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Constance Kent - The 'murderess', State Library of Victoria

Constance Kent – The ‘murderess’, State Library of Victoria

In 1929, an 85-year-old Sydney nurse and public servant named Ruth Emilie Kaye wrote a 3,000-word letter called the Sydney Document. In it, she confessed to murdering her three- year-old brother when she was just 16 years old. Her real name was Constance Kent, and I spoke about her fascinating story with Mitch on 2SER Breakfast this morning for the Dictionary of Sydney.

On 30 June 1860, three-year-old Francis Savill Kent was found dead in a disused outdoor toilet with his throat cut near his home in Wiltshire, England. Five years later, his older sister, Constance Emilie Kent confessed to murdering her brother and went to prison for 20 years.

After she was released, she changed her name to Ruth Emilie Kaye and emigrated to Australia arriving in February 1886, just six months after her release. She was a single of woman of independent means, establishing herself as a nurse and public servant, all the while keeping her dark past a secret.

She worked initially in Melbourne as a volunteer in typhoid tents before training as a nurse. Her first substantive appointment as a sister-in-charge was at the Coast Hospital at Little Bay in Sydney in 1894. She then worked as the Matron of the Industrial School for Girls at Parramatta, which became one of the most notorious child welfare and juvenile justice institutions run by the NSW Goverment. Throughout her 11 years at the institution, she was known as Miss Kaye or Matron Kaye and was allocated spacious lodgings and servants.

Among her duties at Parramatta Girls Home, in addition to supervising the general running of the school, was to organise and facilitate their evening activities, which included ‘readings, recitations and vocal and instrumental music’. She also gave lectures to the older girls aimed at curbing ‘sexual delinquency’.

In 1909, she left the school and worked in Mittagong before taking up a position as Matron of the Pierce Memorial Nurses’ Home at East Maitland until 1932, when she retired and lived in Strathfield, Sydney. She died on 10 April 1944, aged 100. Before her death, Constance wrote a 3,000-word letter named the Sydney Document, in which she detailed her difficult relationship with her stepmother as a motivation for killing her half brother. In the weeks leading up to her death, Constance also contacted her niece, Olive, to whom she confessed her crime; a secret past life she had been hiding for almost 60 years.

Dictionary of Sydney writer Noeline Kyle notes that Constance was a strong and central figure in her family, and viewed the killing as an act of revenge. She quotes Constance’s final words in the Sydney Document, expressed in the third person, perhaps illustrating how Constance viewed herself and wanted to be remembered:

After her release she changed her name and went overseas and single handed fought her way to a good position and made a home for herself where she was well liked and respected before she died.

Listen to my segment at 2SER radio. For other interesting segments, see my Dictionary of Sydney project post and visit the Dictionary of Sydney blog.