Mary Riley

Evidence Type: Newspaper Report > Coroner’s Inquest
12 January 1838

Coroner’s Inquests

Another inquest was convened immediately afterwards at the Royal Oak public house, Miller’s point, on the bodies of two newly born infants, male and female, who were found buried in a cigar case under a rock in that neighbourhood on the previous day.

It appeared that one MARY RILEY, a convict per ship Margaret, was assigned out of the Female Factory at Parramatta on the previous Tuesday, to a man named GEORGE MERCHANT, whose wife conducts a laundry establishment at Miller’s point.

On the following Saturday RILEY complained of a cramp in the stomach, and requested to have a smoke of tobacco, which she said invariable relieved her from such an attack, with which she said she was frequently afflicted.

On Sunday afternoon she went out avowedly for the purpose of going to chapel, and returned in about two hours. After she had taken her tea, she went to lay down, and in a short time complained of a return of the cramp in her stomach. A small quantity of gin mixed with pepper was then given to her, thinking it might dispel the pain: but the remedy not appearing to operate, MRS MERCHANT went to Mr SURGEON NEILSON’s house, in George-street, to obtain for her a dose of castor oil. During her absence from home, the prisoner had got out of her bed, and set over a small tub, with her head reposing in the lap of a widow woman named ELIZA FRENCH, who asked her whether she was enceinte, which she denied to be the case.

Upon the return home of MRS MERCHANT, she found that RILEY had given birth to two infants in the presence of a widow woman, and MRS M. went again to SURGEON NEILSON, and apprised him of the circumstance, requesting his attendance; but he understanding that the applicant was a poor woman, and not in a condition to remunerate him for his professional services, referred her to the government doctor, as the most fit person to attend in such a case. MRS MERCHANT then caused the bodies to be buried where they were afterwards found. The affair coming to the knowledge of the police, and the bodies of the infants being found, MR and MRS MERCHANT were given into custody, and the inquest was in consequence convened.

Doctors ROBERTSON and HOSKING examined the bodies, and applied the usual test to discover whether the infants had been born alive, which they were of opininion [sic] was not the case; but they were also of opinion that the mother must have used some very active means to procure abortion. The Coroner observed that in the absence of any proofs to implicate the woman RILEY with such an act, and the fact being clearly established that the children were still born, the jury could only arrive at one verdict; but should any proof hereafter arise of what the medical gentleman had suspected was the cause of the premature birth, it could be taken cognisances of by the police.

Under these circumstances the jury returned a verdict of— Still Born. MR and MRS MERCHANT were discharged from custody, there appearing nothing whatever to criminate them in the transaction, the more especially as MRS MERCHANT had even endeavoured to procure the attendance of a professional gentleman; and the mere interment of still born children in other than consecrated ground, being not considered a sufficient to warrant their further detention.


See Original: “LOCAL NEWS,” The Australian (Sydney, NSW : 1824 – 1848), Friday 12 January 1838, p.2