Trove Tuesday: the tragic tale of Lizzie Brophy

On a cool autumn day, 31 May 1881, Elizabeth Brophy was in her home at Jeffcott St, Melbourne with her six year old daughter Sarah and her other daughter, Lizzie, aged four[i]. Lizzie was handicapped and could neither speak nor walk. Her usual place was tied in her chair near the fireplace where “she rocked herself about and cried continually[ii], no doubt to her mother’s aggravation. That morning, William McKenna, Elizabeth’s father and the children’s grandfather, visited and later stated that all was well. He returned around midday and while Elizabeth may have had drink taken, all was well, so he reported. Later in the day it seems Elizabeth’s mother, Bridget McKenna, and some other women had been drinking in the house though subsequent news stories make no further reference to this[iii].

William returned around dusk by which stage Elizabeth was rather the worse for wear from the drink and was aggressive and vocal. At this stage, there are conflicting stories. Lizzie was crying and her mother shook the chair and the child fell to the floor with her head near the fire. Young Sarah would later report that William was sitting by a chair near the fire and arguing with Elizabeth. William suggested he would go and get some (wood) chips for the fire but Elizabeth said she’d burn her apron, which she did. Being both drunk and aggressive…and annoyed…she went to pick up the boiling kettle to throw it over her father. Unsurprisingly, he pushed it away and the water spilled over the child on the floor as well as on the fire. William was to state that he didn’t look at the child, whom he described as an “idiot”, nor did he see if any water had been spilled on her, though he acknowledged she was screaming. His daughter Elizabeth “was in such a temper that (he) was glad to leave the house at once[iv].

Six-year-old Sarah, “was frightened and ran into the street[v], heading next door to get the neighbour, Thomas Hill, who arrived at their home about 6pm – against Elizabeth’s vociferous objections. He could hear Lizzie crying and found her outside in the yard, brought her into the house and he gave evidence that “the child’s clothes were all quite wet and she appeared to be in great agony[vi]. Hill gave Lizzie to her mother, who put her on the floor. Meanwhile Elizabeth had filled the fireplace with paper and said she was setting fire to the house… a literal fire this time for Mr Hill to extinguish. In the midst of the drama, John Brophy returned home to the domestic disaster to discover his youngest child was scalded severely. He was an engine driver with Victorian Railways so he held a responsible position and presumably had been on shift work during the day.

Around this time the local constable, Frederick Maitland, appeared, having been sent for by Hill. Once again there are conflicts, or just confusion, in the testimony. The constable said he found Elizabeth Brophy on the pavement about 100 yards from her house and arrested her because she was aggressive. Hill stated that Brophy had asked him to help tie Elizabeth’s hands in front of her because she was drunk and violent, which they did. Which came first is unclear. John Brophy took Lizzie to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in the late evening where the poor child died of her injuries a few hours later. The resident surgeon, Dr Robert Stewart testified that, based on his post mortem, she had died of shock from the scalds[vii]. Further news comment was that “her arms, legs, and part of the chest were severely burned[viii], she was “badly nourished and unable to walk although four years old[ix]. The doctor indicated that the results “had she been stronger the results would likely not have been fatal[x]….or perhaps if she’d received medical care more promptly?

Elizabeth Brophy was taken into custody pending the outcome of a coronial enquiry by Dr Youl which commenced on 2nd June and was completed on Monday 6th June. Sub-Inspector Larner posed the question many of us would like to have asked “Why did you leave the house when you saw the child scalded? Was it not your duty as a grandfather to protect the child?” William replied “I left because the woman was in a temper”. The Coroner enquired: “And do you mean to say that you left this poor unfortunate decrepit child unprotected with a woman of whom you yourself were afraid”. William “I left”.

Sarah was asked for her testimony and the coroner assessed that had given an intelligent response. Her mother, however, objected saying that it “was not fair to cross examine the child like an old person. The child would answer in the affirmative to any questions put to her. She was only two years older than the deceased baby[xi].

The jury on the coronial inquest concluded that Elizabeth Brophy was guilty of manslaughter. The coroner committed her for trial at the next Criminal sessions on 15th June 1881. Bail was then allowed.

The Criminal Trial was held and testimony taken from the same witnesses. His Honour Mr Justice Higinbotham concluded that “if the jury accepted the evidence of the daughter Sarah, the prisoner was guilty of manslaughter, but if they believed the testimony of McKenna, she ought to be acquitted”. This jury returned a verdict of “not guilty” and Elizabeth was discharged[xii].

Was their decision affected by the fact that Lizzie was handicapped? Would the outcome have been different if they’d known another daughter had died only four months earlier from diarrhoea after suffering for two weeks?[xiii]

One also can’t help wondering what reception Sarah received from her mother on her return home from prison and if she was punished for her involvement in the trials. I also wonder whether William’s four visits on this day were typical, and if so, why he went so often.

A truly heart-wrenching story of a family’s dysfunction.

When next visiting Melbourne it will be interesting to see the primary documents relating to this event.

On the positive side I can find no evidence of Elizabeth in later Trove news stories or in the Victorian Prison Records, so perhaps this caused her to mend her ways and swear off alcohol.

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[i] Elizabeth Brophy daughter of Elizabeth McKenna and John Silvester Brophy, born 1877 reference 23712 / 1877 and died 1881 reference 5262/1881. I have called her Lizzie throughout this story to avoid confusion with her mother, Elizabeth Brophy, nee McKenna.

[ii] INQUEST. (1881, June 7). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 6. Retrieved September 29, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article5977084

[iii] “THURSDAY, JUNE 2, 1881.” The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957) 2 June 1881: 5. Web. 29 Sep 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article5984419&gt;.

[iv] INQUEST. (1881, June 7). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 6. Retrieved September 29, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article5977084

[v] ibid

[vi] SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A CHILD. (1881, June 4). Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 – 1918, 1935), p. 21. Retrieved September 29, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article196566183

[vii] INQUEST. (1881, June 7). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 6. Retrieved September 29, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article5977084

[viii] A Doubtful Case. (1881, June 4). Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954), p. 21. Retrieved September 29, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219425980

[ix] SUSPICIOUS DEATH OF A CHILD. (1881, June 4). Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 – 1918, 1935), p. 21. Retrieved September 29, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article196566183

[x] CENTRAL CRIMINAL COURT. (1881, June 18). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 – 1946), p. 21. Retrieved September 30, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article137815924

[xi] INQUEST. (1881, June 6). The Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved September 29, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article241329167

[xii] CENTRAL CRIMINAL COURT. (1881, June 17). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 3. Retrieved September 29, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article5987754

[xiii] Baby Catherine, a one-year-old infant died on 15 February 1881. Victorian Death Certificate 454/1881

Hazards of the Sea

Wexford Constitution 16 Feb 1861 p3

Few would be unaware of the hazards of the sea, especially in challenging storms, although most of us will have avoided ever being confronted by them.

Wexford Independent 16 Feb 1861 p2

Among the Irish newspapers on Find My Past I found some stories which attested to the toughness and determination of my ancestor, David Callaghan. In particular six fishermen were pivotal in rescuing five men (although only four survived) from the wreck of the Sir Allan McNab…in conditions which defeated a brave swimmer who attempted it and the Arklow Coast Guard. They were recognised locally for their bravery and interestingly the history of the event appears in the news over 130 years later…quite remarkable.

After pulling three miles, and after a most severe and determined struggle, they succeeded in reaching the wreck and taking off the crew in a most exhausted state – one poor fellow died soon after he reached the land.” The men were “Davy Callaghan, Michael Kelly, Any Kelly, John Massey, John Hudson and Edward Nolan”. Can you imagine the sheer physical strength needed to do that in churning seas?

Wexford Independent 6 April 1861 p2

Wexford Independent 23 Feb 1861 p2

A subscription was raised to reward the men which I gather was not typical at the time.

Enniscorthy Guardian 11 June 1992, page 5

I was very proud to read this story of my ancestor and his colleagues. Thirty years later, David would lose his own boat in a storm and a year later his son would be lost in a shipping accident in Dublin. These men lived difficult lives – no wonder they got “done” for drunkenness occasionally – and their wives and daughters would have to have been emotionally strong as well. Perhaps this is why I’ve always loved fishing harbours, but had a cautious view of the ocean. This song, Home from the Sea, by Celtic Thunder could have been written for my Callaghan ancestors…it actually gives me goosebumps.

Wexford People 17 Feb 1892 p4

Evening Herald Dublin 19 Dec 1893 p3

 

 

Of Learning and Checklists

The last six weeks or so have been full of family history learning for me.

August was Family History Month in Australia and a one-day seminar at the LDS Family History Centre at Forest Glen on 1 August was the start of lots of geneafun. For me, the stand-out speaker was Brenda Wheeler. As always the hospitality from the LDS community was excellent.

We had the second gathering of our McCorkindale cousins at Caloundra mid-August and once again all enjoyed themselves immensely. The icing on the cake was discovering new McCorkindale cousins in the UK and Australia…an tempting them to come to another gathering in 2020! As you might imagine this all kicked off a focus on our McCorkindale family who originated in Loch Awe in Argyll.

I was delighted to be able to attend the DNA Down Under session in Brisbane on 14 August and followed up with the three day intensive in Sydney from 29-31 August. Both sessions I attended were superb both in content and organisation so a huge thank you goes to Unlock the Past for this innovative program. Blaine Bettinger suggested we get a DNA Buddy to keep our feet on the ground and challenge our assumptions: straight away my genimate, TravelGenee, and I pointed at each other. I guess we’ve already been doing some of that with our coffee chat-fests. Don’t you just love it when virtual friends become real-life friends? I feel so grateful that I’ve made great friends from family history.

Since I’ve returned from Sydney I’ve been applying some of what I’ve learned, reviewing my notes and reading the 2nd edition of Blaine Bettinger’s “The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy” which sold like hot cakes at the venues. Not only is Blaine an excellent speaker on matters relating to genetic genealogy, he is truly an all-round nice person. Sometimes it’s hard not to gush and be a genealogy rockstar groupie.

Between the two DNA events I enjoyed another gathering of the Brisbane Blarney Group at a pub in Brisbane hosted by genimate Crissouli. The focus is on those with Irish heritage and it’s always fun and more so as you get to know each other.

While in Sydney I scheduled some research time at the NSW State Archives at Kingswood where I did some McCorkindale research and got great assistance from the archivists with some tricky problems. More on that another time.

The last ten days have been real-life family history, spending time with the living family in Darwin and getting in lots of grandchild cuddles.

Yesterday I was privileged to be on a panel with Janice Cooper, Bob McAllister and Doug Moss at the Fridays @ QFHS seminar. Our topic was “Researching, Organising and Filing your Family History”. This was the second session on this topic in 2019. The main advantage of having a panel format for this topic as the variety of responses and strategies hopefully strike a chord with the attendees….no one way will suit everyone and as I said “my way may not be your way”. I also recommended The Organised Genealogist Facebook group as a great opportunity to discover a wide variety of strategies. As always I learned something too, and picked up clues and tips of my own, especially from Janice’s One Place Study strategies.

PD60004885_000-RootsTech19-1200x1200_LondonThe seminar also provoked me to finally do something I’ve been planning for some time: a checklist of research for family history – yours or mine. No doubt I’ve forgotten or just omitted some sources/strategies so feel free to let me know what you think should be added. I’ve included the file on this blog here.

So what’s next for me? RootsTech London, along with some of my long-standing Genimates, and the chance to meet and make new ones….and of course the learning…the schedule is jam-packed with great speakers and presentations so choosing which to attend will be a challenge. I am slightly miffed that London is taking second place in the planning and preparation to the Salt Lake conference which is still months away as it would be helpful to have the RootsTech updated for London…however that’s a small matter. I’m so grateful to Carolina Girl Genealogy and RootsTech London for the free pass I won which reimbursed my early registration. I’m really looking forward to meeting Cheri in person! In the meantime I’ve got lots of homework to prepare for a week’s research time in Scotland before RootsTech. Focus will be the name of the game!

What was I thinking – I published without adding photos. My apologies!