Saturday, 7 March 2015

Emigrant's Infanticide

A woman who gave birth whilst awaiting her passage to America killed the baby and was sentenced to death, but was reprieved by the Home Secretary.

Charlotte Elliot, a 26 year old domestic servant from Ashford in Kent, was lodging at Mrs Rawlinson's house in Hunter Street whilst on her way to America in 1870. She was travelling with her sister, whose husband was already on the other side of the Atlantic.

The sisters arrived in Liverpool on 25th August and the following day Charlotte was left alone in their room. When her sister returned she found Charlotte in a weak condition and blood was seen to be on the floor, along with a table knife.

When the bedclothes were unturned the dead body of a newly born child was found, its throat having been cut. A doctor was called and a post mortem revealed that the child had breathed and there were four deliberate cuts. Charlotte explained that she did it as she wanted to go to America and despite her sister having shared the bed, she was unaware of her condition.

After an inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder Charlotte was committed to trial at the winter assizes, appearing before Mr Justice Mellor on 15th December. Her defence counsel Mr Hawthorne suggested that death had occurred by accident after she tried to cut the umbilical cord which was wrapped around the baby's neck. Medical evidence though proved that the cord had broke naturally and the cuts were deliberate.

After deliberating for 45 minutes the jury found Charlotte guilty but with a strong recommendation for mercy. Justice Mellor said the verdict was perfectly satisfactory in his mind and he would forward the recommendation. As she was sentenced to death Charlotte fainted and had to be carried to the cells. The sentenced was later commuted to life imprisonment.

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