Sunday, June 12, 2011

The schoolmaster and Mary Jane

Mary Jane Austen was removed from this "select" school.
"Mother told Mr Henshaw one reason for taking me away from school was because she was ill and wanted me at home, and another reason was because he had behaved improperly to me."
On the 4 November 1872 Thomas Henshaw, a schoolmaster at Onehunga was sentenced to four months' imprisonment with hard labour, for indecent conduct towards some girls.
However, his case was re-heard in December and the newspaper reports make for disturbing reading. It seems the young girls, aged ten and twelve, would be called to sit beside the schoolmaster to have their sums corrected: "Saw the girl go up beside the master several times. Could not see her hand."
Several girls gave evidence:
"I was then in a corner by him. He then committed the offence. I used to resist, but he prevented me",
"I did not tell my mother for some time, because I did not like: I knew it was wrong. He often threatened to beat me, and did so twice."
"The master complained to my mother about me, and my mother beat me."
"The master was very angry on one occasion with the other girl Austen, and hit her."
Mary Jane Austen described as a "little girl 13 years old" gave corroborative evidence and also related the offences committed against herself.
The line of defence was conspiracy, and that the origin of these reports "was to be traced to older girls who had so far committed themselves with boys as to induce the master to make inquiry into the matter". Mary Jane's testimony on this was "I was not at school when something happened between Sarah and some boys... My brother denied having anything to do with this."
After reviewing the evidence at considerable length, his Worship dismissed the case.
The Evening Star for 3rd December 1872 summed it up well: