Jessie Easton and William Campbell

Jessie Easton was born about 1836 or 1837, based on her stated age of 18 when she arrived with her family in February 1855 aboard the Wanderer. Jessie was the second child of Thomas Easton and Mary Waldie. According to that passenger list Jessie was a House Maid and could read and write, so she received an early education, either formally at school or at home from her parents.1

On 28 January 1859 Jessie gave birth to a son, named William Easton Campbell, in Oatlands. William Campbell was named as the father.2 Jessie and William had not married and so the son was illegitimate. The relationship was problematic, and Jessie was required to seek a legal order for maintenance.

From later evidence, William Campbell complied with the court order for a short time, but in a dramatic turn of events the relationship was strained when William Campbell took possession of the child, the circumstances of which became the subject of a high profile court case. The case was first heard on 9 August 1861:

Friday, August 9th.

Before their Honors the Judges...

Ex parte Jessie Easton (Habeas corpus.)

Mr. Adams applied on behalf of Jessie Easton of Bothwell, spinster, for a writ of habeas corpus to be directed to William Campbell of Launceston, surgeon, and to John Blagg, of Bothwell, lodging house keeper, and Mary Blagg, his wife, for the production of the body of William Easton Campbell the illegitimate child of the applicant. The learned counsel made the application for the writ on the affidavit of the said Jessie Easton which set out that for some time previously to 1859 she was residing with her father at Oatlands and was engaged to be married to the said William Campbell then of Bothwell aforesaid, surgeon; that on the 29th of January, 1859, she was confined of a male illegitimate child since christened William Easton Campbell of whom the said William Campbell is the father ; that on the 18th February, 1859, on complaint to one of the Justices of the Peace at Oatlands, that the said William Campbell had left an illegitimate, male child of whom he was the father without the means of support, and that on the 4th March 1859 the complaint was heard at Oatlands by Thomas Mason and Henry Frampton Anstey Esquires justices who ordered the said William Campbell to pay unto Mary Easton, complainant's mother 30s. each fortnight, commencing on Saturday the 12th March for the use of complainant and for the support of the said child of whom the said William Campbell was there adjudged to be the father. That the child remained in the mother's custody for about five months during which time the fortnightly payments were punctually made but that the payments had since been discontinued. That afterwards applicant and her mother left Oatlands and went to reside at Bothwell, and that Mr. Campbell was then living at the Castle Inn at that place. The affidavit then set out a breach of promise of marriage and that Mr. Campbell married in September 1858, and having afterwards separated from his wife repeatedly urged applicant to leave Bothwell with the child and live with him, but applicant refused to do so. The affidavit continued--" on a certain evening in the month of June 1859 the said William Campbell came to my mother's house and repeated his said solicitations but I refused to comply therewith whereupon he asked me if I would let him nurse the said child a little and I said he should do so, and I then took the child to the sitting room occupied by the said William Campbell at the Castle Inn aforesaid where he was sitting with some gentlemen unknown to me, and as I felt very much agitated by the conduct of the said William Campbell towards myself, I put the child on a sofa in the room saying to him " you may nurse the child now" or words to that effect and I then left." The affidavit then went on to state that next morning applicant heard that Mr. Campbell had sent the child to be kept by the said John Blagg and Mary his wife in Bothwell, and that applicant went to them with her mother and demanded that the child should be restored to her, but the said Blaggs refused to give it up and Mr. Campbell also refused to restore the child either to applicant or her mother and that Mr. Campbell always positively refused to give up the child, until about twelve months ago, when he wrote to the Rev. William Robertson, of Bothwell, to the effect that applicant might have the child on her signing a document releasing her claim to maintenance, Mr. Campbell offering then to allow applicant £12 per annum. The affidavit then set out that the said John Blagg and Mary Blagg keep a common lodging house and brothel as deponent is informed and that the child lives there, and in conclusion it was set out that " the child is utterly neglected by the said John and Mary Blagg and is frequently cruelly beaten and otherwise ill-used, and on a recent occasion was covered with vermin ;" that applicant has always been denied access to the said child; and that she verily believes the life of the said child will be endangered if it continues in the custody of the said John and Mary Blagg," and that the applicant is "desirous of having the said child restored to her." The learned counsel said he thought it would not be necessary to trouble their Honors at any length by reference to various cases on applications for writs of this nature but would only briefly refer to Exparte Anne Nee, Bosanquet & F. p. 148 ; Rex ags. Mosely, 5 East p. 234; and King against Manville in the same volume. He might mention however to their Honors that he had thought well to insert the name of the putative father in the writ although the child was not in his actual custody, as it might be transferred to that custody before the writ was made returnable.

Their Honors ordered issue of the habeas, making the writ returnable on Tuesday week. Their Honors then rose.3

The case was heard again later on 20 August 1861, although this time William Campbell's friends who had looked after the child were referred to as Mr. and Mrs. Black instead of Blagg:


Mr. Adams stated, that no return had been made to the writ of habeas corpus to bring up the body of William Easton Campbell, together with tho cause of his being detained from the custody of his mother, Jessie Easton at whose instance the writ had been issued, either on the part of Mr. Campbell or of John and Mary Black - but he (Mr. Adams) understood that the latter parties were in attendance on the Court.

Mr. Moriarty said that he appeared for Mr. Campbell and also for John and Mary Black who by the direction of Mr. Campbell had brought the child with them, and perhaps the Court would be satisfied with the production of the child without the formal writs.

The Chief Justice.-It is the duty of the Court to guard against irregularity. You ought to know, Mr. Moriarty, that a return to the writ was required.

Mr. Moriarty said that he would at once communicate with Mr. Campbell, and have the writ properly returned on Friday.

Mr. Justice Smith said that in point of fact Mr. Campbell was in contempt.

The Court ultimately enlarged the time for making the return to the writ until Friday.

The question of costs was reserved.4

The case was finalised on 23 August 1861:

Befofe their Honors the Judges...

Exparte JESSIE EASTON (habeas corpus.)

Mr. Adams informed their Honors that he believed a return had been made to the writ of habeas corpus issued herein on the application of Jessie Easton, calling upon William Campbell of Launceston, surgeon, and John Blagg and Mary Blagg, of Bothwell, lodging house keepers, to bring up the body of William Easton Campbell, the illegitimate infant son of the said William Campbell, by the said Jessie Easton, which applicant had sworn was improperly detained from her and to which she stated on affidavit that she was refused access. The learned counsel moved that the return be read.

The return embraced an affidavit by the putative father stating that on a certain day in June 1859 the said Jessie Easton, mother of the said child, and of which deponent was the father, deserted the said child by leaving it in a public room in Bothwell, and that deponent immediately provided a respectable nurse for the child, and had since properly provided for it, and that the mother of the child had never been precluded seeing the child, and that deponent had only exercised his legal and natural rights as the father of the child,and which he prayed the Court to allow him to continue to do; and an affidavit by John and Mary Blagg setting out that the child had been left by the said William Campbell in the custody of the said deponents on a certain day in June 1859, and that the child had since been well and properly treated and provided for, deponents also denying that the putative father of the child had never to these deponents' knowledge prevented the mother having access to the said child, was also read.

Mr. Buckland, the clerk of the Court, having concluded the reading of the return, on the suggestion of their Honors the child was brought into Court in obedience to the writ.

Mr. Adams now moved, on the return, that the child be delivered up to the mother.

Mr. Moriarty argued in support of the return, and shewed cause against the child being taken from the custody of the father, on the grounds, that, firstly, the Court would not interfere in cases of this sort unless sufficient cause were shown, and secondly, as the affidavit in the return showed that the child had come fairly into the custody of the father, and that there was no cause shown sufficient to induce their Honors to remove the child from the father's custody, the learned counsel contending that it was monstrous at this time for the mother of the child, to come to the Court to ask that it should give her the custody of the child upwards of two years after she had deserted it, and when she knew the child was carefully and properly attended.

Mr. Justice Smith said the Court would require very strong circumstances, such for instance as that possession of the child had been obtained by fraud or force, before it would interfere with the legal custody of an infant, but the question was, who was the legal guardian of the child.

The learned counsel in support of his arguments also handed in certificates by the Rev. Mr. Hudspeth, that he had never seen any improper conduct in Blagg's house and believed it was always properly conducted, and a certificate by inhabitants of Bothwell also speaking of the respectability of Blagg and his wife and of the proper manner in which they always behaved to Mr. Campbell's child, and also, with others, an affidavit by Mr. Campbell stating Blagg and his wife are quiet and respectable people, that the child was delivered to deponent in a public room in the Castle Inn, Bothwell, in June 1859 without application on his part, that he then placed the child with Blagg and his wife, that the mother had never asked deponent to be allowed to see the child or been refused permission to do so, and lastly that the applicant Jessie Easton was not able to keep the child in a proper and respectable manner.

Mr. Adams replied, and in doing so, having referred to the original affidavit of applicant, in which she states that as she felt very much agitated at the conduct of Campbell, she placed the child upon the sofa, saying " You may nurse your child now," or words to that effect.

Their Honors remarked that no intelligible reason had been givon for applicant's leaving the child in the manner she did, nor was any reason given why when her agitation had subsided, she did not return and ask for the child, as a mother must be well aware that it would be anything but conducive to the comfort of an infant to leave it in the care of a man all night.

Mr Adams replied that she had applied for it next day and several times afterwards.

Tho Court thought it repugnant to the feelings of a mother to leave her child all night without natural sustenance, and asked why had applicant so long slumbered on her rights?

Mr. Adams replied that she had not done so, but had continually made application for the child. The learned counsel then referred to that part of applicant's affidavit in which she set out certain terms on which she would be allowed to take possession of the child, and would then ask their Honors if Campbell was a proper party to be entrusted with the care of a child, citing Blackstone to show that, the mother was the proper person to have the care of the child of less than seven years of age.

In answer to their Honors, Mr. Adams said it did not appear in applicant's affidavit with whom she lived, or what were her means of living.

The Chief Justice in delivering the opinion of the Court said the case had been, left unquestionably in a very unsatisfactory position before their Honors and in a position of some difficulty. In the first place the Court would have to consider what right to the possession of the child the applicant had by the recognized law of the land, and having ascertained that, their Honors, had next to see whether applicant by any conduct on her part had so far demeaned herself as to deprive herself of her recognized natural right, and of course there was also a third question behind the two former, which was, what was to the interest of the child itself. After citing several authorities His Honor said he had no doubt that the possession of the child, it being under seven years of age, and therefore within the age of nurture, belonged to the mother, but then came the question had she so far renounced and abandoned the child as to prevent the Court stepping in. Unquestionably, probably in a moment of pique, she did to an extent temporarily abandon the child, and it was to be observed also that she had not applied before this time to the Court where a remedy was open to her as well the next day as now. The mother's conduct in respect to this abandonment was almost unnatural, but had she thereby abandoned her natural right. No doubt this cast some difficulty over the case, and the question was did the mother's natural right counterbalance as it were her temporary abandonment of the child. His Honor would not have hesitated one moment had the allegation that Blagg's house was a brothel been left uncontradicted, for the Court would never allow a child to enter scenes of contamination and vice, but still Blagg kept a lodging house and they could not shut their eyes to the fact that in a country lodging house improper scenes were not unfrequently enacted, and besides persons in a state of intoxication would frequently resort there. The case was no doubt surrounded with considerable difficulty and His Honor thought that although it would have been more satisfactory had the position, &c ,of applicant been more specifically described, but under all the circumstances and as nothing had been alleged against the conduct of applicant since the child was born, His Honor was of opinion that the solution of the difficulty was that the mother should be allowed her natural right and His Honor was therefore prepared to make an order on the parties to give up the child to the mother.

His Honor Mr. Justice Smith, concurred, noticing also the unnatural conduct of the mother in abandoning the child, and on the other hand that the child was placed in the charge of persons keeping a common lodging house open to all sorts of characters, but His Honor was not prepared to say that had the father taken the child to his own house, His Honor could have determined that the child should be delivered up to a mother who had acted in so objectionable a manner in the desertion of the child ; but under all the circumstances of the case, surrounded as it was with difficulty, His Honor concurred in the opinion of His Honor the Chief Justice that the natural right of the mother should in this instance be recognized and that the child should be delivered up to the custody of its mother.

Tho Chief Justice-Let the child be delivered up to the custody of the mother.

The child was delivered up accordingly.5

Just under three years later however Jessie Laing Easton died on 23 June 1865 in Bothwell, Tasmania at the reported age of 29. The cause of death was recorded as intermittent fever and James Easton, Jessie’s brother, registered the event.6

EASTON-At Bothwell, on 23rd June, Jessie Laing, aged 29 years, eldest daughter of the late Mr. Thomas Easton.7

The fate of William Easton Campbell beyond Jessie's death until his much later marriage is unknown. William Easton Campbell, the son of Jessie Easton and William Campbell, married Sarah Salisbury on 14 May 1896 in Hobart, Tasmania.8

CAMPBELL-SALISBURY. -On May 14, at Sandy Bay, by Rev. J. H. Dawe, William Easton Campbell, late of Bothwell, to Sarah, youngest daughter of the late John Salisbury, Dorsetshire, England. Home papers please copy.9

No children have been found for William and Sarah. They posted a golden wedding anniversary notice in May 1946:

CAMPBELL-SALISBURY.-On May 14, 1896, at Hobart, by the Rev. J. A. Dawe, William Easton to Sarah. Present address, Stop Street, Zeehan, Tas.10