Hannah Heath was a fifty-two-year-old widow when she arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) on 22 January 1839.[1] On 10 March 1838, she had been convicted of the murder by poisoning of her infant grandchild and sentenced to death. However, Lord John Russell, Britain’s Home Secretary, after receiving information about the case, including a report from the judge who had presided at her trial, saw fit to commute her sentence to transportation for life. While some of the 13,500 (approx.) women who were transported to VDL for infanticide in the years between 1812 and 1853 were indubitably guilty and deserved harsh punishment for the crime, Hannah appears to have been treated unjustly.[2] After the child had died, she had admitted to having given it ‘something from a vial’ in ‘the hope of doing it some good’ when it was ill. She had thought that the substance was a toothache remedy that her son had bought from a travelling ‘quack doctor’ some time earlier but it was discovered later that it was a corrosive acid that had been stored in the house in a similar vial. Neither vial had been labelled. The evidence indicates that she had always been a kind and caring mother and grandmother. It seems probable, therefore, that the child’s death was the result of a terrible accident rather than a case of a murder. In the colony, Hannah’s behaviour was excellent; she is known to have committed only one, quite minor, indiscretion. In 1844, she had married convict Thomas Judd (Augusta Jessie, 1834) and the pair seem to have lived peacefully together until Hannah herself passed away, at seventy-nine, in 1859. Torn from her loved ones for a crime of which she may not have been guilty, she had been exiled in VDL, without hope of a pardon, for twenty years.   

This is her story:

 

[1] Conduct record: CON40/1/6, image 27; description list: CON19/1/14, image 20; police no: 331; FCRC ID: 7942.

[2] The number of women transported to VDL for infanticide was relatively small; see Cowley, T., ‘Crimes of Transportation and Crime Families’ at https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/fcrc-seminars/research-seminars

 

 

 


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For academic referencing (suggestion only) Database: [http address], FCRC Female Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land database, entry for xxxx ID no xxx, accessed [date].

For academic referencing (suggestion only) Website:  Female Convicts Research Centre Inc., accessed [date] from [http address].