The Very Sad Tale of Hessie Churchill



This summer I went to see Classic Theatre’s  interactive play “The Maid and the Merchant “ in Perth. One of the story lines was about a single mother and I guess it struck a nerve. I had never really thought about it, and for months now I kept bypassing the story of Hessie Churchill and one other young woman in Appleton. Yesterday, it kept popping up in my ‘bookmarks’ and like the story of Margaret Violet King, today is the day the story of Hessie must be documented.



On July 16, 1906, Police Magistrate J.S. L. McNeely committed Hessie Churchill for trial on a charge of unlawfully abandoning a female child under two years of age therefore endangering the life of said child. Staff Capt. Ellery, matron, of the Salvation Army Rescue Home,  in Ottawa identified the accused and the child. She had placed them both on the C. P.R. train leaving Ottawa at eleven o’clock on the night of July 10.

Ellery said the accused, while in the home at Ottawa, had given her infant the best of care, nursing it and treating it affectionately. The brakeman Wm. Cope and Conductor M. O’Connell could not identify her as a passenger on the night in question. Thomas Lodge, C.P.R yard foreman at the Carleton Place junction testified that it was he who had found the child. It was clothed comfortably, although its head was uncovered. The case was to be tried quickly that very afternoon.



In a method to sell papers the Almonte Gazette really expanded the situation in their the report. Only in the Almonte Gazette was it mentioned the child “had been thrown out of the train window”.

The Gazette reported:

Hessie Churchill, the unfortunate girl who threw her month old child from the car window of a moving train as already reported was brought before His Honor Judge Senkler at Perth on Wednesday and pleaded guilty. Her counsel pleaded her previous good character, the fact that the child was uninjured, the mental torture the prisoner had suffered, and put the case so strongly that His Honor looked diligently on the erring girl and let her of on a suspended sentence.

The last report I found was in the Ottawa Journal 19 July 1906:

Hessie Churchill, the girl that was formerly employed in a Smith’s Falls hotel and was charged with abandoning her infant last week came before Judge Senkler for trial yesterday. She was liberated upon a suspended sentence. The child will be placed under the guardianship of a family in Lanark County. Quite a number have asked to give the pretty little innocent a good home. The child now lacks but two days of being a month old. Judge Senkler reprimanded the prisoner severely on finding her guilty, however as her previous conduct had been good and as she had a good reputation, he allowed her to go on a suspended sentence.

After being unable to let go of the story I found out that Hessie had married a local boy from Drummond Township in 1897. She was barely 18 years-old at the time of marriage. If I would make a guess, I would say the marriage became abusive and she left and worked in the hotel in Smith’s Falls. After having the baby the Salvation Army put her on a train back to Carleton Place, intending on sending her back to her husband. Hessie probably feared for her child, and in a lost moment she left her baby knowing someone else would give it a better home.

After that date I cannot find any mention of her and her husband. What happened to the child of Hessie Churchill, and where are her descendants now? I wonder if the child ever found out the sacrifice her Mother made for her so she would grow up and have a happier life than poor Hessie Churchill did.

Thanks to Carlene Bryant we have a photo of Judge Senkler who used to make the rounds as judge in Lanark County.

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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