Parsons, infant 1881 March 26th
An inquest was held at the Council Chamber, on Wednesday afternoon, by Mr G Smith (city coroner) and a jury (of whom Mr Berry was foreman), on the body of the child of Amelia Parson, of Scot’s-lane. The evidence, which we annex in full, revealed a case of a curious nature. Apart from surrounding curious circumstances, it appeared that on Tuesday Mrs Parsons sent a man (whom it was believed to be her husband) to the son of the sexton of St Edmund’s church and desired to make arrangements for the interment of the body of a still-born child. Mr Parsons (who is in no way related to the woman) immediately replied that nothing could be done until she had a doctor’s certificate; and Dr Gordon – who was communicated with – subsequently saw the child and elicited from the mother that it had been born on the previous Saturday.
The body presented a healthy and fully-developed appearance, and a post mortem examination showed (the lungs being inflated) that it must have breathed, but it was equally evident that it had received no nourishment. This fact, however, was not incompatible with the assertion of the mother; and – whilst censuring her for a want of necessary precaution and care – the jury returned a verdict of “Death from natural causes.”
For the reasons which we have briefly given and for the important fact that the doctor would not give a certificate, combined with other circumstances, the Coroner thought it necessary to hold an inquest. Mr Smith was, however, careful to point out that the child having been born alive, and no one being present at the time, it might have died before the mother could have called for assistance.
The first witness examined was James Parsons, who said : I live at 33, Salt-lane, and am the son of Mr James Parsons, the sexton of St Edmund’s church, whom I assist in the performance of his duties. Between twelve and one on Tuesday, a man came to me and informed me that Mrs Parsons, of Scot’s-lane, had a still-born child, and desired to make arrangements for burial. I told him I could do nothing until he had a doctor’s certificate; but I added that it could be buried when the certificate and the necessary paper from the Burial Board had been obtained.
Mr Supt Mathews deposed : At half-past six last evening, I had information of the death of this child. I, accompanied by Dr Gordon, at once went to 30, Scot’s-lane. I asked Mrs Parsons if she hadn’t had a child, and desired her to let me see the body. She brought the body down from off the stairs; it was contained in a small box wrapped in a pillow-case. I took it out and examined it. I could not see any marks of violence on the body. I asked her when the child was born. She replied that she taken suddenly ill on Saturday evening between seven and eight o’clock; so ill, indeed, that she was unable to call anyone. The child was dead when it was born. Not liking to make a bother about it, she said she did not tell anyone that she had had a child until that day (Tuesday). Her husband she said left her nine months ago; but I have discovered that it was he who called on Mr Parsons. I have been to the place where she has been employed on Saturdays, and I find that on Saturday last she sent a message saying that she could not come on that day as she was suffering from rheumatism. I have ascertained that there were other persons in the house on some portion of Saturday evening; indeed, one of her sons (17 years old) was at home.
By the foreman : The woman has, I know, been receiving parish relief for the past four months, it being believed that she had been deserted by her husband. He, however, has been living in the town for some time – in fact, I might say for the time – unknown to the parish authorities. I might add that the woman stated no one was present when the child was born.
Mr W G Newbery, relieving officer, said Amelia Parsons first received out-door relief from the Alderbury Union four months ago. At the time she applied, she said she was deserted by her husband about six months prior, and she reluctantly applied because she was afraid the authorities would seek for her husband and bring him back to her – a result she dreaded. He (witness) had been to the house repeatedly and had been again and again assured that she knew nothing of her husband’s whereabouts.
Mr Mathews : As a fact he has had two rooms in Lawrence’s Court and has a pedlar’s certificate for hawking the city.
Mr Newbery added that the man and woman were not natives of the city. They were almost strangers. They came, he believed, from Stalbridge. Had the woman applied, on Saturday, for medical assistance, she would have received it. On Tuesday, indeed, she made that application and had it granted.
Dr Gordon stated : I was called for yesterday afternoon by the deceased’s little girl, who told me that her mother was ill. I sent the child to Mr Newbery to get an order; and I, subsequently, went to the house. I found that she was not ill, but desired to obtain a still-born certificate. I, being under the impression that she was, at the time of birth, attended by a midwife, told her to send the woman to me, who, under the circumstances, would have given a certificate. In the evening, the little girl again called, and told me no person was with her mother at the time of the birth. I returned to the house, and Mrs Parsons having told me I had misunderstood her as to the woman, I desired to see the body. She brought it to me, it was sewn up in a paste-board box. I found it to be a strong fully-developed child, and it appeared as if it might have been born alive. Mrs Parsons told me that the child had been born (prematurely) dead. She said she was taken ill suddenly.
Since, I have made a post mortem. Outwardly I might say the body presented no marks of violence, and showed that the ordinary precaution attending birth had been taken. Internally – the lungs were inflated, which, of course, showed that the child had breathed. It is, however, quite possible for the lungs to become inflated before the child had a separate existence from the mother. All the other internal organs were empty, showing that the child had never taken nourishment. From the appearance of the body, I should say that the child was born alive. At the same time, I think it possible that the child might have been born in the manner the mother described and died from not being properly attended to. I think it likely that the child might have lived had the mother had assistance.
These were the only witnesses examined.
The Coroner said if the jury thought it necessary to examine the mother they certainly could. If they did, he should think it his duty to caution her. Then, under those circumstances, the inquiry would have to adjourned to allow her to appear.
The majority of the jury at first thought it advisable to examine the father as well as the mother, but Mr Mathews – speaking with authority – said he believed that the father’s attendance would only be procured after considerable trouble. The foreman thought that poverty and want of proper assistance had really primarily caused the death. The evidence satisfied him of that. Eventually the jury, acting on the suggestion of the foreman, thought it would be unnecessary to call the mother; and, accordingly, Mr Smith “summed up.” He pointed out that the statement of the mother was not incompatible with the evidence adduced. She had, however, exhibited a want of care and precaution.
A verdict of “Death from Natural Causes,” was returned, the jury, as we have said, censuring the mother for her want of precaution.
Trial of the Husband for Neglect (same date)
James Parsons, a strong able-bodied man, husband of Amelia Parsons and father of the child in question, was charged, yesterday (Friday), before Mr Stokes, Mr Alderman Aylward, Mr Alderman Ottaway and Mr Atkins, with neglecting to maintain his wife and five children, who had been chargeable to the common fund of the Alderbury Union since the 15th of December.
Mr W G Newbery, relieving officer, stated that the woman had been receiving outdoor relief to the extent of 5s a week since the 15th of December. When (on that date) his attention was called to the family, he found them in a deplorable condition destitute both of food and fuel. Mrs Parsons told him that she and her children had been two days without food, and the week before she had been without bread. She also said that her husband had deserted her about six months before, but that he was such a drunken vagabond she would rather starve than live with him again. He (witness) then advised her to apply for relief; and, had that relief not been given, he firmly believed the children must have died from starvation. He (witness) believed Mrs Parsons to be a hard-working woman, but at Christmas little work was to be obtained at charing. – upon which she depended for her livelihood. From the 16th of December, the husband had not contributed in any way to the support of the family. He (witness) had believed he was all the time absent from Salisbury.
Defendant : No, I have been in Salisbury all the time.
Mr Supt Mathews : Yes. I have found out where he lodged. First he went to the “Waggon and Horses,” next to the “Wheatsheaf,” and then to where he is now – Lawrence’s-court. I let him have a pedlar’s certificate on the 16th of February.
Defendant : I am agreeable to go and live with them; but she won’t have me.
Mr Stokes : You are charged with neglecting to provide the necessaries of life.
Defendant : She won’t let me. When I went there, she ordered me away and told me she had got plenty. She, too, sold the goods to come to Salisbury.
Mr Newbery : It appears they have been wandering about the country. At Grimstead this man left them and came here. We thought we should have been able to remove them, but they gained a residence here some time ago.
The defendant persisted that his wife refused to allow him to maintain them. “But you knew they were starving!” Mr Atkins said. “No, sir, I didn’t. They told me they had plenty.”
He was sentenced to three weeks’ imprisonment with hard labour, and Mr Stokes warned him that if he did not then support his wife and children he would probably return to Winchester for three months.
Defendant : If I go to prison for three weeks, I don’t live with them any more.