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1877 Trueman Child Murder Reports

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The following accounts come from the 1877 Evening Post newspaper published in Wellington. The reports contain details of the arrest and trial of Mary Ann Trueman and her daughter Mary Leonard Mudgway for the murder of the newly born son of Mary Mudgway. Neither was convicted of murder, but Mary Leonard Mudgway was found guilty of the concealment of her son’s birth, and was sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour.


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Volume XV, Issue 219, 18 September 1877, Page 2


Some sensation was created this afternoon in the neighbourhood of Abel Smith-street and Taranaki-street, by the arrest of an elderly woman named Mrs. Mary Ann Trueman, and her daughter, Mrs. Mary Leonard Mudgway, on a charge of having, on or about the 27th August last, wilfully murdered a newly-born child. It appears that about the date mentioned the daughter, who is the wife of a shoemaker formerly residing in Taranaki-street, was confined of a child, and the mother officiated as the midwife on the occasion. The child is said to have been born alive, and, having since mysteriously disappeared, a warrant was therefore issued, and it was executed shortly before one o'clock to-day, when both mother and daughter were arrested on the capital charge. They were shortly afterwards brought before Mr. Crawford, J.P., and remanded until Friday for the production of the necessary evidence. It is suspected that the child has been buried about the neighbourhood and a strict search is now being made for the body. Both prisoners have occupied respectable positions, and are well known in the Te Aro portion of the city.

[Since writing the above, we learn that immediately on the arrest of the prisoners Inspector Atchison, acting on certain information received, instructed Sergeant Farrell to search in a paddock in Abel Smith street, rented by Mr. Trueman, and on looking in a shed in the field, the earth was found to have been recently disturbed, just below a sack of chaff. On digging down the body of a child was discovered about three feet below the surface, buried in lime. The remains were quite perfect. The body was conveyed at once to Dr. Diver's for post mortem examination.]

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Volume XV, Issue 223, 22 September 1877, Page 2

This Day. (Before H. S. Wardell, Esq., R.M.)

Mary Ann Trueman (mother), and Mary Leonard Mudgway (daughter), were brought up on remand on a charge of having, on or about the 27th August last, wilfully murdered a newly-born male child.

The prisoners, who pleaded not guilty, were defended by Mr. Travers.

The following evidence was called.

Dr. Diver deposed that he had examined the body of a male child, brought to him on Friday last; the body measured seventeen inches; decomposition had set in, the scalp was nearly off behind and before, and two inches of the umbilical cord, which remained, had the appearance of having been cut by some sharp instrument; the body was fairly nourished, and appeared to weigh about 5lbs.; there were nails on the fingers and toes; he examined the lungs and found them crepitate all over, and on putting pieces in water every piece floated; he found the heart healthy; the body, when brought to him for examination, was covered with a sack, and a quantity of lime was then adhering to it; witness further examined the body with Dr. Bradford, when they came to the conclusion that it had been a seven or eight months' child, had been born alive, and had also breathed for a few hours; he could not tell the cause of death; on the day subsequent to seeing the child he was called to visit the younger female prisoner at the gaol; he examined her in the presence of the matron, and found evidence to show that she had been recently confined.

Cross-examined by Mr. Travers — There was no appearance about the head of the child to show that any violence had been used; complete inflation of the lungs of a child would usually occur within an hour after birth, although it might be longer if the child was a weakly one.

Elizabeth Ann Trueman, daughter-in-law to the elder prisoner, deposed that she lived in Abel Smith-street, near the house occupied by her mother-in-law; she had a house of four rooms, and Mrs. Mudgway, the younger prisoner, occupied two of them — the back room downstairs and the front room above; she herself had been married two years ago last July, and remembered the marriage of Mrs. Mudgway, which occurred in August last year; to her knowledge the younger prisoner had not cohabited with her husband until about a month ago; early on the morning of the 27th August last witness was awakened by the younger prisoner's husband coming to her room, in consequence of which she got up and went to her sister-in-law's room; she (the prisoner) was in a sitting posture, and about five minutes afterwards she gave birth to a child; witness heard it cry; immediately afterwards her husband went for Mrs. Trueman, who at once came to the house; shortly afterwards Mrs. Trueman sent witness for a pair of scissors, and also for some hotwater, which she brought; all the time the child was left where it fell — quite three-quarters, of an hour — and witness frequently heard a gurgling sound issuing from its throat; witness left the room for a short time to get Mrs. Mudgway some refreshment, and returned with a cup of tea, when she found her (the younger prisoner) lying down on the bed. with her mother standing by; at that time the cries of the child were still audible; she consequently asked Mrs. Mudgway about it, when she said that her mother had covered it up; she then went downstairs, and remained with her husband; she had afterwards a conversation with Mrs. Trueman, who asked her how they could best get the child away; witness said she could not destroy the child herself, upon which Mrs. Trueman said it was a sad case, and that she had a little box at home which would do for it (the child); she also asked her if her husband would bury the child, when she replied that she did not think he would have any objection to do so; on the following day, the 28th August, witness saw Martha, one of the elder prisoner's daughters, going towards the paddock with a spade in her hand, and on the evening of that day she also saw Mrs. Mudgway leave the house with something in her hand; Martha was then with her; about four months previously the younger prisoner told witness that she was pregnant; after they returned from the paddock, witness heard the jingling of glasses.

Cross-examined — Richard Mudgway, the younger prisoner's husband, awoke her on the morning of the 27th; when witness went into the room, Mrs. Mudgway complained to her of being very ill, and afterwards told her that there was a baby in a certain place; witness did not cover it with an apron or a frock. (She was here closely questioned regarding some conversation she had with Mr. Mudgway, which she at first denied, but afterwards admitted.) That conversation occurred a few days ago, and she did not then state anything about Mrs. Trueman destroying the child; she was not aware why she had not mentioned it, but supposed she had forgotten it; she did not say she would “give the old b--- (meaning Mrs. Trueman) three years"; her husband did not afterwards say on one occasion, when they had a quarrel, that he knew nothing about the affair, and she did not reply that she knew he did; witness first told the matter to the police on Tuesday last; she did not tell it before as she was living in the family, and then she informed because her father-in-law threatened to make her prove her words; she told Emily Clarke, her sister-in-law, that, instead of the mother doing her duty, she stifled the child by covering it up; all the family were not then aware of the prisoner having had a child; the child was born about five minutes before the mother came to the house; witness afterwards went for hot water, and on returning found the prisoner sitting on another place, a sack covering the place where she had sat before; the conversation with Mrs. Truman about making away the child occurred at that time, and witness then said she thought her husband would have no objections to bury it; witness never mentioned anything about using lime; she did not go to Clarke's until a week afterwards, and it was then that she mentioned about Mrs. Truman having stifled the child; she could not say why she did not call Mrs. Mudgway's attention to the child being where it was; witness never told Mr Clarke that she would like to see the old b-- (Mrs. Truman), die in gaol, and that as for the old man, something would happen to him, and they would then get the property and kick all the family out of it; when witness went into the prisoner's room on Tuesday morning the utensil containing the child was still covered, and on pulling it out from beneath the bed witness remarked that it was a fine child, and if Mrs Truman had not had any baby clothes, she had some she could have lent her. It was then said that it was all for the best that it had happened as it did; witness was too confused on first going into the room to remonstrate about the child being left as it was; the younger prisoner was in the room when her mother spoke about doing away with it; witness did not say anything at the time about its being very wicked; the prisoners wished to have the child buried in the back yard attached to her house, hut she would not consent to that.

By the Bench — Witness made no effort on her own part to remove the child from the place where it lay, although she heard its cries and knew it was alive.

Re-examined by Mr. Travers — She never told old Mr. Mudgway and his two sons that she (herself) had lifted the younger prisoner from her sitting posture, and helped her to the bed, nor that she covered the child with a skirt before Mrs. Trueman came to the house.

Detective James Farrell deposed that on Tuesday last, in company with Constable Ryan, be proceeded to .the house occupied by Mrs. Trueman, and, after making enquiries, went to a paddock in Abel Smith-street; one of the daughters of the elder prisoner — Martha Jane Trueman — went with them; they proceeded to a shed in the paddock, and on a spot pointed out by the girl, and covered with a sack, Constable Ryan commenced to dig, when they found the body of a child buried about two feet deep; there was no clothing on the body, and a quantity of lime was adhering to it.

Edward Charles Evens, chemist and druggist, residing in Cuba-street, deposed that he had known the Trueman family for some time back; he remembered the elder prisoner coming into his shop with Mrs. Clarke one Saturday night about three months ago; Mrs. Clarke stated she wished to see him privately, and Mrs. Trueman followed her into the parlor. Mrs. Clarke then said, "My younger sister was sent for the cows, when some man waylaid her and threw her down, and we want something to do away with it;" witness asked if she knew the man, when she replied that he could not be identified, as he had ran away immediately afterwards; witness said he did not do business in that kind of way, and did not deal with such cases, as it was against the laws of God as well as man; Mrs. Clarke then said that she supposed they would require to go to a doctor, and witness said that they had better do that, upon which they left his shop; on the 23th of August Martha Trueman, one of the younger daughters, came to his shop and asked for quicklime; be replied that he supposed it was chloride of lime which was wanted, when the girl answered that it was wanted to cover dog that had been buried; be then remarked that it was quicklime which was wanted, and he supplied a shilling's worth.

This was all the evidence for the prosecution.

Mr. Travers applied to have the prisoners admitted to bail, observing, in doing so, that he considered he was justified in asking such a concession, owing to the peculiar circumstances connected with the case.

Mr. Inspector Atcheson stated that the application was rather unusual, but if substantial bail was given he had no objections to offer.

The prisoners were then committed for trial at the next sitting of the Supreme Court, and admitted to bail in two sureties of £250 each.

Bail was being procured during the afternoon, Mr. Charles McIntyre, baker, Tory street, being one of the sureties; Mr. Trueman, husband of the elder prisoner being the other bail for Mrs. Trueman. Another surety was being enquired after as we went to press to go as bail with Mr. Trueman for the daughter.

A large crowd was assembled outside the Police Court all the afternoon, a large amount of interest apparently having been taken in the case.

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Volume XV, Issue 230, 1 October 1877, Page 2


This Day.

(Before his Honor Mr. Justice Richmond.) The Spring Session of the Supreme Court opened on the criminal side this morning, at 10 o'clock, Mr. Justice Richmond presiding.


Mary Leonard Mudgway appeared in answer to her bail, on a charge of having on the 27th August last wilfully murdered her newly born male child. The mother of the prisoner, who had been likewise charged at the preliminary investigation before the Police Court, it was decided should be tried separately.

Mr. Travers appeared for the defence.

The first witness in this case was Elizabeth Ann Trueman, sister-in-law to the prisoner, who was present in the room at the time the child was born. Her evidence in the main similar to that given in the Police Court, which is, no doubt, fresh in the minds of our readers, showing that the child had been born alive and had been afterwards left in the room.

Before the cross-examination was commenced, the Court adjourned at half-past one until two o'clock.

Cross-examined by Mr. Travers — Was married to the prisoner's brother, but he and the family were not friendly since this case had occurred; she had made a statement to Mrs Clarke about the child, and when she was called upon to prove her words she accordingly informed the police.

Mr. Travers — Is the story you have told the Court now correct that Mrs. Trueman asked you if your husband would have any objection to destroy the child? Or was it that she asked if he would bury it?

Witness at first declined to answer the question, but, on being pressed, said that Mrs. Trueman asked her if she thought her husband would have any objections to "do away" with it.

Mr. Travers — What were the particular words used?

Witness — I have given my evidence pretty clearly already.

Mr. Travers here pointed out that the witness' husband was within hearing of the Court in the gallery, and his removal was accordingly ordered by his Honor.

On being further cross-examined, the witness stated she could not swear whether the words used by the mother were "destroy" or "make away with" the child; witness had not given the prisoner any gin; there was none in the room, but she believed her husband gave her some; the prisoner called for her mother before the child was born, and when she was in pain.

Mr. Travers here called the witness' attention to her deposition taken before the Police Court, wherein she stated it was after the child was born that the prisoner called for her mother.

Witness could not explain why she had said so, but the prisoner's husband went for the mother before the child was born; witness made no attempt to save the child, although she heard a cry once and then a gurgling sound; she never helped the prisoner in any way to get up; Mrs. Trueman heard the child cry after she entered the room; the child continued to make a noise for three quarters of an hour afterwards, although in prisoner's "sitting position" it was difficult to hear the sounds; meanwhile witness went down stairs twice for a pair of scissors and some hot water; the evidence at this point was similar to what was given before the Police Court, the witness stating that when she afterwards came up to the prisoner's room with a cup of tea, she found her sitting up in bed. She judged the time — three-quarters of an hour — by the fact that she had been awakened up at ten minutes before three o'clock in the morning, and it was twenty minutes before four o'clock before the sounds ceased.

The witness' cross-examination was still proceeding as we went to press.

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Volume XV, Issue 231, 2 October 1877, Page 2


Monday, 1st October.
(Before his Honor Mr. Justice Richmond.)


After we went to press yesterday afternoon, the case against Mary L. Mudgway for the wilful murder of her newly-born child was continued.

After the evidence taken at the preliminary investigation had been completed, and a brother and sister of the prisoner examined, Mr. Travers opened the case for the defence, and stated that he proposed to call the mother of the prisoner as a witness, as she could, he had no doubt, disprove in the main the evidence given by her daughter-in-law — the principal witness for the Crown.

His Honor stated he was inclined to the opinion that such evidence was not admissible, but the question having been argued at some length, his Honor at length decided to admit the evidence, and the mother was accordingly placed in the witness-box.

Mrs. Trueman's evidence, in effect, went to show that after having visited Dr. Harding with her daughter in June last, she had no reason to think that her confinement was to take place so coon as it did, and that on the morning of the alleged murder when she was called upon to attend her she fully believed she had merely had a miscarriage. She accordingly attended her daughter first, paying no attention to "anything" else. Mrs. Trueman further stated that when she entered the room she thought her daughter looked quite stupid, and smelt strongly of gin. The daughter-in-law was then in the room, and had been there for some time.

The (prisoner) witness was subjected to a close cross-examination by Mr. Izard, but she adhered to her original statement. She also denied hearing the statement deposed to having been made to Mr. Evens, the chemist, about the condition of her daughter.

Mr. Travers then addressed the jury for the defence, and in a very forcible and effective speech pointed out that the alleged charge could not by any means be borne out; the evidence being altogether, defective; the prisoner, so far as had been shown, having had no actual part in the commission of the alleged offence.

His Honor having summed up, the jury retired, and, after a brief interval, found the prisoner guilty of concealment of birth only, and she was accordingly remanded for sentence.

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Volume XV, Issue 233, 4 October 1877, Page 2


Wednesday, 3rd October.
(Before his Honor Mr. Justice Richmond.)


After we went to press yesterday afternoon the case against Mrs. Mary Ann Trueman for the murder of her daughter's newly born child was continued.

Additional evidence having been taken for the defence.

Mr. Travers made an eloquent appeal to the Bench on behalf of the prisoner, and contended that the charge alleged against her could not be sustained — not even a charge of manslaughter.

His Honor summed up, and the jury retired, but they were afterwards recalled, when his Honor further explained the case to them, and at twenty minutes past six o'clock they returned into Court with a verdict of "not guilty," and the prisoner was discharged.


Mrs. Mary Leonard Mudgway, the daughter of Mrs. Trueman, and mother of the child, who had previously been found guilty of the concealment of its birth, was then brought up for sentence.

Mr. Travers said he had nothing further to say in the case.

His Honor, in passing sentence, addressed the prisoner as follows: — "I do not want to say anything to aggravate or increase the misery of your present situation, but I see nothing whatever in your case to induce me to do otherwise than award to you to the fullest extent the punishment for the offence of which you have been found guilty. The judgment of the Court is that you be imprisoned for two years, with hard labor.

The prisoner was then removed, and the Court adjourned.