Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mary St. Clair - A Bizarre Story from Mudgees History

I am enjoying Mudgee, and while reading about its rich history I found the following strange tale of robbery, accusations and intrigue.

In 1874 Mary was a middle aged woman living in a nice home in Gulgong near Mudgee. Marys husband had deserted her; so she went to work for other people and in five years had managed to save up £60 which was a large sum of money in those days.

Subsequently, her husband returned to the neighbourhood and, Mary came home one day and found that all her money had been stolen.

Mary must have been very angry. Possibly swearing, shouting and tear your hair out angry.

The local constable was called. She tried to explain what had happened but he didn’t believe her story and arrested her for swearing. As if that wasn’t bad enough, things got even worse. The constable then decided from her attitude, that she was mentally ill. He believed she was suffering an attack of “Lunacy “ and from a “disordered intellect” and sent her off to Mudgee Gaol.

Mudgee Gaol has been dismantled but I have seen the nearby Dubbo Gaol. It is dark, damp and depressing and the amenities in those days were sparse. The bed was a mat on a board with one blanket, and the cell was cramped and dark with one tiny window up high and a peephole in the door. There is also a padded cell, with no windows. I suspect you could develop a mental disorder if you spent any time in there.

Mary spent several weeks in Gaol, but fortunately, the gaol medical officer and another “medical gentleman” were sent to examine her and when she was finally seen by the magistrate she was declared sane and able to go home.
It was only then that the authorities finally listened to her story and found her money. It had been deposited in a bank in the nearby town of Dubbo but the bank manager would not say who had banked it. It sounds like it was never recovered.

I can only imagine the disruption this was to her life. Perhaps she was a woman with a history of causing trouble and the officer was an unsympathetic and harsh man who was quick to judge and slow to listen. She could also have been a decent woman who had a perfectly justified fit of anger over losing money and the constable was trying to do his best to resolve the situation.

One thing is for sure, I am so glad I didn’t live in those days. In the late 1800’s the law was harsh and unyeilding. The constables, magistrates and prison warders had a lot of power and prisoners could be flogged, isolated in black cells, chained or beaten and for many years, hangings were held in the gaol grounds.
Luckily for Mary her story didn’t end there.
In a final bizarre twist, while Mary was at court before her release, the magistrate pulled her aside and asked her if she knew that she had inherited £1,000 from a relative who had passed away in England. From the reports it seems that Mary was not surprised and continued to press for the return of her money.
I would like to know what happened to Mary. She sounds like quite a character.
You can find the original newspaper account by clicking the link below

1 comment:

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