THE INQUEST INTO THE STEBONHEATH

The Empire SYDNEY, FRIDAY, MARCH 5, 1858 with extracts from SMH 10/3/1868

THE EMIGRANT SHIP STEBONHEATH - EXTRAORDINARY DISCLOSURES

An inquest was held yesterday at Clarke's Hotel, King Street, before the City Coroner, on the body of a young woman named Ann Cox, one of the female immigrants, lately arrived in the colony by the Stebonheath. We publish in extenso the evidence of the different witnesses examined at the inquest. it will be seen that it brings to light a disgraceful state of iimmorality and irregularity on board the vessel during the passage. The matter, we believe, will shortly form the subject of a strict enquiry before the Board of Immigration.

The deceased, who was 18 years of age, was a native of Troubridge, Wiltshire; she died on the morning of the 2nd. instant, at the Sydney infirmary, almost immediately upon arrival.

A post mortem examination was performed by Dr. McFarlane, who posed: I am a member of the Medical Board of New South Wales, and first physician to the Sydney infirmary; on Monday, the 1st. instant, about 4 p.m., the deceased was brought to the infirmary; I saw her immediately; she was then 'moribund', and she died about 4 o'clock the next morning; I am aware she was an immigrant per Stebonheath, lately arrived; she was about 18 years of age; I examined the body externally, which seemed to be in good condition; there was a slight bruise apparent on the scalp behind the left ear; there was a slight discolouration behind the shoulder joint; the left wrist seemed puffy and communicated to the hand a crepidating sensation when felt; there was a slight wound on the left hip; on making a post mortem examination and opening the scull, I found the vessels and membranes of the brain very much congested, likewise the substance of the brain with a sero-sanguinolent fluid in the lateral ventricles; the substance of the brain firm throughout; on opening the chest there was found affusion in the sac of pericardium, the heart in natural size, containing fluid blood in its cavities, lungs in a normal state; in the abdomen the gall bladder was found full, the substance of the liver in the vicinity of the gall bladder pliable; the spleen congested; the kidney slightly so; on cutting into the left wrist joint a quantity of pus escaped from among the carpal and meta-carpal bones which were denuded of their cartilaginous covering; I am of the opinion that the condition of the wrist joint excited the irritative fever from which the deceased came by her death.

By the Coroner: The wounds that I have now described were not from natural causes, but whether they were from blows or falls I cannot say, but the one on the hip might be inflicted by the scratch of a nail when slipping down the hatchway; her head was shaved by my directions immediately on her admission; there is no evidence to show that the wrist had been treated at all on board the ship; I was led to believe that the deceased's hand was injured from the fact that in passing around the body and in taking her left hand in mine I found it to be extremely hot, and the patient herself winced; this led me further to examine it, and I found some injury within; the hymen was not perfect; there were no marks of violence in that region; she was pregnant, and might have conceived within ten days; this, no doubt, would slightly excite the brain; there was no appearance of an injury to the scalp, with the exceptions before-mentioned, and it is my opinion that the wrist had been injured, but not very recently.

Jane Ellinor Chase was next sworn; her evidence was as follows: I was matron on board the ship Stebonheath, and had the charge of all the females and children; I had one hundred and fifty-five married and single women under my charge; I came with the girls from London to Plymouth by rail on the 24th. September. 1857, and had an opportunity of seeing that many of them, particularly the single females, were very tipsy, and I saw one of them put her arm around the guard's neck and kiss him immediately; the deceased was in the train, and I observed nothing improper in her conduct; there were men in the train; the women were put into the train by a clerk, a young man; on our arrival at Plymouth they were taken charge of by some man; they were shipped on board about the 28th. September, when they were placed under my charge, and two days afterwards we sailed; I have been four times to this colony with females, and the ship was properly fitted up; the single females and the single men were properly separated, and the regulations were carried out; about sundown every evening they were properly locked-up by myself, and nobody had access to the single females without my knowledge and concurrence; the sailors could speak to the single females by coming down to the married females' apartments. They were allowed by the married females to come down there, and the case was reported to the doctor, and a sailor was put into handcuffs for it; the first week we were on board the ship the single females showed insubordination, and this kind of conduct was generally among the English females; the ship put into a French port from stress of weather, and during our stay, and while the ship was in port, it was reported to me that one of the single females was in the forecastle; but after making a very minute search, I could not find her; I then reported the circumstance to the doctor; who went with his constables and found her; I saw her afterwards carried by my place by some men to her berth, and I could smell the liquor on her, but this was not the deceased; the orders are that the females are not to speak to the men; we sailed from the French port on the 1st. of November; the doctor of the ship made a report to the French authorities; an investigation took place, and the sailors with the exception of the carpenter and the boatswain were taken ashore; the captain and second officer also left the ship, and when the crew were on shore, the boatswain and the carpenter and the chief officer were on board; the carpenter and the boatswain got beastly drunk, and went aft and commenced to abuse the doctor and chief officer; I ordered the single females off the poop and locked them down below; a scuffle ensued and the boatswain assaulted the doctor; (From the SMH: - "the carpenter and the boatswain were dealt with under the Passengers' Act, at Pauillac, and their places were supplied by Frenchmen") the master of the ship was a man about 50 years of age, and he did neither good nor harm; but the chief officer rendered every assistance, and was an efficient man, the second and third officers were bad men, and on more occasions than one I was insulted and assaulted by the sailors, and that in the presence of the second officer, who took no notice of it; the conduct of the single females as we approached the shores of New Holland was very bad, and I had occasion to go aft to make a report that I could not do my duty with them; the doctor make an investigation and two were locked up, and the next morning I found that the cell where those females were confined had been opened, and, I heard afterwards, by a married man; the deceased was not among those women; she was never punished on board the ship; six days after we left England, I found the deceased girl in the single men's compartment, sitting between two sailors, and one had his arm round her neck; the sailors broke open the single females compartment 14 nights running to have access to the girls; some of the girls reported this circumstance to me, and the grating or bulkhead was taken down and a stronger one put up by the French carpenters ; this time that I speak of is the only time that I ever saw any impropriety on the part of the deceased girl in taking liberties with the sailors by being with them; she could have intercourse with the single emigrants if she chose. Deceased was never in the hospital for any complaint, but I am aware that she received an injury about 3 weeks ago; she was on the poop one morning lying down; I asked her what she was there for, when she complained of a pain under her arm, which deceased thought was rheumatism; she was taken to the doctor, but not admitted into the hospital; she kept her bed by order of the doctor; I heard her scream when the doctor was examining her under the arm; she was bandaged and remained in bed up to the time that the vessel came into port; when in port I did not observe anything particularly the matter with her, but on the Friday morning the doctor examined the hand she complained of being painful; on the morning that I speak of, hen she was taken ill, I heard her tell the doctor that in going down to the females compartment hatch, or covering of the hatch, (it) had struck her, but where I don't know; I never saw her quarrel or fight with anyone on board; a person entering the hatchway would fall about 6 feet from the top to the bottom; the deceased complained of a head-ache latterly, and was treated for it by the doctor; composing draughts were given to her at night; I administered medicine to her by the doctor's orders; the place in which I saw the deceased with the sailor was a secluded spot; no report was ever made to me that she was injured by anyone; I was removed together with the single females, from on board the ship. on Saturday last; the deceased did not accompany us; it was about 3 o'clock when I saw her last; deceased was about 18 years of age and was a native of Troubridge, in Wiltshire; I am surprised at her being enceinte, as her conduct was generally light on board the ship; from the deceased's statement to the doctor, the hatch fell on her two days before she informed him of it; I am not aware that anyone saw the hatch fall on her. From the SMH: "deceased was a girl I had not the slightest confidence in, and from what I saw during the storm, I was satisfied of her waywardness."

Ann Wonnocott, being duly sworn , said: I am a widow, and was nurse on board the ship, Stebonheath; I knew the deceased, Ann Cox, she was, I believe, a steady girl during the passage; I never knew of her to meet with an injury; she was always a healthy girl, and as far as I knew, a well conducted girl; I should tell a great untruth if I said all the girls were well conducted; I only know respecting the deceased, that she informed the hatch struck her three weeks ago; I am very much surprised to learn that she was enceinte, but I am quite aware that several of the young women are in that condition; I have only been five weeks as a nurse; I heard that deceased had been in the single men's quarters; I heard also that the sailors had broken in amongst the single women; I am also aware that the deceased had a favourite on board among the single men; the men remained on board whilst the deceased and another single woman were there, and after the single women were landed; why the two women were kept on board I cannot say; I was surprised to hear of the death of the deceased; I have heard her say since she has been ill. that she wished she was dead; she asked and obtained permission for my daughter to read to her; my daughter was no intimate acquaintance of the deceased, nor had deceased any particular female friend on board; I know that the conduct of the single women throughout the passage was anything but good, and that the matron has been greatly annoyed by it; I came from Bristol and joined the ship at Plymouth; it is my opinion that the disorderly girls were of loose character on board; there were English, Scotch, Welsh, and irish on board. and the English were decidedly the most unmanageable; prayers were read repeatedly. twice on Sundays and every evening also.

Alexander Duffy deposed as follows: I am a married man and one of the immigrants per Stebonheath; I was hospital assistant on board; I knew the deceased was on board the ship, but had no acquaintance with her, nor did I ever hear that she was ill-used by anybody; I cannot state the reason that she did not go ashore, but I was told afterwards that she was unwell; I went down to see her; she was seated on the berth, and I saw there was something the matter with her; I seated myself alongside of her; she appeared as if she was affected in the brain as she talked a good deal of nonsense, and she said she had done a good many things on board ship; I said keep your mind to yourself and you are all right; as her breasts were open I thought she had had a miscarriage; that was my impression from the size of her breasts, but I did not see anything else to indicate that such was the case, nor did her clothes indicate that anything had been done to her; I cannot say who first told me she was there; if she had asked for assistance she would have been heard; it is my impression that she had not been injured by anyone; I observed that she had a sore hand on Saturday, and I saw that it was much puffed up, but she did not complain or say how she received the injury; there would not have been any trouble on board but for the bad conduct of the single females and the crew; I saw no person take any liberties with the deceased; but I heard that she was not "all right"; my wife knows no more than I have stated.

Honora Walsh was the next witness sworn: I am a single woman, and nurse in the infirmary; I remember when the deceased was brought there; it was on Monday afternoon; she was insensible, and was undressed and put to bed; I saw nothing upon her clothes; they were only dirty from being on the body so long; there was nothing to indicate that she had been ill-used. I don't remember having seen any blood on them whatever.

William Johnson Roland, M.R.C.S., was sworn and examined: I was surgeon and superintendent of the immigrants per ship Stebonheath, from London; we shipped on board 355 immigrants in all; we sailed on the 30th. September, 1857; the immigrants were all healthy; I have been five times with immigrants to this colony and twice to Melbourne; I knew the deceased girl, Ann Cox; she was English, about 18 years of age; she was not under the care of anybody; she was always a healthy girl, with the exception of having been treated for a fractured rib that she complained of about the 5th. February last; when she came to see me in the surgery she complained of rheumatism, but I saw nothing to indicate she was suffering; she complained also of a slight cough; she remained under treatment till I took her on shore to the infirmary, but why she remained on board I can't say; I was quite astonished to find her on board; it was reported to me on the Saturday afternoon that deceased was ill, and I went down to see her; she was sitting by the side of her berth, dressed; she had an aspect of perfect terror, and asked me to protect her; I saw no-one near her, but I observed a man in the married women's compartment; I could not compare the state I saw her in to anything but delirium or mental excitement; I don't think she was crying at that time; I saw nothing to indicate she had been ill-used, and, being unable to do her any good, I got Mrs. Duffy to go down and try to console her, but she (Mrs. Duffy) returned and said said she could not do anything with her, that the deceased was of the opinion that she had committed some offense for which she was about to suffer in the Colony; the married women were on board after she left, and improper liberties might have been taken with her without being seen by the married women, but had she called out they must have heard her; I could not obtain from her the name of any man that had meddled with her; I was not aware myself of there being any marks of violence on her body; I was present at the post mortem examination, and was astonished to see the injuries she had sustained, which were recent, with the exception of the left wrist, of which I was aware on the Friday and Saturday previous; I was not aware that she was suffering from fever; after Mrs Duffy left her she was put to bed and I gave her some medicine, consisting of 40 drops of tincture of opium with 3 drachms of tincture of cardamoms; I saw her again about two hours afterwards, and she seemed a little better, but still kept complaining about "this man"; I could not find out from her whether there was any reason for her complaint; I am aware that she was enceinte from the post mortem examination , and that she had become so very recently; the deceased was reported to me as being one of those who were among the sailors, but this was in the early part of the voyage; it was also reported to me that one of the male immigrants seated himself on Sunday last along the deceased's bed, and she was very anxious that he should not be seen sitting there, but she did not mention his name, which was told me after the girl's death; I made enquiries after her death to see if she had gone to the water-closet, and as the access to it is by several steps, it struck me that she might have fallen down them; she got much better on Sunday night, and on Monday morning when I went down to see her she was sitting up in the bed disputing with two females, Bridget Griggin and Mrs. Gardener, about a clean shift to go on shore; she got dressed, and was assisted into the boat; as I saw she could not walk, I ordered a mattress to be put into the boat, and she was laid on it; she kept on talking about "this man", whoever he might be; she appeared to be delirious, and got worse in the boat, and upon reaching the shore, which was no great distance, she kept grasping my hand, and asking for my protection; I was obliged to get some wine for her, when she was placed in the cab, and she drank a small quantity of it; Bridget Griffin was with me in the cab; before we reached the hospital, which only occupied five minutes, I observed that she was very bad, and I feared she was in a dying state; I then handed her over to the authorities at the infirmary, telling them as far as I knew the history of the case; a sun-stroke would not produce the state I saw the brain in; it might aggravate it, but I am not positive, as I never saw a brain that was sunstruck; I am aware that the deceased's wrist was swollen. but as she made no report of it, I did not consider it serious; I have seen it since death, on the post mortem examination, and consider that the state of the wrist was caused by ulceration of the cartilages of the carpal and meta-carpal bones. The disease might have been going on for some time without causing the patient much pain; and I am of the opinion that the irritative fever arising from the condition of the wrist, produced the irritability I found the deceased suffering from. I am of the opinion, however, that the state of the brain as observed at the post mortem examination would not have been caused solely by the irritative fever; and I account for the (condition of the brain) from the diseased state of the wrist, added to strong mental excitement; and I have no doubt that the fact of the deceased's being enceinte would cause this mental excitement; but still I am under the impression that she must have been injured, as she was not of an excitable temperament to my knowledge on the voyage. On Saturday, when we were landing the single females, there was a great noise made by the sailors, inasmuch as I was on the eve of hoisting the police flag to summon the police, to restore order on board; and it was through this confusion that the deceased was left on board after the single females had been sent on shore. the wound on her hip does not appear to have been inflicted over the clothes.

From the SMH:- "By the Coroner: She was not of an excitable temperament; the conduct of the girls generally was very bad; there was great confusion among the sailors at the landing, and I was on the point of hoisting the police flag for assistance in restoring order. [An extract from the doctor's journal was here read to the Coroner, stating, "The single women aboard this ship are decidedly the worst set that i have had under my charge. The forwardness of conduct and vileness of language coming from them give strong grounds for suspecting that there are among them those that have belonged to the lowest class of females." This extract bore the date of 6th. December (1858)."

Bridget Griffin was next sworn, and deposed as follows: I am a single woman, and one of the female immigrants per Stebonheath, recently arrived at Sydney from London; I recollect the deceased being on board; she was a very good girl; she told me on Saturday that at the time of the storm she ran into the single men's place, and she said that she was in dread that she would be punished and sent up the country; the boys came in while they were at prayers, and she offered them her collar; she was offering it to everyone that passed by; on Monday morning she wanted to have a clean chemise on her to go on shore with; and she showed me her hand, which she said got hurt by falling down the stairs to the sleeping-place. Some of the single girls were good, and some of them were bad. the Bailey's were friends of the deceased, and the deceased, Ann Cox, was the captain of the Bailey's mess; I heard that the girls used to go into the single men's berths.

A 19th century euphemism for offering to have intercourse.

This was the last witness to be examined, and the coroner then briefly addressed the jury, carefully pointing out the principal features of the evidence. He stated also that if the jury wished to express in any way their opinion relative to the disclosures that had taken place, it would be as well to do so in the verdict.

The jury, after a deliberation of about ten minutes, returned the following verdict: - "We are of the unaminous opinion, that from the evidence produced, the deceased, Ann Cox, died from injuries sustained from falls, while in board the ship Stebonheath, accelerated by the excitement produced from illicit connexion with some person on board." The jury also attached to their verdict the following rider: - "And we also express our displeasure and censure of the immorality of the single women and sailors; and we further highly commend the conduct of Miss Chase, the matron, and also, of Dr. Roland, the surgeon-superintendent." The inquiry, which commenced at 11 o'clock in the morning, did not terminate until a few minutes before 7 in the evening.

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