A beautiful summer’s day in the January of 1894 was to turn the city on its head. Three siblings went crabbing near the William Street Jetty only two returned home.
Victoria Hilda Chipper, known as Hilda, was found drowned at one o’clock the following morning, what tragic events had taken place? Hilda was the daughter of John Charles Chipper and Grace Gertrude nee Albert, their daughter was only 7 years of age when she sadly died on the 20th January 1894. The story of her death filled the papers in the colony for some months to come.
Originally it was thought that Hilda had fallen off the William Street jetty and drowned, however her two brother’s stories started to differ. A couple of men had been aboard a boat in close vicinity to the three children who had been crabbing and generally playing, they had not heard either splashing or any cries for help. Charles Chipper Hilda’s half brother it seems had been the cause of his sister’s death, the siblings had been arguing and Hilda threw a jellyfish at Charles and it hit him in the face, Charles then slapped his sister on the face and pushed her in the back from the steps of the jetty into the water. Charles had refused to give or seek any assistance for his sister.
An inquest was held, during which evidence was heard from Joseph Willis, Henry Pearce, William Whitsaw, as well as the police. The witnesses all told the court that the boys had not asked for any assistance nor had they heard Hilda cry for help.
Charles Chipper, was 16 years of age, he gave evidence to the Coroner that he had been crabbing with his sister Hilda and brother Willie, during the afternoon, Hilda had caught two jellyfish in her net she threw one on the jetty the other in his face. Charles then went on to tell the court that he hit his sister on the back and she fell in the water, she disappeared and then came up near the steps of the jetty. He then went on to say that there was shallow water nearby, I went up the steps wound up my line and went home. He also deposed that he walked up the steps because he was frightened, he hit her because she threw the jelly fish at him, he had not meant to throw her in the water. He had not told his parents because he was frightened that his mother would give him a whipping. He stated that he had hit his sister earlier because she would not do as she was told.
The Coroner summed up by saying that all involved were incredibly affected by what they had heard, he regretted that the newspapers had published reports on the sad death and that there was no means of preventing them publishing such information.
Charles was charged with manslaughter. At a trial in April of the same year he was found guilty and sentenced to two years imprisonment at Rottnest.
WRITTEN BY CHERIE STRICKLAND AND LORRAINE CLARKE – SWAN GENEALOGY