Amy Barnes

‘Weary of Life, a sad case of suicide’

Amy was born in 1868 in New Zealand, the third of 12 children of William and Elizabeth Astle. In 1892 Amy married Matthew Hutchinson, a fellmonger. Their only child, Mary Louisa Hutchinson was born in 1894.

In 1896, Amy petitioned in the Supreme Court for a judicial separation from her husband. The only ground was ‘revolting cruelty’. Amy succeeded, with custody of Mary and alimony at 35s a week for both of them. This followed in May 1906 by Amy petitioning for a dissolution of the marriage on the ground of desertion of her husband (he had not been seen for five years). Amy showed how she had worked as a housemaid to support herself and Mary. Matthew did not appear in reply. A decree absolute was granted on 13th March 1906.

Amy then married Henry Barnes on 4th June 1906. Henry had lived in Wellington for 15 years and was a farmer. Shortly after their marriage, Amy developed acute melancholia and made many attempts to take her own life. After a period of time, Henry had Amy examined by two doctors at Palmerston North and she was admitted to Porirua Asylum on 30th September. Amy wrote rational letters to Henry every week asking to be let out.

On November 24th, Henry visited her at Porirua where her doctor said that she had improved sufficiently that she could leave on four months’ probation. Amy did not complain of her treatment at the asylum, but was afraid to go back.

Amy was not left alone after this. They Barnes family were staying with Amy’s sister Jessie Johnson’s family in Adelaide Road. Jessie said that Amy was content when she had something to do, like cook the dinner.

On the Wednesday before her death, she got melancholy and said she wished to die. Her brother-in-law John Johnson said that Amy ‘had no cause for trouble’,  that her husband was kind to her and she had no money worries. But she seemed to dread the thought of going back to the asylum.

On Friday 30th November, Amy told her sister that she was going out briefly to visit a friend. When Henry came home several hours later and Amy had not returned, they decided to call the police.

That afternoon at the corner of  Cuba and Manners Street, Amy had said to a lady who she did not know, that she was going to Palmerston North and proposed to commit suicide by jumping off the train. The lady reported this to a policeman but they could not trace Amy. Amy then met another lady at the corner of Stout Street and Lambton Quay and told her she proposed to go down to Thorndon Esplanade and throw herself in the water.

The next morning, a housemaid named Annie Hutchins employed by Miss Johnston lifted the blind of a window overlooking the garden in Fitzherbert Terrace and saw the body of a woman hanging from a tree. Police were called and the body was removed to the morgue where it was identified as Amy.

At the coroner’s inquest held that day, the jury determined that Amy died by suicide while insane ‘and that no blame in the matter is attributable to anyone’.

Amy’s burial plot was tidied at a recent Tuesday working bee. We cannot account for the headstone not being in the correct position.

Public 2/G/75

By Julia Kennedy

Amy Barnes plot
Amy Barnes headstone

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