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The Quality of Mercy: Irish Women & Infanticide in Colonial Australia

by Familia Ulster Genealogical Review: No. 17, 2001


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by Trevor McClaughlin

"Irish women and infanticide in colonial times is a fascinating, gruesome, tragic and emotional subject. It is one which spills over into many different areas: the history of criminology and medical jurisprudence, demography, ethics and religion, literary history, women's history and, in particular, Irish women's place in Australian social history.

There is such an enticing variety of questions to pursue and hypotheses to test. What motivated women, especially Irish women, to kill their own child? Were Irish women simply more likely to be caught because of their 'country Irish ways' and their 'innocence abroad'? And, crucially, were they treated leniently by the courts?"

This article examines cases of infanticide in colonial Australia, and looks at how those cases were treated by judges and juries.

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