Skip to Content

Decisions of the Superior Courts of New South Wales, 1788-1899

R. v. Ward [1839] NSWSupC 35

child, failure to support - women defendants in crime

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Dowling C.J., 16 May 1839

Source: Sydney Herald, 17 May 1839[1] 

THURSDAY. -- Before the Chief Justice and a Military Jury.

Catherine Ward was indicted for a misdemeanor, in not providing proper food and nourishment for her daughter Eliza Ward, whereby she became emaciated, and was almost starved to death, and became sick and distempered in her body.

The prisoner is the wife of a labouring man, formerly residing in Campbell's-lane, and would appear from the evidence, to be an inveterate drunkard.  One night, or rather early one morning in August last, when both she and her husband were from home, the clothes of one of her children, a girl about eight years of age, caught fire; the child ran screaming into the street, and a baker who was at work in the neighbourhood, ran out and extinguished the flames.  The prisoner did not come home until eight o'clock, when she was very drunk, and it would appear, that she remained so all day, for, at twelve o'clock, she was unable to speak.  The child was not taken to a medical man for four or five days, and then Mr. Cook, assistant to Mr. Burke visited her, and prescribed medicines, which the mother never sent after for a fortnight, when Mr. Cook visited the child a second time, and found her in a deli[r]i[o]us state, with no one to attend to her, when he considered there were no hopes.  With proper ca[r]e and attention, he had no doubt the child would have recovered, the first time he visited the child, the mother was so drunk, that he was obliged to have her turned out.  Mr. Byrne, a publican, who was stated by Doctor Wallace to have a very skilful method of treating burns and scalds, was called in, but, in his opinion, there were no hopes.  The child lingered seven or eight weeks, when it died.  Several witnesses spoke of the drunken, dissolute habits of the mother, and of her neglect of the child.

The woman's defence was, that she was obliged to go out to work, as her husband did not earn enough to support them.  She never neglected the child in the least.

His Honor said, that the gist of the question which the Jury had to try was, whether or not the prisoner had treated her child with that care, which, by the law of nature, and the law of the land, a child has a right to expect from its mother, and if she had not whether that neglect caused its death.  The jury retired about a quarter of an hour, and returned a verdict of not guilty.

In discharging the prisoner, the Chief Justice pointed out to her the depravity and wickedness of her conduct, and the narrow escape she had had.



[1]  See also Sydney Gazette, 18 May 1839; Australian, 18 May 1839; and see R. v. Henry, 1839.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University