The Forlorn Death of Mary Emmett

Mary’s body is found

Early in the morning of Good Friday in 1938, a bottle collector found the dead body of 32 year old Mary Emmett in a rockery near Brisbane Girls Grammar School on Gregory Terrace, Brisbane.

Mary emmett death

The Queensland Times, 16th April 1938 (TROVE)

The police soon came to the conclusion that her body had been placed in the rockery after her death. Further, she was carrying a considerable amount of money. Their belief, following an autopsy, was that she had sought an abortion, then illegal in Queensland, and that she had died as a result of the procedure.

Mary Martha Emmett

Mary Martha Emmett

Mary’s predicament

Mary lived with her husband Thomas and their three children in Franklin Street, Highgate Hill. The youngest child was just 20 months old and Mary had almost died during this previous pregnancy. She had been advised to have no further children, however she fell pregnant again and had already been treated for heamorrhaging.

When she said that wanted to have an abortion, Thomas Emmett gave his wife what money he had and she borrowed the rest against an insurance policy. Mary told her husband Thomas that she would be going to Oriel Road although she didn’t know who she would be seeing there.

Suspicion fell on society doctor Victor Wilson as it seemed that Mary Emmett had had an appointment in the T&G building where Doctor Wilson’s surgery was located. He also practised from his home in Oriel Road, Clayfield.

emmett 44 oriel road

Doctor Wilson’s house in Oriel Road.

The inquest

Both Doctor Wilson and his sister-in-law and assistant Gladys Tuesley were called to give evidence at the coroner’s inquest.

Gladys Tuesley and Dr. Victor Wilson. Brisbane Truth, 19 June 1938 (TROVE)

Gladys Tuesley and Dr. Victor Wilson. Brisbane Truth, 19th June 1938 (TROVE)

Newspaper reports referred to the fact that Victor Wilson and Gladys Tuesley were already well known to their readers through the detailed reporting over two years of divorce proceedings instigated by Wilson’s wife and Gladys’s sister, Mary Wilson.

At the inquest, detective Frank Bischoff, who had conducted much of the investigation, stated that he believed Mary Emmett had died at Wilson’s Oriel Road home but that there was insufficient evidence to sustain a criminal charge.

Emmett inquest

Brisbane Courier-Mail, 16th June 1938 (TROVE)

Both Wilson and Tuesley denied any knowledge of Mrs. Emmett and the inquest closed without result.

Life goes on

Thomas Emmett, a wharf labourer, was left with three small children to bring up. However, he remarried four years later in 1942.

Thomas Alfred Emmett

Thomas Alfred Emmett

Newspaper reporting of the private lives of Doctor Victor Wilson,  his wife Mary and new partner Gladys continued to appear in newspaper reporting for decades. In a custody battle over their three children that Victor eventually won, the judge commented that neither was a suitable parent. There was reporting on tax evasion, gambling debts, bankruptcies and alimony payments.  The two sisters Mary and Gladys took a dispute over ownership of a racehorse to the Supreme Court.

Wilson was also implicated in other abortion cases.

Frank Bischoff, the detective investigating the case, rose through the ranks to become Queensland Police Commissioner in 1958. He retired suddenly in 1969 and shortly later evidence of corruption relating to gambling was made public. He was charged with stealing but the government decided not to proceed.

Frank Bischof in 1958 (State Library of Queensland)

Frank Bischof in 1958. (State Library of Queensland)

Abortion becomes legal in Queensland

Eighty years later in 2018, abortion was still illegal under the Queensland Penal Code of 1899. However, as a result of the precedent of test cases over time, it was considered lawful in the prevention of serious danger to physical or mental health.

In October 2018, the Queensland Parliament passed a bill moving abortion from the penal code to health regulations.

emmet grave

Mary Emmet’s gravestone in South Brisbane Cemetery.

8 thoughts on “The Forlorn Death of Mary Emmett

  1. Hi Paul,
    I’m really loving these stories, as I grew up at Highgate Hill. However, I haven’t yet been able to access ‘The Forlorn Death of Mary Emmett’. There is no story on the page, just the heading and date, then the stuff at the bottom, from ‘Share This’, etc. Is it actually missing, or is my computer being difficult?


    • Hi Wendy

      I’m so glad that you are enjoying my blog. I don’t get much feedback from readers. I had a look and the text of the Mary Emmettt post has mysteriously disappeared . I’ll have to contact WordPress support to see if they can help. I hope they can as it would be a lot of work for me to get all the details together again. It’s actually a very sad story.



    • Hi Wendy, I’ve managed to restore the post . My sister told me a few months ago that I’d misspelt ‘forlorn ‘ and somehow I managed to delete all the body of the post whilst correcting the title !


    • In a strange twist I discovered that one of Dad’s cousins and his girlfriend were witnesses in a court case regarding the same doctor . They had obtained an abortion because for some reason they were unable to get married. Months later Dad’s cousin was killed in Singapore at the time of the Japanese invasion.


  2. Hi Paul,

    My mum has recently found your blog while searching for information regarding her grandmother online, Mary Martha Emmett, who is My Great Grandmother. As my grand father John Emmett whom was quite young at the time of his mother’s death, is very private and does not talk about his early childhood years as he had a very traumatic upbringing. As we do not want to press him for information regarding his mother, we would like to know if there is anymore information you have about her. Her first daughter Jean Emmett ( whom we called Aunty Peg) has her wedding dress on display and information about her life and on being a war bride in World War Two in the MacArthur Museum Brisbane. If there is any further information you would like regarding your search, We would be more than happy to help if we can.
    Kind Regards,
    Teegan Astill ( Great Granddaughter) and Elisa Emmett (Granddaughter)


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