In August 1845 a warrant was issued for the arrest, on a charge of highway robbery, of three men who had absconded from their place of abode at Miller's Forest. All three were free by servitude. Constables were urged to use their best exertions for the apprehension of the three. The men were described as:
Richard Hicks, free by servitude, per Royal Sovereign, native of London Height 5'5½ complexion brown, hair light brown, eyes chestnut, formerly assigned to Mr. Edward Sparke of Hexham
Joseph Pyzer, free by servitude, per Heroine, native place, Leicestershire, labourer height 5'5½ complexion ruddy, hair sandy, eyes brown, remarks - J. anchor, P inside lower right arm, EP and mermaid left arm.
Charles Wood, free by servitude per Royal Sovereign, native place Norfolk, trade brick makers' labourer, height 5'6in, complexion dark sallow, hair brown, eyes grey remarks eyebrows meeting, mole right side neck small mole right cheek, three warts back of forefinger right hand.
Joseph Pyzer was assigned to Thomas Brown at Patrick Plains in 1836. He absconded from service in that year. He was convicted of stealing a pig in 1843 and sentenced to two years in an iron gang. When he was discharged from Maitland iron gang on 21 February 1845, he teamed up with the two younger men Richard Hicks and Charles Wood.
Richard Hicks was assigned to Edward Sparke and was convicted of robbery and assault on Peter Lachlan near Sparke's gate. Although he called evidence to establish an alibi he was sentenced to be worked in irons for three years early in 1842. By November 1844 he had already returned to his life of lawlessness.
After Hicks and Pyzer had finished their terms of punishment in 1845, together with Charles Woods, they began a series of robberies. They were unlikely to win any friends among their contemporaries when they cruelly mistreated Martha Shearman after breaking into her house in Miller's Forest late one winter's night in 1845.
Martha was the wife of William Shearman, probably the former shipmate of Hicks and Woods on the Royal Sovereign. Martha was left with visible marks around her neck after she had been held by the neck for two hours while the men ransacked her house.
The Miller's Forest Robberies
On Tuesday last these men were brought before the Bench for the last time; there being no further evidence against them, they were committed for trial. The main facts of their numerous and daring robberies are given below:
On the 10th July, John Wynn, a hawker of Morpeth applied to the Bench for a warrant for the apprehension of two men who had robbed him. In his deposition he stated that as he was returning home from Millers Forest with a horse and cart and a quantity of goods, about three miles from Morpeth two men came from behind a tree and one of them leveled a gun at him and threatened to blow his brains out if he offered any resistance. They then took him a short way into the bush and robbed him of 20 or 30 shillings and a watch. They then took him back to the cart, started it on the road and ordered him to follow it without looking back, on pain of having his brains blown out. On overtaking his cart he found that they had nearly emptied it.
Next day he returned to the place with Constable Crawford, and after searching about for some time in vain they repaired to Millers Forest where in a hut and in a sawpit near it they found a quantity of the stolen property together with a jacket which Wynn recognized as having been worn by one of the men who robbed him, and a piece of paper which among other things had been taken from him, in the pocket.
There was a fire in the hut and it was evident persons had been there a few minutes before. There was also a piece of black ribbon with a lock of hair fastened to each end so that it could be tied round the head with the hair appearing from under the hat like long natural hair. In that cottage the three prisoners, Richard Hicks, Joseph Pizey(sic) and Thomas Wood (?) were known to have lived together and a warrant was therefore issued for their apprehension. These men were shortly afterwards taken and on the 8th instant were brought before the Bench together with a variety of articles, contained in bundles found in their possession.
Mr. Sparke of Hexham proved that on the 31st May his house was robbed of a quantity of bedding etc. and he identified two of the articles produced as part of the same. The prisoner Hicks had formerly been an assigned servant of his (Mr. Spark's) brother. On the same night Mrs. Jane Roberts, a small shop keeper, was robbed of a large quantity of goods, but she could not identify any of the things produced, although many of them resembled those of which she had been robbed Martha Shearman of Millers Forest, deposed that one night in the beginning of July her house was entered by three men, one of whom held her by the throat for upwards of two hours, while the others were rummaging her house: she bore the marks of the ruffians grasp for many days afterwards. She could not positively identify the men as it was too dark at the time to distinguish their features, but several of the articles found in Hick's bundle she positively identified; and her evidence in this respect was corroborated by William Holder, her brother in law, who identified some combs as part of a dozen he had brought from Braidwood and given to Mrs. Shearman.
In addition to this evidence, the fact of the prisoners having lived together in the hut where Wynn's property was found was proved by several witnesses. Elizabeth Skelton in particular proved that the prisoner Wood was in the neighbourhood only a quarter of an hour before Constable Crawford came with Wynn in search of the property of the latter; he had come to her home to light his pipe, and went away saying he was going to work, but had never been seen since. This showed that the appearance of Wynn with a Constable had induced him and the other prisoners to make themselves scarce.
On the 21st instant Hicks was brought before the Bench and separately charged with robbing the house of Mr. James Price, settler, at Buttai Creek on 10 November last. It appeared from the evidence of Mr. Price that as he was sitting at home the prisoner suddenly appeared before him, leveled his piece and threatened to blow his brains out if he moved, he was then joined by another man, who was placed sentry over him with the piece while the prisoner searched the house, ordered Mrs. Price to give him the keys, to light a candle for his accommodation, to precede him to the bedroom while he searched it and otherwise make herself generally useful. While the prisoner was busy loading himself with the goods, Mrs. Price contrived to escape from the house. When the prisoner had taken all he could get, he made the other man act as porter and backed out of the house keeping Mr. Price all the time under cover of the gun. The latter however, followed them immediately and when he had nearly overtaken them, the prisoner took aim at him, and pulled the trigger but the gun fortunately burnt its priming. He then lost sight of them, it being dark. He had never seen the prisoner since until the present day, when he picked him out from among a dozen others. William Saunderson, in the service of
Mr. William Sparke of Hexham, found the watch produced (the property of Mr. Price) in a hollow log between Boltons and Sparkes; he reported the circumstances to his master; he knew the prisoner had lived at Hexham. Hicks was separately committed for trial on this charge.
The neighbourhood will be well rid of these worthies, whose capture, and the accumulation of such a mass of evidence against them, furnishes another instance of the efficiency of our police.'
Charles Wood and Joseph Pyzer were sentenced to 7 years transportation for their part in the robberies at Miller's Forest. Richard Hicks was sentenced to 7 years for the robbery at Millers Forest and another 10 years for robbery with violence at the house of James Price at Buttai Creek.