Archives In Brief 31 - Supreme Court of NSW selected criminal records
- Historical background
- Indexes to early criminal records
- Main series
- Related records
- Further reading
As a result of the criticisms of the existing judicial arrangements in NSW by Commissioner Bigge, the existing Court of Criminal Jurisdiction and the Supreme Court of Civil Jurisdiction were abolished. The Supreme Court was established under the Third Charter of Justice (1823), operating with a number of jurisdictions from 1824.
The Supreme Court heard all matters that were punishable by death until the abolition of the death penalty in 1955.
The list of cases heard by the Supreme Court: Criminal Jurisdiction, 1824-36 is indexed by the name of accused. The index includes details of the crime, in some cases the name of the victim and locality and details of the location of records. For information on criminal records prior to 1824 see Court of Criminal Jurisdiction 1788-1824 under the heading Related Records.
Clerk of the Peace, Supreme Court
The bulk of records relating to cases heard by the Supreme Court: Criminal Jurisdiction were created by the Clerk of the Peace (the predecessor of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions).
The Clerk of the Peace received witnesses' statements and made reports of trials and sentences, becoming a de facto registrar for the Supreme Court Criminal Jurisdiction.
NRS 831, Calendar of persons tried on criminal charges in Sydney Courts (Court books), 1835-1923
The Calendars show: date of trial, name of vessel in which the accused arrived in the Colony (early records only), condition (ie. ticket of leave, bond), when and where committed, type of jury, charge, sentence, date of verdict, remarks.
Later volumes show the prisoners gaol number, occupation and the name of the judge presiding. The calendars are incomplete and unindexed.
* Oct 1835-Jul 1837 [4/6448], Reel 684;
* Aug 1838-Jul 1843 [X852], Reel 2720;
* May 1847-Mar 1909 [4/6449-50A, 4/6451-52A & 4/6453-54A], Reels 685-686;
* [4/6450B, 4/6452B, 4/6454B & 4/6455A-B], Reels 3621-3623; and
* 1920-23 [4/6456], Reel 3623.
NRS 883, Registers of cases heard before the Central Criminal Court, 1886-1948
The registers show for each cause heard: names of Crown Prosecutors, prisoner, counsel for the defence, witnesses for the Crown and the defence (noting days of attendance, whether bound or subpoenaed), judge arraigning, judge presiding, date and place of committal, dates of arraignment and trial, defendant's plea, verdict, sentence passed and any remarks.
NRS 880, Papers and depositions, Supreme Court, Sydney and on Circuit, 1824-1946
Depositions are papers relating to the trial, including statements by witnesses. They may be annotated with the verdict and the name of the Judge presiding.
* 1824-36 [T128-70];
* 1837-1946 [9/6307-7405, 4/9090 [photocopy City COD392];
* [10/11048 part, 10/10503 part, 10/8166-81 part].
Supreme Court, Criminal Jurisdiction
NRS 13478, Annual returns of prisoners tried before the Supreme Court at Sydney and on Circuit, 1824-47
The returns usually record name of prisoner, offence, date of trial, verdict, sentence, and if remitted and why. The returns are frequently duplicated, one copy probably having been sent to the Colonial Secretary and the other retained in the Supreme Court.
* 1824-32 [X727; X48], Reel 2756;
* 1835, 1837-47 [X67, X850-51].
NRS 13480, Session returns of persons tried and convicted by the Supreme Court at Sydney and on circuit, 1825-1910
The returns record name of prisoner, condition (native born, ticket of leave, free by servitude etc.), offence, verdict, judgment and alteration or commutation approved by the Governor and Council. From November 1833 whether the jury was civil or military is also noted, and later the name of the Judge and his recommendation.
* [X728-31], Reel 2389;
* [X43-44], Reel 2756;
* [X46-47], Reel 2756;
* [X845-49], Reel 2389;
* [X880-900], Reels 2394-2395.
NRS 13492, Registers of criminal indictments, 1863-1919
The registers provide details of when and where tried; name of prisoner; judge; date; verdict and sentence. They are indexed and should be checked if there is a possibility that the case may have been heard in the Supreme Court for this period.
* [9/2630-35] Reels 1860-1861.
NRS 13477, Informations and other papers, 1824-1947
For more details of cases 1824-36, see the unpublished inventory Index to Supreme Court Criminal Jurisdiction, 1824-36, available in the reading room.
Registers of coronial enquiries can establish basic details such as cause of death, name of accused and locality of trial. Detailed reports have not survived for the years 1828 to 1911. See Archives in Brief 4.
Court of Criminal Appeal, 1912+
See Archives Investigator under Agency No. 1054 Court of Criminal Appeal for details.
Court of Criminal Jurisdiction, 1788-1824
See Archives Investigator under Agency No. 535 Court of Criminal Jurisdiction for further information. The index to cases heard by the Court of Criminal Jurisdiction, 1788-1824 is indexed by the name of the accused. The index includes details of the crime, in some cases the name of the victim and locality and details of the location of records.
Court Reporting Office, Transcripts, 1899-1987
See Archives Investigator Series 2714 Transcripts, 1899-1987. Transcripts for early years are arranged by the name of the judge and the jurisdiction of the Court. Later they are arranged by the jurisdiction of the Court and the name of the person tried. Records more than 30 years old are open to public access if the case is not of current interest.
Crown Solicitor's records
See Archives Investigator under 'Crown Solicitor'. NRS 3595, Judgment books, Supreme Court, Criminal Sessions, 1835-60, are of particular interest.
Guide to Convicts and Convict Administration
Also known as the Convict Guide, available in the reading room. See Chapter 11: Colonial trials and court records.
Judges' notebooks survive from c 1828, but are not complete. See Archives Investigator under the name of the judge. Newspapers may give the name of the judge, as may the registers listed above.
See Archives Investigator under Corrective Services for details. Post 1870s prison records may include photographs of prisoners with details of conviction and personal history. There is an online index to Gaol Photograph Description Books This index is being regularly updated.
Reports of Crime for Police Information, 1854-62 and Police Gazettes, 1862-1982
These publications include details of crimes committed, criminals wanted, criminals apprehended, prisoners discharged See Archives Investigator for further information and a list of records.
Supreme Court (including Clerk of the Peace) Criminal matters
Records relating to the hearing of criminal matters, including case files, indexes and associated control records are open to public access 75 years after file completion. To obtain permission to view and copy records that are less than 75 years old write to:
Researchers should consult the Register of Access Directions to confirm the public availability of records. State Records' staff can advise you on the availability of records if they are not listed on the register.
For more information about your rights of access to State records see Archives in Brief No. 9: Your rights of access.
J. M. Bennett, A history of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Sydney, Law Book Company Limited, 1974.
Bruce Kercher, T.D.Castle, Dowling's Select cases, 1828 to 1844: decisions of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Sydney, Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History, 2005.
G.D. Woods, A History of criminal law in New South Wales: the colonial period, 1788-1900. Annandale, NSW: Federation Press, 2002.
The series State Records NSW:Supreme Court; NRS 13696, Miscellaneous Correspondence Relating to Aborigines, 1797, 1804-06, 1814-16, 1824-40; [5/1161] COD 294A and B has been digitised and transcribed as part of a collaborative project involving Macquarie University's Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance and State Records.
For criminal records prior to the establishment of the Supreme Court in 1824 see the list of cases heard by the Court of Criminal Jurisdiction, 1788-1824.
© State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority, 2003.
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