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
FOR THE FIRST PART OF THIS STORY, CLICK HERE
Australian born Jane Smith was charged with poisoning 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 young barrister Mr Sidney Mack.
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 dead 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, the defence 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?’ 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…..no 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. She remained in Sydney and found a position as a nurse.
Naturally the 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 it was decades later.
DEATH OF SYDNEY MACK, K.C.
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.
DIVORCE – AND ANOTHER DEATH
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 Baikie, telling him she was a widow. The divorce lawyer who handled the matter 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…..it 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.
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.
Once again she was defended at the trial by barrister Sidney Mack. During her court appearances she wore a heavy 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. 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.
In 1917, Alexander Baikie died. It is believed that Jane remarried.
NOTE – There is one more odd twist in this saga. Alexander Baikie’s first wife, Rachel, was 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’s son married and had a family of three daughters. He died in 1953, aged 49. How much he knew of his mother’s history is unknown.