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Poor Little Violet. Women bigamist: offenders or victims?


In collaboration with Parmida Beedle, research assistant


First, note that contrary to popular depictions, women DO commit bigamy and the courts DO prosecute them. In fact, according to figures available for Canada, the U.K, New Zealand and Australia, women represent between 20 and 33% of all cases which make it to the courts. In the State of Victoria, 26% of the bigamy cases involved female offenders. Described in the following account, the case of young Violet Campbell Eades epitomizes how the Australian press and courts most often treated women offenders.



The press coverage


“THREE HUSBANDS - Double Bigamy Charge- Extraordinary Story”. The respected Melbourne paper, The Age, chose those words to recount the “remarkable” case of a 24-year-old “double bigamist”, Violet Eades. The paper devoted a long column to the specifics of the case, paraphrasing the statement of the accused and quoting the testimonies of two of the three husbands concerned. Papers across the continent picked up the story.


In its ever sensational and melodramatic way, Truth “quoted” Violet’s able defence attorney J.L. Clarke and exposed his defence strategy. Prior to Violet’s case of 1919, Clarke had defended a few other bigamists. On this occasion, he successfully played the gender card with his questions to the two husbands, painting THEM as the offenders. Clarke stressed that the legitimate husband, Victor Eades, had seduced a girl of not yet sixteen and was forced to marry her because of her pregnancy. Whether the Truth journalist accurately reported the lawyer’s words or not, the portrait that emerges of Violet’s two husbands is far from flattering. Both men seduced a girl, (in the case of Victor,) and a virtuous woman (for McGinley.) Clarke made it clear that Victor had sex with a girl not yet 16, giving no agency to Violet and instead blaming everything on the young man: “YOU HAD SEDUCED HER some time before [the marriage]? Yes”. Clarke stated next: “The first occasion that you were improperly intimate with her was at her mother’s house, at which you were a visitor? Yes”. Clarke put the weight on Victor who did not deny anything. Next, Clarke retreated to masculinity concepts, showing that the new husband was not a real man since he could not find a home for his wife. A husband had a firm duty to provide for his wife. Clarke proved that Victor had no intention to fulfill his husbandly duties, making him admit that he had taken no steps to support her. Perhaps even worse, upon his enlistment, Victor chose not to allot any of his pay to his wife, instead making his own mother the beneficiary.


Clarke’s language reinforced Violet’s victim status: “What was your object in setting the law in motion against this young woman whom you had not bothered about for seven years?” At no stage did the lawyer credit Violet with skerrick agency, instead continuously insisting on youth and in need of support. Not only was she not receiving the support of her husband, but he was also setting the wheels of the law against her! In Clarke’s version, Violet was a passive victim.


The attorney reserved the same treatment to the third “husband”. Clarke went on the offensive and established that the real offense, not the bigamy, but the seduction, had taken place in a setting where Violet deserved to feel safe, her mother’s home. “Your improper intimacy with her had extended over two or three months, had it not? -Yes -Although you were at that time living in her mother’s house as a boarder? -Yes.” Contrary to Clarke, the third husband gave her agency. When asked: “Your honor does not seem to have been much affected by the circumstances?” McGinley retorted: “She was a willing party.” But Clarke did not let him get away with that and instead redoubled his efforts:


When you seduced her, you believed she was an innocent girl?

- Yes.

- Believing that, you nevertheless seduced her at her mother’s house?


The journalist then inserted emotions when he reported the answer of McGinley:


“(Doggedly) She was willing.” Clarke hit nail after nail:


And you, as a man of honor were also willing that she should be willing to SACRIFICE HER VIRTUE to your desires. Is that the excuse you make for your conduct?


(Sullenly) She was willing.”

The Truth journalist clearly sided with Violet.


If some of the papers remained neutral, most took the same stand as the Truth even if they did not incorporate as many details. For instance, by including certain information, a Tasmanian paper painted young Violet as the innocent and naive victim: “She said her third husband stated it did not matter if she was married already, because nobody would know.” Only a naive woman would believe such a thing! Other papers made even more with that sentence, showing the dubious morality of McGinley: “Jones [Violet’s second husband] had been some time at the front and McGinley knew that. He eventually persuaded her to marry him. He told her that nobody would find out.” In that account, readers understood that McGinley knowingly took the wife of someone else, in effect, he stole Jones’ possessions. The papers focussed on the offences the men committed, and those Violet suffered.


Clarke used gender bias to convince the jury of his client's innocence. The jury acquitted Violet on both counts. In the eyes of those twelve men, Eades and McGinley were the real offenders. Jones, serving for his country overseas, did not have an opportunity to testify. Perhaps if he had been present, it would have been more difficult to convince the jury of Violet’s naivety.



The other documents and subsequent events


If the press sided with poor little Violet, other documents and subsequent events might reveal a different side of the much-married woman. Be it the 1912 dismissed maintenance order, Violet's own attempt at divorcing Victor in 1915, Victor's 1919 petition for divorce, Violet's 1922 petitions for annulling her marriage to Jones and McGinley, the birth of another son in early February 1921, or her marriage to a certain George William Benson in 1922 and the birth of a daughter in 1927, it seems that there is much more to the story of the "double bigamist".


Let us know if you would like to hear more about Violet!


References:

“Three Husbands - Double Bigamy Charge - Extraordinary Story.” The Age, January 25, 1919.

“Violet’s Vicissitudes - Many Much Mixed Marriages - Three Husbands in Six Years - Double Barrelled Bigamy Charge - Young Woman’s Sad Story - Seduced at Sixteen - And Left to Battle with the World - ‘More Sinned Against than Sinning’ - Acquitted by Jury.” Truth, March 9, 1919.

“Double Barrelled Bigamy.” Advertiser, Feb 26 1919.

“Charged With Bigamy - Three Times Married - Woman Acquitted.” Examiner, February 26, 1919.

Public Record of Victoria, 30-P0-1935, “The King v. Violet Eades”, 1919.



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2 Comments


So, and I am likely just showing some kind of ignorance here, why would age of consent not have been an issue for Victor? Should he not have been held accountable for having sex with someone under 16 (and therefore someone unable to yet give consent regardless of willingness)? Or is the age of consent lower there? Or does the age difference have to be more substantial (I do not think you said how old he was so maybe he had just had his 16th bday or maybe he was 25).

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mmethot2
mmethot2
Mar 15, 2022
Replying to

Excellent observation Nancy. I have found very surprising how in court proceedings, sometimes it will be discovered that one of the spouses committed a serious offence, but was not charged. I even came across a husband who admitted he tried to kill his wife. A few newspapers mentioned it matter of factly, but nothing came of it! Here, Victor was 17 when he seduced 15-year-old Violet, but no matter his age, the fact that he married her, i.e. did the right thing, "annulled" his bad deed. To answer your other questions, the Victoria's Crimes Act of 1891 established the age of consent at 16.

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