Friday, 2 October 2015

Child Killing at the Workhouse

The death of a one week old baby at the hands of his mother and subsequent punishment in 1859 emphasised just how little value was placed on the lives of young children then.

On 11th February that year Jane Anderson, a 26 year old pauper residing at the Liverpool workhouse, gave birth to a healthy baby boy who she named Robert. One week later on the 18th of the month the baby boy was heard to be screaming very loudly and the following morning workhouse officials noticed that he was bruised.

When Jane was asked how the bruising occurred she said she did not know and the baby was taken from her and placed in the charge of a nurse. A week later he died and a post mortem by the house surgeon Dr Leather revealed the cause of death to be congestion of the lungs caused by violence. 

Jane was charged with murder and appeared at the Liverpool assizes on 31st March. In summing up, Mr Justice Wills told the jury they had to decide whether Jane had used violence towards her baby with the intention of causing harm or in the hope of quietening him. After deliberation they took a more lenient view and found her guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. She was then sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment with hard labour.

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