by Tracie Griffith
The town of Port Fairy was shaken to its foundations on the morning of 13th November 1916, exactly one hundred years ago, when a bereaved widow murdered her eight year old son.
A FEARFUL TRAGEDY
A DEMENTED WOMAN KILLS HER SON
An awful sensation was created this morning in the borough when the news was circulated that Mrs Wade, the widow of Mr E. Wade, a former Sackville-street chemist, had attacked one of her children with an axe, the result of the frightful injuries being that the young lad (Stewart) died in the Port Fairy hospital a few hours later. Mrs Wade slept in one room with the child, her mother (Mrs Laurie) occupying another room with the other child (a girl). Mrs Laurie who heard thumping, got up and saw a terrible sight. Mr J. Rowbottom, who was in the street about 6 o’clock, hearing screams from Mrs Laurie and Mrs Wade, rushed to the back door and found Mrs Wade standing in the passage. She cried out, “I have killed my boy.” Mr Rowbottom found the unfortunate boy in bed, his brains protruding from a ghastly wound in the head, and the victim and the bed covered in blood. Mr Rowbottom asked Mrs Wade how she did the deed, and she replied, “With the axe.” Mr Rowbottom then sent for Dr Marsden and the police. Constable Larkins afterwards arrived and took charge of the demented woman and the house. Mrs Wade was taken by Constable Larkins to Geelong by this afternoon’s train, where she will be detained for observation. An inquiry into the awful affair was held this afternoon.
PORT FAIRY GAZETTE 13th November 1916
Flora Catherine Laurie (age 30) married Ernest Wade (age 57) on 11th February 1907. Ernest was a widower and it was his second marriage. The couple had two children, Stewart (born 4th January 1908) and Mary Thelma (born 22nd May 1911). Ernest served as the chemist in Port Fairy for many years, before retiring to Geelong with his young family. He died in 1912 from a sarcoma of the face and neck, and Flora returned to Port Fairy with her two children soon after.
The funeral of little Stewart Wade, the victim of his mother’s dementia on Monday, took place on Wednesday and was largely attended, many children taking part in the mournful procession, and forming a guard of honor through which the coffin was carried to the grave.
PORT FAIRY GAZETTE 16th November 1916
A death certificate was not issued for Stewart and he was buried in an unmarked plot at the Port Fairy Cemetery.
The Register of Patients for the Sunbury Asylum states that Flora Wade was incarcerated by the Chief Secretary under Section 66 of the Lunacy Act on 11th December 1916. The ‘Form of mental disorder’ she was suffering from is described as ‘recent melancholia’ and her discharge date is listed as 30th September 1921.
Flora died in 1951 (age 74) at the Ararat Mental Hospital. The State Trustee placed several advertisements in newspapers in the year that followed, seeking Thelma Mary Wade – Flora’s daughter and the sole beneficiary of her 4,000 pound estate. It is not known if Mary survived her mother or was able to claim the bequest.