Friday, January 18, 2013

The Misadventures of an Inveterate Tippler

Mary Ann Williams was a familiar character about Brisbane Town in the early years. Unfortunately she was also a frequent guest at the police lock-up and serial visitor to the magistrate’s bench. It seems that Mary was a dedicated devotee of the favourite pastime of the locals which was known as tippling.

She is described as being a “respectably dressed” married woman[1], who under the influence was capable of unladylike behaviour and language.

Her first appearance in court, as reported in The Moreton Bay Courier, was in 1846.

DRUNK AND DISORDERLY.-At the Police-office, yesterday, a respectably-dressed female, named Mary Ann Williams, was placed at the bar, charged with being drunk and disorderly in South Brisbane, on Thursday last.

While in the lock-up she conducted herself in a manner quite unbecoming her sex, and the Bench, to mark their sense of the impropriety of her conduct, sentenced her to pay a fine of fifteen shillings and costs.[2]

The following year Mary Ann was back in court and this time the Bench was clearly losing patience with her tippling propensities and warned that she would be put on a boat to Sydney if she appeared before them again.

Colonial Police Constable
DRUNKENNESS.-On the 3rd instant, at the Police-office, a married woman named Mary Ann Williams, whose tippling propensities have made her a somewhat prominent character in Brisbane, was brought under the notice of the Magistrates, who did not fail (the moment her well-known face appeared at the bar) to recognize one of the most frequent attendants at their levee.

The constable's evidence being conclusive, the Bench ordered the defendant to pay a fine of 20s. and costs, and intimated their intention of sending her to Sydney Gaol under the Vagrant Act, the next time she was convicted.[3]

Alas for Mary Ann, the Bench were as good as their word and she earned a sojourn in Sydney as the guest of Her Majesty.  Not long after her return home to the northern outpost of civilisation, recidivism held sway and Mary was back before the Bench. 

This time she was anything but “respectably dressed” described in the press as “looking about as wholesome as a Tartar with the scurvy.”

A FAIR PENITENT.-On Monday night last, Mary Ann Williams, being thereto instigated by sundry nobblers and deeper potations indulged in during the day regaled the inhabitants of South Brisbane with an exhibition of her jovial qualities, by "flaring up" rather extensively in the public streets, in company with four or five gentlemen of her acquaintance.

Constable McGuire, feeling a laudable inclination to prevent so accomplished a lady from wasting her sweetness on the desert air, obligingly invited her to take possession of an apartment in Ossory Castle, which he had sufficient influence to offer for her acceptance.

After considerable pressing, the suggestion was acceded to, and the consequence was a presentation at the Police-office on the following morning. Mrs. Williams-glowing with the effects of the previous night's recreation, and looking about as wholesome as a Tartar with the scurvy - tried the pathetic, accompanied by an eloquent glance towards the Bench, and which seemed to be intended for the peculiar benefit of Mr. McConnel; but, whatever the mere man may have felt, the magistrate was inflexible.

 It was borne in fatal remembrance that Mary Ann had recently returned from an involuntary residence of three months in the neighbourhood of Woolloomooloo, and that she had since visited the Police-office upon an occasion similar to the present. It was therefore arranged, that she should have the option of making a donation of 21s., to be applied as directed by law, or secluding herself from an admiring public for forty-eight hours, in a place to be provided for that purpose; and abstaining in the meantime from animal food and artificial liquids. [4]

View of South Brisbane looking south

Mary Ann continued to appear in the courts over the following years. Because she lived in South Brisbane, the constables had to bring her across the river to the lockup after her arrest. This could be a dangerous undertaking considering Mary Ann’s state of belligerent intoxication. On one occasion she jumped into the river.

Obscene Language-Mary Ann Williams was apprehended on Thursday night, at South Brisbane, by Constables Maguire and Walker, for drunkenness wild obscene language.

She jumped out of the boat in which the constables were taking her across the river, and there was some difficulty in getting her out of the water.

The use of obscene and most disgusting language having been proved against her yesterday morning, she was sentenced by the Brisbane Bench to pay a fine of £5, or be imprisoned for three months.[5]

Later that year Mary Ann was again in the lock-up and in despair decided to take her own life. She almost succeeded.

Determined Attempt at Suicide.-On Sunday night a woman named Mary Ann Williams was in the Brisbane lock-up, having been confined for disorderly conduct, when Constable Conroy heard a peculiar noise proceeding from her cell, and, on opening the door, found that she had fastened a long strip of the blanket round her neck, and, winding it round a bar in the cell, held the end in her hand, while she leaned forward with the full weight of her body.

 She was already nearly strangled, and Conroy immediately tore off the blanket rope and secured her, while he sent for Dr Swift. On that gentleman's arrival, such remedies as were necessary were applied, and the woman having been copiously blooded, a strait jacket was fastened on her, and she was placed on the guard-bed. On subsequently visiting her, the constable found that she had released her arm from the strait jacket, and, having taken off the bandage and opened the wound made by the lancet, was bleeding to death. She was again secured, and subsequently removed to the hospital.[6]

Colonial Inn

Back on the streets again Mar Ann tried her hand at petty theft, stealing washing from backyards with little success, being in and out of gaol. Her luck, such as it was, finally ran out in 1852, when she was convicting of stealing a watch from the office of a solicitor. Despite trying to shift the blame to a fellow tippler, the court was not sympathetic.

In considering her sentence, the judge read out her conviction record.

What punishment, His Honour asked, could be adequate to her desert? He had before him a list of her convictions dating the last three or four years His Honour read a list of twenty convictions, for drunkenness, obscene language, assaults, and robberies. Here was a catalogue of her recorded crimes. Only last assizes she had been sentenced to imprisonment for a robbery, and, since she was released from that sentence, she had been again sentenced to a month's imprisonment for a robbery besides that-of which she was just convicted.

 And to crown all, she had accused an innocent man, and would no doubt have been willing to swear to his guilt, if she had been placed in the witness box.

Considering her record and perjury the Judge felt no need for leniency.

His HONOUR continued. She had already committed this perjury, and stood before him so deeply steeped in crime that she appeared a hopelessly abandoned wretch. But he, warned her that an hour would come-perhaps not far distant-when death would be before her accompanied by all the dismal recollections of her guilt; and, for her own sake he hoped that she would improve the ample time that would be given to her, by repenting, and endeavouring to lead a better life when her period of imprisonment expired.

The sentence of the court was that she be imprisoned and kept to hard labour in Parramatta gaol for three years; the first fourteen days of each of the first four months to be passed in solitary confinement.[7]

Parramatta Gaol
True to form to the end, Mary Ann had the last word in her best offensive manner, as she was led from the court.

The prisoner, before leaving the box, and not withstanding her deprecatory remark when his Honour referred to her willingness to swear to Duffy's guilt, again declared that he was guilty. As she was leaving the court she made some disgustingly offensive gestures to the police.[8]

It was not to be the end of the criminal career of Mary Ann Williams.

But more of that anon.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2013.

[1] Inferring most probably that she was not a prostitute.
[2] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 14 November 1846
[3] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 11 September 1847
[4] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 17 February 1849
[5] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 27 July 1850
[6] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 18 October 1851
[7] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 29 May 1852
[8] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 29 May 1852

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