The Dictionary of Sydney was archived in 2021.
Sydney’s Oldest Unsolved Murders
When people talk about the convicts sent to Australia across the early years of colonisation, there are two dominant stories that emerge. There’s the story of the unjustly treated convict: driven, by poverty, to steal basic supplies such as clothing and food to provide for their family. There’s also the story of the terrible villain: the foul murderer despatched to the far side of the world, ridding England of those who would commit the worst crimes. The truth is somewhere in between. Sydney’s early days as a gaol saw a large amount of criminal activity with some crimes perpetrated by accidental criminals and other offences committed by career crooks. Theft was rampant. There were numerous assaults. Drunkenness provoked more than one ugly brawl. But what about murder? There were doubtless many acts of violence committed upon the First Nations people but how long did it take for colonists to start killing each other? The answer might surprise you. Constable Joseph Luker, bludgeoned on the night of 26 August 1803. Luker was investigating the theft of a small, portable desk when he was attacked. The assault was brutal, with various weapons used including the stolen desk, the frame of a wheelbarrow, Luker’s cutlass and cutlass guard. Ex-convicts Constables William Bladders and Isaac Simmonds were charged with murder but found not guilty. Constable John Russell was indicted for breaking and entering but found not guilty due to insufficient evidence. Known thief Joseph Samuels was also indicted for breaking and entering. Samuels confessed to robbery but not to murder. Another known thief, Richard Jackson also confessed to robbery and, as a witness for the Crown, implicated Samuels, before being declared innocent. Samuels was convicted of robbery on 20 September 1803 but nobody was convicted of Luker’s murder. Crime, from petty thefts to dreadful murders, is always unsettling. Unsolved crimes are especially disturbing. They leave a gap in the narrative. There is no neat, final chapter offering justice for the victim or resolution for the community. Check the subject heading Crime for more historical crimes in Sydney on the Dictionary of Sydney: https://dictionaryofsydney.org/subject/crime References John Cobley, Sydney Cove, 1788. (1962; repr., Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1980) John Cobley, Sydney Cove, 1793-1795: The Spread of Settlement. (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1983) David Collins, An Account of the English Colony of New South Wales (1798; repr., Adelaide: Libraries Board of South Australia, 1971) Bruce Swanton, A Chronological Account of Crime, Public Order & Police in Sydney 1788-1810. (Phillip: Australian Institute of Criminology, 1983) Louise Steding, Death on Night Watch: Constable Joseph Looker, 1803 (Sydney: In Focus, 2016) The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (Sydney: Government Printer, 1803–1842) Dr Rachel Franks is the Coordinator, Education & Scholarship at the State Library of New South Wales and a Conjoint Fellow at the University of Newcastle. She holds a PhD in Australian crime fiction and her research on crime fiction, true crime, popular culture and information science has been presented at numerous conferences. An award-winning writer, her work can be found in a wide variety of books, journals and magazines as well as on social media. She's appearing for the Dictionary today in a voluntary capacity. Thank you Rachel! For more, listen to the podcast with Rachel & Tess here, and tune in to 2SER Breakfast with Tess Connery on 107.3 every Wednesday morning to hear more stories from the Dictionary of Sydney.
CategoriesBlog 2SER Breakfast convicts crime David Collins early colony John Burn Joseph Luker murder mystery Rachel Franks sydney history Tess Connery unsolved