Nine Stories Nine Women – 8- May Chenery

Nine Stories Nine Women -8- May Chenery

In keeping with the theme of Queensland Women’s Week 2019 – Invest in Women, Invest in the future.  Talking about financial insecurity and literacy.    The stories of the women of Boggo Road Gaol directly represent what goes wrong when women are faced with financial insecurity and other difficult circumstances.
This year, in honour of these women we have produced Nine Stories Nine Women a series of short stories representative of the different circumstances that women found themselves in.  May Chenery is the eighth of our nine stories.


Name (with aliases): May Chenery– no aliases

Native Place:  Queensland

Year of Birth: 1905

Trade or Calling:  Domestic

Religion:  Church of England

Education: R & W

Height: 4 feet 10 inches

Weight: 6 Stone 5 pounds

Hair:  Brown

Eyes: Brown

Complexion: Fresh

Build:  Slight

Features:  False teeth upper jaw


The extraordinary case of May Chenery is one for the books. Convicted of conspiracy to defraud, she with her lover were sentenced to time in Boggo Road Gaol. However, at the trial her lover threw himself on the mercy of the court, begging that she be set free… that she was a victim of circumstance.  The Judge saw things a little differently…Built in a tiny frame of an even smaller woman is one incredible story.

May Chenery was born in 1905 to Ernest George Chenery and his wife Olivette Louise Francis.   Ernest was an employee in the Post and Telegraph office and would eventually work as postmaster all-over north-western Queensland.   Well educated May was certainly an astute woman.

In 1926 She went into business for herself.  She became a travelling saleswoman, selling all kinds of articles to households in the western districts of north Queensland. It was in from her home in Mackay she was running her business.   It was here that she met her silver fox.   An older very successful man by the name of William Jackson.   William a leading optometrist in the northern district.   He was twenty-four years her senior, married and had a family residing in Sydney.

May however was instantly in love.  He was everything she dreamed of… successful, handsome and presently apart from his wife and child.

Business was booming, May made quite the living for herself even purchasing herself a motor car.  This was until 1929.


On the 8th of June 1929 it was alleged in court that William Jackson and May Chenery obtained goods by deceit from the Diamond Slipper Company of Sydney.  A manufacturer of shoes and slippers.   The value of the goods was in excess of £700.  In court, in their defence William Jackson stated that the company had tried “Salting” May Chenery and that they would get exactly the amount they deserved “Nothing”

Salting – it was described was sending goods in an out of date design at a price far above their reasonable value.

Allegedly, the Diamond Slipper Company salted May and the goods were valueless.   However, it would come to light in court, that the company was not the only one to fall victim to William Jackson and May Chenery and that a total of £1250 worth of goods was missing and only £200 had been recovered during the ensuing investigation by police.

The evidence against the pair was enormous.  The jury were not out very long when they came back with a verdict of Guilty against both parties.

They were convicted of Conspiracy to defraud The Diamond Slipper Company.  They were referred to the bankruptcy court for the attempted recovery of any monies.  In sentencing the following extraordinary scenes took place.

William Jackson – “I am prepared to stand all of the sentence you give us two, only give it to me and let this young woman go free” Jackson appealed. “she had absolutely nothing to do with this. No idea came into her head to conspire with me.  She has been absolutely wonderful to me, and I have had some domestic trouble. She was a simple victim of circumstance.”

Justice Henchman in passing sentence of 12 months imprisonment with Hard Labour in the case of William Jackson and 9 months in the case of May Chenery.

Justice Henchman – “ I could not properly take the view that you were merely a tool. I assume that you were fully cognisant of what you were doing.”  However, Justice Henchman agreed that Jackson was the more dominant personality and May, had over reached her good judgement.

So, on the 2nd of June 1930, May Chenery and William Jackson took the long ride to Boggo Road Gaol.


This case gets better yet!

For the first time in Queensland history a full bankruptcy court was held inside the walls of Boggo Road Gaol especially for this case.  Six months into their sentence, May and William were again before the court, this time in the chapel of Boggo Road Gaol.

Interestingly, May was released just 12 days after this court was held.   Thankfully for May this was the end of her troubles.  She returned to the free world without William Jackson.   She married in 1942 and moved to Sydney.   Sadly, May Chenery died at the age of 45 in Sydney.  Her husband only surviving her by three years.

Come and get locked up in Boggo Road Gaol for International Women’s Day Experience what life was like for the women from the earliest times of the female division in our fully immersive tour experience Join us for a History Tour on the 8th of March to be a part of our very special International Women’s Day event.

Tickets for International Women’s Day are strictly limited so get in quickly to secure your spot.  You do not want to miss this! Click here to book now! 


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