorship earlier in the year, and his right to run his own newspaper unshackled had recently been confirmed by Governor in Chief Brisbane. It just so happened that on the day the Lord v Rowcroft proceedings were first advertised, the Gazette included a lyrical effusion from editor Evan Henry Thomas about freedom of the press – ‘the dawn of mental glory.’  The printer had won a temporary victory and although Arthur was already making preliminary plans to oust Bent as Government Printer and to issue an alternative government gazette, for the moment his hands were tied.

In 1826 Bent’s friend Bartholomew Broughton was tried for embezzlement. The trial lasted two days at the end of which he was acquitted. Bent’s paper, the Colonial Times, ran a column and a half report on 27 October 1826 and also advertised that the ‘proceedings at full length’ would shortly be put to press. Nothing more was ever heard of this idea either, although, as a handwritten transcript was sent back to England by Broughton himself, the details are still accessible. Not so with Lord v Rowcroft. Whatever the real reasons for the proposed printing of the court proceedings and subsequent non-appearance, the upshot is that we are left with only a few tantalizing hints about exactly what happened in the courtroom (and the bedroom) when there was obviously so much more to tell.

Further reading:

(I have drawn on both these excellent books for background information)

Alison Alexander. Governors’ ladies: The wives and mistresses of Van Diemen’s Land Governors, Sandy Bay: THRA, 1987.

Alison Alexander. Corruption and skulduggery: Edward Lord, Maria Risely, and Hobart’s tempestuous beginnings, Dynnyrne: Pillinger Press, 2015

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