I enjoy reading essays and articles, and so I’ve decided to write about them on my blog. Apart from the fact that they interest me, one of my criteria for selection is that they are available online or through a State Library library card. Provenance is the online journal of the Public Records Office of Victoria, and it has terrific essays that draw on the resources of the PRO.
‘Ethel’, Provenance: The Journal of Public Record Office Victoria, issue no. 16, 2018. ISSN 1832-2522. Available here.
In November 1895, a little 9 year old girl stood before the Essendon Court of Petty Sessions, giving evidence against the man accused of raping her. The accused was Edwin Worrall, who had ‘taken in’ little Ethel and her two brothers while her sole-parent father worked in the city. She had been assaulted several times over a number of months, and it was only when she told her father that she had ‘a secret’ that the assaults were revealed. The case came before four justices of the peace at the Essendon court, who found the father not guilty. When the case was referred by the police prosecutor to the Victorian attorney-general, the JPs were asked to explain their reasoning for acquittal. It’s a sad litany of prejudices: the girl’s statement was too good to be believed and she had probably been coached; she was too intelligent; when she began to cry after cross-examination, that led to doubt; she never told the accused’s wife. We’ve heard too many such statements in child sexual abuse cases in recent decades.
And so the case went to the Supreme Court- and I’ll leave you to follow up and find out what happened. This beautifully told and achingly sad essay is written by her grand-daughter, many years later, who found it hard to believe that her beautiful ‘little Gran’ had been this same little, abused child.