Annette Myers  (1823?-1879)

by Margaret Lindley and Colette McAlpine

 

Annette Myers or Meyers was born in Paris about 1823 to an unknown or unnamed mother. She spent the first ten years of her life as a foster child in Brussels. When she moved to England in about 1840 to the home of the man she thought of as her uncle, the lawyer Francis Myers, and his childless wife Jane, she spoke little English, but she was proficient as a lady’s maid and needlewoman. At the time of the 1841 census, Annette was living at 7 Chester Street, Grosvenor Place, London, the home of Sir Frances, in the capacity of female servant.

Annette was still working as a servant, though not for her ‘uncle’, in February 1848, when she walked up behind her lover Henry Ducker, a Cold Stream Guardsman, and shot him with a pistol in St James’s Park in central London. He died almost instantly. Annette threw down the gun and walked away. When apprehended she said, ‘I did it. I intended to do it. I have intended to do it for a long time.’ She handed a bundle of letters to the constable along with her pistol bag. The letters would provide salacious entertainment during Annette’s trial as the indignities of her private life were publicly aired. The court heard how Ducker had used and abused her, perhaps even infecting her with venereal disease.

Henry Ducker jilted Annette. Not only that, but he had several mistresses from whom he extracted money. When Annette’s wages as a domestic proved insufficient to meet his needs, he suggested she could pawn her clothes or even prostitute herself. Annette wrote to her mistress, Mrs Curtin, ‘my love is too great not to have my revenge’. Although Annette was found guilty of wilful murder and sentenced to death, the jury and the media were sympathetic. She had become the victim.

The Times’ editorial called for the commutation of her death sentence, and public meetings were held to campaign against capital punishment. Saving Annette’s life was the immediate priority. Mrs Curtin, Annette’s employer who regarded her as a girl ‘of most irreproachable character, very superior to the station which she occupied in life’, petitioned Queen Victoria. Annette was reprieved and taken from Newgate Prison to Tothill Fields prison for 2 years’ imprisonment, prior to transportation for life. She sailed on the Emma Eugenia to Hobart, arriving on 7 March 1851.

Annette worked as a domestic in Hobart, committing no recorded offences. In 1851, she travelled to Great Swanport to work at the property of John Lyne. A year later, she married John Desmond, a convict who arrived on the Samuel Boddington. John was Irish and illiterate, while Annette’s early life on the continent may have meant that she was able to read and write in French as well as English.

Sir Francis Myers died in 1853. Annette’s conduct record contains an undated enquiry from Mrs Williams, Alma Cottage, Earls Court. Perhaps it was to inform her of Myers’ death? Annette’s son, whom she named Francis, was born at Spring Bay in 1854. She gained a conditional pardon in May 1856, eight years after she had killed Henry Ducker. Her granddaughter, Charlotte Wright Desmond, was born in Launceston in 1872. Francis did not marry the child’s mother, Mary Ann Wright.

Annette, John and Francis moved to Victoria in 1872 where Francis married Mary Crabtree, the daughter of Rajah convict, Elizabeth Bell. They had five children.

Annette died at 109 Park Place, Toorak, Victoria, of bronchial pneumonia on 16 September 1879. She was 60 years old and her death certificate recorded the name of her father as Francis Meyers, solicitor. She had lived in Tasmania for 22 years and Victoria for seven. Annette was buried with two of her grandsons and a granddaughter.

John Desmond remarried in 1880 and fathered a daughter Rose Diana. He died in 1886. Annette’s son, Francis Desmond, died at the Kew Asylum in December 1925.

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Further reading: 

Margaret Lindley and Colette McAlpine, 'Unruly women: Julia St Clair Newman and Annette Myers', in From the Edges of Empire, eds L. Frost and C. McAlpine, Convict Women’s Press, Hobart, 2015 pp. 206-219.

 

 

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