Unknown, infant

Unknown infant           1883 January 27th

On Friday morning the nude body of a newly born male child was discovered by a boy named Lailey near the Harcourt Terrace Chapel. The body was enveloped in two sheets of brown paper and was placed at the foot of the hedge. Subsequently the body was taken to the police station by a dairyman named Pearcey. It was that of a true child – well-nourished and fully developed. No trace could be obtained, nor has there been apparently since, of the unfortunate mother. There was a half-suspicion on Saturday that the mother may have come in by the early South Western train, and have deposited the parcel and proceeded on her journey by the same train, but this was seen at once after a little thought to be extremely improbable.

Whether the little thing was violently deprived of life with intention, or whether its death – evidently caused by violence – was accidental, is a problem that cannot now be solved. Death was caused by strangulation; and the child had a ring-mark around its neck, which might have been caused either accidentally in birth or by some act of force immediately after birth. The probability is either way, but a merciful judgment will point to the hope that it was the latter. There is in its favour that on the post mortem examination being made it was discovered that a full inspiration had not been taken; but, on the other hand, it may be remembered that frequently some little time elapses before a free inspiration is taken.

The inquest was held on Saturday afternoon at the Council Chamber before Mr George Smith (city coroner) and a jury (of whom Mr Naish was foreman). The following evidence was taken.

William Lailey, a lad of 11, deposed : I live in Church fields with my parents. My father is a bricklayer’s laborer, and as I was returning from taking his breakfast to him at his work on the Church-House, Crane-street, yesterday morning, I saw – at about ten yards from the Harcourt Baptist Chapel – a brown paper parcel at the foot of the hedge. A boy who had joined me untied the string and opened the parcel and I saw that it contained the naked body of an infant wrapped in a second piece of brown paper. We wrapped the body again up in the paper and left it, my companion pursuing the road towards Harnham. When I got to Church fields I met a boy whom I knew named Pearcey, and told him about the parcel and suggested that he should tell his father. I did not see the parcel as I went with my father’s breakfast about 20 minutes before. I think I should have seen it had it been there. I was alone when I first discovered it, but waited – as I did not care to touch it – until the other boy had come up. I carried the parcel two or three yards with the intention first of taking it home. It then struck me that someone had placed it there with the intention of returning for it, and I put it back. After waiting a few minutes the other boy come up, and he then untied it.

Frank Adams, a young man in the employ of Mr Pritchett, butcher, said that as he was passing by the chapel on the previous morning, the last witness called his attention to an unopened brown paper parcel at the foot of the hedge. The parcel was tied “three times round.” He cut the string and then found the parcel contained the nude body of a child. It was red about the head and legs but the body was white. He had business at Harnham, and covering the body over with paper he laid it again in the hedge, intending to pick it up on his return and take it to the police station. On his return, however, he found the body gone; and, after arriving at his place of business, on the advice of his master, he went and informed Mr Supt Mathews. The parcel was perfectly dry on the top. Had it been there long, judging from the temperature, he should say it would have been damp on the top. It had been a very foggy night.

Henry Pearcey, dairyman, of Windsor-street, Fisherton, deposed that his son on the previous morning told him that he had been told by Lailey that there was a baby under this hedge. He then went to the spot indicated by his son. A gardener named Chalke had already discovered the child; and he told him it was his duty to take it to the police station, but, as he appeared disinclined to do so, he wrapped it in the pony’s loin cloth which he had with him in his trap, and took it himself, giving it to Mr Supt Mathews.

Mr Supt Mathews said that on receiving the body from Mr Pearcey, he found mud about the head. At present he had not been able to trace any person as mother to the child or who had placed it there.

Mr Harcourt Coates, surgeon, deposed that he had seen the body of the child; and, with the authority of the coroner, had, with Mr Kelland, made a post mortem examination. As the result, he believed the child had made some effort to breathe either before, during, or immediately after birth; the lungs, however, had not been fully distended. There was a mark round the neck around two inches in breadth, which might have been caused either by something being tied tightly around the neck or by the child having been “collared” by the umbilical cord at the time of birth. The tissues below the skin were discoloured and congested, the tongue black, the nails and lips blue; evidences of strangulation.

This strangulation was caused either by the “collaring” of the umbilical cord or by something being tied around the neck immediately after birth. All the other parts of the body were healthy. The body was well-nourished; and there were no marks of external violence excepting those on the neck. The lungs floated in water showing that some small quantity of air must have entered them. If the child had had a separate existence, death might have been brought about by want of proper care and attention. From the appearance of the body he certainly thought it had been placed in the hedge that morning.

Mr James Kelland, surgeon, confirmed Mr Coates’ evidence.

The Coroner, in summing up, said that there was, in the first place, no evidence that the child was born alive; and, in the second place, if it had had a separate existence, how it came to its death. His advice was that they should return an open verdict.

The jury returned a verdict of “Found Dead.”


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