Unknown, infant

Unknown infant          1875 March 5th         East Harnham

An inquest was held at the Swan Inn, East Harnham, on Wednesday afternoon, before Mr R Wilson, deputy coroner for the county, on the body of a newly born female child, which had been found the previous day immersed in water in a meadow in the occupation of Mr Musselwhite, at Harnham. The first witness called was,

Thomas George, who said he was a “drowner,” living at East Harnham. On Tuesday, about four o’clock in the afternoon, he was at his work near the Britford Fields, about three hundred yards this side of Mr Attwater’s farm, when he found a brown paper parcel in a drawing from the river, very near the edge. He took it out of the water, which was about a foot deep, and on opening it found therein a wrapping of new flannel, in which was the body of an infant. He could not say how long it had been there, but he did not think it could have been long, as it was quite fresh. He had not, however, been that way himself for a fortnight. The place where it was found was not more than six yards from the hedge and he thought it must have been placed there, as there was not enough water to have drifted it down.

Mr Lee, surgeon, said he saw the body that morning. It was that of a fully developed female child. There were no marks of injury on it, excepting that the face and forehead were discoloured, and he could not say that that had been caused by violence. The cord was long and thin, as though it had been stretched, and at the free end was drawn out to a ragged point. He was of opinion that the mother had been suddenly delivered, and that the child had fallen and broken the cord by its own weight. There were no appearances on the body of the usual birth results, and consequently he judged that the child had been washed after birth. He could not say how long the child had been in the water, for decomposition would be delayed for some time by its being so immersed at this season of the year. The skin was rather stained from maceration in the water. Without making a post mortem examination it was impossible to say whether the child had lived after birth, or if there were any internal injuries.

At this point the Coroner he thought it would be advisable to have a post mortem examination, and the jury concurring in that opinion, the inquiry was adjourned until yesterday (Friday) morning at ten o’clock.

Yesterday morning, accordingly, the inquiry was resumed. Dr Lee said he had made a post mortem examination of the body and he found no marks of either external or internal injuries. There was a little frothy fluid in both nostrils which exuded on pressure of the chest. The skin had not been washed because it was covered with the natural greasy secretion, but it had been roughly cleaned as was apparent from the absence of blood and other usual marks. The contents of the bowels had been expelled, and the lungs fully floated in water. The floating was not due to putrefaction, because there was no odour of decomposition, nor could any portion of the organ be made to sink under extreme pressure.

The inference was that respiration had taken place, but whether before or after the child had had an existence separately from the mother he could not say. There were no means of knowing that from an examination of the body. The cause of death – or at least the acceleration of death – was no doubt the improper manner of the delivery. The child was undoubtedly dead when it was put into the blanket and before it was thrown into the water, because with the umbilical cord left open, if it had been wrapped up alive, the wrappings would doubtless have been much blood-stained, and that was not so.

He could not speak with certainty as to the cause of death. The child was evidently born without the proper assistance, and under such circumstances it was common for fatal injuries to be inflicted. The mother might have become faint and during her unconsciousness the child, before separation, might have fallen off the bed.

Mr Supt Wolfe, of the county police, said there was no blood-stain about the blanket in which the body was found, which proved that the child was dead when it was wrapped therein.

The Coroner briefly explained to the jury the law in such cases, which was that in order to constitute the crime of murder the child must first be shown to have had an existence independently and separately from its mother. There was no evidence whatever in the case before them to satisfy that legal requirement, and as the duty of the jury was merely to inquire into the cause of death, it being no part of their business to deal with concealment of birth, they must clearly record an open verdict.

The jury accordingly returned that the child was found dead in a certain water-course, but that how its death was caused there was no evidence to show.


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