Thursday, 20 March 2014

"Tommy is cold." (Thomas George Hart) 1871, Shortland cemetery.


Gold and grog - Thames, 1871.

Elizabeth Park Sherrard, alias Scott, was down on her luck.  In March 1871 she was charged at the Thames Police Court with stealing a gold locket.

Her hard scrabble life had seen her drift into theft and drink, and although referred to as Mrs Sherrard, there was no Mr Sherrard.  She had possibly followed a husband to the Thames  goldfields and been deserted. 

In the curious police case,   Elizabeth was charged with stealing a gold locket valued at 15s from Mrs Schafer's* house.  In a strange twist, Mrs Schafer herself was charged with stealing  a gold watch and chain, the property of William John Hart, a miner.   William Hart was described as the "protector" of Elizabeth Sherrard.

Elizabeth Sherrard was found guilty and sentenced to one month's imprisonment with hard labour.  She said she had three children and wanted to know who would care for them in the meantime.  She was also four months pregnant to William Hart, whom she had lived with for the past eight or nine months in Baillie Street,Thames. 


Seven months later, in a  small cramped cottage  in which a light burned all night,  the nine week old baby of Elizabeth and William woke crying.  It was 1 o'clock on a Monday morning and William got up, took little Thomas George Hart from his cradle in the kitchen, and gave him to his mother in bed.   The crying soon stopped and the household went back to sleep.  Elizabeth's small daughter, Annie, also had a bed  in the kitchen, the kitchen and sleeping area all being one room.  The bed of Elizabeth and William  was pressed against the wall. William slept on the outside of the bed. The baby was on the other side of his mother, against the wall.  

At 3am Elizabeth got up to make herself a cup of tea, which woke William. He leaned across the bed remarking that the baby was very cold.
Elizabeth picked up the child and cried "the child is dead - is dead - is dead!"
William went for Dr Lethbridge, who came immediately.

Or so went the story William Hart initially told at the inquest held at the Globe Hotel, Rolleston Street.

Under examination he also said that sometimes the child slept with its parents, but at other times in a cradle.   The child had been sickly for the past four weeks and vomited up its food. William did not know whether it was teething.  It was constantly vomiting. It was fed other food besides its mother's milk. The mother's milk was short, he said,  indeed so short that she had five or six times gone into fits or mad through the scarcity of it. This was occasionally, for two or three days she would be right enough, then again would become short.

Elizabeth and William were not married, he admitted, but had lived together for 15 or 16 months. The child was born on 14 August. William said he was sometimes away all night at the mining claim and was frequently absent.  From what he saw, the child had received every care and attention since its birth.

In response to questioning, William said that when Elizabeth got up at 3am  she was quite sober. But he  began to crumble under the skeptical gaze of the court and gave contradictory answers.

The previous  Thursday and Friday, Elizabeth was not sober. She was sober, however,  on Saturday, Sunday and Monday - sober enough to attend to her household duties.  He then said he saw her take some liquor during that time. She had a glass of ale with him on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. He did not see her take any spirits, though, not  for seven weeks.
Sometimes they got their beer from the public houses - sometimes from "other men."
The Coroner commented "You must have been a pretty good customer to the alehouses."

William said he went to bed at eleven on the night in question.  He was sober.  He did not help Elizabeth to bed because, he now said, she was the worse for liquor.  He incongruously added that she was not drunk.  He had no spirits in the house on the night.  There might have been some there but not that he knew of.  Further questioning saw him now admit he heard Elizabeth ask for some brandy at about 2am.  She asked little Annie for it. 
William did not know where the child got the brandy from, but it was somewhere inside the house.  She might have got it from under the bed. He did not see how much the child gave to her mother, but she did not have more than one glass of brandy.

Mr Bullen, on behalf of the Crown, drew attention to the previous evidence of William and said no doubt the coroner and jury would regard his evidence as worthless.
How did he reconcile his statement that he had not seen Elizabeth drink spirits for seven weeks, with the statement that she had only drunk a glass?
William disingenuously answered that he did not actually see her drink.  The child put the bottle on the table and told the mother to help herself.
The coroner and jury remarked on the evident prevarication of the witness.

Anne Elizabeth Sherrard was called but was too young to be sworn. She was thought to be about five years of age. She said she did not know how old she was.
She said she remembered  her little brother dying the night before.  Annie's  innocent evidence undid  that of William, who was referred to as her father.

Her father and mother went out last night before dark, she said,  and she took care of her little brother, as she often had to do.   Her mother often went out and  no one was in the house to take charge of the child but her. Her mother left meat and little Annie  gave it to the tiny child when he cried. Sometimes Annie went looking  for her mother, at other times she  fetched her other sister.

Last Saturday night  and Sunday her mother was drunk. When she and William  came home last night her mother  was 'half tight'.
They went to bed when they came in.  The baby was asleep in the cradle in the kitchen.  Annie went to bed in the kitchen at the same time as her mother and father.
She heard the baby cry at one o'clock.  She knew the time because her father got up, looked at his watch and told her mother.
He lifted the baby out of the cradle and put it bedside the mother, who was lying down on the bed.  The baby stopped crying, but Annie did not go to sleep. 

 Her mother asked her to give her some brandy.  After her mother and father had come home, her mother went out again and got a shilling's worth of brandy.  Both Elizabeth and William drank some before they went to bed.
Annie got the brandy bottle out of the safe where food was stored. She poured the brandy into a tumbler and gave it to her father.  He drank half of it and gave the other half to her mother.
After drinking the brandy, her mother lay down and afterwards got up to make herself a cup of tea. When her mother got out of bed, her father put his hand on the baby and said  "Tommy is cold."  Mother said "Then he is dead."   Tommy's face was all blue.

Sometimes Annie had bread and milk for breakfast and sometimes bread and butter.  She had always plenty to eat, she said.

Margaret Frick of Baillie Street  gave damning evidence about Elizabeth Sherrard.

On Friday afternoon William Hart had  fetched a policeman, but he did not take Elizabeth who was being a nuisance.   The neighbours had been annoyed at Mrs Sherrard's screaming.
On Friday evening Mrs Sherrard was drunk and also Mr Hart.  Mrs Sherrard went out and left the baby with the little girl, Annie.   The girl was carrying the baby like a lump and Margaret Frick told her to lay it down.  Annie then gave it some cold milk out of a bottle.

On one occasion when Mrs Sherrard  went out all day leaving the baby, she heard it crying.  
" I went to give it a drink of milk from my own breast."  Although Mrs Sherrard was very good to her children when sober  " I consider that she neglects her children from her drunken habits."

Mrs Sherrard had been drinking on Saturday, Sunday and Monday; she was not perfectly sober on any of those days, according to Margaret.

"At six o'clock this morning," said Margaret, referring to the few hours after the baby had died,  "I saw her with Hart.  They were linked arm in arm.  She was drunk and he was not sober."  

Elizabeth Sherrard  could not be questioned at the inquest  - she was drunk and in no fit state.

After about an hour's deliberation the jury found that Thomas George Hart came to his death "by being overlaid by his mother on the night of 23 October while under the influence of liquor."

Mrs Sherrard was then discharged from custody, provoking the  Thames Advertiser  into an outraged outburst.

"If anything were wanting to increase the general desire for stringent regulations on the liquor traffic, it should be supplied in the horrible case that has just occurred at the Thames.
It appears that the mother had been on one continued round of drunkenness, although her infant was but two months old.  The immoral relations of the parents, the evident perjury of the father, the inability of the mother to give evidence because she was drunk, the influences under which the other little children were living, the freedom with which drink is obtained, and the painful but natural result, combine to produce a picture of the most revolting kind perhaps ever presented in this district.  That the child was smothered by his drunken mother is clear, and it is impossible to suppress indignation on seeing that the law cannot reach the murderess..."

Baby Thomas George Hart (Tommy) was probably buried in an unmarked grave at Shortland cemetery.


Although Elizabeth said she had three children previous to Tommy being born,  only Annie is mentioned in newspaper reports.  It is likely there were other children in the house, and an older sister in domestic service somewhere nearby. 

In January 1878, a  girl named Annie Sherrard appeared as a witness in an assault case in Auckland.  Annie Sherrard had been taken out of an orphan home by a family who employed her to look after their children.  If it is the same Annie, she would have been aged 11 or 12, a not uncommon age for girls to enter domestic service in those days.  It is highly likely Elizabeth Sherrard's children  ended up in an orphanage due to her neglect or death.  
William Hart was probably long gone.





"She may take ale, or porter, in moderation..." Rules for 1870s childcare.


*More on Mrs Schafer - described as an "irrepressible and interesting half caste"  - in my next blog.   



Source Papers Past
Image - Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries 4- 8717


© Meghan Hawkes and Dead Cert 2014


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