- a woman from Coolah who escaped a death sentence -
Margaret Agnes Higgins born 1860, ref 8574/1860, at Maitland, daughter of John Higgins
and Catherine Connelly and cousin to my great grandmother Sarah Higgins.
Margaret never married however on 31st March 1888, Margaret, recorded as being 22 but was
in fact 26, gave birth to an illegitimate daughter Flora [Florrie/Florence] Agnes, Higgins at 34
Elizabeth Street, Sydney. No father is mentioned. Mrs Cornish was present at the birth. This
address may have been either a home for unwed women to give birth or an early type of
maternity home. My great grandmother Sarah Higgins would also give birth to an illegitimate
child at the same address with Mrs Cornish [probably Mrs Mary A Cornish of 17 Morehead
Street, Waterloo] in attendance, in 1890.
Little is know of Margaret and her daughter Florrie until 1905 when a tragic event took place.
Newspapers of the day give the story:
Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888-1954) Monday 4 September 1905
MOTHER AND DAUGHTER ARRESTED. SYDNEY, Monday.
An inquest was conducted at Coolah on Saturday on the body of an infant found in a local
waterhole. The medical evidence showed; that the child died from drowning. The mother of the
child, Florence Higgins, and her mother, Margaret Higgins, were both committed. For trial on
a charge of murder. Florence Higgins is suffering from puerperal fever, and is in a critical
The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842-1954) Monday 4 September 1905
ALLEGED INFANTICIDE. COOLAH, Friday.
An inquest was held today by Mr Duncan M'Master, coroner, on the body found on the
Mudgee road. The coroner sat without a jury, and found against Margaret Higgins and
Florence Higgins a verdict of wilful murder of the illegitimate child of the latter. They were
committed for trial. Florence Higgins is 16 years of age.
The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842-1954) Friday 15 September 1905
Coolah, Thursday - Florence Higgins, the girl who, in con junction with her mother, Margaret
Higgins, was under committal for the wilful murder of her infant, died last night.
The Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate dated Saturday 30th November 1905:
MURDER NEAR COOLAH
Margaret Higgins Convicted.
Sentenced to Death.
At the Circuit Court on Wednesday before Mr. Justice Pring, a middle aged woman named
Margaret Higgins was charged with having on August 26,1905, at Hansan's Bridge [note: this
should read 'Hannah's Bridge' a settlement between Leadville and Coolah], near Coolah,
feloniously and maliciously killed a male infant born to Florence Higgins.
Mr, J. N. Mason, instructed by Mr. J d'Apioe, appeared for the Crown, and Mr. T. B. Bolin,
instructed by Messrs. McGuinn and McGuinn, for the defense.
The Crown Prosecutor said the facts of the case were simple. On August 29 a man was
travelling near where prisoner resided, and going to a waterhole he found the body of the
child. He went to the house and told the accused of the dead body in the waterhole. Mrs.
Higgins said she knew nothing about it, and suggested that it should be put out of sight. This
man took steps to inform the police. To the police accused admitted that her daughter had
given birth to a child, and said that the mother of the baby, going to the waterhole to get water
had dropped the child in.
Senior-Constable Tucker, stationed at Coolah, said that on August 29, acting on information
he went to prisoner's residence 2 miles from Coolah, and in a waterhole near the house he
found the body of a newly born child. It was naked. The water was about a foot deep. He put
the body in a bag and took it to a camp fire close by. He showed it to accused, and had some
conversation with her. The result was that Mrs. Higgins said that her daughter Florrie had had
a child but that it was born dead, and fell into the water. She also said that the body he
showed her was that of Florrie'e child. He stayed there during the night, and he heard accused
say to Florrie, "When he asks you in the morning tell him the child was born dead, and it fell
into the waterhole." Afterwards accused admitted the child was born alive and in the house.
Accused, in reply to questions he asked her, said she had taken the child with her when she
went to dip some water, and it had accidentally fallen into the waterhole. "Why didn't you pick
it out ?" he asked her; and she replied " I don't know why I didn't." The deepest part of the
waterhole was about 18 inches, He arrested accused and her daughter on September 1. All
accused said was "It fell in the water; I didn't throw it in."
In cross-examination: Witness said the place where accused lived was a two roomed
weatherboard building with a skillon of two rooms. The dining room between the "sitting" room
and the bed room was of slabs. The furniture was scant, and the bed consisted of a very old
fashioned iron bedstead about 10 inches high, a spring mattress, and an old kapok mattress.
Thomas Michael Higgins said he lived in the same house with accused who was his sister;
and her daughter Florrie. He gave evidence as to the illness of Florrie from August 24 to 26,
and said he had never noticed her condition.
To his, Honor: Witness said he did not know anything about the birth of the child until August
Francis Boston, the traveler who found the body in the waterhole, gave evidence about the
discovery, the conversation he had with the accused, and the steps he took to acquaint the
police of the facts.
Dr. Bell, of Coolah, who made the post mortem examination, stated that the death of the child
was due to asphyxia from drowning.
The accused gave evidence. She said she took the child to the waterhole with her when she
went to get water and it fell in. She was so frightened that she could not get the child out. She
did not know whether the baby was dead or alive when it fell into the water.
Replying to his Honor accused said she did not know whether or not the child was born alive.
Cross-examined, accused said Florrie was about 16 years of age and unmarried. She did not
know of the girl's condition, and had never mentioned the birth of the child to her brother.
VERDICT OF GUILTY.
Counsel for the defense addressed the jury and his Honor summed up. The jury retired
shortly after 11 o'clock and re turned into court with a verdict of willful murder with a strong
recommendation to mercy.
His Honor: On what grounds do you base your recommendation?
The Foreman: On the surroundings of the case and the condition of mind the prisoner was in
at the time.
His Honor thereupon proceeded to pass sentence of death. He said: "Margaret Higgins, the
jury has found you guilty and I am bound to say it is a verdict that I entirety agree with. I think
that yon did deliberately put an end to the life of this young child, no doubt in order to shield
your daughter from dis grace. Some people do not think much of killing a young baby,
although they would not think of killing a grown individual. The law compels me to pass
sentence of death upon yon,"Your case will be laid before the Executive, and with them rests
the final determination as to what shall be done. I shall take good care that the
recommendation of the jury is brought under the notice of the Executive, and no doubt it will
be fully and carefully considered." His Honor then passed
SENTENCE OF DEATH.
The prisoner, who was much affected during the case, broke down when his Honor had
finished, and sat with her face buried in her handkerchief.
The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842-1954) Wednesday 18 October 1905
The Case of Margaret Higgins. - At a meeting of the Executive Council yesterday the sentence
of death recorded at Dubbo against Margaret Higgins, who was found guilty of infanticide, was
commuted to imprisonment for life. This decision was accompanied by recorded
instructions that the matter may be opened for further consideration in the light of
additional information regarding the mental and general condition of the condemned
Registers of Quarter Sessions criminal cases before Supreme Court on Circuit, Dubbo,
1899-1906 [Ancestry] recorded the following: Jury strongly recommended prisoner to mercy
on the grounds of the surroundings of the case and the condition of mind in which the
prisoner was at the time the murder was committed.
At the time of her arrest and incarceration Margaret was described as follows:
date of Birth 15th June 1874 [this is incorrect, she was born in 1860] Native Place: Maitland.
Occupation: Servant. Religion: Roman Catholic. Able to read and write. Height 5 foot 3 inches,
light brown hair and grey eyes. No marks or special features.
Margaret was discharged from Bathurst Gaol by special remission on 10th May 1907. The
circumstances of her reprieve are not know at this time.
NOTE: By coincidence, Margaret's aunt, Honorah Higgins was also charged with infanticide in
1862, but the verdict returned by the jury was 'concealing the birth of a child' which attracted
a lesser sentence of two years imprisonment.
Margaret Higgins died 10th December 1950 aged 90. She is buried at Coolah cemetery near
members of her family. Daughter Flora of 'Springfield' Hannah's Ridge aged 16 was buried on
13th September 1905 in an unmarked grave in the same cemetery. Cause of death, according
to the coroners inquest was puerperal fever partly through the want of skilled attention at the
time of confinement of child. I have found no record for the burial of Flora's baby.
Last Update 21st November 2014