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The short life of Ellen Boyle 1853 – 1871

October 19, 2011

Ellen Boyle was my 1st cousin 3 times removed.  This is a distant relationship but hers is an interesting story and I think deserves to be told as part of my family history.

Ellen was born at Inver, Donegal Ireland. Her parents were Patrick Boyle and Margaret McClintock. Ellen along with her parents and sisters Annie and Margaret departed Liverpool on the ship Pomona, on 26 February 1857, for a better life in Australia.

Unfortunately for Ellen, her life in Australia was not a long life. The family settled on a farm at Violet Town, where her father, Patrick became a respected member of the community. Ellen’s mother passed away in 1862 when Ellen was 9 years old.

In 1869, when Ellen was 16 years old, she married Richard Chute who was 41 years old.  She gave birth to two boys in 1871.  The first child was born in January and the second in October.  Their marriage disintegrated in 1871 due to domestic violence.  There were newspaper reports during the year of  numerous court appearances. Richard was heard to threaten to kill Ellen on many occasions. Eventually during this tumultuous year, Ellen left Richard.

On November 11, 1871, Ellen was walking down the road from her cousin’s house when Richard Chute appeared and struck her in the head with an axe, causing her death. She was carrying her baby son who was two weeks old, wrapped in a blanket.  Two men walking along the road looking for work were witness to the murder. Later that night, Richard Chute gave himself up to police.

An inquest was held at Beechworth on November 14, 1871.  At the end of the evidence the foreman said it was the opinion of the jury that great neglect had been shown in not having the post-mortem examination made earlier; and   in consequence of that neglect they could not ascertain the actual cause of death. The jury then returned a verdict of “Wilful murder” against Richard Chute, who was committed for trial at the next Circuit Court at Beechworth.

Due to controversial aspects of this case, the murder of Ellen Boyle and events before and after, were reported across the country in many newspapers. The Violet Town newspaper ran a campaign demanding for changes to be made to the way doctors were paid.

Even though Ellen Boyle suffered horrific head injuries, the cause of death couldn’t be given, due to the long period of time that elapsed before the post-mortem.

from Benalla Ensign Saturday November 18, 1871It would be well in all cases of suspicious death if the police were instructed to take more than ordinary precautions to keep the body in a state fit for medical examination.  Decomposition sets in so rapidly during the heat of summer as in a very few hours to destroy important medical evidence and this might be very much retarded by free application of antiseptic to the clothing and in the immediate neighbourhood of wounds.  Every police station ought to be provided with a supply of properly prepared solutions of carbolic solid, to be used whenever there is a difficulty for procuring medical assistance, and ingredients for its application ought to be issued from the proper department.  The recent inquest at Violet Town pointed out the necessity of some such regulation, for according to the medical testimony the body was so far advanced in decomposition as to prevent the recognition of the character of the wounds said to have been inflicted on the head of deceased and no injury to the brain could be traced, as that organ was thoroughly decomposed. It is true, that the rough edges of a wound might be altered, by the application, but then its material character would be preserved distinctly, and the cause of death could be satisfactorily ascertained. It must be obvious that it will be far better to preserve the main features of a wound sufficient to cause death than, by delay, as in this case, leaving the cause of death utterly beyond scientific explanation. Besides, there is something revolting in the mere fact of the body of a woman festering during the heat of three summer days, merely because she happens to be murdered by a husband who suspects her fidelity.  We do not wonder that the jury should speak so boldly upon the matter of this neglect.  For neglect there has been, no doubt; and there is no difficulty in tracing it to the police.  But yet, if the police had pressed upon the doctor the necessity for his attendance, it is extremely doubtful if he would have gone earlier, as he knew Mr. Butler could not be at Violet Town before Tuesday afternoon, let him work as hard as he could.  Had Dr. Nicholson gone to Violet Town on Monday, and made the post-mortem, he would have had to go again on Tuesday to give evidence. But a wise paternal Government only allows a doctor two pounds and two shillings for making a post-mortem, and its 6d a mile for travelling expenses, and were he compelled to stay away two days in accomplishing the work he would receive no more.  Here, then, is the cause of the horror; and it is, we hope only necessary to direct the attention of the Ministry to it to have the anomaly done away with.  If it is right to pay a medical man for one day’s work, it must be equally right to pay for his services should they extend over two days.  Fortunately, in this case, there is no doubt as to the cause of death, as that death was witnessed by two persons, and admitted by the accused; but the horrible sight of last Tuesday was most harrowing even to the feelings of those not related to the mutilated corpse.

Eventually the campaign was successful and doctors began to be paid per visit instead of per case. So it seems that even though Ellen Boyle had a short life with a tragic end she definitely left her mark on the community and her new country.Unfortunately she wasn’t able to Rest In Peace immediately as her body was exhumed in January  1872 for further evidence.

from The Argus 8 January 1872: The body of Ellen Chute, whose husband is now in Beechworth Gaol, on committal for her murder, was on Thursday exhumed,at the Violet Town Cemetery, for the purpose of a further post-mortem examination by Dr. Hutchinson, of Wangaratta. This proceeding was rendered necessary to supply the missing link in the evidence as to the actual cause of death. 

Ellen  was buried at the Violet Town Cemetary in a family plot. Her father Patrick, her mother Margaret and her step mother Maria were later buried in the plot with her. Today sadly, the burial plot is looking very derelict. One day soon, I’m going to spend the day cleaning up this grave to honour the short life of Ellen Boyle who died aged 18.

From → Family stories

  1. What a sad story, poor Ellen must have had a dreadful life.

    I am wondering what happened to her two children.

    • Jill, the eldest son John who was 10 months old when his mother died, lived until he was about 70, until he died in Wagga. The second son, who was 10 days old, has been difficult, because he wasn’t given a name when his birth was registered. His birth certificate has him as Unnamed Chute. But there was a child in the area who was admitted to the industrial school, just 10 days after Ellen died. His christian name wasn’t stated, so I am assuming this was him. But I need to check the record at PROV when I’m in Melbourne next.
      I would love to know who took care of the older boy. His death certificate says his mother was Annie, so perhaps Ellen’s sister Annie took care of him. There is much more to this story than I’ve been able to write about here, and much more research to do yet.
      Thanks for your interest.

  2. Thanks for sharing this story. It now means that Ellen is not forgotten.

  3. Oh, the poor little girl… she may have been a “married woman” but was.. oh so young. I was going to ask what happened to the baby and then just read your comment above.
    It’s always helpful to find some redeeming factor arising out of a tragedy, such as this, so at least it did bring about the changes you describe.
    You honour young Ellen Boyle by ensuring her story is not forgotten, Jennifer, and your determination to follow up on her children is wonderful. I commend you.
    Thankyou for sharing Ellen’s story, sad though it is. Best Regards, Catherine.

  4. A very sad and fascinating story Jennifer. Did you ever find out if it was the baby admitted to the industrial school?

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