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4-400 (Original)

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author,male,Woman's Sphere,un addressee
Newspaper Article
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Public Written
Newspapers & Broadsides
Teale, 1982
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A petition is being signed in Gundowring and the surrounding district on behalf of Maggie Heffernan, who is at present in the Women's Penitentiary at Coburg, serving a sentence of four years' imprisonment with hard labour for drowning her baby.
In the minds of those who know Maggie Heffernan, and the whole history of her case, there is absolutely no doubt that she was suffering from puerperal mania when she drowned her baby, that she did not receive justice at her trial, and strenuous efforts will be made to secure her release.
On December 29th her child was born. She left the Women's Hospital for Mrs Cameron's Home in Armadale, where she stayed till January 15th. She left the Home in spite of the protest of the acting superintendent, saying she was going to Sydney to obtain help from the paternal grandmother, whose address had been given her by the child's father. She had two shillings and fivepence in her purse. All day she wandered about Melbourne trying to get a night's lodging. A lady met her in the Treasury Gardens, and, struck with the girl's evident illness and distress, spoke to her, and offered assistance. She replied that she wanted nothing but a room for the night. This lady, a Mrs Taylor, took her to two institutions, but was told that they did not take in girls with babies. Maggie Heffernan then decided to take a room at some hotel. She started off on her tramp again, and inquired at several hotels and a coffee palace for a room, but she could not get one under half-a-crown. At last she went to a restaurant in Bourke-street, where the landlady said she could put her up for eighteenpence.
The next morning the landlady gave her a cup of tea and a piece of toast - the only 'food' she had had since the previous morning; and she left. [140] She bought an 'Argus' to see if there were any advertisements likely to suit her, but found none. She walked about the city till nearly one o'clock, trying at intervals to feed her baby, but there was no milk for it. She also attempted to give it a drink of water from a street tap, but that was not very successful. Then she went to the river and walked up and down for an hour trying to quieten the baby, who was crying. She sat down on the bank, and made another vain attempt to give the wee mite a drink. At last she took off all its clothes and quietly dropped it into the river. This was in broad daylight, when anyone might have been passing by. She then walked towards town. As she neared the railway station she suddenly noticed the baby's clothes on her arm. 'My God, what have I done with my baby?' she cried, and in a flash the whole thing came back to her. Overcome with fear and horror, her one thought was how to shield herself. She went to Preston for the night, and the next day obtained a situation as wet nurse at Hawthorn. While there she showed her weakness by frequently falling asleep when nursing the baby, and the baby itself was unwell while with her. On January 20th she was arrested. She had previously been visited by the police, but a wild story she had concocted allayed their suspicions, but on the second visit she made a full confession.
The mistress was out when the police arrived, and the unhappy girl was taken alone into a room by three officers, and instead of being cautioned in the usual way, she was led to give the most incriminating answers by their exhortation to 'fear nothing'. She was then removed to the city lock-up, but she was in such a state of utter physical and mental exhaustion that a special order had to be obtained for her removal to the gaol hospital at midnight. On the 21st, five days after the crime, she was examined by the gaol doctors, who said she was not then suffering from puerperal mania.
Soon after her arrest a lady visited her in the Melbourne Gaol with the object of hearing her story and consulting her with reference to securing legal assistance. This friend left Maggie on the understanding that she would procure counsel for her defence. The following day she again visited the gaol with a leading lawyer, who had promised to take up the case. It was then found that the sheriff had seen Maggie Heffernan the previous afternoon, and advised her to accept Mr Moir, of Messrs Gillot, Bates and Moir, as her solicitor, and Sir Bryan O'Loghlen as counsel. The girl, thinking these were the gentlemen procured for her by her friend, did so. It was particularly desired by this lady that Maggie Heffernan should not be defended by the Crown, as the small sum allowed for expenses does not mean the proper working up of a case.
However, the matter was settled and the case came on in due course. Her parents were not informed of the trouble their daughter was in until the Sunday before her trial. No evidence was brought forward of the girl's weakness of intellect, as shown by letters received from her mother and friends; of her previous good character; of the absence of premeditation, as shown by her having written a letter to her mother explaining her position and asking for assistance - . . of her physical exhaustion when employed at Hawthorn and the sickness of the child she was nursing; of the father of her child having given her a bogus address in Sydney [...] of the causes of puerperal mania - suppression of milk, mental shock, distress of mind, etc. [141]
These points were withheld, and Dr Stawell, who held the post mortem examination on the baby, was called to give evidence. Judge Hodges . . - questioned Dr Stawell closely as to whether a woman suffering from puerperal insanity could afterwards relate what had happened, as Maggie had done. Without a moment's hesitation, the doctor answered 'No'. At least two women present in court were dumbfounded at the reply, for an intelligent woman does not require any expert knowledge to know that in many cases of puerperal mania the patient can afterwards relate what happened in every detail.
In summing up, Judge Hodges laid particular stress on Dr Stawell's testimony, but in spite of all the damning evidence against the girl, the jury were very unwilling to bring in a verdict of murder. On the evidence, however, no other finding was possible, and Maggie Heffernan was therefore sentenced to death. Public indignation was aroused; a petition signed by upwards of 17,000 people was presented to the Executive; and a large public meeting was held to protest against the sentence passed on the unfortunate victim of man's perfidy and the Crown's parsimony . - - The sentence was afterwards commuted to four years' imprisonment with hard labour.
Compare the case of Maggie Heffernan with that of Edward Harrison, tried before Judge Hodges a few weeks ago for the brutal murder of a woman. Returning home drunk, he cut her throat with a razor, almost severing her head from her body. He then went and informed the police that the woman had committed suicide. He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to two years' imprisonment. .
Judge Hodges also tried Maggie Heffeman. Had the girl been a drunkard, she would apparently have been treated with greater leniency. Four years' imprisonment for a young girl, who, betrayed and deserted by her partner in sin, drowns her starving baby, while two years' imprisonment is considered ample punishment for a drunken man who murders a woman under peculiarly brutal circumstances.