Before we start, a little Trigger Warning if anyone needs it regarding infanticide. Oh, and Spoiler alert.
So now I’ve teased you with murder and dead babies. And the lovely Alex Kingston. Maybe I should clarify that. Baby. Singular. Not multiple.
I write this post in conjunction with a vey interesting piece that I found, written by Caroline Ingram of Deakin University in 2018 titled ‘How is this not murder?’ Infanticide and the Law in Australian History as well as Georgina Rychner’s 2018 piece ‘She looked wild’: Infanticide and insanity in nineteenth-century Victoria at the Australian Women’s History Network.
Residents of New South Wales and South Australia in late March and early April of 1894 were able to follow the story of Esther Moggridge and her sister, Mary Holborow, as they were charged with murder and infanticide.
Esther and Mary were the two youngest children of John Isaac Holborow and his wife, Johanna Cantwell. Esther was born in 1858 in Sydney with Mary Bridget arriving two years later in 1860.
Mary briefly married later in life, but Esther married William Lemon Moggridge, a ropemaker in August 1877 and they had five children – Johanna, Peter, Isaac, Esther and Arthur between 1858 and 1888 and had their home in Waterloo, Sydney. However, at some point after 1888 Esther and William parted ways. William later left Australia altogether and is later found in Santa Barbara, California from 1896.Therefore it is questionable if the father of Esther’s sixth child was, indeed, William. The newspaper reports announce that Esther was “living apart” from her husband. Presumably this was to somehow ‘legitimise’, at least in their readers’ minds, Esther and her pregnancy – she wasn’t necessarily a “fallen woman” but may have been “brung low” by a man esepcially as she is mentioned as having a defined occupation: “Tailoress” and wasn’t merely a domestic of some kind.
But I’ve skipped forward slightly…
On the font page of The Barrier Miner (no other provincial newspaper published in Australia has a larger circulation!) on Thursday 29 March 1894 was the following article:
Further details were described in detail at the South Sydney Morgue Coroner’s Court Inquest of 28 and 29 March (and completing on 18 April). It transpired that in the early morning of 24 March, Esther had given birth in the outhouse of 43 Buckland Street, Waterloo. (Number 45 Buckland Street had been deeeded to her husband, William, in 1888 as part of his late father’s will) lIn a statement given in hospital, she stated that she let the baby’s head rest in the pan for several minutes, before she got up and went to fetch her sister, Mary (the two of them were living with their mother at 121 Botany Street, putting the baby into a bag which was later found by a boy. The Constable, searching the grounds of the house, found a number of blood stains and a shallow hole in which the body was laying alongside a stone covered in blood stains. The Constable sent Esther to hospital, where she later gave her voluntary statement and promptly arrested Mary for “complicity”. There was no evidence presented to warrant her arrest, and his actions attracted scorn from the judge who stated that she might have been “a useful witness” had she not been placed in custody. It was interesting that Esther said she had received no support from the father (and did not say “my husband”) and that Mary didn’t even know Esther was pregnant at the time.
On 18 April Dr George Edward Rennie, pathologist to Sydney Hospital who specialised in neurology and was highly respected in the medical established and was considered quite brilliant as a physician and a teacher, was deposed. He stated that he believed the infant had been born alive, but had been killed by a fracture to the skull and related brain injury from being struck by a blunt instrument or – quite chillingly – from being stamped upon. You can read the full details here if you wish, courtesy of the Sydney Evening News (via Trove).
The coroner called for a verdict of wilful murder on part of Esther, which they did after 20 minutes of deliberation. They also dismissed all charges against Mary. Esther was remanded awaiting her criminal trial. There doesn’t seem to be a report of her actual trial, which is disappointing, but she was heard on the 4 June sitting of the Central Criminal Court in Sydney and was acquitted of Murder by the judge, Sir Joseph George Long Innes, who was described “a well-read and able lawyer, a learned and fearless judge, and at all times a genial and cultured gentleman” with a “singularly acute mind” and was a judge with “deep sympathy and strong emotion”. Perhaps something in Esther’s situation touched something in him, or perhaps there was a lack of evidence to find her guilty of the capital crime of murder, which was in istself lessened to “concealment of birth”.
I did manage to find, on Ancestry, a happier image of Esther:
Esther seems to have stayed in the Redfern area, and died on 16 August 1931 (Mary is listed as Mrs M Clune by this point).
What of her husband, William? He first seems to be living as a married couple with a Jane Watson (no marriage has been found, but shipping papers allege a marriage circa 1888, around the time his 5th child with Esther was born) and in 1900 appears in the US census for the first time with 3 additional children, Elsie, George and Charles. Sadly, Jane died in 1901, but he would go on to marry for a 3rd time to Margarita Ordaz in 1907, a California native, with whom he would have another child before they divorced. He survived his first wife by only 5 years and died in Santa Barbara City, California.