Saturday, January 17, 2015

Sepia Saturday




This week I have taken a few liberties with the theme to tell you about a member of my husband's family.

Martha Needle or  "The Black Widow of Richmond" took as her first husband Henry Needle who was a brother to my husband's great grandfather. 

Martha Needle

Martha Charles was born near Morgan, South Australia in 1863, an attractive woman with a kindly disposition she grew up in a violent and abusive household, and had shown signs of mental instability from an early age. At 17 she married Henry Needle at North Adelaide and in 1882 gave birth to a daughter Mabel followed by Elsie in 1883 and May in September 1886. The family moved to the Melbourne suburb of Richmond in 1885.

She was subsequently hanged in the Melbourne jail for murdering her husband Henry, her three small daughters and her future brother-in-law Louis Juncken, brother to her fiancee Otto Juncken.  Her weapon of choice was rat poison (arsenic), which she administered in small doses until her victims weakened and died, supposedly from illnesses.

Her trial lasted 3 days despite a not guilty plea and the jury took 40 minutes to find her guilty. She was hanged on October 22nd 1894 at the age of 30. She was the last woman to be hanged in Australi

Melbourne Jail Women's section around  1905.


More details can be found by following the links above.

Liz Needle  -  linking with Sepia Saturday


13 comments:

  1. Oh dear oh dear! Always horrible when little children are murdered like this. Otto and his other brother were lucky to escape Martha's clutches too.

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  2. The story goes that Hermann was about to drink a cup of tea laced with arsenic when the police walked in. Her fiancé Otto stood by her to the end, asserting that she didn't know what she was doing.

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  3. HI Liz Thanks for sharing this interesting yet very sad family story.

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  4. I find this a hard one to comment on. A terrible thing but how interesting to have in the family history (is that bad to say?). Have you been able to find a lot in newspaper articles? I find myself wanting to know more. Did the family know about it or was it something that you uncovered and shocked you?

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    1. It was something we discovered quite by chance. A book was published called an Australian Murder Almanac and Martha appeared in it. Families tended to keep these things quiet, but I guess the development of the internet has made information so much more accessible. Certainly Don's family never mentioned it and I am not even sure that his parents knew about it. t was more interesting than shocking to our generation as it seems so long ago.

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    2. My family is all quite boring in the scheme of things! Down to earth farmers and miners!

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  5. It's all very stunning, in a violent sense.

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  6. I'm not so sure about the mental instability part. Deliberately & slowly killing her husband & children & the brother-in-law to be who was probably against her proposed marriage to his brother, Otto, the whole thing sounds as if it was logically & carefully thought out by a woman who had grown tired of her husband & wanted to marry Otto. Her husband wouldn't give her a divorce. Otto didn't want her with her children. So in her mind there was only one solution. It's hard to understand people like that, but they do exist. Perhaps their minds don't work the way ours do, but that doesn't necessarily make them 'unbalanced'. It was unfortunate she had such a rough upbringing, but doesn't excuse the terrible thing she did. Happy for you it happened far back in the past & as you say, makes it possible for you to look at it as an unfortunate but interesting part of your family history. I think somewhere in all our family histories there are questionable forebears of one sort or another & we simply have to be glad that was 'way back when'. :)

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  7. A sad story indeed. A black widow rather than a black sheep in the family,

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  8. What an unsettling but fascinating read! I couldn’t make the second link work but I was sufficiently enthralled and horrified by this case. Oh, and to read that her nephew followed in her footsteps was doubly shocking.






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  9. You win -- that's some story! In the US, we had a rash of mothers killing their children a few years back, but I haven't seen much about that recently. No matter how much we learn about mental illness, such stories are still shocking.

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  10. So sad. And the repercussions would have rippled out through the family and friends, probably for years after the event.

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  11. Whoa, my family history is soooooo boring. Perhaps thankfully so.

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