8 September 2017 – 28 April 2018
Annie Belinda Turnbull must have reached a certain notoriety in both Newcastle and Sydney where she lived from the 1890s through to the 1920s: she regularly appeared in court for abortion related crimes and was eventually convicted and served multiple gaol sentences. She was most certainly well known to the police wherever she set up her private hospital premises. Today, we can look at court transcripts and gaol records, including several photos of Annie, to gain an insight into her life.
Annie Belinda Bain was born in 1866 in the Newcastle district. Her parents were William Bain and his wife Ann (nee Bull). In 1885 she married Walter Henry Bright at Wallsend, Newcastle but the marriage was short and marred by tragedy. Annie had a daughter Florence in 1887 and in the following year twin boys, Keneth and Sydney were born. Tragically, the twins died on the same day as they were born and this loss was closely followed by the death of Florence in the same year.
No record could be located of the death of Walter or a divorce occurring but in 1891 Annie married William Turnbull, a widower, in Newcastle. It is likely that the children mentioned in various court papers and police reports were from William's first marriage. Annie died in 1928 at the Coast Hospital, Sydney, aged in her early sixties.
It is not known when Annie started providing abortion services to women or what sort or training, if any, she undertook. For many years to come Annie's business supported her family with an income they could depend on. There were always women in trouble needing to visit their "friend" Annie and as long as there were no fatalities, Annie remained under the police radar.
Annie's luck ran out in January 1895 when Mary Bryant, a single woman aged 20, died from septicaemia (blood poisoning) following an abortion allegedly performed by Annie. Although the inquest returned a verdict of manslaughter the NSW Attorney General changed the charge to murder. Annie stood trial in April of that year at the Maitland Circuit Court. She gave written statements and verbal evidence during the trial, something that is not usually found in later court cases.
Annie denied taking part in any abortion Mary may have had and even claimed in her own testimony she was "not a competent midwife or nurse" (p.65). Annie portrayed herself as having been dragged into Mary's illness due to local knowledge that she sometimes acted as a midwife and nurse. She was described in the court papers variously as a dressmaker, nurse and midwife. After 35 minutes the jury returned a not guilty verdict as most of the evidence was based on hearsay and the dying statement of Mary herself. This was a common problem for police trying to prosecute abortion related deaths - the lack of evidence saved Annie from many more trials in future years.
What is unusual in the case papers is a petition signed by over 380 residents of Newcastle and Adamstown requesting that Mary Ann Turnbull be released from Maitland Gaol on bail to await her trial in two months time. The petition was presented to the Attorney General by Alfred Edden, Member of Parliament for Kahibah in Newcastle where Annie lived. The signatures in the petition include those of John Sheedy, the Mayor of Adamstown and six aldermen from Adamstown and New Lambton. It appears that Annie and her husband William were well liked. However she was not granted bail because she had not applied to a Judge in Chambers (see note in margin on the Solicitor's letter). From NRS 880 [9/6909] Case #2.
The year 1899 was not good for Annie Turnbull. On 6 April at the Maitland Circuit Court, Annie was found guilty of using an instrument for an illegal purpose on Margaret Jane McRae (no papers have survived) and sentenced to a seven years in Maitland Gaol. In June she was transferred to Darlinghurst Gaol to stand trial in Sydney on the same charge in a separate case, which became known as "the Breckenridge malpractice case" in the newspapers of the day.
When the Police raided Annie's home they found a lerge amount of physical evidence that helped to convict her. In Court thirteen letter that were presented as evidence that Annie was conducting a business as an abortionist (Exhibit envelope B2). All the letters are in a similiar friendly tone, as if writing to an old friend or acquaintance. Some of the women had been to visit Annie previously for abortions. The need for secrecy is also evident. It is surprising then that Annie had kept these letters, some of which were over a year old. Other evidence included a floor plan of the boarding house and shop run by Annie McCarthy in Newcomen Street, Newcastle (Exhibit B1-Y). Jane Benson and Mary Breckenridge stayed upstairs in the Garret room and were joined by another woman, who provided eye witness testimony of her own abortion and that of Jane.
Annie was found guilty, again, and sentenced to another seven years, to be served concurrently with the first sentence. For more background on this case see the Jane Ann Benson Gallery page.
Annie Turnbull makes a number of appearances in various gaol records. This photo was taken at Darlinghurst Gaol in 1899, when Annie was about 35 years old. This was her second custodial sentence. Annie also appears in the Maitland Gaol records in 1906, 1907 and 1914. At one point, there is also a reference to her husband, William Turnbull but this could not be corroborated in the Maitland Gaol Entrance books. Annie served out her time at Bathurst Gaol and was released on licence after four years on 1 June 1903. (Note: Ct.Ct. stands for Circuit Court; G.D. stands for Gaol Delivery).From NRS 2327 [3/5987 photo #1112]
It appears that Annie went back to her former life after her release from gaol. She continued to appear in the Newcastle police court on charges of performing illegal operations from 1906 onwards and by about 1914 had moved to Sydney. For the next nine years Annie, now variously know as Belinda Turnbull, Mrs Bright and Nurse Bright, faced court continuously on charges of operating an unlicensed hospital and breaching the Private Hospitals Act (fined £50 each time). There were also numerous charges of using an instrument with the intent to procure a certain event, including Dorothy Scott in 1914, Edith Waller in 1917 and Mildred Aylmer in 1918. Annie escaped further gaol time though due to a lack of direct evidence.
Annie stood trial for the murder of Alice Berry at the Central Criminal Court on 14 May 1920. Alice, a widow with three young children already, travelled to Sydney from Queanbeyan to have an abortion. She returned home and collapsed, dying of blood poisoning soon after. In her dying statement Alice mentioned overlooking a racecourse from her room at Annie's place, called Kia Ora. Part of the evidence against Annie in this trial was the eye witness testimony of two women, including Charlotte Bryant, who had abortions at similiar times to the deceased but there was no eye witness testimony of Alice's abortion or anyone to confirm she had visited Annie.
Annie was found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter even though the jury could not agree and received a five year sentence. This conviction was set aside on appeal and a new trial was held on 1 October 1920. This time Annie was found not guilty.
This second gaol photo, taken at Darlinghurst in 1920, shows a hardened and almost weary Annie. She was now in her late 50s and had been in the business of providing abortions for over 25 years. After Annie's retrial found her not guilty she was released from gaol and back to her business. In December 1920, in a court case for operating an unlicensed hospital, the Crown prosecutor described Annie as "one of the worst, if not the worst woman in Sydney". (Northern Star, 16 Dec 1920, p.6) There was another trial in November 1923 (no papers have survived) in which Annie was acquitted and then she disappears from public record. She may have retired to live off her ill-gotten earnings (by 1920 Annie was charging £10 per abortion). Annie died in 1928, aged in her early 60s. (Note: C.C. stands for Criminal Court; P.C. stands for Police Court).
Dorothy Daulby's case echoes the plight of many women over the years: she died from blood poisoning following an abortion. Dorothy went on a short holiday to Wentworth Falls between leaving the employ of Mrs Simpson and starting a new position. She left Wentworth Falls on 12th May 1921 and was then seen by Dr Maher on 18th May after the abortion had taken place. Dr Maher transferred Dorothy to Omrah private hospital where she died on 29th May. Dorothy was buried before her friends and family knew she was missing, let alone dead. The burial may have been arranged by an associate of Annie in an attempt to bury any evidence of her role in the abortion The testimony of Inspector Mitchell shows Annie Turnbull in a very unflattering light. While the Police held Annie responsible for Dorothy's death, they could find no evidence to proceed with a case against her. The Police also believed Annie acted in league with 'Miss Hall', who attended Dorothy in the hospital, paid the hospital bill and quickly made funeral arrangements. Miss Hall could not be traced.
State archives consulted
The table below is a list of records that have been consulted in the creation of this webpage. Copies of some of the records can be found in the images above but many of the references can be used for further research.
|NRS 10958* [1/3230]||Reel 3141||Annie Turnbull||1 April 1895||Murder, Maitland Circuit Court||Acquitted|
|NRS 880 [9/6909]||Not copied||Annie Turnbull||1895||Supreme Court, Case #2||-|
|NRS 10958 [1/3234]||Reel 3143||Annie Turnbull||6 April 1899||Unlawfully using an instrument, Maitland Circuit Court||Guilty, sentence of seven years. Accused is identical with AT 1895|
|NRS 2322 [5/778]||Reel 2375||Annie Turnbull||5 April - 9 June 1899||Maitland Gaol, Entrance Book||Entry #234|
|NRS 880 [9/6975]||Not copied||Annie Turnbull||1899||Supreme Court, Case #8||Guilty, seven year sentence|
|NRS 2327 [3/5987]||Not copied||Annie Turnbull||1899||Maitland Gaol, Photograph description book||Photo # 478|
|NRS 10958 [1/3234]||Reel 3143||Annie Turnbull||9 June 1899||Unlawfully using an instrument, CCC Sydney||Seven years to be served concurrently with above sentence|
|NRS 2137 [5/1950]||Reel 2358||Annie Turnbull||25 May - 26 June 1899||Darlinghurst Gaol, Entrance Book||Entry #2389|
|NRS 1996 [19/9826]||Not copied||Annie Turnbull||26 June 1899 - 1 June 1903||Bathurst Gaol, Entrance Book||Entry #205|
|NRS 10958 [1/3238]||Reel 3595||Annie Turnbull||1 June 1903||Discharged on license from Bathurst Gaol||-|
|NRS 10958 [1/3241]||Reel 3596||Annie Belinda Turnbull||24 Oct 1906||Unlawfully using an instrument, Newcastle QS||Acquitted. Accused is indentical with discharged prisoner 1903|
|NRS 2322 [5/780]||Not copied||Annie Belinda Turnbull||24 Nov 1906||Maitland Gaol, Entrance Book||Entry #587|
|NRS 10958 [1/3242]||Reel 3596||Annie Turnbull||Nov 1907||Unlawfully using an instrument, Newcastle QS||Acquitted. Accused is identical with 1906 prisoner|
|NRS 10958 [1/3249]||Reel 3598||Annie Belinda Turnbull||18 July 1914||Murder, Att Gen declined to file bill||Accused is identical with AT 1903|
|NRS 2322 [5/780]||Not copied||Annie Belinda Turnbull||1914||Maitland Gaol, Entrance Book||Entry #700|
|NRS 10958 [1/3251]||Reel 3599||Annie Turnbull||Jan 1916||Reward for information||140 Glenmore Rd, Paddington Sydney|
|NRS 10958 [1/3252]||Reel 3599||Annie Belinda Turnbull/Bright||26 Nov 1917||Arrested for murder, CCC Sydney||Acquitted. Accused is identical with 1914 AT|
|NRS 10958 [1/3253]||Reel 3599||Annie Belinda Turnbull/Mary Bright||Apr 1918||Murder, Att Gen declined to file bill||-|
|NRS 10958 [1/3253]||Reel 3599||Annie Belinda Turnbull||1918||Charged with conducting a premises as a private hospital without authority, Central Police Branch, Sydney||-|
|NRS 2491 [5/2263]||Not copied||Annie Belinda Turnbull/Bright||11 Nov - 24 Nov 1919||State Reformatory for Women, Entrance Book||Entry #1002, p.101|
NRS 2491 [5/2263]
|Not copied||Annie Belinda Turnbull/Bright||24 Nov 1919||State Reformatory for Women, Entrance Book||Entry #1042, p.104|
|NRS 10958 [1/3255]||Reel 3600||Annie Turnbull/ Annie Belinda Turnbull/ Annie Bright||1920||Murder and three abortion, CCC Sydney||Acquitted on appeal. Accused is identical with 1918 AT|
|NRS 2491 [5/2263]||Not copied||Belinda Turnbull||17 May - 1 Nov 1920||State Reformatory for Women, Entrance Book||Entry #495, p.167|
|NRS 2496 [3/6006]||Not copied||Belinda Turnbull||1920||State Reformatory for Women, Photo description Book||Photo #478|
|NRS 2699 [4/7950]||Not copied||Annie Belinda Turnbull||Appeal #14, 1920, p.89||Register of Criminal Appeals||Also NRS 2698 Court of Criminal Appeal Letter books|
|NRS 880||Not copied||Belinda Turnbull||1921||Supreme Court, Case #3||-|
|NRS 10958 [1/3258]||Reel 3602||Annie Belinda Turnbull als Bright||1923||Conspiracy to procure abortion, Sydney QS||Att Gen declined to file bill. Identical to 1920 AT|
|NRS 10958||Reel 3602||Annie Belinda Turnbull||Nov 1923||Conspiracy against Rex, Sydney QS||Jury disagreed, acquitted|
*Note: NRS 10958 NSW Police Gazettes are often the only source of information that has survived for other charges and offences that Annie Turnbull faced. She can be found in the index to the Police Gazette under the various names listed.
Initial research into Annie Turnbull was unable to locate any death or divorce records relating to her first husband, Walter Henry Bright, any references to Annie having registered as a nurse (NRS 10859 and 10860) and no probate or deceased estate records for Annie.