Thursday, 21 April 2022

New Born Baby in an Ashpit

A woman was charged with murder after the body of her new born son was found in an ashpit behind the public house where she worked. However she was convicted only of concealment of birth after the prosecution failed to prove the baby had been born alive. 

In the summer of 1858 Maria Smith became a servant for Charles Davies at the Jamaica Vaults, which now stands derelict at 330 Vauxhall Road. She provided a good character reference from her last employer and Charles had no idea that she was in what newspapers described as "the family way".

On the morning of 23rd November, Charles came downstairs and found Maria in a room next to the bar on her hands and knees, wiping away blood. Maria denied she had been abused by anybody and Charles ordered her to fetch Mrs Davies, then go to bed and rest. 

When Charles checked on Maria at 3pm she was no better and Dr Lambier was sent for. After carrying out an examination of her, Maria admitted she had given birth and directed the doctor to an ashpit, where the body of a male baby was found. It was brought into the parlour and laid out, with the doctor noticing there was bruising on the head.

An inquest heard evidence from Dr Lambier, who described the injuries and said  that they were in a location where there had been extravasation from brain. He believed the baby had been born alive. This led to a verdict of wilful murder and Maria's committal to the Assizes for trial. For the time being, she remained under police supervision in the Jamaica, as she was too ill to be removed. 

On 15th December, Maria appeared at St George's Hall before Mr Baron Bramwell. Despite the coroner's verdict, the prosecution could offer no evidence that the baby had been born alive. This meant that 23 year old Maria was relieved to have her plea of guilty to concealment of birth accepted. After what news reports described as "a suitable admonition", she was sentenced to one year's imprisonment. 

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