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Jane Ann Benson, or Jeannie as her family and friends called her, was born in Sydney in 1880 to William and Janet Benson. She was the eldest of ten children. Her father was an engineer and the family had just moved to Forster by 1898. The records shown below document Jeannie's relationship with Thomas Breckenridge, their engagement and subsequent falling out. Jeannie appears like any other eighteen year old in love - a little bit naive about how the world works and infatuated with an older man. The abortion and breakup was further soured by the court trial in 1899 and goal sentences for Thomas and his sister, Mary. In 1902 Jeannie married Hugh Marsh, a marine engineer, in Sydney. They had seven children and one hopes a happy life together. Jeannie died in Petersham, Sydney in 1939 aged 58. Note: Many of the following images are from the exhibits used in the trial. In most cases the Exhibit numbering from the front of the exhibit has been used to idenitify each record as this correlates to a typed exhibit list at the start of the trial papers.
Jane Ann Benson Signature
Promise of marriage between Tom & Jeannie, January 1899
Exhibit C is a promissory note of marriage between Thomas Breckenridge and Jeannie Benson. According to Jeannie's testimony, they became engaged in October 1898 but this note is dated January 1899. Thomas signed the promissory note then after being berated by William Benson as to his intentions in regards to Jeannie. Although they were engaged, Thomas claimed he could not marry Jeannie for at least six months, therefore the abortion was necessary. It is hard to say whether the proposal was genuine or a means of getting Jeannie to do what Thomas wanted, especially in the light of the break down of the relationship in February and March 1899. From NRS 880 [9/6975 Case #8, Exhibit C]
End of engagement, February 1899
Exhibit G is a note signed by Jeannie breaking off her engagement to Thomas. It is dated 24 February 1899. Thomas had asked Jeannie to write and sign this note before officially cancelling the engagement on 2 March 1899 to avoid being sued for breach of promise by Jeannie's father. William Benson was so enraged by Thomas and Mary's treatment of his daughter he went to the Police anyway, to pursue charges over the illegal abortion. From NRS 880 [9/6975 Case #8, Exhibit C]
Letter from Jeannie to Tom, March 1899
This letter, from Jeannie to Tom, is dated 3 March 1899, one day after the engagement was called off. Jeannie is clearly still in love with Tom and wants to protect him from the backlash about the broken engagement. William Benson had run-ins with both Tom and Mary, including a physical fight with Tom on one occasion. There were a number of rumours circulating about Jeannie, including that she had kept or stolen some money that Tom had given her to pay Annie Turnbull and that the abortion was not the first one she had undergone. There seems to have been a concerted effort by Mary and Tom to damage Jeannie's reputation, maybe so that Tom had a good reason to call off the engagement. From NRS 880 [9/6975 Case #8, Exhibit A]
Letter from Jeannie to Tom, 1899
This undated letter is addressed to Mr Breckenridge (Tom) from Jeannie. The relationship between the Breckenridge and the Benson families was about to reach an all time low. Although it appears that Tom encouraged Jeannie to say nothing about the abortion, his libel suit against her father appears to have severed any loyalty Jeannie felt towards Tom. Jeannie accused Tom of not "acting a man's part-at-all" and carrying out "the meanest actions". The details of the libel suit are not revealed in the trial papers. This letter may date from around the time William Benson took his complaint against Tom to the Police. From NRS 880 [9/6975 Case #8, Exhibit H]
Letter continued, 1899
This is the inside of the letter shown previously. From NRS 880 [9/6975 Case #8, Exhibit H]
Jane's pre-trial statement, March 1899
This is the first of four pages of what appears to be pre-trial verbal evidence of Jane Ann Benson. The statement was made before Constable James Rogers and William Benson. In the statement, Jeannie provides a basic outline of her relationship with Thomas, why the abortion occcured and the breakdown of the engagement. The statement is very similiar to the more detailed evidence Jeannie gives in the trial. Tom and Jeannie had been "keeping company" for about six months before Jeannie realised she was pregnant. Tom arranged for her to go to Sydney to see a doctor to confirm the pregnancy as there was no doctor in Forster. Tom also agreed to follow her down to Sydney and talk to Jeannie's father about becoming engaged. From NRS 880 [9/6975, Case #8]
Jane's pre-trial statement continued, March 1899
This section is from the second of four pages of evidence given in a statement by Jane Ann Benson. Jeannie arrived in Newcastle on 11 November 1898 and was met by Mary Breckenridge who had arranged the abortion. They went to Annie McCarthy's boarding house in Newcomen Street. Mrs Turnbull performed the abortion procedure over several days. Both Mary and Jeannie stayed at the boarding house for a week before returning to Sydney. Jeannie appears to have taken a long time to recover from the abortion. In evidence provided by Jeannie's mother, Janet Benson, Jeannie was pale and listless on her return from Sydney at the end of November. Jeannie was not well enough to do her share of work around the house and would spend her days just sewing. From NRS 880 [9/6975 Case #8]
Jeannie's court testimony, June 1899
This is a section of evidence given by Jane Ann Benson at the trial. Thomas, under pressure from William Benson, re-confirmed his commitment to marry Jeannie in January 1899. By February though, the breakdown in the relationship between Thomas and Jeannie, and the two families, was well underway. Thomas used what he claimed Annie Turnbull had told him about Jeannie having undergone an abortion previously against her. Jeannie denied the claim but rumours of that sort could do a lot of damage to a person's reputation in small towns. It added to the feeling of ill will occuring over the allegations of theft against Jeannie. From NRS 880 [9/6975 Case #8, p.27]
William Benson's court testimony, June 1899
This is just one part of the evidence given by Jeannie's father, William Benson, at the trial. It is William's evidence that best demonstrates the breakdown in the relationship between the two families. William had confrontations with both Mary and Thomas in which abusive language and physical violence were used before going to the Police to lay charges against the pair. On page 11 of the testimony William recalls saying to Mary that he wished "to god that you [Mary] had killed my child [Jeannie] between you and I'd have had the pleasure of seeing you and Mrs Turnbull and your Brother hung for it". It goes to show how high the tempers and feelings must have been running. In this evidence a contrite Thomas is heard to say "It's terrible what a man will do to hide shame". NRS 880 [9/6975, Case #8, p.12]
Telegram from Mary Breckenridge to Annie Turnbull, November 1898
Mary Breckenridge was found guilty of being an accessory to procuring an abortion. In the trial exhibits there are a large number of telegrams, like this one, that documented the actions of Mary and her brother Thomas. It is difficult to speculate on the level of collusion between the two. They may have planned out together what course of action to take or Mary may have acted on Thomas' instructions. What can be said for certain is that Mary found out the name and address of Annie Turnbull and travelled to Newcastle to organise the abortion. On 11 November 1898 Mary persuaded Jeannie to write a letter to Tom saying everything was alright and that the doctor had confirmed that there was nothing wrong with her (see Exhibit E), perhaps as an attempt to cover their tracks. This telegram was one of several signed by Mary Bertie and addressed to Mrs W Turnbull (Annie) arranging the abortion. Evidence from the staff at the Telegram Office confirmed it was Mary Breckenridge who sent the wires. From NRS 880 [9/6975, Case #8 Exhibit Y]
Gaol photo of Thomas Breckenridge
Thomas Breckenridge was found guilty of being an accessory to procuring an abortion. The Chief Justice at his trial said "In your case you have not been recommended to mercy, and very properly so, as there is no mitigating circumstances. I am afraid you have studied yourself. The young girl who is the prosecutrix in this case has had her life blasted".(1) He served out his sentence at Darlinghurst Gaol (until 22 June 1899) and then Goulburn Gaol until he was released on 9 November 1901 by remission. Thomas and Mary came from a well-known family in the Forster area. His father, John Wyllie Breckenridge, established a saw mill and store in Forster in 1871. It was a family business as can be seen by both Thomas and Mary listing storekeeper as their occupation on the photo description sheets. One can only speculate what effect the trial and gaol time had on the family. Both Mary and Thomas seem to have gone to Western Australia following their release from goal. Thomas married Letitia Cross in Perth in 1902. They do not seem to have had any children. When Thomas' mother died in 1926 he was working as a strawberry farmer at Wellington Point, near Brisbane in Queensland and had read about the will in the Sydney Morning Herald. This could mean he was not in regular contact with his Forster relations. He states in the letter that he was "not financially able" at that point in time. Thomas died in Queensland in 1951. From NRS 2138 [3/6064, #7750]. (1) Sydney Morning Herald, 10 June 1899
Gaol photo of Mary Breckenridge
Mary Breckenridge was sentenced to six months light labour. She served her time at Darlinghurst Gaol and was released by special remission on 26 October 1899. As with her brother, Thomas, it seems this experience may have had far reaching effects on her life. Mary went to Western Australia on her release from gaol and married William Richard Burnside in Perth in 1902. She had a daughter, Lilian, in 1904 back in Sydney. In her mother Maria's will, Mary was not left any money or land as are the other surviving siblings but she was to receive Maria's pictures, albums and Bible "if she ever comes to live in this country". Mary and William lived in South Africa for some time before returning to Western Australia. From NRS 2138 [3/6064, #7748]
Benson (small)