Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Servant Girl Acquitted of Strangulation

A servant girl charged with murder after a dead baby girl was found in her room was given the benefit of the doubt and found guilty only of concealment of birth.

In the autumn of 1847 a seventy one year old widow living in Shannon Street (off Brownlow Hill) took on a servant named Jane Pearson. The twenty two year old was described by her employer Mrs Roberts as rotund in stature and there were no suspicions about any pregnancy, instead it being believed that she suffered from dropsy.

On Thursday 11th May 1848 Mrs Roberts went out leaving Jane to do some chores and on her return the servant girl was sick in bed. The following morning Jane was lucid and Mrs Roberts decided to check her room, where she found the body of a newborn child in a box. The body was wrapped in rags and Jane got on her hands and knees begging her employer to keep the find a secret.

A surgeon named Dr Burrows was called in and examined the body, forming the opinion that the baby girl had been born alive. A tape was wrapped around the neck and an apron was stuffed into the mouth. An inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder and Jane was taken to Kirkdale gaol to await her trial at the next assizes.

On 21st August Jane appeared before Mr Justice Cresswell. As so often happened in this era, the jury was reluctant to convict if there was even the slightest element of doubt. Even though Jane had admitted giving birth to the child the Crown could not prove beyond reasonable doubt that she had carried out the strangulation. This led to the jury acquitting her of murder but finding her guilty of concealment of birth. She was then sentenced to twelve months imprisonment with hard labour.

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