My Great-Grandmother & Family: Jailing Rapists Since 1900

No one intimidated Ellen Jane O’Sullivan McHugh – certainly not a lawyer defending the man who abducted her teen sister.

Here’s her response in court when she was erroneously asked by the solicitor if she’d been “convicted of hiding a pregnancy.”

Witness (Nanna McHugh): No: ask me questions in connection with this case and I will answer them; otherwise I will not answer.

This part of the Nanna McHugh story starts in 1900. Australia was still a British colony and Queen Victoria was the monarch.

  • Can you imagine what it took back then to get that man jailed for the rape of my great-grandmother’s 11-year-old sister?
  • And then three years later have another man sentenced to a year of prison for the abduction of another of her sisters?

This is a tale of male entitlement, barbaric behaviour and resistance by people who didn’t have a lot; but they knew what justice looked like to them.

Also this serves as a warning to never mess with Irish Australians.

Below is my great-grandmother Ellen Jane O’Sullivan McHugh. She had 10 children, was a good Catholic, and married a charming Irishman.

Nanna McHugh outside church in Portland NSW

Her husband, Thomas Joseph McHugh, had immigrated to Australia from County Fermanagh in Northern Island.

Nanna McHugh was by all accounts a force of nature and was one of 16 children borne by her mother Mary Anne Philpot O’Sullivan.

Although born in Wellington, Australia, she grew up in the nearby Central Western New South Wales area known as Stuart Town.

It was originally called Ironbarks, the village Australian poet Banjo Paterson used for his poem, ‘Man from Ironbark’.

This story starts in January 1900, when Nanna McHugh’s sister, Charlotte A O’Sullivan, was walking with her sisters to school when she was attacked by a degenerate named Charles Flowers.

It happened at nearby Sandy Creek. The rapist was described at the time as “an elderly old blackguard.” According to Wikipedia, this means he was a scoundrel or a person of poor character. The term relates to whites.

The sisters, aged 11, 6, 12, were walking on a bush track when they met 60-year-old Flowers.

According to The Wellington Times, he took Charlotte “down a gully and committed the offences.”

He said he was mining a gully at the time of the incident. (See below)

The Wellington Times report from 1900

A judge at Dubbo Circuit Court later sentenced Flowers to three years jail, after he was found guilty of assault with intent.

At his committal hearing, Charlotte’s father and my great-great-grandfather, Timothy O’Sullivan, said Flowers had attempted to bribe him to drop the charges.

Flowers had said he didn’t want to go to jail. The O’Sullivans refused the offer of the tainted money.

They wanted Charles Flowers locked up for what he did to Charlotte.

And so he was.

According to a report in The Leader, Flowers was a married man who lived in Stuart Town.

He died in 1913, just before his wife Annie passed away.

But the O’Sullivans did not fear going up against Flowers.

My great-grandmother’s family achieved a three-year jail sentence for the elderly miner’s crimes against a young girl walking to school.

Moreover, it was significant because we know girls today are not believed.

But Charlotte’s family did believe her and they sought justice.

Nanna McHugh was living in the O’Sullivan home at the time of the assault, but was soon to be married, which brings us to the second incident in 1903.

At the time, she lived with her husband, Thomas Joseph McHugh, my great-grandfather, in nearby Orange.

William Grose,

And when an uncle disappeared with her 15-year-old sister, there was fire and brimstone waiting for him upon his return.

William Grose was charged with the abduction of Mary Anne O’Sullivan, a girl aged 15 years and 7 months, “out of the possession of her father, with intent to carnally know her.”

The incident happened while the girl was staying with friends and family in Orange.

“My sister had no intention, so far as I knew, of going away before Grose came; the second day the accused was at my place by invitation,” the now Mrs Ellen McHugh told the court.

The accused was Nanna McHugh’s step-uncle, the stepbrother of her mother and he was aged about 34.

In court, Senior Constable Nancarrow testified: “I asked him (Grose) what he was up to with the O’Sullivan girl; he said “nothing” and that he was her uncle; I told him I didn’t care if he was fifty uncles, that she was underage and that he had better let her return to her parents; he said nothing.”

The victim, Miss Mary Anne O’Sullivan testified: “I was at her place (Nanna McHugh’s) in September to help her when she was sick; was there for two or three months; my mother wrote for me to come home; I did not go then, but my uncle Mr. Grose came for me; he said to Mrs. McHugh “her mother wants her home.”

What happened next resulted in Grose not taking the 15-year-old home. Instead, they went by train to Wellington, where they stayed in a guest house room with just one bed.

Ruth Theobald, the Wellington inn keeper, said she saw the accused at her place with a young girl.

“The girl she asked for lodgings; my daughter asked him was that his wife and he said “Yes”; they occupied the room that night; one bed only bad been occupied,” she said.

Timothy O’Sullivan, the father of the girl, said Mary Ann went to Ellen’s (McHugh’s) place with his permission; but she came back to Stuart Town with Grose.

“We had not sent Grose to Ellen’s place for Mary Ann; her mother sent a letter for her; did not give accused any permission to take her away or have anything whatever to do with her,” he said.

Mr O’Sullivan said Grose spoke of wanting to marry the victim after he was charged. He was told the proposition was deeply offensive.

Mary Ann O’Sullivan, mother of the girl and my great-great-grandmother, also stated she did not tell the accused to bring Mary home.

But she had told him she had written a letter asking her to come home.

And here’s the dickhead lawyer from the start of this post, a Mr WP Kelly. He is trying to poke holes in the testimonies on the basis of reputation.

Some of the O’Sullivan family have not the very best reputation.

Mr WP Kelly, counsel for Gross

(Those if you who listen to the podcast know I despise victim blamers)

This still goes on today; looking at you Ghislaine Maxwell’s lawyers.

Grose was sentenced to a year’s jail and I bet he never went near the O’Sullivans and McHughs again.

Nanna McHugh’s headstone at Portland cemetery

I am an Irish Australian who is blessed to feel as though I am coming home when I visit Ireland.

Even for an atheist, I have a deep spiritual connection to the isle’s glorious, green farmland encapsulated by its weird, winding roads. Indigenous Australians call it connection to country & it is the best description I have of my experience.

On my first visit to Ireland, I fleetingly thought: “Have I been here before?” I hadn’t; but I felt it in my bones.

A knowingness. Was it activating through my DNA? Have I been imprinted with Irishness?Or was I drunk on Guinness?

Then it happened again on the second visit. It’s very cool to be part-Irish. I fly the flag with honour.

The O’Sullivans – I am them & they are me.

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