This book records details of trials held at the Moreton Bay penal settlement. Governor Brisbane's original instructions of 1824 required the Commandant to maintain a "Register of Offences" . (1) This book, however, also acts as a record of court proceedings.
The format varies throughout the book but entries may include the date, the name of the prisoner, evidence in the form of sworn statements, the prisoner's defence, the opinion, the sentence and the signature of the Commandant. From 10 July 1837 - 8 July 1839, there is no signature - only the word "Commandant". From 25 July 1839, Commandant Gorman added J.P. (Justice of the Peace) after his name (in 1832 a military commandant was vested with the "custody and management" of a penal colony by a statute [3 Wm IV, No 3, s 8] also constituting him ex officio a justice of the peace). (2) In 1841 and 1842 some hearings were also before two non-military Justices of the Peace, Francis Forbes and Arthur Hodgson. These hearings sometimes include the statement " in petty sessions assembled" (for example, pp. 245, 254). Forbes and Hodgson were Darling Downs squatters. (3)
Offences mostly included absconding, disobedience, insolence, insubordination, neglect of work, and stealing, for which the punishment was 25 lashes to 150 lashes (the lowest number recorded in the book is 12 lashes and the highest is 300 lashes for absconding and stealing, absconding for the 7th time, and violent assault of a constable). From 1839 punishments for such offences also included being admonished, solitary confinement on bread and water, or imprisonment with hard labour. Vagrancy by "free" convicts incurred a sentence in the House of Corrections for a period. A more serious offence of theft and "being illegally at large" resulted on 14 February 1839 in 4 convicts being committed for trial in Sydney.
At the back of the book there is a one page listing with the heading: Police reports of all offences committed at Moreton Bay from and after the 20th day of July 1839 as brought before Owen Gorman Esq. J.P. The page is then divided under the sub-headings: Dates: (25 July - 14 October 1839), Prisoner's Name and Ship, To what Department assigned, Offence, Finding and Punishment, Entered at Page.
The book begins at page 13 - earlier pages are obviously missing.
NOTE: It appears that more than one type of court may have been in operation since some of the entries are headed "New South Wales To Wit" (not Crown Prisoner's name and ship etc.), and refer to the Commandant's position as a Justice of the Peace. These cases include inquiries into deaths or serious crimes such as the murder of Surveyor Stapleton. The various courts may have been: "one justice of the peace exercising a summary jurisdiction"; Courts of General Quarter Sessions; and later, Courts of Petty Sessions. These courts were regulated in a statute [3 Wm IV no. 3] .(4)