Sunday, 5 June 2016

The Suitcase Baby

One of the most callous acts in Victorian Liverpool took place in 1851 when a woman gave birth then put the baby in a suitcase and explained away the cries by saying it was an animal. Although the baby was rescued, he died the following day leading to the mother being transported.

In the autumn of 1850 Mary Kennedy, who was believed to be aged in her late thirties, took on a job as a cook for a solicitor named Matthew Lowndes who lived at 42 Edge Lane. She was pregnant but managed to hide her condition  and give birth to a baby boy on 19th February, which she then placed in a suitcase which was hidden in a water closet.

She then prepared an evening meal for the Mr Lowndes and his family as normal and then a lady called Jane Turner, who sewed for the Lowndes family, came round. Kennedy asked if she could make some jackets from flannel and Turner agreed, leading to Kennedy asking her to wait a moment while she went into the yard. While out there, a crying sound was heard by Turner and another maid, Miss Harper, who was in the scullery. It appeared to be coming from the water closet but when Kennedy came back inside, she refused to allow the other two to investigate and said it was a hare.

Kennedy went outside and took the suitcase from the closet and shouted 'cats' before running down the garden, attempting to throw it over a wall. She was followed by Turner and a coachman named John Boland, who managed to prise the case from her. Kennedy insisted the case contained a hare, but on entering the house, they opened it and found the newborn child, who was barely alive. Boland went to fetch a local surgeon, Dr Pritchard, an one returning to the house they came across Kennedy on Laurel Road. She had slipped away during the commotion but was brought back to the house by the two men. 

Dr Pritchard washed the baby and placed him in a warm bath, but he was concerned about his condition and suggested that a baptism be arranged as soon as possible. Kennedy showed no emotion at all and when a clergyman arrived and on being asked what the baby should be named, she replied 'Thomas'. Kennedy then began to pack some belongings but was told she could not leave the house and information was sent to the police at Old Swan. Inspector Oxton sent a constable to keep watch over her, as she was too ill to be forcibly moved.

When the surgeon returned to the property the next morning the baby was in a critical position and died soon afterwards. He carried out a post mortem and found effusion of blood on the brain and some bone fractures on the skull, saying they had been caused by an act of force. An inquest was held at Old Swan police station before the coroner Mr Heyes on 22nd February, where Turner, Harper, Boland and Pritchard recalled the events of three days earlier. A verdict of wilful murder by Mary Kennedy was returned. She remained under the guard of a constable at the Lowndes' residence, being too ill to be removed to gaol.

On 1st April Kennedy appeared at the South Lancashire assizes where her counsel could do little more than ask for mercy. In summing up the judge said if the injuries were a result of the baby being dropped during childbirth then Kennedy should be acquitted. If they were due to wilful kicks or punches then it was murder, but if negligence or careless throwing of the suitcase was the reason then manslaughter was more appropriate. As so often happened in those days, with juries wary of putting women in the position of facing the death penalty, they returned a manslaughter verdict.

The judge told Kennedy that she was very fortunate the baby had been alive when the suitcase was opened, as if he had died then she would have been found guilty of murder. He then sentenced her to  transportation for ten years, causing her to faint in the dock. In July 1852 Kennedy arrived at Tasmania along with 221 other convicts on board the Sir Robert Seppings.

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