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A History of Criminal Law in New South Wales - Volume 2

A History of Criminal Law in New South Wales - Volume 2

The New State, 1901-1955

By G D Woods


New South Wales was from its origins uniquely connected with the criminal law. The first volume of this study (Woods, 2002) covered the period from 1788 until Federation - convicts, gold rushes, wild bushrangers and equally wild legislators. This second volume continues the still-fascinating story from 1901 (when the colony became a state) through until mid-20th century, when the death penalty was effectively abolished.

Once again the author draws on his wide experience of the criminal law as an academic, law reformer, barrister and judge to describe the development of the law in its social, economic and political contexts.

There are various broad themes, including:

  • the regular disputes in the body politic about what conduct should attract criminal punishment. Should it be a crime to avoid vaccination against deadly diseases? To go on strike, or to try to monopolise an industry? To defame someone?
  • the two world wars, and their impacts;
  • the gradualism of change in the criminal law outside wartime.

The author engages with the technicalities, but relates these intriguingly to the characters who inhabit the world of criminal practice, the courts and the gaols. John Norton and Paddy Crick are on the loose again for the first time since 1958, when Cyril Pearl immortalised them in Wild Men of Sydney. Here each has his own chapter, as does Jimmy Governor, the inspiration for Thomas Keneally’s The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. Other chapters deal with Woolcott Forbes, the famous corporate fraudster of the 1930s and 1940s known in the press as “The Bullfighter”; a policeman with the improbable name of Mendelssohn Bartholdy Miller; and Major Charles Cousens, the plum-voiced prisoner-of-war and radio announcer who was forced to broadcast from Tokyo during the Second World War and who faced charges of treason when he was returned to Australia at war’s end.

These and dozens of other characters (including notable judges, magistrates, and practitioners) populate this continuation of the history of criminal law in New South Wales up to mid-century.


1. New Century, New State, Old Problems
2. The Poisoned Chalice of Mercy
3. Not A Code: The Common Law and the Queen’s Washerwoman
4. Mixed Motives in Edwardian Criminal Laws: Protection and Control
5. “Too Many Seconds”: TM Slattery and the Law of Theft
6. “A Shilling An Acre”: The Crown Lands Scandals 1905-1907
7. A Grudging Step Towards Legal Aid
8. The Scorchers: Taming the Horseless Carriage
9. Mixed Motives Again: The Aborigines Protection Act 1909
10. Criminal Law and Economics: The “Leg-Iron” Election of 1910
11. Wing-Collar Crime: The Coal Vend, and Big Sugar
12. Age of Consent: The Girls’ Protection Act, 1910
13. Trial and Error: The Criminal Appeal Act 1912
14. Making War and Making Crimes: 1914–1916
15. The Grass Parliament, and Aftershocks: 1916-1920
16. Some Elections, Tom Bavin and a Wedding Law: 1920-1925
17. John Latham and Commonwealth Crimes: Saviour from Subversion
18. Lang, Bavin, Razors and Reform
19. Hard Times: Depression and the State Criminal Law
20. Latham Again, Menzies, and a Popular Czech, 1932–1935
21. The Right Suspect, and Sane
22. Craig, Davies and Cody: A Dissent, and a Caution
23. The Golden Thread and the Golden Threads
24. Two Tall Poppies: Homosexuals and the Courts between the Wars
25. The Musical Policeman: Illicit Betting Inquiries, 1936-1938
26. War Again: Regulations and Resistance
27. A Welcome Occupation: Americans, Police Scandal and the Courts
28. War from a Magistrate’s Bench
29. Hardly Treason: The Case of Major Cousens
30. Justinian in Khaki: CE Martin and the Public Defender
31. Police Interrogation at Mid-Century: "Realism", "Sentiment" and an angry Chief Justice
32. More Democratic Juries, and the Ladies' Auxiliary
33. Cold War and Hot Words: Sedition and Lance Sharkey, 1949
34. "Kiss-in-the-ring": State Crimes Act Amendments of 1951
35. "Reffos, Balts and Wogs": New Australians in the Criminal Courts, 1945-1955
36. The Beer Rebellion: Barwick and the Fibbers
37. Police Scrumdown, a Royal Distraction and the Press Barons
38. "Fallen Among Christians": Death Penalty Abolition, 1955

Table of Cases
Table of Statutes


Publishing 19 December 2018
Publisher The Federation Press
ISBN 9781760021931
Australian RRP $85.00
International Price $78.00
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Australian History / Studies
Law - Legal History
Law - Criminal Law & Procedure
Criminology & Policing - Criminal Justice History
Secondary School Resources

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