When Josephine Roustan gave birth to a daughter in May 1881, her father 'reproached' her for bringing shame upon her family. Aged just 20, Josephine was unmarried - a terrible breach of the strict morals of the Victorian times, and cause for ostracism.
Her father insisted Josephine starve the child (he later denied this in court), the likelihood of a criminal charge of 'failing to let a child thrive' deemed more acceptable than its ongoing existence.
The pressure on Josephine was too great. She left her home in Gordon and sought out a mining water race, hoping to end her and the six-day-old baby's sorrows.
Plunging into three feet of freezing water, she drowned her daughter while attempting to drown herself, but was unable to hold herself under for long enough. Instead she returned home, took off her soaked garments and waited to be discovered, shivering and distraught.
Now Sara Cartwright, a Masters student in History at La Trobe's Shepparton campus, is hoping to discover the descendants of Josephine Roustan, and uncover the history of infanticide on the Ballarat goldfields.
Ms Cartwright has three children and teaches English, Humanities and Religion at St Mary of the Angels in Nathalia.
These women were victims just as much as villainsSara Cartwright
She says after a decade of research, she is still emotionally affected by stories of 19th Century women charged with murdering their children, and the continuing stigma surrounding illegitimacy and postnatal depression.
"As a mother, I couldn't understand what a mother would have to be going through to get to that point where she felt like that was her only choice," Ms Cartwright says.
"You hear about people like Kathleen Folbigg and others who have committed infanticide in current times, and you see how they're treated by the media. We form pretty negative opinions of those people.
"But reading those historical cases, and looking at it, and doing research around why these things happened... back then, illegitimacy was such a negative thing."
Ms Cartwright said three years after this case, a newspaper reported that while Josephine's first illegitimate child had died, her second illegitimate child had also died under suspicious circumstances.
"The media made sure to mention the children were both illegitimate, which supports the argument that women with illegitimate children were treated poorly by the media," Ms Cartwright says.
"That's why this research is so important. Awareness is key, and finding out why women still, to this day, have to put up with the judgement of others around being a single mother, and preventing some of that anxiety that they might feel because of it, is really important to me."
Ms Cartwright said she faced negative judgement in 2003 when she told her grandmother she was pregnant.
"Her immediate reaction was one of distaste, and she asked me, 'Well, are you married?' If my grandmother, who was born in the early 1900s, could have been brought up with this attitude towards unmarried mothers, then I hesitate to think how her mother would have reacted. These attitudes still exist."
Josephine Roustan's father recovered the drowned child from the water race with a rake, and according to a Courier report of the time, Josephine was taken into custody by police.
A jury at the coroner's inquest committed her for trial on a charge of 'wilful murder', but she was acquitted of the crime at the Geelong Assizes, her defence saying she suffered "puerperal mania" or insanity caused by childbirth. Josephine's mother attempted suicide in the same body of water soon after, but was discovered by a neighbour.
"These women were victims just as much as villains," Ms Cartwright says.
"They had no support and had to face unwanted pregnancy alone. Abortions weren't safe, or affordable for working-class women, and the stigma was too much to bear for many."
Children born 'out of wedlock' or 'on the wrong side of the blanket', to use two common phrases, were a source of both gossip and disgrace, and there were at least two other cases reported in Ballarat in 1881.
Grace Ann Buckingham was jailed for two months for the murder of her illegitimate child after she gave birth and buried her baby in the garden. She was reported to the police by a neighbour who had noticed that she was looking "a lot thinner" only a few days after she had last seen her, and reported her as having been confined. When she was examined by a doctor she was found to have breast milk, and was accused of having a child which could not be found.
Elizabeth (Emily) Chin Newey was a domestic servant for a Chinese family in the Chinese Camp at Ballarat. Her parents also lived in the camp and her father, suspecting her condition, had threatened to kill her if she was "confined". Elizabeth gave birth and threw the baby in the Llanberris dam where its body was discovered by passers-by. Elizabeth was sentenced to four months' imprisonment for her crime.
Ms Cartwright said the role of 'baby farmers', or people willing to take unwanted children and give them a new home also needs to be explored.
"At first glance, you think, 'okay, they were adopting their child out to these people to raise the baby and find it a home," she says.
"Certainly you think these people might be compassionate about it, but they're being paid to take this baby. And when you dig deeper, you find the baby farmers have the highest death rate, they weren't looking after the baby. So they were taking the payment, and that was it, the baby got neglected and it died."
Ms Cartwright hopes her research will not only shed light on the difficulties faced by women in the past, but also help to fight continuing negative attitudes.
Sara can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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