Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Not Guilty – Christine Gardner

Historical Crime 4*'s
Historical Crime

I chose this book because of my interest in historical crime, particularly those committed by women. Society, prefers to view the women as nurturing, caring and delicate. When a woman is violent it challenges that view and there is a need to find a cause, someone or something else to blame.

In 1910 Camellia McCluskey murdered her three young children; Dorothy, Ida and Eric using a shocking amount of violence. This book examines the documents relating to her trial in Bendigo, Australia.

Christine Gardner uses the reports in the newspapers along with the documents from the trial to invite the reader to decide whether the verdict reached by the courts was a just one. I like to read the contemporary views of the time, after all the newspapers reflected what the local community of the time were saying. Both the court and the papers were keen on working out what would motivate a mother to behave as she did and her common-law husband George’s behaviour was put under the spotlight. Camellia and George’s relationship was fraught to say the least so there was plenty for the community to mull over.

This is a short book that presents the evidence in a factual manner although I did feel the author did occasionally slip at times leading the reader to come round to her view of the Camellia, although having read the later evidence once Camellia was out of sight of the judge, I think most people would be in agreement with her.

This wasn’t a case that I had come across before and I found this book an interesting and informative read, although it the death of those poor children was particularly shocking.


A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

16 thoughts on “Not Guilty – Christine Gardner

    1. Yes, absolutely. We seem able to categorise men who carry out similar acts much more easily than women which isn’t surprising until you consider that her peers were more willing to look at the mitigating factors, particularly her treatment by George.


  1. Cleo – Oh, this does sound really interesting! It is hard to be objective when one’s telling this sort of story, so it’s good to hear that for the most part, Gardner is. And those historical cases can be fascinating looks at the society of a given time. Definitely one for me to look up.


    1. I would recommend this, it is fairly short but the snap-shot of opinions is great. What makes this special as we find out a little about what happened afterwards which is where the author asks us to consider the mitigating factors. As you say a difficult subject but Gardner dealt mainly with the factual points.


  2. We have just had a case in Scotland of a mother battering her youngest son to death and we are having the same reactions in the media of people being very shocked that a woman could do this. She seems to be a demonised figure, with a few asking how she could have been helped more. And lots of background speculation on how this could have happened.


    1. When I was writing this review (I read the book a few weeks ago) I couldn’t help but compare with this crime There are some similarities though although people find the crime abhorrent, she has been allowed to be tried for manslaughter and not murder. The reports I have read have questioned the role of Social Services and stated that she suffered mental health problems so some mitigation has been given although as you say we are keen to know why? Simply because a mother is supposed to protect her children.


      1. Yes loads of speculation on her private life and also evocative words used, much more so than would ever be the case with a man. Things don’t change. I don’t know enough about the way law works to understand why it was manslaughter and not murder though.


        1. I’m no expert on the law but I don’t think a man who admitted to beating a child is likely to have been charged with less than murder (my speculation) I suppose we are so interested/hold strong views because it is unusual?


  3. I can just about understand a mother – parent, really – who murders her children in a fit of despair or who shakes or hits her baby when at the end of her tether. But I do find it particularly shocking that any parent could kill their children in a deliberately violent way.


    1. Exactly and that is precisely what makes this example so horrifying. The assumed motive had little to do with the children and far more to do with her relationship with the father and her precarious position as an unmarried woman in that era.


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