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

R. v. Pattison [1841] NSWSupC 73

murder - infanticide - women defendants in crime

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Dowling C.J., 13 July 1841

Source: Sydney Herald, 14 July 1841[1]

            Elizabeth Pat[t]ison was then offered her challenge and given in charge to the same jury, charged with the murder of her infant child, Cordelia Ann Pattison, atParramatta. The information contained two counts, one charging the death by starvation, the other by the supply of improper and poisonous food.

            Sophia Buckley, examined by the ATTORNEY-GENERAL; I am a married woman living at Parramatta, I know the prisoner, she is the wife of John Pattison, who is now, I believe, at Port Phillip; the prisoner and I were brought up together at Parramatta, she is a native of the Colony, in May last she lived next door to me, she had three children, the youngest was about five months [old] it is now dead, I saw them carrying it out to be buried, I saw it about a week before its death, I saw it frequently at my mother-in-law's, she used to be away from the child a great many hours at night; about three weeks before its death she was absent from it all day till one o'clock in the morning; I do not know how she lives, she used to keep company with men in the evenings; she has said to me that she wished the child dead, she has been frequently drunk; when sober she used to take a little care of it; once I saw her take the child by the frock and carry it with its head down for a few yards when she was drunk; I have had four children but I have none now, I have frequently heard the prisoner say a bad word and that the child would not die; I can't say whether she has left the child all day without food, the child was always very thin, but not sick; it could eat very well.

            Cross-examined by MR. PUREFOY - For the last three months it was a very thin child; I don't know whether Cordelia Anne was the child's name; I live with my husband; there was a man living in the house who worked for my husband; there was no woman but me in the house; the prisoner lived at Costillo's when the child died; I am not bad friends with the prisoner; I know Mary Buckley; I don't know how she gets her living; I saw the child five or six days before its death; I never saw the child dead; my children died young; I never heard the child called Cordelia Anne; it was called the baby.

            Re-examined - I don't know what was the child's name; the prisoner called it Cornelia Anne at the inquest.

            George Buckley; I know the prisoner for fourteen or fifteen years; saw the child; I saw the prisoner use the child very badly when she was drunk; she used to be away from nine o'clock in the morning till one o'clock; I knew that she was once away from it during that time; I [have] often seen her drunk; I used to say to know how she lives; she used to keep company with men and women drinking; saw the child shortly before its death.

            Cross-examined by MR. PUREFOY : My mother used to look after it; when she was sober the prisoner would look after the child well enough; I believe her husband is at Port Phillip; I don't know who has his property at Parramatta; I have often talked with my wife about this case; saw the child a week before it died; never saw the child dead; I keep a nail shop; I had two or three men working for me.

            Mary Buckley examined by the ATTORNEY GENERAL : I know the prisoner; she lived with me for three weeks; about a fortnight before the child died she took very little care of the child; she neglected it for a day together; when she left me she went next door; I used to say to her how hearty the child used to eat when it got its food; she used to say often she did not want it to eat but to die; she used to say her hands were tied with it, and that she could not maintain it; she used to leave the child in bed from morning till night; she was seldom sober; the prisoner is upwards of twenty years old.

            To a Juror - I have often seen the child suckled by the prisoner.

            Cross-examined by MR. PUREFOY - The child died about five weeks after the prisoner came from the Factory;[2] the prisoner's bed was on the floor; the child did not ever look so healthy as other children; it had something the matter with its neck or back; I never saw another child in the same way; I never saw the child dead; the prisoner said herself that it was dead; it was about five months old.

            Re-examined - When the child was fed it would feed very heartily.

            Mary Griffiths, examined by the ATTORNEY-GENERAL - I know the prisoner; she lived next door to me; about a fortnight before the inquest she said that the child was an example, and that she thought she should poison it; she was in liquor at the time; I told her not to say such a thing.

            Cross-examined - When the prisoner said this she was drunk; I do not know how she treated the child generally.

            Gordon Gwynne, examined by the ATTORNEY-GENERAL - I am a surgeon, of London College, and attended the inquest of a child, called Cordelia Anne Pattison; I examined the body of the child; I had not seen it alive; from the appearance of the child I am of opinion that the child died either from deprivation of food, or from mesenteric disease; on opening the body I found no disease; the stomach was empty and contracted; the intestines were completely empty, even of faetal matter; my opinion is that the child died from starvation or inanition.

            Cross-examined by Mr. Purefoy - I examined the child two or three days after its death; if the body had been removed after death the appearances would be likely to be altered; it was extremely emaciated; emaci[ation generally is a] test of lingering illness; I did not observe the eyes, they were closed; I did not observe the trachea; I examined the stomach and the liver; the lungs were healthy but collapsed; there was very little blood in the veins; the child might have had diarrhoea; the food might have induced diarrhoea, but there was no ulceration in this case; active diarrhoea would not cause ulceration; I did not observe the tongue; there was no peculiar odour from the body in this case, which usually is found in cases of death by starvation.

            Re-examined - I saw no symptom of diarrhoea; I believe the child died from starvation. To the Court - The use of ardent spirits would materially injure a woman's milk, in quantity and quality; I did not see any deformity in the child; if it had a deformity of the spine that would be likely to produce emaciation, notwithstanding any food that might be given it.

            The ATTORNEY-GENERAL having closed the case for the crown.

            Mr. PUREFOY submitted to the Court that there was no evidence to sustain the charge of manslaughter, but his Honor decided that there was evidence to go to the jury.

            Mr. PUREFOY then addressed the jury for the prisoner, commenting at some length upon the facts which had been proved and which he should prove.

            Dr. Patrick Hill examined by Mr. PUREFOY - I am colonial surgeon at Parramatta; the prisoner was in the factory there under my care; she had a child with her; I allowed it arrowroot daily, which she regularly gave the child for about two months; it did not appear to want medicine; the prisoner wanted her own milk; I don't know anything more of the child.

            Cross-examined by the ATTORNEY-GENERAL - Habits of drinking would tend to make a woman's milk fail.

            William Corton examined by Mr. FOSTER - I am a labouring man; the prisoner lived in my house for about a month at the time of the child's death; I am not a married man; a woman lives with me as my wife; I always saw the prisoner nourish the child with what she had to give it.

            Cross-examined by the ATTORNEY-GENERAL. - I have lived some months with the woman I live with; the prisoner was her friend; I used to be out often all day.

            The CHIEF JUSTICE charged the jury, and said that certainly this was a most extraordinary case, one a paralel to which either at home or in this country never came within his knowledge. His Honor then read over the whole of the evidence and commented upon it fully and at considerable length. When the Chief Justice had finished his charge, the jury immediately pronounced a verdict of guilty of manslaughter on the first count.

            The ATTORNEY-GENERAL prayed the judgment of the Court upon the prisoner, and

            The CHIEF JUSTICE having remarked upon the enormity of the crime, for which the present state of the law did not enable him to transport her, sentenced the prisoner to two years imprisonment in Sydney Gaol.


[1]              See also Sydney Gazette, 15 July 1841.

[2]              The reference is to the Female Factory, which was simultaneously a prison, a barracks for female convicts, a factory, and a marriage bureau.  See A. Salt,These Outcast Women: the Parramatta Female Factory 1821-1848, Hale andIremonger, Sydney, 1984. On the management of the factory, see Historical Records of Australia, Series 1, Vol. 12, pp 524-528.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University