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

R. v. Atkin [1840] NSWSupC 43

murder, infanticide, women defendants in crime, Melbourne, Port Phillip District, confessions, induced

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Dowling C.J., 10 August 1840

Source: Sydney Herald, 12 August 1840[1]

Mary Ann Atkin, free, of Melbourne, was indicted for the wilful murder of her illegitimate child.  From the evidence for the prosecution, it appeared that the prisoner was a servant in the family of a medical gentleman residing at Melbourne, and had been several times impeached with being pregnant, but had always denied it; that on the 5th of April last she was unwell, and shortly after, a dog, belonging to Mrs. Brown, a midwife residing at Melbourne, brought the lacerated body of a new born female child and laid it at his master's door.  An enquiry was set on foot, when it was discovered that the dog had got the body from a hole which had been dug by some fencers near the prisoner's place of residence, in order to set a post.  A number of the neighbours, and, among the rest, the prisoner, looked at the body, when she said "whoever had done the deed ought to be hanged for doing so."  Suspicion, however, attached to her, when she was lodged in custody, but denied all knowledge of the transaction until the midwife and the surgeon, who were employed by the authorities to ascertain whether she had been pregnant or not, were convinced that she had recently given birth to a child, which they urged upon her to confess.  The prisoner then told them she had been pregnant, and no person had assisted her in her labour.  From the testimony of the surgeon, it appeared that the body which the dog had brought to Mrs. Brown's door was a new-born strong healthy infant, which exhibited on applying the proper tests, the usual appearance of having been born alive, and that it was probable, from the wounds inflicted on the head, its death had been a violent one.  These wounds appeared to have been inflicted by some blunt instrument, such as a piece of wood.  It also appeared that the body had been torn by the dog previous to its being conveyed to Mrs. Brown's door.  Mr. Foster submitted that no conviction could take place, as the prisoner had been induced to confess after she had been taken into custody.  The Chief Justice said, it was to lamented that the inducement had been held out to the prisoner to confess, as in consequence of that he must direct the jury to acquit the prisoner.  A verdict of Not Guilty was then returned, and after being admonished by the Chief Justice the prisoner was discharged.


[1] See also Australian, 13 August 1840, describing Mrs Amelia Brown as a quakeress and a midwife.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University