Minnie Dean - child killer - only woman ever hanged in New Zealand...
First published at Qondio:
Williamina "Minnie” Dean - 1847 - 1895.
Minnie Dean has the distinctly dubious honour of being the only woman to be legally hanged in New Zealand.
She was reportedly born in 1847, being christened Williamina Dean in Edinburgh, Scotland. She married and had two daughters, whose fate is unknown. In 1868 she emigrated to New Zealand, living in Southland with an old woman named Granny Kelly. In 1872, she married Charles Dean, an old Southland settler, and in 1886 they moved to a 22-acre estate in East Winton, known as The Larches.
The Deans made their home in Winton:
Winton is situated 19 miles from Invercargill city on the railway line that then ran from the Southland capital to Kingston. A fire destroyed their home when they first moved in and they were then forced to live in a small twenty-two feet by twelve feet dwelling, which was either already built or built for them.
Minnie Dean sets up her baby farming business:
Minnie Dean set up a baby-farming business, advertising children for adoption. This type of business was popular with lower income women in New Zealand and other parts of the then British Empire. The babies she took into care were illegitimate children brought from their mothers, provided few questions were asked. In October 1889, Minne Irene Dean, came to the attention of the authorities after a six-month-old baby died three days after being taken ill while in her care but the death certificate showed natural causes due to convulsions. Two years later, in May 1891, a six week old baby died, again in Dean's care. An inquest was held but it found that death was from natural causes.
Minnie Dean began to get secretive:
Dean reportedly became more secretive with her dealings and began advertising using false names. In May 1895, a railway guard reported he had seen a woman board the train with a baby but disembark without it. This happened within the train range of East Winton and police began their enquiries. This led police to a Mrs Hornsby who resided in Dunedin. She told police she had handed over her one-month-old grand-daughter with money to Dean at Milburn, four miles north of Milton. Police then brought Mrs Hornsby to The Larches, Dean's residence. While there she recognised not only Dean but a piece of baby's clothing belonging to her grand-daughter.
Dean was arrested:
Dean was arrested and sent to Dunedin to await trial. Police searched the flowerbeds on the Deans property and found two babies bodies buried. Charles Dean was also arrested and the six children in their care were taken away by police. The two bodies were identified as Eva Hornsby (Mrs Hornsby's grand-daughter) and Dorothy Edith Carter (handed over to Minnie by her grandmother. On August 12, 1895, Minnie Dean, at Invercargill prison , was marched to the gallows. Her final words were "No, I have nothing to say, except that I am innocent". She was then hanged and as they often say, met her maker.
The search continued:
The search continued after Minnie Deans's execution, and another baby's body was found. Dean had been charged with the murder of two infants. After further examination of the case, the charges against her husband Charles Dean were dropped. The police theory was that she had taken the Carter infant on the train from Winton and changed trains to get to Lumsden. During the trip to Lumsden she had allegedly killed the child and concealed it's body in a hat box she was carrying. Staying overnight in Lumsden, she boarded the Waimea Plains train to Gore, where she then boarded the Dunedin Express. At Milburn, she met Mrs Hornsby, leaving the hatbox and it's contents in a waiting room. She was accompanied by Mrs Hornsby on another train to Clarendon, the next station on the way to Dunedin. She alighted with Eva Hornsby in her arms and waved goodbye to Mrs Hornsby who continued on to Dunedin. It is here, where Eva Hornsby was smothered. Dean wrapped her body into a parcel and boarded the train back to Clinton. On the way she picked up the hatbox from Milburn. Now carrying two dead babies, she went back to Winton.
The case was heard:
Witnesses began to deliver their testimony. The jury heard: Oilcloth which was found wrapped around Dorothy Edith Carter's body came from the Dean's home. The railway guard who saw Dean get on the train with the hatbox and baby and leave carrying a hatbox only; this was probably a defining part of the evidence. A friend who lived with the Deans for fourteen years identified Minnie's handwriting as the signature 'M.Gray' in the Bluff poison register. Dean claimed she had carried flower bulbs in the hatbox - but the woman who Dean said she had got them off said she had only given her flower cuttings. The clothing found in Dean's possession was identified as that of Dorothy Edith Carter. Several bottles of laudanum and chlorodyne were found in Dean's bedroom. Even though Dean was identified by both grandmothers as the woman they gave their grand-daughters to, she denied it, but finally admitting it under duress and with the evidence of the clothes.
The verdict was 'guilty of the murder' of Dorothy Edith Carter. The sentence - death by hanging!
She had now moved into New Zealand's criminal history as being the only woman executed there
The 'Winton baby-farmer'
In 1895 Southland's Williamina (Minnie) Dean became the first – and only – woman to be hanged in New Zealand. Her story exposed the stark realities of paid childcare (called baby farming by some people) and the lack of choice that many women faced in this period, the late nineteenth century. It was also a period of economic depression in New Zealand, and perhaps elsewhere in the British Empire. Minnie Dean's name has become historically synonymous with child killing. Songs were written and sung by children about Minnie Deans' evil deeds.
Acknowledgements: Peter Petterson