For the background to this story, CLICK HERE.

Poisoning – ‘Of all felonies, murder is the most horrible, of all murders, poisoning the most detestable, and of all poisoning, that causing a lingering death the most  cruel.’   Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke, 1615

Jane Smith on trial for murder.
Jane Smith in the dock.


Australian born Jane Smith was charged with poisoning her admirer,  Patrick Conway, with strychnine  on board the S.S. Talune in  February 1901.  The ship had been  enroute from Wellington to Sydney. Following a  committal hearing she was sent to  trial, which opened  at Sydney’s  Darlinghurst Central Criminal Court on April 22.  She was defended by rising young barrister  Mr Sidney Mack.

Darlinghurst Courthouse Sydney
Darlinghurst Courthouse

One witness was  George Phillips, an old Sydney acquaintance of the accused.  He said he had known Mrs Smith before she married and moved to New Zealand. She was then Jane Hampton, a barmaid.  When she returned on the Talune she told him she had  moved back  because she had quarreled with her husband and that she intended finding a job. She asked him to lend her a few pounds to tide her over. She also pawned some valuables, but whether these had belonged to the murdered Conway was not established.

Despite their marital discord, a loyal Percy Smith sold up  in New Zealand and travelled to Sydney. He even paid for his errant wife’s  defence.

When summing up, Sidney Mack referred to a bravery medal the accused claimed to have received and  asked, ‘Would you hang a woman who had saved the life of a child?’  The medal turned out to be fake. And even though  Conway’s money and valuables had disappeared,  he contended there was no motive, because the dead man would clearly have given Mrs Smith anything she wanted.

The jury members were unable to reach a decision  and were discharged.


A second trial began on June 10 and lasted four days.  New Zealander Susan Harris, who had known the accused for five or six years, shed light on  Jane Smith’s opinion of Patrick Conway.  Late in 1900 the women were at a Dunedin  hotel when Conway approached.   Mrs Smith commented on his bow legs;

‘There he is, I hope he  doesn’t see me….You could wheel a barrow through his legs. He has the heart of a bullock, but he is only a fool.’   It seems she was playing the poor fellow like a fish.

By this time it had  also been proved that her story about rescuing a boy from drowning was a complete fabrication. She had ordered the bravery medal herself and had it engraved.

What to make of it all?  Yes, the accused was shown to be dishonest and a serial liar, but did that make her a cold-blooded killer?  Some of her peers who sat in judgement did not believe  she was.

The result of this  trial was exactly  the same as the first… conviction.  But did the prosecution give up? Certainly not!


A third trial began on June 18. I must say  the legal process moved a great deal  quicker in those days. The jury retired at 7 o’clock on the evening of Friday, June 24th. They were locked up for the night, but yet again could not reach a verdict and were discharged.  When they filed  into the court at 10a.m. next morning the following exchange took place beween the foreman and the judge;

His Honor: Is there any possibility of you agreeing?

Foreman: Not the slightest.

His Honor: Is there anything I can do in the matter, in the way of reading or explaining the evidence to enable you to come to an agreement?

Foreman: No; the jury is perfectly determined about the matter.

His Honor: Then you are discharged gentlemen.

And thus, after  the third attempt to convict her, Jane Smith walked free.

However, the future did not look bright. Returning to New Zealand was not an option as the small holding she and her husband were penniless. The only option was to remain in Sydney and find employment. She knew it would be difficult;

I suppose it will be very hard to get a start. Judging by the conversations I have heard in the trams, and some of the press remarks, there is a strong prejudice against me. When I was going out to Stanmore, after leaving the court, some women were talking about it, and agreed that I ought to be burnt alive, and, not knowing who I was, appealed to me for concurrence. I said something about the fearful strain of three trials, and got out into the street. That makes me think it will be hard to get a start.

Naturally those  multiple trials created enormous public interest. It was the making of  barrister Sidney Mack’s career.  The case was brought up when he died in1934.  A few facts were incorrect, but after all it was decades later.


Sidney Mack K.C.
Sidney Mack K.C. (left) photographed circa 1930

SYDNEY. Wednesday – Known as Sydney’s fiercest lawyer, who could be angry with both Crown Prosecutor and Judge, Mr Sidney Mack K.C., who died yesterday, had a rapid rise from obscurity at the Bar to leading criminal advocate.

No one had heard of him when nearly forty years ago he was given a brief to defend a woman passenger on the old Yallune [sic], plying between New Zealand and Sydney. On the voyage a ship’s officer [sic] died from poisoning and after a post mortem was held in Sydney the woman had to face a charge of murder which looked very difficult to escape.

Mack appeared for her and startled the legal world into a deep respect for this unknown barrister who could be such a vigorous fighter. The woman was acquitted and Mack’s name was made.


In  1905  Jane Smith was divorced by  her husband Percy.   He complained that after he was left penniless paying for her defence in the Conway murder she took  up with another man, Alick (sic) Baikie, telling him she was a widow. The divorce lawyer acting for Percy was  none other than Sidney Mack! Mack quipped that it was rather ungallant of him to be acting against Jane, considering  he had defended her in the murder trial.

Was this the end of the story? Unbelievably… wasn’t!  Jane wed Baikie  a year after  the divorce.  Before their marriage the couple had a little boy they called Alexander  Hampton (Jane’s maiden name) . Then, in 1908, Mrs Baikie was charged with the poisoning by arsenic of Alexander Brown, a middle aged widower who had been  boarding with them. She was the beneficiary of his will.

Alexander Brown, Jane Baikie was accused of is murder.
Alexander Brown,,,,another victim of poisoning

From the Coronial Inquest (Sydney Morning Herald May 29 1908);

He (the Coroner) found that Alexander Brown died from the effects of poison, administered by Jane Baikie, and that the said Jane Baikie did feloniously and maliciously murder the said Alexander Brown. He then committed Jane Baikie to take her trial on June 1, for  the murder of Alexander Brown.

Mrs Baikie stood up while the Coroner was speaking and did not seem at all affected by the result of the inquest. She said goodbye and thanked her solicitors without emotion.

Jane Smith, later  Baikie on trial for murder 1908


Once again Jane was defended at the trial by barrister Sidney Mack.  During her court appearances she  often wore a veil, and avoided all attempts by the press to photograph her. No doubt she feared being recognized as  Jane Smith, the woman who had stood in the same  dock on multiple occasions seven years earlier.  

Much was made of a huge, pink hatpin the accused wore during the trial;

She wore the same black brocade dress as on the previous day, with long lemon-coloured gloves, but she had her hat arranged differently, the pink-headed hatpin being inserted over her forehead under the hat….relief was given to the black dress by a silver-grey gossimer tied in a bow at the throat. (Daily Telegraph June 17 1908)

Jane Baikie (nee Smith) on trial.

And what was the verdict in this second  case? She was acquitted. 😨

I wonder if anyone else has been tried  a total of four times for  two murders by poisoning and walked free?

As with Percy Smith in 1901 Jane’s  husband stood  by  her. Unbelievable.

In 1917, Alexander Baikie died.  The following year Jane  married Ralph Dixon.

NOTE – There is one more odd twist in this saga.  Alexander Baikie’s first wife, Rachel,  had been shot dead by their lodger  (no, not Jane)  at Dulwich Hill in 1902.  The Killer, Charles Lukins, was sentenced to death, although this was later commuted to life imprisonment.

Jane died on January 23 1949. Her son married in 1926 and had a family of three daughters. He died in 1953, aged 49.  How much he knew of his mother’s bizarre history is unknown.

A book about Jane and her crimes called Buried in Doubt has been written by Glenda Northey from New Zealand. Here is a link to her Facebook Author Page.

  1. I really find this unbelievable! What a dreadful woman and how lucky was she?

    • Pauline

      Yes, the more I researched the more horrified I was!

  2. What a fascinating story! What an excellent lawyer she had!

  3. This is really unbelievable. I hope the son didn’t know about all of this. What a thing to have to live with had he known his mother had been accused of two murders. It’s hard to understand how three juries could not come to a decision.

    • Pauline

      The whole story is hard to believe, Diane. Yes, I thought he same about the son, especially as he lost his father so young.

  4. Ye gods – with a history like hers. how could anyone doubt that she was guilty? Coincidence only stretches so far!

    • Pauline

      It’s the strangest legal story I’ve ever heard, Ann. Would make a great Aussie TV drama.

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