Sarah Fogo feared her husband’s drinking and violent temper would lead him to murder her so after more than 30 years of marriage she did the only thing she felt she could – she killed him.
Outwardly, Thomas Telfer Fogo was a respected member of Dunedin’s society, a member of the Caledonian Club, a sought-after painter and a good family man. But behind closed doors, Fogo was a man with an alcohol problem and a violent temper, which was usually directed at Sarah and their adult daughter Georgina.
Thomas was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1835 to Robert Fogo and Mary Telfer. He arrived in New Zealand in 1861 and after trying his hand at gold mining on the West Coast, settled in Dunedin where he went into the boot-making trade alongside his brother John. He married Sarah Muir in 1868.
For 32 years the couple lived an outwardly happy life, raising two children. But Fogo’s drinking was slowly destroying their marriage and fraying Sarah’s nerves. When, on September 29, 1900, Thomas awoke from a night of drinking gin and demanded Sarah get him another drink, she had reached the end of her patience. She refused. Her response infuriated him. He picked up a knife and threatened to cut her throat. He then moved to lock the bedroom door and as he did so, she hit him over the back of the head with a walking stick. Sarah then walked downstairs to the kitchen, selected a long-bladed, cook’s knife and returned to their bedroom. She locked the door and then stabbed him through the chest killing him almost instantly.
When the doctor arrived, Sarah said: “I have done it. I did it in self-defence. Had I not done it, I would have been a corpse myself.”
She was charged with her husband’s murder.
Fogo was buried in Dunedin’s Northern Cemetery on October 1, 1900.
At the inquest, held on October 3, Sarah’s lawyer JR Thornton persuaded the coroner to close the hearing to the public and the media. The move left some newspaper editors furious and members of the public to wait for Sarah’s trial for murder to find out what had happened.
It was not a long wait. The trial began on November 30 and Thornton took great pains to illustrate that Fogo was quarrelsome when in drink, occasionally violent, irritable when recovering from a drinking bout and a morose and selfish man. Evidence showed Fogo had recently assaulted Sarah and thrown both her and Georgina out of the house. Despite the efforts of Mr Thornton to outline the awful situation Sarah was in, the jury, on December 1, 1900, found her guilty of Fogo’s murder. The Government later commuted the inevitable death sentence to life in prison. Sarah served six years of her life sentence and was released from prison on November 24, 1906. She died on April 28, 1911 at the age of 74, and, unusually, is buried in the same plot as the husband she murdered.
Picture: Otago Witness October 3, 1900, pg 45.
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