Last woman sentenced to death

In 1905 Amelia Clara Linke was arrested on a charge of wilful murder of her one-year-old son at Spann’s paddock between Vernor’s Siding and Fernvale in Queensland. I told a version of this sad story live on West Bremer Radio.

Amelia was the daughter of a well-to-do selector in the Lowood district. Her sister was married to a man who would become well-known as the inventor of the first corn sheller and husker and the owner of the first motor car in the district.

Amelia Linke

Amelia was twenty-years-old when her son was born. He was named Lennie Hyde Linke and was the illegitimate offspring of an Ipswich commercial traveller.

After her son Lennie was born in 1904, Amelia worked as a domestic servant for the former mayor of Ipswich Thomas Baines. Amelia boarded Lennie with a spinster in North Ipswich and paid her seven shillings a week to look after him.

On the morning of Tuesday the 12th of September 1905, the woman brought Lennie to the Ipswich train station because Amelia had said she wanted to take him to board somewhere else. The three of them went and had the Lennie’s photograph taken, and then returned to the station.

Lennie’s photograph taken on the morning of the 12th of September 1905

But before handing Lennie over, the woman asked Amelia who the father was. Amelia said it was Lennie Hyde Symes.

Symes was the son of a well-known publicist, journalist, and elocutionist, and had married another woman just months before young Lennie was born. In fact, the Symes’s wife had only recently given birth to their first son.

Amelia and young Lennie boarded the train to Esk.

Amelia got off the train at Vernor’s Siding, went through the fence into Spann’s paddock, and after walking for some time she smothered the baby and put it in a hollow iron-bark log.

She stayed all night sitting by the log in the paddock. At sunrise, she walked back to Vernor’s Siding and Fernvale where she retrieved a small tin box that contained a note that was meant to be read had she ended her own life. The note poignantly began, ”Tonight the dead years roll on and the pleasure and pain pass over my heart.” Amelia took the train back to Ipswich.

A month later, the owner of the paddock George Spann was looking for a horse, and a boy who was with him instead found baby’s clothes that were the same as in the photograph, and pieces of skull and bones.

Amelia was committed to stand trial at the Supreme Court in Brisbane, but at the request of her solicitor it was relocated to the Circuit Court in Ipswich.

Ipswich Courthouse

While Amelia was an inmate of Brisbane Gaol awaiting trial, a rumour spread that she had given birth to another child. But this was fake news and the newspaper printed a retraction.

Amelia was found guilty of wilful murder and the mandatory sentence was pronounced by the judge. “The sentence is that you be taken hence to the custody from whence you came, and at such time and such place as the Governor-in-Council shall direct, you be hanged by the neck till you are dead. May the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

Amelia was sentenced to death. There was, however, some public sympathy for her.

Amelia’s mother was considered by the family – in the words of the day – as a “bit queer”.  Amelia’s younger brother was said to be of “weak intellect”. Her father was also considered “very queer”. He believed in witches and wore a whip around his neck to keep the spirits away. He accused Amelia of putting lice in his bed and told his children never to visit him or he would burn the house down.

Then there was evidence from Amelia’s older brother, the former Ipswich mayor, the head teacher of the Lowood State School, and the controversial Dr William Von Lossberg whose previous high profile cases included the 1871 St Mary’s tragedy and the 1898 Gatton murders. They all testified that Amelia was a girl of very low intellect.

The Deputy Governor and chief justice of Queensland Sir Pope Alexander Cooper, acting for and on behalf of the Governor, was left with little choice and commuted Amelia’s death sentence to three years’ imprisonment with hard labour.

Years later Amelia had another son. She lived a long life and passed away in 1959 aged seventy-five while living with him in Townsville.

Never again was a woman sentenced to death in Ipswich.

The last hanging in Queensland occurred in 1913, and the practice was outlawed in 1922 making the state the first in Australia to abolish the practice.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A VERSION OF THIS STORY TOLD LIVE ON RADIO

Photo credits:
Beam that held hangman s noose Boggo Road, Sir Harry Gibbs Legal Heritage Centre – Supreme Court Library
Amelia Linke – Truth Brisbane, 15th April 1906, page 5
Lenny Hyde Linke 9 months old – Truth Brisbane, 15th October 1905, page 5
Ipswich Courthouse c1860 – State Library of Queensland

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