Who is or was Ann Selby ? - her details are generally unknown, with very few official records or references to indicate her background or from where she originates.
There is a Mary Selby, born circa 1809, to William Selby of Wilmington, Kent, England, who arrives in Hobart as a cabin passenger on board the ship Persian on 14 November 1833 -
TRADE AND SHIPPING.
Arrived yesterday, the bark Persian, 400 tons, Capt Mallard, with goods from London 8th July - a list of the passengers (besides about 44 in the steerage) is contained in the following letter:-
The ship Persian, off Van Diemen's Land, Nov. 3, 1833 -
Dear Sir, we gladly avail ourselves of the opportunity afforded us by the approaching termination of our voyage, to express to you our sincere thanks for the invariable attention and kindness which during the whole course of it, we have received from you.
For this obliging disposition on your part, exhibited as it has been by efforts at all times to promote our comfort, we feel indeed bound to tender you our warmest acknowledgments; - the more so because we are sensible that to it we must attribute a larger portion of the agreeable and friendly intercourse enjoyed by us on board the Persian, not only with yourself but with each other.
Trusting that this expression of the unanimous sentiments of all your cabin passengers may not be unacceptable to you,
we remain, dear Sir, your's very faithfully,
Virginia Stephen.................. H. P. Hicks.
Henrietta Douglas....... E. S. V. Bedford.
Martha Reeves................. Alfred Unwin.
Mary Selby.................... Thos. S. Ewing.
Emma Mackenzie............ Wm. Maxwell.
Sholto Douglas.................. H. R. Oakes.
Alfred Stephen. 1
Married - On Thursday 14th inst. at St. David's Church, by his father, the Senior Chaplain, Edward Bedford, esq. to Mary, daughter of the late William Selby, esq. of Welmington, Kent. 3
Edward and Mary would go on to have a large family of eleven known children between 1838 and 1855, including the birth of son William James Guthrie Bedford on 24 April 1844; 4 literally at the same time as the mysterious "Ann Selby" was pregnant with daughter Eliza. This would eliminate the possibility of this Mary Selby as the same person as Ann Selby.
One such female of similar names, who is in the "right place and at about the right time", appears as a witness in an arson trial -
SUPREME COURT CRIMINAL SITTINGS - Before His Honor the Chief Justice, and a Civil Jury of Twelve.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 19th.
Mary Ann Topham was charged with wilfully setting fire to a hay stack, at Clarence Plains, on the 7th instant, the property of Mr. Daniel Stanfield. Mr. Stanfield recollected the evening of the 7th instant ; about half-past six a servant came and told him that there was a stack on fire near the place where the prisoner and her husband lived ; witness went to the spot, and saw a person named Smith, on the top of the stack, trying to extinguish the fire ; saw both the prisoner and her husband that evening, the prisoner was standing at the back door facing the stack ; she exclaimed - "blow good devil, blow ! I wish every straw may be burnt down ;" - she appeared as if she had been drinking ; the stack was composed of oats, for the purpose of making hay, of what is commonly called hay in this Colony.
By His Honor. - The distance from witness's house to the stack was about a mile ; Topham (the prisoner's husband) had charge of the place at that time, and was acting as miller. A conversation here occurred as to the composition of the stack, whether it was grain or hay, and properly described within the meaning of the statute ; it was ultimately decided that the case should proceed, His Honor reserving the point for the consideration of both Judges.
Miss E. Stanfield, with her father, brother, and sisters, went to the stack on the evening in question ; it was burning ; saw the prisoner throw something out of her hand on that part of the stack which was not on fire ; the prisoner said to the men on the stack it was no use trying to put out the fire as every straw would be burnt out before the morning ; the men were endeavouring to extinguish the fire.
By His Honor - Witness's father was at the other side of the stack at that time ; witness herself was about three or four yards from the prisoner when she threw something on the stack, and it was immediately after this that she spoke to the men on the stack ; witness heard her distinctly, but it was too dark to see what the prisoner threw on the stack ; it was about eight o'clock in the evening ; there was a paling between witness and the prisoner, and she threw it over the paling ; witness did not see any thing quit the prisoner' hands, but saw her throw her hands towards the stack ; the prisoner's manner was violent, and her tone loud, and she appeared to be under the influence of drink.
Mr. W. Smith - Has a farm adjoining Mr. Stanfield's, at Clarence Plains ; Mr. Stanfield had a stack on fire on the 7th of this month ; witness was there, and saw Mrs. Topham and her husband ; they were quarrelling close to the cottage ; witness went to the stack before it was on fire ; there was some grass burning near the stack when he got there, and he tried to prevent it from catching the stack ; witness did not see the prisoner till the stack had caught fire ; he saw her then about halfway between the stack and her cottage ; her husband was in his mill at the time, but when the stack was on fire he came to help to put it out ; Mrs. Topham, pointing to him, said, he was the wretch that did it; the prisoner was drunk ; she rendered no assistance to put out the fire ; witness saw something in her hand ; the prisoner said it was brimstone ; she threw it on some hay that was burning under the stack, and said, - " here's some more brimstone, I'll keep it going !" - witness heard her say it was no use to try to save it, for what was saved she would burn before the morning.
By His Honor. - This was while the stack was burning.
Examination continued. - The prisoner at that time did not say anything respecting her husband ; she said, Mr. Lackey should not have a fire alone, Mr. Stanfield should be a mate of his.
By His Honor. - Saw a smoke in the direction of the stack, before witness left his farm ; directly he saw the smoke he gave the alarm, and hastened towards it ; the grass on fire was at the nearest part between 2 and 3 feet from the stack ; the greatest blaze was about 6 feet, there was but little wind, and that was on the other side of the stack ; witness did not see anybody when he first went to the stack ; the first person he saw was Mrs. Topham coming from her cottage ; the next was a servant of Mr. Stanfield, and the next Mr. Topham ; Mr. Stanfield's men were coming from his house ; the mill was about a quarter of a mile from the stack ; witness could see both the mill and the stack from his own house.
By the Prisoner - Witness had been at the stack about five minutes before he saw the prisoner come out of her cottage ; she had nothing in her hand when she first spoke to witness ; it was after Mr. Stanfield came that she threw something out of her hand.
By a Juror - What the prisoner had in her hand appeared yellow ; witness could not say what became of it after the prisoner threw it down.
Mrs. Charlotte Smith, wife of the last witness corroborated the above testimony in several points, and added, that the prisoner, while the stack was burning, jumped and clapped her hands, and said, - " thank God - its on fire !". This she did repeatedly ; witness saw a man named George Taylor at the stack ; saw him take a bucket to go to Mrs. Topham's and ask for some water ; Mrs. Topham was at her own door ; she got an axe, and said, she would split his or any person's head open that came to take her water ; she threw the water cask down, and said, - " let it burn".
By His Honor. - The stack was on fire on the side next Mrs. Topham's house.
William Whiteman. - Was in the service of Mr. Stanfield on the evening in question ; he took some wet blankets with him and put them on the stack ; saw Mrs. Topham down on her knees at her door, with her hands lifted up, but could not hear what she said ; heard her say afterwards, " Blow, devil, blow; " the stack was then burning ; Mrs. Topham came from her door ; she was very drunk indeed ; witness heard her say she had fire in her hand, but could not see anything in her hand ; when she came near the ladder witness threw a bucket of water over her, went she went back.
By a Juror .- The cottage of the prisoner was about fifty paces from the stack ; the bush had not been on fire ; the stack was built on logs.
James Langley - Was reaping for Mr. Stanfield on the morning of the 7th ; saw Mrs. Topham, about eight o'clock that morning, with a burning stick in her hand, which she held in the wind, and then threw it towards the stack ; witness went towards the stack but saw no fire about the place, nor any lighted stick.
By His Honor. - Witness had known the prisoner about nine years ; did not know whether the prisoner knew that he had to reap there that day ; there was nothing to prevent the prisoner seeing him as she came out of her door ; witness had not seen her before that morning ; he did not go immediately to the stack when he saw the prisoner, but about a quarter of an hour afterwards, as he waited to tie up a sheaf of corn. [This witness, who gave his evidence in a very curious manner, was closely cross-examined by his Honor, as to his searching for the lighted stick : the prisoner also questioned him on the subject and asked if he did not think it probable that she endeavoured to ignite the stick for the purpose of kindling her fire.]
Mary Ann Wood. - Recollected a conversation with the prisoner about Mr. Stanfield's stack burning ; they were returning to Mrs. Topham's in a cart ; the prisoner said, there were Mr. Stanfield's stacks on fire, and they might be burnt down to the ground before she got home ; she said it might be two or three days first ; she likewise mentioned something about Mr. Lackey's house being burnt ; this was just as they were entering the glebe land ; witness had known Mrs. Topham for a long time ; had never had any quarrel with her; the prisoner was a very drunken woman in general.
The prisoner, in her defence, denied the charge, and said that the Judge who judges all was the best judge of her innocence. She called Mary Ann Selby of Clarence Plains, who stated merely that the prisoner had been at her place on the 7th January, between the hours of 10 and 11 o'clock in the morning.
Ellen Harriet Martin, daughter of Mrs. Wood, was also called, who corroborated her mother's evidence, with respect to the prisoner's observations relative to the burning of Mr. Stanfield's stacks.
His Honor summed up very carefully, and the Jury having retired, and being absent some time, another Jury was sworn and the trials proceeded with. Not being able to agree, the proper officers were sworn to take charge of the Jury, which was locked up all night, and still differing at the opening of the Court the next morning, they were discharged, and the prisoner remanded. 5
Epilogue to this interesting case - It would seem from subsequent newspaper reports, the trial jury of twelve persons could not reach a unanimous verdict; with one juror apparently voting for a conviction, and the other eleven voting for an acquittal. There was considerable angst and discussion over whether Mary Ann Topham should be re-tried for this offence; and for which ultimately, it appears she was not. 6
Mary Ann Topham (who, it may be remembered, was tried at the last Sessions for incendiarism, but was remanded on account of there being one dissentient on the jury) being placed in the dock, His Honor expressed a doubt whether she could again be put on her trial for the same offence, since the jury who had been empanelled to try her had separated without coming to any conclusion. He would, therefore, remand the prisoner until the next day, that he might have an opportunity of communicating with the Chief Justice on the subject.
Mary Ann Topham was again placed in the dock, when, after various discussions, purely of a legal nature, and sundry quotations, the Attorney-General agreed that a noli proseguí be entered on the information of the preceding day, and that the prisoner find bail for her appearance at the next Criminal Sessions, her husband in £100, and two householders in £50 each, and that in default she be recommitted to jail. His Honor the Chief Justice, who, expressly for this case, appeared on the Bench, gave his opinion that the prisoner ought not, under a capital charge, to incur the risk of another trial, especially when it was considered that on the former occasion there was only one dissentient to her acquittal, which fact must, at least, be considered strong presumption in her favour.