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Bridget Hurford was a violent woman who terrified her husband, John, but when she decided he had to go, she made sure someone else killed him. This was a big mistake.

John Hurford, a farmer in the new colony of Western Australia, had made his fortune and when he decided, in his sixties, to settle down, he proposed to Bridget Larkin, a widow about half his age.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Bridget had six children to support and in those days a woman couldn’t simply put her children in day care and get a job. In 1851, the couple married and settled at Fishleigh Farm, near the coastal town of Busselton.

The marriage didn’t work. Before the first year was out, neighbours were seeing them fight. Bridget even knocked out some of her husband’s teeth. In early 1855, John Hurford told his neighbour, John Green, that Bridget had thrown him out and he needed somewhere to stay till he could move into a new home he had bought. Mr Green let him share a room with George Jones, one of the farm workers.

But in March, Mr Green had to ask John to move out due to lack of space. He had to move back to the farm. George had heard Bridget threaten to kill John a number of times. In fact, she had threatened to kill George as well. For John’s safety, George agreed to share a room with him at the farm.

One day,John came home with a bad cold. Bridget pretended to feel sorry for him and sent him to bed with a hot drink. She told George that her husband felt so sick that he wanted to sleep by himself that night. After this, she made sure that her family and servants were either asleep or out of the house.

Then she found her boyfriend, a farmhand called Enoch Dodd, and ordered him to kill her husband. Enoch was frightened to do this, but he was even more afraid of Bridget. She gave him plenty of alcohol, to make him braver, and finally he went into the room where John Hurford lay asleep and strangled him.

Bridget told John Green and George Jones that she had found her husband dead. When George and another farmhand were preparing the body for burial the next day, they noticed a red mark on his neck. A policeman was called in.

A Dr Bryan examined the body, but didn’t think the mark meant anything. He declared that John had died of natural causes. Someone found a will that put Bridget in charge of her husband’s estate, although he had told George he would never leave her anything.

Bridget might have got away with the crime, but Enoch Dodd was nervous. He drank too much one night and talked. He told everything to a man called Philip Dixon, who also worked for Bridget. Enoch needed someone to tell his troubles to and Dixon seemed to be the right person because he was the one who had produced the fake will and wouldn’t dare tell anyone.

Sooner or later all this talk was going to get out and it did. Bridget, Enoch and Philip were arrested and tried in October 1855. The whole sorry story came out. The so-called Dr Bryan, who had said John died of natural causes, turned out not to be a doctor at all. He didn’t even know what you did with a stethoscope, the instrument doctors use to listen to a patient’s heartbeat.

Philip Dixon was sentenced to life imprisonment in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). Enoch and Bridget were sentenced to death. Bridget believed she wouldn’t be executed because she was a woman.

Bridget Hurford found out how wrong she was on 15 October. She became the first woman in Western Australia to be hanged.

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