Notorious Women

Women as dependants on a husband or male relative were as a result dependant upon the goodwill of that male authority figure. In 1840 a judge upheld a man’s right to lock up his wife and beat her in moderation. During the nineteenth century, legally, there were some improvements to women’s domestic situation when in 1852 a judge ruled that a man could not force his wife to live with him. However, in the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act a husband could divorce his wife for adultery but a wife had to prove adultery aggravated by cruelty or desertion.

Women experiencing violence in the home had no alternative sources of support. The Workhouses would not accept women and children if the husband was capable of paying for their upkeep so any woman leaving her husband could not find refuge in the Workhouse. Society also did not interfere in these matters so there was often very little hope of assistance from family, friend or neighbours.

Today, domestic violence is considered a crime. Organisations such as, Women’s Aid campaign to raise awareness of this issue among the public in an effort to overcome the affects of the long standing practice of society of not interfering and of earlier legislation whereby it was considered legal for a man to beat his wife in “moderation”.

According to the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland Report by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and Royal College of Surgeons 42% of women and 28% of men reported some form of sexual abuse or assault in their lifetime in Ireland. Centres such as the Waterford Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre provide counselling and other services to those who are the victims of rape and sexual abuse.

Victims of rape and sexual abuse in the nineteenth century had no access to such services. Rape was a crime (provided it occurred outside of marriage) and the newspapers in Waterford contain reports of a number of cases of rape in Waterford.

On 8th March 1854 the Waterford Mail details the following case:

Denis Kelly, Nicholas Walsh and Thomas Power were placed at the bar, charged with committing and assault on the person of Bridget Foran, aged 18 years, at Bonmahon, County Waterford on the 15th January. It appeared that there were ten persons concerned in the outrage and only three could be identified. This case occupied the Court for nearly the entire day, the evidence we deem unfit for publication. The jury after an hour’s deliberation returned a verdict of guilty against the three prisoners – Sentence deferred

On 20th July 1842 the Waterford Mirror reported on a case in County Court:

Daniel Coleman was found guilty of the violation of Ellen Daly, at Tallow, on 21st March last. This trial occupied the Court for several hours. John Hutchinson and James Morrissey were indicted for a rape on Mary Connors on 26th March at Ballyscanlon. The prosecutrix, an ill-looking beggar woman from Clare, was examined at great length and detailed the injuries sustained. A male child of hers, 11 months old, was with her and the prisoners fractured some of the child’s limbs. Dr. Waters, junior, corroborated the woman’s evidence so far as the appearance of herself and the child went when submitted to him for medical attention. Verdict – Guilty

It is interesting to note that in this instance the newspaper reports on the fact that the prosecutrix was an “ill-looking beggar woman” and as such her evidence was corroborated “…so far as the appearance of herself and the child went…” by the doctor.

The newspaper reports contain the sentence of death in a number of cases for conviction for the crime of rape. A search of the Ireland-Australia Transportation Database (1780-1868) returns 39 records for a search under the terms of rape in Waterford. Among them is Daniel Coleman found guilty above of the rape of Ellen Daly. His sentence of death was commuted to 2 years imprisonment for this crime. John Hutchinson, convicted of the rape of Mary Connors had his sentence of death commuted to transportation for life.

Related images

Michael Whelan of Dungarvan