Janet Duncan Byres and Richard Daniel Higgins

Janet Byres, was born 23 November 1836 and baptised on 4 January 1837 in Ecclesmachan, West Lothian, Scotland. 1 Janet was later known as Janet Duncan Byers and as Janet Duncas Byers.

Janet Byres (21) married Richard Daniel Higgins (25) on 8 May 1858 in Oatlands, Tasmania. 2 Richard was born on 10 October 1832 in Oatlands, Van Diemen's Land, the son of Richard Foord Higgins and Rhoda Catherine Bailey. 3 Richard's father had been transported to VDL for his participation in the infamous Aldington Gang smuggling operations in Kent.

Janet and Richard would go on to have eleven children.

  1. Margaret HIGGINS (1859-1937) married Walter Benjamin SHAW snr (1859-1936) in 1883
  2. Richard Ford HIGGINS (1860-1946) married, firstly Mary Jane HEFFERNAN (c1868-1905) in 1889; married secondly Bertha Hilda KENSHOLE, a widow, nee GROSSE (c1871-1946) in 1907
  3. Rhoda Catherine (Kate) HIGGINS (1862-1932) married William Henry WESTERWAY (c1851-1930) in 1884
  4. Matilda (Tilly) Jane HIGGINS (1864-1936) married Robert RENNIE (1861-1942) in 1885
  5. Wilhelmina Marion Mary HIGGINS (1866-1924) married William Ernest HEATH (c1864-?) in 1887
  6. John Byers HIGGINS (1868-1937) married Ellen Jane Margaret QUIN (1868-1921) in 1890
  7. John Henry HIGGINS (1871-1977)
  8. James Arthur HIGGINS (1873-1876)
  9. Martha Isabela Jannett HIGGINS (1875-1877)
  10. Agnes Ellen May HIGGINS (1878-?) married William George MORGAN (1881-?) in 1906
  11. Annie Louisa (Louie) HIGGINS (1888-1909) married Chester John CROSSIN (c1881-1944) in 1909

In Tasmania during the sixties and seventies news about the Byres family was scant, until December 1873 when a resident of the Bluff at Oatlands, Daniel Kenna, was on trial for "Uttering a Forged Cheque". William Rae, a witness in the case, gave evidence that he met up with Kenna at Richard Higgins' residence at the Bluff which was where the cheque was cashed by Rae for Kenna. Richard's wife Janette (sic, nee Byres) was required to give evidence in the case in the Supreme Court in Hobart Town.


Daniel Kenna was indicted for uttering a cheque which had been feloniously altered from £3 13s, 6d. to £13 13s 6d. He pleaded not guilty.

The Attorney-General appeared for the prosecution, and Mr. Stephen Sheehy for the defence.

The Attorney-General, after stating the outlines of the case, called the following evidence :

William Rae deposed: I am a licensed hawker residing at Hobart Town. I know the prisoner. He lived at the Bluff in the Oatlands district. I have known him about 2 years. I have supplied him occasionally with goods. On the 12th August last I was at the Bluff. I put up at Richard Higgins'. I saw the prisoner there about six o'clock that evening, and sat chatting with him until about 10 o'clock. He then spoke to me about business, and said that he had a cheque to cash, and if I cashed it for him he would take £9 or £10 worth of goods. He said the cheque was for £13 13s 6d. He did not show me the cheque, but I found I had not enough money to cash it. I then showed him some goods, a coat 29s., a shawl 22s, two shirts 9s. 6d. ; and a pair of moleskin trousers, 9s. ; waistcoat, 8s. ; piece of floor cloth 1s. 2d. ; piece of French merino, 19s; and some petticoat stuff at 2s. 2d. a yard ; but I am not quite certain. He paid me with a cheque, and told me it was Mr. Barwick's, and was perfectly good. The cheque produced is the one referred to, it is in the same state as when I received it from him. I gave him full value in goods and money for the cheque. A witness named James Haydon was present during the transaction. Next morning prisoner and his wife came and purchased a merino dress; for which he paid me with a cheque for £3 15s. I had given him on the previous day, and I gave him change. I had the cheque for £13 13s. 6d. in my possession for about five days, when I parted with it at Mrs. Roberts', the Warlow Castle Hotel. I never altered the cheque after it came into my possession. On the morning of the 12th he bought 2lbs. of tea, and 1lb. of tobacco ; and he told me that he would purchase £9 or £10 worth of goods if I could change a cheque of Mr. Barwick's, which be said was for rather a large amount, about £13.

Cross-examined by Mr. Stephen Sheehy: The witness admitted that although he had sworn at Oatlands that he saw nothing peculiar in the cheque he certainly did notice that the numeral "1" before the "3" was a peculiar one, and much longer than the other figure.

Janette Higgins said : In the month of August last the prisoner owed me a sum of £3 7s. I saw him on the 11th of that month, when he said he was going to change a cheque with Mr. Rae, and would pay me my money. Prisoner did pay me the £3 7s on the following morning in coin-three sovereigns and seven shillings in silver. I had seen Rae earlier that morning, and he showed me the cheque. I believe it is the one now produced, and that it is in the same state now as then.

Cross-examined : I am indebted to the witness Rae.

Jane Roberts, wife of the proprietor of the Warlow Castle Inn, Oatlands, said : I know Rae. I cashed a cheque for him on the 26th August last. It is the cheque now produced. It was for £13 13s 6d, and is now in the same state as when I got it. I sent it down to the Post Office next day to pay my rent, and the postmaster detected it. I noticed that there was a sort of blunder in the figure, but I thought the cheque right enough.

Robert William Barwick proved giving a cheque for £3 13s. 6d. to a man named Taine in the month of August last. The cheque produced is the cheque I gave him. It has been altered from £3 13s. 6d. to £13 13s. 6d. without my consent.

William Ryan, ex Sub-inspector of Police at Oatlands, said : I remember in August last going to the prisoner with a cheque for £13 13s. 6d. I asked him if any transactions had taken place between him and Rae, and he said there had, that he had bought some clothing from Rae and paid him with a cheque. I asked him whose cheque it was, and he said he did not know, nor did he know the drawer. I asked him the amount of the cheque, and he said he did not think it was for more than £3. He told me he has bought a pea jacket, moleskin trowsers, and some shirts from Rae. When I produced the cheque to him, he said that was the cheque, but that it was only for £3 13s. 6d. when he gave it to him.

Mr. Sheehy then addressed the jury for the prisoner, laying particular stress on the fact that the accused when the cheque was produced to him by Sub-Inspector Ryan, had immediately admitted that it was the one he had parted with, but that it had been altered. He put it to the jury that a man like Rae, who followed the occupation of hawker about the country, would be the most difficult of men to pass a bad cheque to ; and that fact, coupled with Rae's statement at the Oatlands Police Court, that be had noticed nothing peculiar about it, was sufficient to cast such an amount of doubt upon the case for the Crown, that the jury could not venture to convict him. He called :

James Haydon who deposed : I have seen the prisoner and Rae. Have been in their company. I saw a coat, shawl, and a pair of trousers sold by Rae, and I heard the words passed "£13 13s. 6d," and I heard the remark that the change would be 7s. or 8s.

Cross-examined: Kenna put the change in his pocket without counting it. I went away with Kenna from the house. I did not go with him there. It was about nine o'clock when I got there. I did not see Kenna buy anything more than I have mentioned in my presence. If he did, it must have been before I got there. I heard Kenna and Rae read over the cheque, and the prisoner say it was " Bob Barwick's " cheque. Rae read it afterwards and made the same remark. I remember meeting the prisoner before the trial took place at Oatlands, and he asked me to go and say at the Court what I know about the affair, and I said I would. I was summoned by the police to the Court.

His Honor then summed up, telling the jury that the simple question for them to decide was whom would they believe, Rae or Haydon ? If they had any substantial doubt as to Rae's statement, after hearing the witness Haydon, they would hesitate in jeopardising the liberty of au innocent man. Rae had a desperate stake in the result of the trial, whilst it could not be said that the lad Haydon had any interest whatever ; and it is important therefore that thejury should pay the closest attention to all the evidence that had been laid before them. The jury retired to consider their verdict at 15 minutes past four. 4

Criminal Sessions. - The only other case heard at this Court yesterday was a charge of uttering a forged cheque preferred against a young man, named Darnel Kenna, who resided at the Bluff, in the Oatlands district. The jury failed to agree, and they were discharged, and the prisoner remanded. 5

The Oatlands Uttering Case. - In the course of the proceedings in the Criminal Sessions yesterday, Mr. Stephen Sheehy, (council for Daniel Kenna, in the case tried on Tuesday, and in which the jury failed to agree,) asked the Judge to issue an order to enable the prisoner to tender his bail to the Police Magistrate or a Justice of the Peace in Hobart Town. This was rendered necessary because one of the bails was in Oatlands, and the other had returned to Oatlands that morning to procure the attendance of the second bailsman, and could not return before the Court will have risen. Mr. Justice Dobson said there would be no difficulty in the matter, and granted the application. 6

There appear to be no further newspaper reports on the outcome of the trial.

Janet Duncan Higgins (nee Byres) died of dysentery and exhaustion on 17 April 1880 in Oatlands, Tasmania at the reported age of 45. 7 Janet was buried in the Red Hills Cemetery, Bushy Park, Tasmania.

Richard Daniel Higgins, Janet's husband, died on 19 May 1918 in Uxbridge, Tasmania. 8

HIGGINS - On May 19, at his daughter's residence, Mrs. Heath, Uxbridge, Richard Daniel Higgins, in his 87th year. 9

  • 1. GROS OPR Births 666/00 0020 0030 - Ecclesmachan
  • 2. AOT Marriage Registration - RGD 1858/682 - Oatlands
  • 3. Chick, Neil: Van Diemen's Land Heritage; Vol. 4 (this event cannot be found in the Tasmanian Pioneer Index)
  • 4. The Mercury Newspaper, Wednesday 3 December 1873 - Article
  • 5. The Mercury Newspaper, Wednesday 3 December 1873 - Article
  • 6. The Mercury Newspaper, Thursday 4 December 1873 - Article
  • 7. AOT Death Registration - RGD 1880/556 - Oatlands
  • 8. Federation Index Death Registration RGD 1918/888
  • 9. The Mercury Newspaper, Tuesday 21 May 1918