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The Lemon Syrup Case

Attempted Murder and Conspiracy

George Dean's trial and conviction for attempted murder

George Dean was the 27-year-old captain of the Possum, a night ferry running between Circular Quay and the North Shore. In March 1894 he married Mary Seymour. Just over a year later - on 19 March 1895 - he appeared at the Court of Petty Sessions, North Sydney, charged with administering poison to his wife, with intent to kill her. Dean was committed for trial and appeared before Justice Windeyer in the Supreme Court in April 1895. Richard Denis Meagher, of Crick and Meagher, appeared for the defence.

Mary Dean gave evidence that the relationship had begun to deteriorate soon after their marriage. She told the court that that she had experienced the symptoms of poisoning prior to the birth of the couple's child in December 1894. Mary said her husband had accused her of having a child before their marriage and compared her to the woman he should have married and 'would when he was free'. Dean denied these accusations but admitted his dislike for his mother-in-law, who he blamed for causing trouble in the marriage.

George Dean found guilty

George Dean was found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to death but his sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life because of his youth and his

humane and gallant efforts in saving human life by rescuing drowning people at some risk to his own ...
(Mr Justice Windeyer’s report)

The verdict caused a public outcry. Protest meetings were held all over the state, petitions poured in, and a 'Dean Defence Committee' was formed to fight his cause.

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  • Judge's notebook[NRS 7851]
  • Judge's notebook[NRS 7851]
  • Judge's notebook[NRS 7851]
  • Judge's notebook[NRS 7851]
  • Mug shot of George Dean[NRS 2138]

Royal Commission of Inquiry into the case of George Dean, 1895

Royal Commissioners Francis Edward Rogers, Phillip Sydney Jones and Frederick Norton Manning were appointed to enquire whether Dean should serve his sentence or be released from gaol. The Commission focused strongly on the characters of Mrs Seymour and Mrs Dean. Commissioners Jones and Manning agreed that Mrs Dean had administered the poison to herself, with no intention of taking a fatal dose. Commissioner Rogers dissented. Following the Royal Commission, Dean was granted a free pardon and released from gaol in June 1895.

George Dean confesses

That was not the end of the story. In July 1895 Dean's lawyer, Meagher, admitted to Sir Julian Salomons, a former Chief Justice and Prosecution Lawyer at the Commission, that Dean was guilty. In October a chemist from the North Shore who sold the poison came forward. Dean was arrested and later confessed. He was convicted of False Declaration on 24 October and was sentenced to five years. On the following day he was convicted of Perjury with Intent to Procure an Acquittal on a Capital Charge and was sentenced to fourteen years, the sentences to be served concurrently.

Meagher and others charged with Conspiracy to Pervert the Course of Justice

Meagher, Dean, Crick and others were charged with Conspiracy to Pervert the Course of Justice. Crick was found not guilty and the convictions of Dean and Meagher were quashed on 15 May 1896. Meagher was struck from the roll of solicitors in June 1896 but he went on to have a career in politics. He was finally re-admitted as by a special Act of Parliament in 1920.

The saga of George Dean and Richard Meagher has continued to capture the public interest. On 26 February 1983 the ABC television broadcast a dramatisation of the events in Verdict: The Dean Case.

  • Case papers[NRS 13491]
  • Page 1 of the case papers[NRS 13491]
  • Page 2 of the case papers[NRS 13491]

Based on an article written by Janet Knight originally published in issue No 12 Archeion, November 1995. The records concerning the case and the subsequent Royal Commission are held by State Records. (Series numbers NRS 2138, NRS 7851, NRS 333, NRS 880 and NRS 13491.)