Read, Henry

Read, Henry       1884 October 18th


On Tuesday, Henry Read, the illegitimate male child of a young girl named Gater, who lived with her parents at St Edmund’s Church-street, Salisbury, died suddenly. It was four months old, was found to weigh 4lbs. Its body was devoid of anything like fat.

An inquest was opened at the Council Chamber on Wednesday afternoon, but, after viewing the body, the jury thought it advisable that a post mortem should be made. The inquiry was thus adjourned to Thursday afternoon.

The first witness called was Dr Gordon. He stated : I was sent for on Tuesday evening to see the child. I saw it after death had ensued. I was unable to certify the cause of death. I examined the child externally. It had not the appearance of a full grown child, and was, indeed, remarkably thin and pinched. There was, other than that, no apparent cause for its death.

I have since made a post mortem. The child only weighed about 4lbs; it was unusually thin, and there was not a particle of fat on the body. The internal organs – the lungs, heart and brain – were healthy – the stomach nearly full of undigested food, partly milk, partly biscuit food.

The Coroner : How do you think the food remained undigested – that it was given just before its death? I had thought that the want of power of digestion was the cause of death. The intestines (continued the witness) were for the most part empty, but had rather a wasted appearance. My opinion is that the child died from inanition.

The Coroner : Would that be the result of negligence? It is the result of disease in many cases. In this case the food which the child took seemed to do it no good. The contents of the lower part of the bowels had not gone through any digestive process. My opinion is that the child died from disease and that its emaciated condition was due to natural causes. The mother herself, I may say, had suckled the child.

The Foreman : Do you think that they were right in not calling in a medical man? No; I think they were greatly to blame for that. I think that a medical man ought to have been called in.

A Juror : Would medical assistance and proper nursing have saved the child? That I can’t say.

Matilda Gater, the mother of the child, who resides at 72, St Edmund’s Church-street, said : I am 19 years old. The child was four months old. I gave it the father’s name. I did not notice that the child was ill till Tuesday morning. The child we saw from its birth did not thrive as it ought to have done.

The Coroner : Why didn’t you send for a doctor?

Witness : I don’t know that. I was going for the doctor the night it died but I hadn’t time.

In continuing, witness said that the child had always taken its food, though she could not say whether the food did it any good. Even on the morning that it died it had a cup full of arrow-root.

The Coroner : Did it not strike you that it was very thin? It was very thin at birth.

The Coroner : But you must have seen that apparently the bones were coming through the flesh? Well, it was not like that before it died.

Replying to the Bench, the witness said that the child had taken its rest properly.

The Coroner thought they could not return any other verdict than that the child died from natural causes.

The jury in the end returned a verdict to that effect, but several of the jury expressed the opinion that the mother ought to be censured for she must have seen that the child was gradually getting worse. The mother of the child was then called in, and the Coroner censured her for her conduct.


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