Homicide in Victoria: female perpetrators of murder and manslaughter, 1860 to 1920
Nagy, V, Homicide in Victoria: female perpetrators of murder and manslaughter, 1860 to 1920, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 51, (3 (Winter 2021)) pp. 405-428. ISSN 0022-1953 (2021) [Refereed Article]
Records from the Central Register of Female Prisoners permit a longitudinal analysis of ninety-five women convicted of murder and manslaughter in Victoria between 1860 and 1920. The data show the similarities and differences between the women convicted of these homicide offenses. An examination of the women’s socioeconomic profiles, occupations, ages, migrations, and victims reveals the links between their crimes and their punishment.
Scholars have paid scant attention to women’s homicide in Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state, offering no longitudinal analysis of the offense considered the most reliable measurement of crime and barometer of societal safety. Women (past and present) account for a minority of violent interpersonal offenders in not only Victoria but other jurisdictions around the world; at a time when the rate of male homicide offending is at an all-time low in Australia, women’s rates have remained unchanged, plateauing at close to 0.5 per 100,000 for thirty years. Without a historical examination of homicide convictions, we cannot predict the extent to which women’s offending has shifted nor how prosecution of women has changed.1
This article, the first to undertake a longitudinal analysis of women’s violent offending in Victoria, examines female-perpetrated homicide and subsequent imprisonment in Victoria. It draws attention to the criminal careers of the ninety-five women convicted of murder or manslaughter between 1860 and 1920, and whose details are available in the Central Register of Female Prisoners, which compiles a total of 6,042 women first imprisoned for an offense during this sixty-year period in Victoria. The data enable an exploration of the similarities and differences between the women convicted of homicide offenses as well as an investigation of the links between their crimes and imprisonment through such factors as their socioeconomic profiles, their occupations, their ages, and their migrations.2
Although women’s homicidal violence tended to concentrate on those in their care, the dimensions of women’s violent offending are far more nuanced and varied than expected. The purpose of this study is not to create an overarching theory of women’s violence (which would require an in-depth qualitative analysis of the cases) but to lay a foundation of quantitative knowledge on which future qualitative analyses can be based. An interdisciplinary collaboration between history and criminology can forge a deeper understanding of women’s crimes and punishment within the field of criminal justice.