W. Mason & Co. Photographers. c.1880s/90s.
National Trust of Australia (Victoria) Old Melbourne Gaol Collection
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National Trust of Australia (Victoria)
Martha Needle was hanged in 1894, after Frances Knorr. Martha was an attractive woman with an apparently kindly disposition, but she was insane by any modern standards. Her friends were shocked when it was discovered she had poisoned her husband, daughters and prospective brother-in-law. She had grown up in a violent and abusive household, and had shown signs of mental instability as an adolescent, but had grown into a beautiful young woman and married at seventeen. After her children's deaths, before she was apprehended, she spent the insurance money on an elaborate family grave which she visited regularly.
She was hanged at the age of thirty. Martha had been raised in an unstable family and wreaked havoc on her own. Her story is unusual in this catalogue of misery, because her crimes arose not out of the severe circumstances of colonial Victoria but from universal, age-old family and personal dysfunction.