The colonial Medea : a study of indictments of women for serious violence in the Christchurch Supreme Court 1900 to 1968.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This thesis argues that there was a "Colonial Medea" but that her violence against children was not committed as a result of an insane impulse but from social pressure and financial hardship. The first chapter examines the findings of other studies to set - a universal context of women's serious violence in the Christchurch Supreme Court from 1900 to 1968. The predominance of infant related serious violence indicates that this was not unique to colonial New Zealand and that there was indeed a "Universal Medea". Part B focuses upon the narrative in the Christchurch Supreme Court. An examination of this narrative revealed that the horror that surrounds the mytp of Medea was not evident in the Courtroom. This was because the Courtroom recognised the circumstances which prompted the women to commit their crimes and the defence was able to present the women defendants in sympathetic terms. The motive for the disposal of an illegitimate infant was recognised in the early twentiethcentury courts. However this motive was increasingly held as being contrary to women's natural instincts and the alleged offenders were increasingly diagnosed as being insane as psychiatry extended its influence in the Courtroom. This thesis did not discover the existence of chivalry in the courtroom for any indictments ofwomens' serious violence. By examining the defence offered in mitigating the sentence and the judges narrative in passing sentence, other factors impacted the severity of the sentence more than the sex of the accused woman. The respectability of the defendant was seen to have a great impact upon the judge in passing sentence and the defence counsel frequently portrayed the defendants as respectable women of "good character". Thus sexual stereotypes permeated the trials of most women, except those where the victims were seen as being "non-intimate."