Russell, infant 1878 February 25th Fisherton
An inquest was held at the Fisherton Asylum yesterday morning by Mr Smith, city coroner, to inquire into the cause of death of a newly-born child found in a cupboard of this establishment, on the previous day. Mr W Wells was foreman of the jury.
The coroner said this court was convened to inquire into the cause of death of a new born male child, which was found in a cupboard of this establishment. It would their duty from the evidence to ascertain the cause of death. If the child had a separate existence from its mother; it may or may not have had — if it had it would be their place to inquire as to what was the cause of its death. Probably the evidence might not be sufficient, or it might – that would be for them to judge. He would say no more to them, but proceed to view the body, and after the evidence he might have a few more words to say.
Dr Corbin Finch said he was a medical practitioner, and proprietor of this establishment. On the day previous he was called to see the body of the child which had just been viewed. The mother of it was Hannah Russell, one of the nurses of the establishment. He had seen the mother since the birth of the child, and she told him she was the mother of the child, and when she found she was going to be ill she went to the door of the bedroom, and called for assistance. Having got the key in the inside of the room, she was taken with a severe pain and was unable to unlock the door. No one appeared to have come to her assistance when called. She then found the child had dropped from her, and she immediately became exhausted. After a time she found the child on the floor, dead, and she eventually put it into a cupboard outside her bedroom door, having left the secundine in an utensil under the bed. He had not seen the secundine, but he had seen the child since its birth, and his opinion was that the child was still-born. If the child were born alive, and no ligateur tied around the cord the child would have died from hemorrhage. When he first saw the child there were no marks on the neck, but some have since appeared, which he attributed to be merely post mortem marks.
A juror : These marks may have been made by her in attempts to deliver herself?
Dr Finch : Yes.
A juror : Was it a fully developed child? Dr Finch replied in the affirmative.
A juror : As this may assume a very serious aspect to the mother, is it legal that we should take as evidence her conversation with Dr Finch?
The Coroner : Yes.
A juror : There appears to be no concealment, as she left the secundine in her room.
Dr Finch : Yes; and she sleeps in a room with two other nurses and thirteen patients, so that it was natural that she should hide the child, and not expose it to all persons, and I was told that there was no other person in the room when the child was born.
The Coroner : Did you see the contents of the utensil?
Dr Finch : No.
In answer to other questions Dr Finch said the child was born on 20th of February at about 1pm.
A juror : How long was it before it was discovered?
Dr Finch answered that he should say it was about an hour after.
The juror : I asked that because there would not have been time for the child to have bled to death.
Sarah Day deposed that she was the matron of this establishment. Her attention was called to the condition of Hannah Russell at about a quarter past two, on the 20th inst., by Charlotte Brooks who told her that she (Hannah Russell) was ill. She then went to the latter’s room and found her ill in bed. She at first thought she had had a mis-carriage, and asked her if it was so, and where it was, and she replied that it was in the utensil under the bed. She then saw the contents of the utensil, but at the time she did not know exactly what it was. Russell begged her not to speak about it. She then asked why she had not told her before, and added that she should tell Dr Finch of it. On the evening of the same day she looked at the contents of the utensil, and from she then saw she thought a child must have been born. She asked Russell where the other part was, but in reply she asked her what she meant by the other part, and said that that was all that had passed her. Witness replied that she did not believe it and left her.
On the next morning she made further search, having previously gone to Charlotte Brooks, and told her that she was not satisfied, and that there must be something missing, asking her to get Russell’s keys, and they would look into her cupboard. Brooks then got the keys and they looked into the cupboard and found the body of a child which the jury had just viewed. The body was wrapped in a sheet. She then went to Russell, and asked her why she put the child in the cupboard. Her reply was, “What child? What do you mean? I know nothing of any child.” Witness replied, “You must know as well as I do, and you might as well tell at once.” She then burst out crying, and begged her not to bring Dr Finch acquainted with it; but she said she must tell Dr Finch at once, which she accordingly did.
The foreman : Do you think her reason for concealing it was through fear of Dr Finch being told?
Witness replied to the effect that from Russell’s talk it appeared to be so.
Charlotte Brooks stated that she was a nurse in this establishment. On the 20th inst., having missed Hannah Russell, she went upstairs, and found her in the bedroom, but not in bed. She did not appear to be very ill, and witness asked her how she was, and she replied better. What made her ask Russell how she was was that in the morning Brooks (Russell) was unwell, and complained of pains in the chest. At the time she did not think she had been delivered of a child. Seeing blood on the floor, however, she asked her what was the matter, and she told her to look in the utensil under the bed. She accordingly did so, and found an apron, which did not contain anything, and besides saw a lot, of what appeared to her to be, blood in the utensil.
Witness then asked if she had got anything put away, and she replied in the negative. She then went for the matron, who accompanied her back. On their arrival at the room they found Russell in bed, who, in answer to the matron, said she had had a miscarriage. The matron asked her where it was, and she replied “in the utensil.” Witness then left them together.
The following morning the matron came to her again, and told her that she was dissatisfied, and directed her to get Russell’s keys. This she did, and with the keys unlocked Russell’s cupboard. She then called for the matron, and told her that she had found in the cupboard the body of a child wrapped in a sheet. The matron then went into Russell’s room. She was induced to go to the cupboard by seeing drops of blood from the bedroom door to there.
The foreman : Was there anyone near this woman when she was delivered? No, sir.
The foreman : No one in any of the other wards? No, sir.
The foreman : So that if the child had cried no one could have heard it? No.
A juror : Where did you get the keys from? Under her pillow.
The juror : Did she refuse to let you have them? Oh, no.
Another juror : Was this young woman intimate with you? Yes.
The juror : Did she tell you that she was pregnant? She always denied it.
The Coroner said this was the whole of the evidence he intended to submit. They had heard what Dr Finch had said, and that it was his belief that the child was still-born. If they were not satisfied with that, it would be well to get the assistance of other medical men, to prove if it were still-born or not. There was one question he should like to ask Dr Finch. It was, “In the event of a post-mortem examination could it be ascertained whether the child breathed or not.”
Dr Finch said they would be able to tell if it breathed, but not if it were born alive.
The Coroner said if the jury thought this evidence insufficient he would adjourn the inquiry, and have a post-mortem examination made.
The jury after a private consultation decided that a post-mortem examination was unnecessary, and that from the evidence laid before them the child was still-born.
Magistrates Hearing 1878 March 16th
Mr Nodder defended the accused, who was charged with concealment of the birth of her child, and he argued that there was but the slimmest case for concealment, and that although evasive the defendant had indeed hidden it from those immediately around her, as would be only natural, and indeed her evasiveness was from a fear of Dr Finch finding out.
The magistrates sent the case on up to the Assizes.
Assizes Case 1878 April 6th
At the Wilts Assizes, held at Devizes, Hannah Russell, who was charged with endeavouring to conceal the birth of her child, on the 20th of February, at the Fisherton Asylum, was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment with hard labour.