Infanticide at the Perth Flying Squadron
Just after 8am on 4 October 1900 Henry White, clerk of works to the Perth Flying Squadron, retrieved a brown paper parcel he saw floating under the Flying Squadron’s jetty off the Esplanade, directly in front of the Museum of Perth.
Suspecting it was not just a parcel, he drew the attention of Constable Rewell, of the Water Police, as he passed by on his regular patrol of the Swan River.
Rewell saw it was neatly bound with marline, or two-ply marine rope, expertly tied in knots typical to yachting. There was a bowline attached, which had evidently held a stone which would have weighed the package down. The stone had fallen loose, causing the package to rise to the surface.
Rewell conveyed the package to the mortuary where it was unwrapped to reveal the well-nourished body of a newborn baby boy.
“...the infant, after having had a separate existence from its mother, had been killed by the force of two blows on the head. The body was wrapped in a parcel and thrown into the river, apparently with a stone attached, so as to prevent its discovery.”
The Daily News, 23 October 1900
Dr James Thompson, resident medical officer at the Perth Public Hospital, conducted a post mortem, the result of which were presented at inquest on 12 October.
“His conclusion was that the child was born alive, and that the cause of death was fracture of the bones of the skull. There was a large quantity of effused blood beneath the skull, and the brain was almost in a liquid condition. He had no doubt whatever that the skull was fractured before death. There was a blow on each side of the skull, probably inflicted by some heavy instrument, and by no means the result of a fall.”
The Daily News, 12 October 1900
William Rewell then testified the person who bludgeoned the little boy and ended his short life would have been “a person with a knowledge of sailoring who would make such a knot; while the marline would only be kept by someone connected with boating, or by a sail-maker.”
The inquest determined the little boy died as a result of wilful murder.
While the murderer quite possibly belonged to, or was a staff member of the Perth Flying Squadron, neither he, nor the little boy were ever identified.
Infanticide was common in Perth at the time; the Swan River a common disposal site. Nine days after this little boy was found, another baby was unearthed on the banks of the river at North Fremantle. Three to four months old, it had been there for some time and it was beyond determining whether it was a boy or a girl