Thursday, September 6, 2012

Captain Duncan Takes Liberties

In the spring of 1864, a wagon departed Ipswich en route to Toowoomba. Holding the reins was James Lyle, a professional carriage driver.  Sitting beside him was his wife, and beside her was one Captain Lewis Duncan. Duncan was a ship’s captain who had taken up a landsman’s position as an assistant overseer on a sheep station on the Darling Downs.  Things would soon take a turn for the worst.

The details would emerge in the Ipswich court a few days later.

Carriage with Team of Five Horses


SEPTEMBER 30. Before Colonel Gray, Police Magistrate.

AGGRAVATED ASSAULT.- James Lyle, of Laidley, was brought up on a charge of having, on the 27th instant, committed a violent assault on Captain Lewis Duncan, at the Seven-mile Creek, on the Drayton Road. Mr. Batho appeared for the prisoner, and raised a preliminary objection on the ground that he was not in legal custody, having been arrested. The Police Magistrate said he did it on   his own responsibility. The case was of so serious a nature, he used the telegraph, and ordered his arrest.     

Sergeant Downing proved the arrest, and that on his telling the prisoner the nature of the charge, he said "I did it and the fellow deserved it— he was taking liberties with my wife."[1]

The Captain offered his version of events claiming he was only holding on to the rail behind Mrs. Lyle to steady himself on the rocking cart.  But perhaps as a ship’s captain, he had become accustomed to be over-familiar with his lady passengers.

19th Century Ships' Captain

Lewis Duncan deposed: have been the Captain at a ship; I am now Assistant Overseer of the Warkaw Station; on the 27th, I left Ipswich for Laidley in company with the prisoner and his wife, in a cart; the prisoner began quarrelling with his wife; I had my arm on the rail behind her back; I asked her if it were any inconvenience, and she said not; I put my hand there for the purpose of holding on.

The carriage driver did not react well to the arm placement of the master of the seas, relative to the waist of his spouse.

The prisoner pulled up the horses, and called out, get out of that, you blackguard; he pulled me out of the cart and struck me two violent blows with the butt end of a heavy whip on the crown of the head; I became insensible, and do not know how long I remained so.

The stock was a popular weapon amongst “men of the whip” and could inflict considerable injury.
Further details of the incident emerged as the court hearing proceeded.

According to Captain Duncan, when he regained consciousness he found himself alone and bleeding from the head. He staggered off down the road seeking help.

The attack was quite unexpected, though Lyall pretended as an excuse that he had promised to buy things for his wife. Captain Duncan became unconscious immediately after receiving the blows, and when he revived found the coach had left. He was lying in a pool of blood, his hair was matted, and his clothes saturated. He managed to walk along the road for about a mile, when he came up with some bullock drays.

He stated to the men driving the teams that he had been brutally assaulted, and one of them let him ride on the dray. He afterwards got the loan of a horse from the same man, and was taken to the hotel at the Seven-mile Creek[2], when information was forwarded to the police. Dr. Von Lossberg[3] was also sent for, and went out to see Capt. Duncan.[4]

Dr. Von Lossberg

The good doctor brought his patient into Ipswich for treatment.  A few days later he detailed the Captain’s injury to the court.

He found two severe contused wounds on the head, which he dressed, and yesterday morning he brought his patient into town in a gig.

Dr. Von Lossberg states that if Captain Duncan had remained much longer without medical aid his life would probably have been sacrificed.[5]

Considering the severity of the assault, Lyall received only a modest fine, the bench being of the opinion that the behaviour of Captain Duncan towards the lady contributed to attack.

Lyall was subsequently fined £5, the bench considering that the prosecutor had given provocation by assaulting defendant's wife, although not indecently.[6]

Ipswich Court House ca. 1860

James Lyall subsequently went on to establish his own carriage service between Toowoomba and Dalby.

It appears that Captain Duncan returned to the sea the following year, probably considering it safer given his inland experience.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] The North Australian Saturday 1 October 1864
[2] Near the present day town of Rosewood, west of Ipswich
[3] A prominent member of the local German community.
[4] The Darling Downs Gazette and General Advertiser Thursday 6 October 1864
[5] The Darling Downs Gazette and General Advertiser Thursday 6 October 1864
[6] The Darling Downs Gazette and General Advertiser Thursday 6 October 1864

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