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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: February 26, 1883
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: ????
Victim profile: Phoebe Veitch, 4 (her daughter)
Method of murder: Drowning
Location: Wanganui River, North Island, New Zealand
Status: Sentenced to death. Commuted to life imprisonment on May 25, 1883. She died in Wellington's Terrace Gaol on September 2, 1891

Phoebe Veitch (died 1891) was a convicted New Zealand murderer. She drowned her daughter Phoebe in the Wanganui River in 1883 and was tried and subsequently convicted of murder. While she was sentenced to death, her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. She died in Wellington's Terrace Gaol on 2 September 1891.

Drowning of Daughter (February 1883)

On Monday 26 February 1883, Veitch drowned her four year-old daughter (also named Phoebe Veitch) in the Wanganui River. According to a contemporary newspaper account, the body of the younger Phoebe Veitch was found on the Wanganui River beach on the morning of 27 February by Arthur Fitchett, a telegraph linesperson. Giving medical testimony, Dr Earle noted that the drowned child was the product of a cross-cultural relationship between persons of Chinese and European descent.

According to Mrs Eliza Blight, a second witness, Mrs Phoebe Veitch had two children- Albert and "Flossie" (Phoebe). Mrs Blight noted that Mrs Veitch was having difficulty bringing up both of her children and had intended to send her daughter to Fielding, a northern settlement in the Manawatu district in the North Island of New Zealand. Mrs Blight noted that Mrs Veitch had tried to make her friend believe that the daughter was in danger from her aunt and might drown her, she stated in court.

Wanganui Police Inspector James was the next witness. After then went to the prisoner's house. At first, Mrs Veitch did not know where her daughter was, but under further investigation from the inspector and two police officers, she then contended that her daughter had fallen accidentally from the Wanganui River wharf and drowned.

Subsequently, after being taken to witness her child's body, Mrs Veitch changed her story once more and then stated that it was the child's putative father, for which she provided the name "Sam Timaru" and gave contradictory descriptions of his ethnicity as either from India or Scotland. Further evidence disclosed that Mrs Veitch was a lone parent and had been abandoned by her children's father to bring them up alone. Her partner did not appear during the trial to substantiate these claims.

The jury retired and found Phoebe Veitch guilty of murder but with a recommendation of mercy. Given that Mrs Veitch was pregnant with another child at the time, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court then sentenced her to death, although it remained to be disclosed whether the pregnancy could be substantiated by local midwives.

Reprieve (1883) and Death (1891)

On 25 May it was reported that Ministers of the Crown had intervened in the case and commuted Mrs Veitch's sentence to life imprisonment. She was imprisoned in Wellington at the Terrace Gaol and died on 2 September 1891.

Comparing the Veitch case with those of Caroline Whitting, Sarah-Jane and Anna Flannagan and Minnie Dean, Bronwyn Dalley has suggested that the courts were willing to recognise that arduous social and family circumstances could lead to maternal 'madness' and may have prompted commuted sentences, while Dean's death sentence was related to an element of deliberation absent in the Veitch, Whitting and other cases of parental child murder.



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