Monday, April 25, 2011

After David Latto left...

David Latto left his little family in New Zealand - wife Janet, children James, Jennie, Mary and Addie - around 1888 for good.  He settled in Australia, remarried and had another six children.  He never came back and there is no record of his New Zealand children hearing from him again.

However, the villain in the picture seems to be Janet, who also eventually seems to have walked away from her children.  In reality, things were probably pretty wretched, and not so straight forward for Janet Latto.  There was no DPB in 1888, and women who were abandoned were left to care for their children themselves.  

We were lead to understand that David's parents, James and Mary Latto took Jim and Jennie, the elder two children, to live on their farm in West Eyreton.  They would have been aged about three and four years old - still very young to leave their mother's care.  It must have been very hard work for their grandmother Mary, as well - she was around 66 years old.  In fact, Mary died in 1888, and so it is more likely that David's brother, George, and his wife (again Mary) took care of the two elder children.

Meanwhile, we had always understood that little Mary and Addie were fostered out practically immediately and that Janet had disappeared.  However, it is clear from the following newspaper report that Janet had tried her best to keep the children and work to support them.  Given the outcome of the following, it is little wonder Janet made the decision to foster the children out - possibly believing it was the best thing for the girls in the circumstances.  Pat believed that a couple in Ward Street fostered the two girls.  He believed that the husband of the couple was a railway crossing guard.  We tried to search directories when Pat was alive, but could never find a lead as to who those people might be.  Both Pat's mother and Addie chose not to talk about their childhood.  Possibly because it was a less than happy one.

The following report appeared in the Star newspaper on 15 April 1889:

Lizzie Parris was charged, on the information of Mrs Janet Latto, with assaulting her two little children, Mary and Adelaide, aged respectively three years and fifteen months.  Mr Stringer appeared for the defence.  The complainant's statement was that she was a married woman whose husband was away from home, and she put the children out to keep with a Mrs Graham, whose niece the accused was.  Mrs Graham went out sewing, and Parris had charge of the children.  They had been found not to be happy, and on March 18 Mrs Latto had taken them away and put them elsewhere.  Margaret Ashton, a girl of about thirteen years, testified that the children had come to her mother's house to play with her.  On returning home, witness saw accused put the children into the washhouse, and heard one of the children screaming.  She could hear the child being slapped, and called a "dirty little pig."  Mrs Graham also testified to the state the children were in on the 18th, when they were brought to her house.  Dr McBean Stewart said he saw the children on March 19, when he found that they had been badly bruised, evidently with the hand and a stick.  Some of the sores were fresh, but others bore indications of the children having been frequently beaten.  Dr Patrick had also seen them, and gave corroborative evidence.  he had never seen such cruelty to young children.  Mrs Graham said that on the occasion referred to, the children had been at Mrs Ashton's, and when they returned home, one of them was very dirty, and the accused had taken her into the wash-house to stay there till they were ready to bathe her.  For the defence, Mr Stringer called two female witnesses who had seen the children, and who stated that they had seen no cruelty of any kind.  One who had a child of her own in the establishment testified to its being kept in a proper way.  The accused, being examined, said no one had anything to do with the children  but herself.  She denied the evidence of Margaret Ashton entirely.  Dr Stewart, recalled, said the bruises indicated having been inflicted some days previous to his seeing them, as some were older looking and becoming yellow, while others were fresh.  The Bench dismissed the information.

Given the above, it's hard to be entirely critical of Janet. Perhaps, in leaving them in a permanent foster home she felt that she was doing them a favour, keeping them safe, or perhaps she simply couldn't cope.  Any which way, it is sad to think that two little children, babies, were treated so cruelly.  

There is no more of a paper trail for Janet until she had Constance Amy Latto in 1892.  Then again no trace until she married Charles Herbert Beckett in 1896 in Wellington. 

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