A dead baby found by a nurse in Woolwich: A mother is accused

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There are few crimes that generate so much emotion as the killing of a child. Every year at least one of my students is likely to come forward to suggest doing a dissertation or small research project on infanticide. It is an act so awful that we struggle to understand which makes it, seemingly at least, all the more fascinating.

Very many women, most of them young, the vast majority unmarried, were accused of killing their babies or children in the Victorian era. For most I believe, killing was never their intention; the infant died because of problems at birth or poverty and neglect soon afterwards.  The image of the ‘evil’ mother is almost certainly a myth.

Jane Ward was just such a mother. In November 1860 Jane appeared before Mr Maude at Woolwich Police court accused of causing the death of newborn baby girl. She was remanded for a week after which she was sent for trial at the Old Bailey.

Matilda Wyatt was a nurse working at the Royal Military Academy by Woolwich Common. As she walked in the garden of the army medical school she saw something on the ground, close by the road. As she bent down she realized that it was the body of a baby wrapped in calico, and horrified, she took it to the police.

The police made some enquiries and this led them to the home of Jane Ward’s father, a dairyman in Shooter’s Hill. PC Turner (61R) made a search of the house and found one of Jane’s dresses with a square of fabric cut from it, a square that matched the piece of calico exactly.

A Blackheath surgeon, Mr Tyler, performed a post mortem on the dead child. He checked the lungs (an increasingly outdated method of determining whether a baby had been stillborn or not) and judged it had been born alive. This suggested that Jane must have killed it, deliberately or otherwise. A second doctor examined Jane and confirmed that she had recently given birth. The evidence against her seemed conclusive.

Jane admitted that the baby was hers but denied its murder.

At the Old Bailey later that year Jane was charged, not with infanticide but the less serious charge of concealing a birth. This carried a maximum two-year prison sentence. In the event Jane was acquitted but no details are given beyond establishing that she had a defense barrister arguing her case in court. Sadly then we have no idea of the circumstances that explain what happened to Jane’s baby or why she left it in the academy grounds. All we can say is that it must have been as traumatic for her as it was for the poor nurse who discovered it.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, November 23, 1860]

‘Weel, your honour, I was three sheets to the wind, and that’s all about it’: A Tyneside collier in the Thames Police court

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The London press delighted in occasionally giving their readership a flavor of the drama that unfolded in the metropolitan police courts. There was plenty of pathos but also humour for balance, and if a reporter could poke fun at a regional or foreign accent, so much the better.

John Leslie was a seaman. He was master of the Sarah, a collier that brought coal down from the north east of England to unload at the London docks. It was a tough life but he was his own man and earned a decent wage for the fuel he delivered to the capital.

In early November 1863 he had unloaded his cargo and so he headed for pubs and lodging houses close by the docks, in Ratcliffe and Wapping. At some point, and it is not clear why, Leslie, much the worse for drink, went in search of his mother.

He turned up at the home of Mrs Elizabeth Farrier at 131 Wapping High Street, Banging on the door he demanded to be let in shouting ‘I want my mother!’ Mrs Farrier said that no one answering to his mother’s name lived there, he was mistaken and should go away. But John was determined and in his drunken rage he pushed past her into the house. As she tried to stop him he punched her in the face and swore at her.

The tumult alerted the house and Mrs Farrier’s neighbours and a policeman was summoned. PC Palmer managed to arrest Leslie and dragged him off to the station. The next morning he was stood in the dock at Thames Police court charged with violent assault.

In his defense a chastened Leslie said he was merely looking for his mother.

‘You should prosecute the search for your mother at reasonable hours, and when you are sober’,

the magistrate (Mr Partridge) admonished him.

‘Weel, your honour, I was three sheets to the wind, and that’s all about it’,

the man replied in a strong north eastern accent.

When asked if he had been ‘paid off’ Leslie countered that he was not a mere sailor but his own boss:

‘Eh mon! I am not paid off at all. I am master of my own ship’.

That didn’t do him any favours with the justice who, determining that he was a man of means (despite his rough appearance) fined 40for the assault, a considerable sum by the standards of assault prosecutions in the 1860s. However, Leslie was a ‘man of means’ and he paid the money immediately and went on his way leaving the mystery of his mother’s location unsolved.

[from The Globe, 13 November 1863]

A ‘typical girl’ in the dock at Clerkenwell

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In my seminar last week my students and I were discussing forms of property crime in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. One of those we focused on was shoplifting, noting its increasing importance in contemporary discourse in the 1700s (as the number of shops in London grew and the emphasis on the display of goods made them more vulnerable to opportunistic thieves).

They were interested to note that women made up a more equal  proportion of defendants at the Old Bailey in shoplifting trials than they did, say, in highway robbery or burglaries.  Indirect thefts, such as shoplifting or pocket-picking, were much more likely to feature females or children than the direct and often violent or dangerous crimes of robbery and housebreaking or burglary.

We also looked at what shoplifters stole and at why female thieves mostly seemed to have filched items that fitted within their social sphere. Thus women took clothes, or linen and lace, lengths of materials, and ribbons. Men, by comparison, stole tools, money, and precious items such as watches. Women did take these as well, but images of female thieves with ribbons and lace tucked under their clothes are more common.

The explanation is straightforward: women took things they could use or easily get rid of. There was a huge market in secondhand clothes and materials into which thieves could ‘invest’ their loot. Suspicions might be raised by a woman walking through town with a bag of working-men’s tools but not by a basket of ribbons.

Mary Ann Stanniel was only 18 when she appeared before Mr D’Eyncourt at Clerkenwell Police court in November 1860 but she had already established an unwanted reputation as a ‘well-known shoplifter’. On this occasion she was charged with taking two samples of silk ribbon belonging to John Skinner a linen draper on the Pentonville Road.

Mary had entered Skinner’s shop with a friend and then engaged the shopkeeper in conversation in a classic distraction technique. They asked him to show them two completely different sorts of product and Skinner was on his guard. He’d been robbed before and spotted the attempted deception.

However, having two young women in his shop, each demanding to see different things at the same time he was hard pushed to keep his eyes on both of them. He called his wife to help and she provided the necessary extra pair of eyes. Soon afterwards she noticed that a piece of blue ribbon was missing. Mrs Skinner came round the counter and took hold of Mary Ann’s hand, turning it over to reveal a roll of ribbon. It wasn’t the blue one she’d lost, but it was theirs so the police were called.

The blue ribbon was missing so when PC Lillycrap (409A) arrived he took Mary Ann to the station and searched her. It seems that her friend had done a runner when Mary Ann had been pinched by the shopkeeper’s wife. No ribbon was found on Ann so the policeman came back to the shop to check again. After a quick search the ribbon was found on the floor, behind some other things, where the defendant had hastily dropped it.

PC Lillycrap told Mr D’Eyncourt that he had arrested Mary Ann before and that she’d been up before the bench at Westminster Police court on similar charges. Mary Ann had some support in court, in the form of a solicitor who urged the magistrate to deal with the matter summarily, saving her a longer spell in prison after a full jury trial. He promised that after she had served whatever time the justice felt was appropriate Mary Ann’s father would ‘take her home and look after her’.

Whether D’Eyncourt believed him or not he did as requested and sent the shoplifter to the house of correction for four months and told her she ‘was fortunate’ she hadn’t got longer. Let’s hope her father kept his promise.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Wednesday, November 7, 1860]

Like a bad penny old Annie keeps turning up

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It is always a bad sign when a defendant appears in the dock and is said to answer to more than one name. It suggests a ‘known’ criminal who is trying to keep their head down so as not to be processed up through the criminal justice system to a higher court where they might get a stiffer penalty.

Anne Hogarty was also known as Anne Flannaghan [sic] and Anne Sullivan but more importantly for her she was known to the police and the courts as someone who passed (or ‘uttered’) counterfeit money.

On this occasion she had attempted the simple ruse of waylaying  a little girl in the street and promising her a penny if went and fetched her a loaf of bread. The child rushed off with a ‘bad shilling’ in her mitt and handed it over at Mr Wheeler’s bakery on Orchard Street, Westminster. He spotted it instantly and grabbed her, demanding to know where she’d come by the coin.

The nine year-old girl pointed out Anne in the street who tried and failed to make a swift getaway and on Monday the 29 October 1860 she was hauled up before the magistrate at Westminster Police court. The Mint solicitor attended to press the charge and two publicans gave evidence that Anne has uttered bad coins on their premises as well. She tried to deny it but there was a ‘respectable’ witness who saw her talking to the child and the justice was also informed that in May 1859 Anne had served nine months for a similar offence.

Her previous convictions had caught up with her and so she was committed for trial at the Old Bailey, sadly I can find no record of what happened to her there.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, October 30, 1860]

A vicar refuses to baptise a woman’s ninth childi

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As an example of how the London Police courts were used for all manner of business and as a one-stop advice bureau I present this case from October 1861. A woman named Evans (I cannot call her ‘Mrs Evans’ because she declared herself to be Unmarried) at Wandsworth Police court to ask for Mr Dayman’s advice.

Ms Evans had recently given birth to her ninth child, each of whom she had taken to be christened at Battersea Church, most of them by Reverend Jenkinson the presiding minister. However, on this occasion when she showed up with her infant he refused either to christen the baby or to ‘church’ her after her confinement.

Churching refers to the blessing given to mothers soon after they have given birth and is even performed if the child had died or the mother chose not to baptize it. So it was strange that the reverend refused both to christen her newborn or offer his blessing on the mother.

Ms Evans thought she knew why Rev. Jenkinson had refused her:

‘I suspect the reason of his objecting is because I am not married’, she told the magistrate.

‘That would not be a reason’ Mr Dayman responded.

‘I asked him the reason and he said that as I was not married he would neither church me nor christen my child. I went again on Sunday, and I could not have it done’.

The justice wasn’t sure what to do in this case. He wasn’t familiar with ecclesiastical (church) law but had never heard of a clergyman refusing to baptize a child, regardless of whether it was legitimate or not. Thousands of babies were born illegitimate in London every year since marriage amongst the working classes was not as common as we might think.

Ms Evans had gone along with two godfathers and was angry and upset that the vicar had refused her. All the magistrate could suggest was that she went over the vicar’s head and complained to the Bishop  (in this case the Bishop of Winchester). The court clerk furnished her with the bishop’s address and she thanked his worship and left.

Perhaps the vicar was trying to make a point about marriage and legitimacy; having blessed eight previous products of a relationship unordained by God however, it seems a little churlish of him to refuse the ninth however.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Wednesday, October 23, 1861]

A ‘murderous assault’ in Southwark

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Observant readers will have noticed that three of this week’s cases have come from the same paper in 1868. The Illustrated Police News was not an official police paper but instead a glorified comic which published crime news over a number of pages with a large illustrated front page to catch the reader’s attention.

The Illustrated Police News provided a weekly catch up for those wanting to find out the latest scandal and gory detail about murder and serious crime alongside reports from the lower courts in London and around the country. Having featured a serial thief on the railways and a drunken vicar today’s case concerns a violent assault in south London.

Sarah Mancy ran a lodging house at 8 Barron’s Place off the Waterloo Road and on Sunday 11 October 1868 a former resident paid her an unwanted visit. Ellen Wallace was drunk when she barged her way into Sarah’s room and the pair soon began rowing. Mancy had also been drinking – it was common enough in working class communities at the time – but she wasn’t as inebriated as her visitor.

When she asked her to leave Ellen refused and they pair closed in a wrestle. Sarah threw her assailant off but Ellen picked up a half gallon beer can and struck her former landlady on the head with it. Sarah received several blows which drew blood and Ellen ran off, perhaps scared by what she’d done. Ellen, no doubt powered by adrenalin, raced after her calling the police as she did. A constable arrested Ellen Wallace and then handed her over to a colleague while he helped Sarah to  get to Dr Donahoe’s surgery on Westminster Road so her wounds could be dressed.

In court at Southwark the magistrate was told that Sarah (who sat to give her evidence, as she was still very weak from the attack) had lost a lot of blood and the doctor was worried about infection setting in. She was not out of danger yet he added and so what was at present ‘a murderous assault’ might  become more serious yet.

Faced with this the justice committed Ellen for trial at the next Surrey Sessions of the Peace. I don’t have access to the records at Surrey but in 1868 an Ellen Wallace was sent to prison, but no details are provided. I suspect this was her and suggests that Sarah recovered from her injuries so that this became an assault charge rather than one for murder or manslaughter.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, October 17, 1868]

The Great (Northern) Train Robbery

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When a customer reported losing several of his possessions on a train the Great Northern Railway company called in their own in-house detective team. In 1868 this meant that William Thorogood was immediately set on the trail of the thief.

It didn’t take him long to spot a young man strolling quickly across the platform at King’s Cross sporting a ‘portmanteau, rug, umbrella and [walking] stick’ matching the description given by Mr William Kingsworth, the traveller that had complained he had fallen victim to a robbery.

The detective fell in step behind the thief and watched as he hailed a cab. As the young man entered the hansom in St Pancras Road, Thorogood clambered in beside him. The man was ‘fashionably dressed’ and said his name was Robert Johnson. He emphatically denied stealing anything and asked how Thorogood could possibly prove that he had.

The detective took his prisoner back to the station superintendent’s office where Mr Kingsworth positively identified his property. In court at Clerkenwell the passenger said he’d never seen Johnson before that day and had missed his items after he’d left then briefly on his seat. Johnson denied everything, refused to give his address, and cried throughout the entire hearing. Mr Clarke remanded him for a week and he was led away to the cells.

Johnson was tried at the Bailey on the 26 October 1868. He pleaded guilty to stealing Mr Kingsworth’s property and asked for several other offences to be dealt with at the same time. He seemed to specialise in stealing portmanteaus (briefcases) from railway trains. The judge sent him to prison for 18 months.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, October 17, 1868]