Sophia Whiting 1839-1875

Parents: Thomas Whiting and Mary Ann Crackling (1)
Born: 6th May 1839 in Beggars Row, Haverhill.(1,2)
Baptised: 9th June 1839 at St Mary's Parish Church, Haverhill (1)
Married (1): Frederick Burt, 24 (actual age was 31), on 9th November 1854 at Trinity Church, Adelaide, Australia. (3)
Children: ?
Married (2): Robert Minter, in 1873 in Adelaide.(5)
Children: ?
Died: 1st July 1875. Buried at West Terrace Cemetery, Road 3, Adelaide.(5,4)

Bio: Sophia appears on the 1841 census living in Burton End with her parents Thomas and Mary Whiting. On the 1851 census she is living in Peas Hill, Haverhill with her father, younger brother Henry and step-mother, another Mary. Her natural mother had died in 1843. She is working as a silk-winder.

The next year, age 13, Sophia emigrated to South Australia with her family aboard the China on 26th july 1852 (see Thomas Whiting). She is on the passenger list as being 16 years of age. There is a record of her marriage to a Frederick Burt in 1854 in Adelaide.(3) She is said to be 17 here, which seems to tie in with the fact that her 'Australian age' is slightly higher than her real age. The actual marriage register may contain further details that would confirm that this is her, but I am happy that they are a match.

So, given that she was actually just 15 at the time of her marriage and Frederick at 31 (not 24, as we shall see later) was more than twice her age, it is not surprising that it didn't work out as well as it might have done.

There are several references to Sophia in local newspapers in the coming years that give us snapshots of the kind of behavior that seemed to characterize what must have become an unhappy situation for her.

In the Adelaide Police Courts on the 15th May 1871 'Sophia Burt, for obscene language, was fined 10s.'(7) Next year, at the same courts on 31st January 1872: 'John Gandey, labourer, and Sophia, wife of Fredk. Burt, were fined 10s, each for being drunk.'(9)

Several years later she again received what seemed to be a standard fine, but this time for more dubious pursuits: 'Police Courts: Adelaide: Friday January 31st 1873. Sophia Burt, a married woman, was charged with loitering in King William-street on the evening of the 30th for the purposes of prostitution. Fined 10s.'(8)

The same incident is described in the South Australian Advertiser - 'Sophia Burt, wife of Frederick Burt, labourer, and Augusta Watson, widow, were each fined 10s on charges of loitering &c'(10)

Where was Frederick during all of this? It seems he and Sophia had grown apart, and may not even have been living with each other at this point. Frederick's work as a bushman meant he was away for large stretches of time, but as if this wasn't enough, their separation would shortly become that much more final.

Frederick was to meet his end on 5th July 1873, the victim of a grisly murder perpetrated by William Ridgway who was to become the youngest man to be executed in South Australia.

The Coonatto Run Murder would become notorious around Australia at this time. Although at first the accused, William Ridgway, 19, protested his innocence the evidence was compelling and this, coupled with the manner of his confession just before execution, was a gift for the newspapers.

The Maitland Mercury gave this overview of what happened:

'The Adelaide Observer of December 13th gives a very full report of the trial in Adelaide on Dec 9th and following days of William Ridgway, a young man aged twenty, for the murder of Frederick Burt, near Coonatto, about June 5th, 1873. The facts of the case were thus stated to the jury by the Crown Prosecutor :- In December 1872, two men went up north to Mount Remarkable looking for work. They both succeeded in obtaining employment at Coonatto on the station of Messrs. Grant and Stokes. One of these was well advanced in years; and was the deceased Frederick Burt. The other was much younger, and was the prisoner at the bar. They were both employed on the station for some time, during which it became well known that deceased would be possessed of (for a man in his station of life) a considerable sum of money. Prisoner always manifested a great interest in the deceased, and averred that he was very fond of him.

Subsequently deceased announced his intention of coming to Adelaide, and on his doing so prisoner said he would accompany him, as Burt was subject to fits, and also that he might get on the spree with his money. It would be shown that at that time prisoner was almost destitute of money. Accordingly the two left Coonatto together. They were last seen together entering a large sheep paddock, about two miles from the head station. The next occurrence was the finding of a body in the paddock about 60 yards from the track, in a thick saltbush scrub, and covered with boughs. It would be proved that prisoner had been seen going into a sheep paddock with deceased, and it would be shown that on the afternoon of the same day he was met by a man and his wife. Prisoner was on horseback, and apparently rode with one stirrup longer than the other. Blood was also noticed on his trousers. It appears the man and his wife new that deceased and prisoner had left Coonatto together, and they asked prisoner what he had done with "Daddy", as deceased was commonly called.

Prisoner seemed confused and replied that Burt had turned back with a half-caste and white man who were travelling sheep. The accused was afterwards seen by other persons, and accompanied by a dog that left Coonatto with deceased, and produced a considerable quantity of money and a cheque, and the latter, it would be proved, was the property of the deceased. Prisoner also gave contrary accounts of what had become of his companion. The stirrup which he was using, also, was bent, and he explained that by saying he had killed a kangaroo with it. The trial occupied three days, and terminated in a verdict of guilty. Prisoner was sentenced to death.'(11)

William Ridgway was hanged on 1st January 1874 at Adelaide Gaol.

'..This crime he confessed a few days prior to his execution. The condemned man was attended throughout his incarceration by the Rev. J. Bickford, Wesleyan minister, to whom he admitted his guilt, as well as to Mr J. Howell, the governor of the Gaol.

At 8.10 am the convict was conducted from his cell to the scaffold, attended by his spiritual adviser and the prison officials. Ridgway walked steadily up the steps in silence, appearing, however, to fully realize his position, and listened earnestly to the exhortations of the minister. When the drop fell, death was seemingly instantaneous, as the slight muscular movement at first observable ceased almost immediately, and after examination proved that the man's neck was dislocated.

..we understand that Ridgway, who latterly has expressed great penitence, in one of his statements made a few days ago said that he killed Burt with a stirrup-iron as they rode side by side through the scrub, and that after the blow the old man exclaimed - "Billy, don't do that; you're sure to be found out!'. He concealed the corpse under some bushes, and put the deceased's swag near a fence. The cheque which was produced at the trial he changed at Mr T. Marshall's store in Melrose. When asked what motive he had for committing the crime, the murderer replied that he did not know why he did it, as he had money and did not drink, but he supposed that the devil tempted him. He only meditated killing Burt the day before he murdered him.'(12)

Interestingly, not much is revealed about Fred Burt's previous life in accounts of the trial. There is, however, a relative who gives testimony: 'Charlotte Burt - I live at Bowden. I am single. I knew deceased. He was my brother. I last saw him June 4th 1872. We were expecting him back. He generally stayed away for about twelve months. I received one letter from him which I did not answer. I have not heard anything of my brother since. I know the waist-coat produced; it was my brother's. Cross-examined: He was married, but did not live with his wife. She is unable to attend court, as she has gone out of her mind.'(13)

No name is mentioned, but this description fits the circumstances of Sophia given the notoriety she appears to have acquired.

The circumstantial evidence for the Frederick Burt who was murdered being the same Frederick that Sophia married is strong given that names, dates and places seem to tie in. Bowden was a suburb of Adelaide, so all three had a connection to the area. Hopefully more concrete evidence will come to light.

The knowledge that Charlotte Burt was the murdered Frederick's sister allows us to trace their origins, at least.

Charlotte came to Australia as an assisted immigrant aboard the Zemindar and landed in Botany Bay on 23rd August 1857.(14) She was from Odcombe, Somersetshire, and her occupation is listed as general servant. Her parents, Luke and Martha were referred to as being dead and it seems she went to Australia to be with her brother Frederick, who by that time had already been there for 8 years and was married to Sophia.

Frederick had sailed from Plymouth aboard the Lysander, also as an assisted immigrant, and had arrived at Port Phillip on 13th January 1849(15). His listed his place of origin is 'Odkin, Somersetshire', a corruption of Odcombe.

We see both Charlotte and Frederick on the 1841 census in Odcombe living with Luke, Martha and older brothers Isaac and John Burt.(16)

Baptismal records reveal that Frederick was actually around 50 at the time of his murder, having been christened at Odcombe on 2nd March 1823.(17)

It appears Sophia married again in the same year that Frederick was murdered. The marriage of a Sophia Burt to Frederick Minter is recorded in Adelaide in 1873.(5)

She was to die two years later in the Adelaide district at the age of only 36(6), and the death of Charlotte Burt followed two years later in 1877.(18)

Thanks to Beryl Schahinger at South Australia Genealogy and Heraldry Society for drawing my attention to Sophia's second marriage and death.


(1) Suffolk Records Office, Bury St Edmunds, Parish Registers of St Mary's Church, Haverhill. Fiche 578/4/p10 of 37
(2) Birth Register. 2nd Quarter 1839, Risbridge district, Volume 12 Page 390
(3) Holy Trinity Church Register, Adelaide.
(4) Burial Index, Adelaide Cemeteries Authority, Sophia Minter, died 1/7/1875, aged 35, West Terrace Cemetery, Road 3.
(5) Marriage Index. Robert Minter and Sophia Burt, 1873, Reg. 97/678, Adelaide, South Australia.
(6) Death Index. Sophia Minter, 1875, Reg. 67/271, Adelaide, South Australia.
(7) 1871 'POLICE COURTS.', South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), 16 May, p. 3,
(8) 1873 'POLICE COURTS.', South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), 1 February, p. 3,
(9) 1872 'POLICE COURTS.', South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), 2 February, p. 3,
(10) 1873 'LAW COURTS.', The South Australian Advertiser(Adelaide, SA : 1858 - 1889), 1 February, p. 3,
(11) 1874 'THE COONATTO RUN MURDER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA.', The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893), 1 January, p. 4,
(12) 1874 'EXECUTION OF WILLIAM RIDGWAY.', South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), 2 January, p. 5,
(13) 1873 'LAW AND CRIMINAL COURTS.', South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), 11 December, p. 3,
(14) State Records Authority of New South Wales; Kingswood New South Wales, Australia; Persons on bounty ships to Sydney, Newcastle, and Moreton Bay (Board's Immigrant Lists); Series: 5317; Reel: 2476
(15) State Records Authority of New South Wales; Kingswood New South Wales, Australia; Persons on bounty ships arriving at Port Phillip (Agent's Immigrant Lists); Series: 5318; Reel: 2144; ; Item: [4/4816]
(16) Class: HO107; Piece: 946; Book: 13; Civil Parish: Odcombe; County: Somerset; Enumeration District: 15; Folio: 21; Page: 8; Line: 1; GSU roll: 474599.
(17) FamilySearch ( : Frederick Burt, 02 Mar 1823; citing Odcombe, Somerset, England, reference item 28 p 21; FHL microfilm 1526684.
(18) Death Index. Charlotte Burt, 1877, Reg. 82/497, Adelaide, South Australia.