Shocking case of alleged murder and suicide

Content Warning: article mentions suicide and violence 

One of the first first recorded murders in Darebin occurred in early August 1859. On Friday 19th August, the Preston policeman Richard Soult was called to a waterhole on Mr Motherwell’s farm in Merrilands. There he saw a bundle of clothing floating on the water. 

A closer inspection revealed it to be a woman and a very small female child, both having apparently been in the water for up to ten days. The woman was soon identified as Bridget Nihill, an unmarried mother who had given birth to her daughter Norah in late June. 

The waterhole was 24 feet wide and only four feet deep at its deepest point. The banks of the waterhole were shallow. The waterhole was well away from any thoroughfare and therefore the chance of this being a tragic accident seemed unlikely.

Bridget had, until recently been working for a local farmer Thomas Ahern. Mary Moore, Bridget’s sister, testified that she believed the father of the child was John Dalharty, who had also worked for Mr Ahern for a while. Apparently Bridget had summoned Dalharty to the Melbourne Police Court with a view to gaining maintenance for the child. 

Although the case was dismissed Bridget had apparently left the court on good terms with Dalharty. Bridget had little money nor employment at the time. Bridget approached Mrs Ahern with the idea of using her to lever some money out of Dalharty. 

Doctor Crook who had attended to Bridget during the birth noted that she was rather depressed in spirits.

Michael Hennessy, another witness, stated that Dalharty had been living with him at the time of Bridget’s disappearance. Dalharty had been married for about 8 or 9 months and during that time he had never known Dalharty to be absent at night. 

When John Dalharty was called to give testimony he stated he had known her since they both worked on Mr Ahern’s farm on the Darebin Creek. He had not given her any money as he denied he was the father of the child. He had not seen her since their court appearance the previous month when Bridget had attempted to secure maintenance from him.

Another witness said she saw Bridget wandering in paddocks near Mr Aherns with the small child in her arms. She appeared miserable but was not crying or appearing to be out of her senses. 

Mrs Ahern was then called to give further testimony. She stated that Mr. Dalharty had previously admitted being the father and promised to maintain the child but later went back on his word. His new wife had threatened to scald Bridget if she approached them.

As there were no marks of violence on either Bridget or Norah, the court returned an open verdict. The assumption was that Bridget had taken Norah’s life then her own in an act of desperation.

SHOCKING CASE OF ALLEGED MURDER AND SUICIDE (1859, September 2). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 5.

INQUEST AT PRESTON (1859, September 8). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), p. 6.