Thursday, 19 November 2015

Child Killer Gives Birth in Broadmoor

A woman who killed her daughter by cutting her throat went on to become the first person to give birth in the notorious  Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.

On the morning of 27th October 1864 two male occupants of a house in Lavrock Bank heard shrieks and quickly went to the room were they came from, which was occupied by the Dawson family. There they found  22 month old Matilda dead on the table, her throat having been cut. The girl's mother, 30 year old Catherine, was stood over another child, four year old Mary, with a kitchen knife in her hand. 

Lavrock Bank in 2016
The two children who remained alive were quickly snatched and taken to another room and while this was taking place, Catherine cut her own throat. The police and a doctor were sent for and Matilda's life was pronounced extinct. Henry Dawson, who worked down on the docks, was sent for and returned home to be told by his wife that the Devil was standing next to her and told her to do what she did.

Catherine's wounds were able to be dressed and she was then conveyed to the Bridewell. Once there she turned violent and began ripping her bandages off, leading to her removal to the Toxteth Park Workhouse, the one on Brownlow Hill refusing to take her as she was not a local resident. 

At the inquest on 29th October Henry told the Coroner Mr P.F. Curry that the family had been in Liverpool about six months, but that the previous year Catherine had spent two weeks in an asylum in Ashton Under Lyne. Her behaviour had been normal in recent months, but he had noticed a wild eyed look in his wife's eyes when he breakfasted on that fateful morning. The jury returned a verdict of wilful murder but stated that Catherine was not responsible for her actions at the time. The Coroner however told them that they could not determine the mental health aspect and they could only return a verdict of wilful murder, leading to Catherine's committal to the assizes for trial.

As expected Catherine was found guilty but insane and detained at Her majesty's pleasure. Catherine remained at the Rainhill Asylum, where she had been on remand but managed to escape from there in March 1866. After being at large for a month she was captured at her husband's home and transferred from Rainhill to Broadmoor in Berkshire, which had opened two years previously. 

In her first few days at Broadmoor doctors attributed her sickness to the morphine that had been administered to her on the train to keep her calm. However when it didn't subside after a few days they discovered the true cause, that she was pregnant. On Boxing Day she gave birth to a boy, who was given the name Stephen. With Henry telling the officials that he was struggling to bring up the two other children and being unable to take another, baby Stephen was accepted by the Chorley workhouse. 

Catherine continued to keep in touch with Henry by letter but her mood was often low and she was unable to do her sewing work. Her wrists were covered in scars from her attempts to escape by breaking windows. In 1872 Henry died and the two surviving children were adopted by his landlady in Birkenhead. Catherine's health deteriorated further and she died in 1876 of tuberculosis. 

1 comment:

  1. What an utterly sad life for this poor family.