John Brown and his John Thomas: a perversion stopped by the Vagrancy Act

800px-Tramp_smoking_cigar_with_cane_over_arm_-_restorationJohn Brown had a bit of a predilection. The white-haired Londoner, who was around 70 years old, had a disconcerting habit of exposing himself in public places.

John Brown would get his John Thomas out at every opportunity, in any public place in the vicinity of Whitefriars.

Whitefriars, between Fleet Street and the river Thames, had once been a salubrious place, but was now acquiring a reputation as “a debtors’ sanctuary and thieves’ paradise”, a dingy area where people fought and cheated their way through life.

It was in this darkening part of London that John Brown operated, targeting not not only women, but children, horrifying them. It was in this small, grim network of alleys and wharves that Brown had been able to carry on with his anti-social, sexual behaviour for a considerable amount of time.

But in 1824, a new vagrancy act was passed, that suddenly curtailed Brown’s activities.

The interior of the Guildhall, 1820

The interior of the Guildhall, 1820

Although the vagrancy acts of the eighteenth and nineteenth century have been regarded as categorising a huge range of activities and behaviour as disorderly, or as examples of vagrancy, for the purposes of prosecution and punishment, this act showed itself to have a useful purpose.

Its predecessor had already regarded exposing oneself as an act of vagrancy, referring to “all persons openly and indecently exposing their persons in any street, public place, or highway”, but 5 Geo IV, c.83 made this clearer.

It stated that “very person wilfully, openly, lewdly, and obscenely exposing his person, in any street, road, or public highway, or in the view therefore, or in any place of public resort, with intent to insult any female” would be classed as a rogue and vagabond, and be punished by being imprisoned in the common gaol for up to three months.

This was part of a concerted effort to clamp down on activities perceived as immoral – a moral crusade, if you will, as a reaction to economic and social problems following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, that continued over the course of the 19th century.

The local residents of Whitefriars took the first opportunity to bring John Brown to the sitting magistrate of the Guildhall, Alderman Thompson. He was charged under the new act with having “for several nights successively” exposing himself to his neighbours.

Two of his victims, both women, gave evidence against him, and it was established that the case was both fully proved and came within the remit of the new statute.

Alderman Thompson regarded it as a “very aggravated” case, because Thomas repeatedly carried on his activities, night after night, and therefore sentenced him to the maximum penalty the 1824 Vagrancy Act allowed – three months of hard labour in the House of Correction.

Source: The Times, 30 June 1834, page 3; “Old and New London: Volume 1” (Cassell, Petter and Galpin, London: 1878), pp.182-199, via British History Online.

 

 

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The 400 arrests of Annie Parker: newspaper representations of a drunken woman

Pin cushion embroidered by Annie Parker, using her own hair, c.1879. Photo by Nell Darby.

Pin cushion embroidered by Annie Parker, using her own hair, c.1879. Photo by Nell Darby.

Yesterday, I looked briefly at the Museum of London’s forthcoming exhibition on London crime – The Crime Museum Uncovered. One of the artefacts being displayed in this exhibition is a pin cushion embroidered by a woman named Annie Parker in 1879, a woman notorious, according to the museum’s publicity material, for having been arrested over 400 times for drink-related offences, and for having embroidered the cushion using her own hair as thread.

I was intrigued by this simple rendering of Annie as a drunk with a penchant for pulling her hair out. Who was Annie, really?

On 2 March 1879, Reynolds’ Newspaper reported that “an unfortunate” 31-year-old by the name of Annie Parker had appeared in court in Greenwich accused of being drunk and incapable. Already, the mythologising of Annie was underway, as the piece on her appearance was titled “Three Hundred Times in Prison for Drunkenness”.

Annie was, at the time, living in the slum area of Mill Lane in Deptford, but had previously been ‘rescued’ by the Greenwich Branch of the Church of England Temperance Society, who had found her a home with a well-meaning ‘lady’. Annie had apparently been unable to cope with living with this paragon of virtue, and had run away back to her previous life.

On the night of this particular offence, Annie had been found by a police constable, lying on the pavement at New Cross. She was so drunk that he had had to transport her to the police station in a cart. Once there, she had started to tear at her own clothes, and had actually been charged with this offence too, until the police clerk said that it would only be an offence if she was in a workhouse ward (presumably because the clothes would have been the workhouse’s) and that “a prisoner could not be charged with tearing up her own clothes in a police cell.”

Before the magistrate in Greenwich, Annie heard that she had spent 350 out of the previous 365 days in prison. She had been written off by authority; the local police inspector said that if she was “discharged now, she would be in custody again on Monday.”

Yet Annie was suffering. She was an alcoholic who probably got more of a sense of security being in prison than ricocheting between workhouse, lodgings and the unfamiliar residences of well-meaning temperance society members who couldn’t possibly know how it felt to need alcohol as Annie did. In police cells, Annie complained of “suffering” and of waking up with water dripping from her hair – she was not treated sympathetically.

There was little the legal system could do for Annie, either. In this case, she was simply imprisoned again, this time to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour.

It was noted in the press that the 300 prior convictions mentioned had all been cases heard at Greenwich; whether an additional 100 took place elsewhere, or after this one conviction, or whether there was an element of hyperbole in the reporting of her life is not clear. What was significant is that Annie was “never out of prison more than two or three days”.

This Annie may have been the same woman mentioned in a press report in 1875, although her given age was wrong; in this case, a 40 year old named Annie Parker came before the Greenwich magistrates accused of drunkenness and breaking a pane of glass in the window of the Deptford police station. In this case, it was reported that Annie had “only left Maidstone gaol on Saturday last, after undergoing a month’s imprisonment” for drunkenness, and that at the police station, whilst waiting for a charge against her to be taken, “she remarked that was the first time she had been brought to the station without being conveyed on a stretcher.” It sounds like the same person. (In this case, Annie was sentenced to two months in Maidstone Gaol – Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 7 October 1877)

In 1884, the press again reported Annie appearing before the Greenwich magistrate, “charged for over the 300th time with being drunk and disorderly” after being thrown out of the Centurion public house. In this case, Annie’s fragile state of mind was apparent. When the police inspector spoke, he related that Annie had tried to kill herself in the cell, and had to be monitored as a result. Annie’s response was to retort, “And I should have done it if I had the chance.” She was again imprisoned. (The Morning Post, 13 August 1884)

Just a year later, Annie was dead. It was not drink that killed her, but consumption, ending her life in the Greenwich workhouse infirmary. Unusually for a woman in and out of prison, her obituary was published in the press, in recognition of her ‘notoriety’. In this case, unusually, her positive qualities were focused on, and the embroidery featured in the Museum of London was also reported on in a sympathetic rather than exploitative way:

“The death has just taken place in Greenwich Union Infirmary of Annie Parker, aged 35 [sic], who has been over 400 times charged before the magistrates at Greenwich Police Court with drunkenness, but never with felony, and has spent the greater part of her life in prison… She was always exceedingly well conducted in prison, and shortly before her death sent a letter to Mr Marsham, the magistrate at Greenwich police court, thanking him for kindnesses, and at the same time acknowledging that her life had been misspent.

“She had a luxuriant head of hair, and on the morning of her death presented to Dr Dixon, the assistant medical officer of the infirmary, a lace-bordered sampler, on which was artistically worked, with her own hair, the hymn commencing ‘My God, my Father, whilst I stray.’ Another beautiful specimen of her hair work is in the possession of the Rev JW Horsey, for many ears chaplain to the Clerkenwell House of Detention, and a third is framed in the parlour of Mr James, Old King Street, Deptford.

“Annie Parker had received an excellent education, and a bad word never escaped her when before the magistrate. On one occasion a lady took her to Canada with a view to her reformation, but she could never resist intoxicating drink.” (Illustrated Police News, 29 August 1885)

This obituary recognised Annie’s good traits – her attitude to others, her careful work, and her education; it even commended her for never committing more serious offences. Yet there was no attempt to analyse her addiction to ‘the demon drink’, or to query the system that shuttled Annie in and out of prison and the workhouse. This was undoubtedly a complex woman with an addiction that could not be simply stopped by the good intentions of a few women; a woman who came from a decent background but who could never combat her own personal demons.

There was undoubtedly more to Annie than simply an ability to pull her own hair out to sew with – although the question of why she needed to do this is interesting in itself. Her obituary in the Illustrated Police News hints at a woman whose life deserves more attention than just a mention of how many offences she was charged with over the course of her short life.

 

Annie’s age was reported differently in different papers, as suggested above – the newspapers tended to be a bit inaccurate when it came to the personal details of those it wrote about. Her death certificate gives her age, in August 1885, as being 38 years old (FreeBMD, deaths, Sept 1885, Greenwich, 1d 567). It is also possible that Annie herself was unsure of her exact age, and gave different ages to the magistrates and police.

Breach of promise: the case of Lily Briggs, the jilted shopgirl

Edvard_Munch_-_The_Kiss_-_Google_Art_ProjectIn 1900, Lily Weston Briggs, a Derby shop assistant, became known as the “jilted shopgirl” in the press, after she brought a case alleging breach of promise against a local coppersmith.

Lily and the coppersmith, one Philip James Maskery, who worked in business in Derby with his father, had been courting. He was 27 years old at the time; she was 25.

Philip had proposed to Lily, and she had accepted. However, there was difficulty in setting a date for the wedding, with Philip apparently postponing the event. Eventually, he admitted to Lily that he was “keeping company with another woman”.

Reluctant to give up his status as a bit of a lothario, Philip then insisted that he DID want to marry Lily. She forgave him, but then later “saw him in a theatre with yet another sweetheart.”

Somewhat lacking in chivalry, Philip then told Lily that he wanted to “shake his loose leg” and therefore wanted to have nothing further to do with her.

But Philip had proposed to Lily before, and she had accepted. His jilting of her amounted to breach of promise – their engagement had amounted to a legally binding contract that he would marry her. He had failed to keep that contract, and so Lily immediately went to the Derby sheriff’s court to complain about Maskery’s behaviour.

The jury awarded her £50 for the breach of promise – a considerable sum (equivalent to around £3,000 today) for a shopgirl who lived in the streets and courts around Derby’s main railway bridge.

Philip did not end up marrying any of the three women mentioned in the newspaper report of the court case; in 1901, he was still living at home in Agard Street, Derby, with his parents and sisters. But at the same time, Lily was also living at home, just a few doors away from her unreliable ex, and therefore the former couple probably had to continue seeing each other on a daily basis; he perhaps resentful that she had cost him money, and she resentful of his treatment of her.

You may think that this was a story that could only have happened to our ancestors, but you’d be wrong. Just two years ago, an American woman successfully sued her former partner for breach of promise after he failed to marry her, and was awarded $50,000…

Sources: Lloyds Weekly Newspaper, 18 March 1900; 1901 census for 3 Agard Street, Derby and 7 Agard Street, Derby.

The man whose wife had sex with the lodgers

adulteryIn 1900, a Pimlico hairdresser and waiter sought a divorce from his wife, on the grounds of adultery.

His wife seems to have been a busy woman – she and her husband rented out their spare rooms to lodgers, and she was accused of sleeping not just with one but with all three of them.

The husband, Ephraim Riseley, had married Emily Elizabeth Murkett at St John’s in Fitzrovia on 9 May 1886. Ephraim, a coachman’s son, was 23; his bride, the daughter of a carpenter, was 24; both were originally from Huntingdonshire.

They moved into a house at 15 Glasgow Terrace in Pimlico, and had two children, Edwin Ephraim, born in February 1889, and May Emily, born in August 1891.

Ephraim had been working as a footman and butler since his marriage, but wanted to invest for his and his family’s future – so he took over a hairdressing business. They moved to 4 South Wharf Road in Paddington, where Ephraim installed Joel Edwards as manager of the hairdresser’s, renting out one of his rooms to him, with the business being run from there. The other rooms were taken by lodgers named Alfred Leaman and Mr Hammond.

While Edwards was running the hairdresser’s, Ephraim continued to work as a waiter or footman at private functions, which often required working through the night into the early hours of the morning.

On 3 July 1899, when he returned home at 3am after finishing work,

“he found his manager and wife occupying the same bedroom.”

Ephraim's divorce petition, taken from Ancestry.

Ephraim’s divorce petition, taken from Ancestry.

He unceremoniously turfed the couple out into the street, and when it had reached a more civilised hour, lodged a petition for divorce. Initially, he only named Joel Edwards, but then, later, he requested that he be allowed to amend the petition by adding charges of adultery with both Leaman and Hammond – making it clear that he had never found out, or been told, the latter’s first name. He also recorded that he had only been made aware of these ‘offences’ on 30 July, although he didn’t note how he had found out or who had told him.

He alleged that Emily had slept with Leaman at their house on 29 June 1899, and with Hammond on 30 June 1899 at the same address; in other words, that she had slept with different lodgers on consecutive days, both in the marital home. It was only Edwards, though, who Ephraim thought his wife had regularly slept with.

The divorce was granted, and Ephraim was awarded custody of the couple’s children. As soon as he divorced, he married again, and in 1911 was living in Fulham, where he was working as a gentleman’s servant. His children, Edwin and May, were still living with him, together with his daughter Mary Elizabeth, from his second marriage – born only a year after his divorce case.

Emily, meanwhile, so maligned in the divorce case, with her response to Ephraim’s charges unrecorded, was not so fortunate. For the next decade, she eked a living as a charwoman. The 1901 census recorded her as married still; by 1911, she chose to describe herself as a widow. There was no sign of Joel Edwards – or, indeed, any lodger living with Mrs Riseley. She obviously knew the dangers of having lodgers now.

Sources: The National Archives, divorce case J77/673/454 (also on Ancestry); Reynolds’s Newspaper, 18 March 1900; 1911 census for 20 Burnfoot Avenue, Fulham; 1911 census for 42 Theobalds Road, Holborn; 1901 census for Paddington (address not visible on census return).

Bringing a Murderer to Life

Broadside of Robert Blakesley's execution, 1841

Broadside of Robert Blakesley’s execution, 1841

Look at a criminal broadside from the 19th century. There are the drawings – generic depictions of people hanging, of gaols, of crowds, together with more personalised portraits of the murderer, or the victim.

There is the text – the melodramatic, overly detailed, story of the crime, the penitence of the murderer before he or she is dropped into oblivion.

These are the forerunner of the tabloid newspaper; designed to be bought, read, thrown away.

But now they are in museums, sold in auctions, a historical artefact. The individuals that are written about in these broadsides are somehow lost to us in the present. They are abstract, viewed from a historical distance, fictionalised by their broadside-producing contemporaries.

I own a broadside – and admit to being fascinated by the stories they tell and how they tell them. But can I build a picture of real people, living ordinary lives, from the dramatised story presented on this sheet of paper?

My broadside is from 1841. It relates to the execution of Robert Blakesley after being found guilty of the murder of James Burdon in the City of London.

It’s not the only broadside produced about Blakesley; the British Library has written about one it holds, which was produced prior to Blakesley’s trial, at his first committal hearing. That broadside assumed his guilty even though he had not yet been tried.

Blakesley was found guilty of stabbing James Burdon, landlord of the King’s Head in Eastcheap. He was depicted as mentally ill, a man who regularly abused and assaulted his wife.

The British Library states that Blakesley had tried to stab his wife; when challenged by Burdon, his brother-in-law, after “months of marital strife”, he stabbed him. Burdon died; Sarah Blakesley miscarried her baby, it was said, and died some time later.

Blakesley had been arrested in September 1841, was tried at the Old Bailey on 25 October 1841 and executed on 15 November.

Yet on the night of 6 June 1841, when the census was taken, a more domestic, peaceful scene was suggested.

At Eastcheap, James Burdon, aged 35, was listed as the head of his household. He was living with his wife Eliza, and their four-year-old son James. Also with the Burdons were Eliza’s widowed mother, Ann Adkins, and her sister Sarah, still unmarried and aged 25.

Also at the premises was Robert Blakesley, listed as a 25-year-old cattle dealer (he was actually 27, the 1841 census often rounding up or down to the nearest five years).

Robert was accepted as part of the Adkins family, and he married Sarah exactly three weeks after the census was taken – at St Stephen Walbrook church on 27 June 1841. Their witnesses were James and Eliza Burdon.

Robert and Sarah were only married for three months before the murder occurred.

Eliza Burdon gave evidence at Blakesley’s trial. She painted a similarly domestic scene to the census; on the evening of 21 September 1841, a Tuesday, she had been in the King’s Head bar with her sister Sarah. James Burdon was fast asleep at the end of the bar, his back against the window.

At 10.05pm, Blakesley walked in, “sprang” at Sarah and stabbed her in her right side, saying, “My wife or her life”, before turning around and stabbing James to death while he slept*.

The cosy domestic scene in the family pub was subverted by this sudden, unexpected, act of violence committed by one who had only recently been welcomed into this family environment.

Worse still, he had killed a man who was sleeping peacefully at the end of a long day working to maintain that family.

Blakesley’s own family were called on to testify at his trial. His father James, a respectable cloth factor based in the City, and a member of the Blackwell Hall, stated that his son had been brought up in his “establishment”, but that after a serious illness when aged about five, he had suffered from fits and been anti-social, struggling to make friends and interact with people.

Robert was sent away to school at the age of eight. The saddest part of his father’s testimony was his description of going to watch his son at school, through a blind in the schoolmaster’s room:

“I was sent for by the schoolmaster, to see how my son would stand by the wall when the other children were at play. I looked through the blind, and I saw him stand there for, I think, half an hour, while the children were all frolicsome and at play together.”

It conjures up an image of a lonely boy, different from others his age, and unable to connect with them.

His father removed him from school at the age of 13, to come and work for him; but Robert disappeared frequently, and when he returned seemed not to know where he had been, or what he had done.

His father explained:

“I have seen him agitated, some scores of times, his eyes starting and his lips quivering, and I have said, ‘Halloo, Robert! What are you about?’ He has looked and said, ‘Oh papa! Nothing particular.'”

This was a man whose older brother, on whose the family’s hopes rested, had died at the age of 20. He had the pressure of his parents now on him, and seems unable to cope with it. Yet his father clearly loved him very much, and refused to get him sent to an asylum because he did not think his son was “vicious”.

His sudden attack on his wife and his brother-in-law were an extension of his disappearances and fits of insensibility at home. Somewhere in there was still the lonely boy wondering how to fit in and always remaining on the outside.

He destroyed the family who had let him join them, and destroyed the hopes of his loving father in the process.

Yet the criminal broadsides produced after his death, and the carrying out of the death sentence, do not let the 21st century reader picture Robert as a three-dimensional man – the 27-year-old with a long history of emotional problems who, another witness said, was “on terms of the greatest affection with every member” of his family.

For a bit of insight into Robert’s complex character, other historical sources have to be studied and compared. His father’s shocked, but loving, testimony at his son’s trial, and the domesticity presented in the census return, conjures up a real man, rather than a criminal caricature.

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Images from The Genealogist and Ancestry.

* The British Library refers to Sarah dying of her wounds several weeks after James Burdon’s death. Although the Old Bailey states that she was stabbed in her side, and she did not appear as a witness, neither can I find evidence for her death.

 

The case that revolved around the age of a goat

120px-Goat_PortraitIn 1839, a rather ludicrous case was heard at the Drumcondra Petty Sessions in Dublin regarding a goat stolen from a former policeman – where the case hinged on the age of the said animal.

The former policeman, Samuel Stephens, who was now working as a labourer, accused Conliffe Mill proprietor Mr Dollard of having a goat that Stephens swore had been stolen from him some three years earlier.

Magistrate Captain Cottingham noted that the case had been held over from a previous day in order for someone to be called to prove the age of the goat.

Stephens stated that his goat was around seven years old, whereas Dollard argued that HIS goat was only four.

In evidence, Stephens told the magistrate that in mid 1836, three goats had been stolen from him, and that he had received information that they had been stolen by a man and woman who lived in Spring Gardens.

When he had tracked down the couple, the woman said the goat was hers; but when asked where she had got it from, she burst into tears, and said she had bought it from a man in Dalkey about five weeks earlier.

Stephens said he was sure it was his goat; it had a white face, black neck and white sides.

The case got somewhat derailed by the defendant’s counsel’s curiosity about why Stephens had left the police.

“Did you like the service?”

“I did.”

“Did the service like you?”

“Certainly it did.”

“Then if you liked the service, and the service was equally fond of you, what was the cause of your leaving it and becoming a labourer?”

“I left it to go to a gentleman.”

“Will you swear you were not dismissed?”

“I left the police to go to a gentleman, I tell you.”

“Come, Sir, by virtue of your oath, were you not dismissed from the police?”

Stephens appealed to Captain Cottingham,

“Am I bound to answer the question?”

“You are.”

The defendant’s counsel, Mr Cantwell, then asked,

“Now, again, I ask you, and you must answer the question, were you not dismissed from the police?”

“Yes, I was.”

Further examination revealed that Stephens had been dismissed from the police for assaulted a man on the Naas Road.

His reputation for honesty somewhat damaged, he then detailed how he had bought the goats some three years before their theft.

One of the goats had been a kid then, and Stephens had paid half a crown for him. That was the goat he swore that Dollard had taken.

Mr Cantwell asked,

“Did you know the goat by any other marks than those you have described?”

An exasperated Stephens responded,

“Oh, it’s all a humbug! The goat is mine!”

“I quite agree with you that it is a humbug,” Cantwell replied.

A witness was then called, Laurence Brangan, who had given a kid to a Miss Connolly – and he thought this was the same goat that Dollard now had.

Then a Mr McLoghen was called, who said he was the man who had given a kid to Laurence Brangan, who had then given it to Miss Connolly… But he could not say that this goat was the same as that kid.

“Why, this gentleman’s evidence is of no value to anyone!” spluttered the magistrate. “He is not able to prove the identity!”

McLoghen was recalled. “Is it four or three years since you gave the kid to Mr Brangan?” asked the magistrate.

McLoghen was vague. “It is either three or four years since I gave it, but I cannot say which.”

Mr Cantwell complained that McLoghen was being given harder questions than Stephens had. McLoghen suddenly got his memory back, and said that the goat had been given three years earlier, not four.

Dalkey, home of the Connollys.

Dalkey, home of the Connollys.

Then Thomas Connelly of Dalkey was called, to state that Miss Connolly, his sister, had given him a goat the previous winter to keep on his land until the summer.

But in June 1838, McLoghen’s sister had asked Connolly to give the goat to Dollard’s wife as a present, and the goat was duly sent there.

Mr Cantwell believed that this convoluted evidence of multiple ownership made the case clear; but Cottingham, the magistrate, understandably remained confused. Again, he commented that he would like someone to tell him how old the goat was.

Now, for some reason, Stephens called a witness, called Larkin, ostensibly to prove that three years ago, Stephens had owned three goats.

Unfortunately for Stephens, though, Larkin, on being examined, couldn’t describe any of the goats to the magistrate.

And then, “a great deal of time” was spent “endeavouring to get somebody who could judge the age of a goat” – but nobody could be found.

Captain Cottingham, by now at the end of his – ahem – tether, announced his intention to dismiss the case. “I believe that Stephens is under the conscientious impression that the goat is his property, but it must be a mistake on his part.”

Stephens was not prepared to let this lie. “Oh! It is no mistake!” he exclaimed. “The goat is mine!”

The case looked like it would now have no speedy resolution, with both sides continuing to lock horns (sorry) over the age of a goat.

Source: Freeman’s Journal, Dublin, 19 September 1839

The Woman Who Ate Her Baby

prestonguardian14:3:1846

 

This tantalisingly brief piece in the Preston Guardian of 14 March 1846 caught my attention as I was searching for something else.

The relative lack of detail made me wonder if it was a fictional piece – the Victorian press were not strangers to making up the odd story, or embellishing the basics of a true one to make a better piece.

A woman gnawing her baby to death? Surely not.

But then I searched a bit more, and realised that this was, sadly, only too true (although a few parts of the Preston Guardian‘s story are incorrect, or based on later events).

It was a tale of poverty, and of a woman driven literally mad by the effects of childbirth.

Mary Ann Dinah King, the woman in question, was a mother of three. She was born in December 1822 at Union Street in Lambeth, the daughter of Joseph Lyons, a hawker, and his wife Amelia.

mary ann baptism

The baptism of Mary Ann Dinah Lyons in 1823.

 

On 16 March 1841, aged 18, she married John King at St Mary’s in Lambeth. She had not been known to have any mental issues until she gave birth to her first child, and, within a short period of time, had become pregnant with twins.

By the beginning of 1846, Mary Ann was living at her parents’ house on Chester Street in Kennington – her husband absent or dead.

On 24 January 1846, she gave birth there, to a boy and a girl, both healthy. She named them James and Catherine Mary Ann. All three appeared to be doing well, until the evening of 31 January.

Mary Ann had been in bed at her parents’ house that night, when she suddenly started up, grabbed the little boy, and beat him around the head.

Her mother, Amelia Lyons,  ran to her, but by the time she got to the baby, Mary Ann had started to bite at his face. Blood was pouring from little James’s head.

Amelia screamed for her husband, Joseph, who ran up to the room, but by this point, Mary Ann had chewed through James’s nose and cheek. She was leaning on her son, her mouth still attached to his face, and would not let go until her father pinched her nose tightly and she had to breathe.

James was covered in blood. Mary Ann’s face and mouth were smeared with it. The shock and horror that Mary Ann’s parents – little James’s grandparents – must have felt is clear.

motherAmelia had the presence of mind to run with the baby to the house of Mr Mason, the local surgeon, who dressed James’s wounds as best as he could.

Amazingly, James survived for nearly a month, gradually becoming weak and exhausted, before dying on 25 February.

A coroner’s inquest was held at the Fountain Tavern on Walworth Road in Kennington at the beginning of March, where the coroner, William Carter, and 14 local householders gathered to hear the horrifying story.

The householders returned a verdict of wilful murder against Mary Ann. She, meanwhile, had, since the attack, been committed to the lunatic ward of the parish workhouse*.

She was indicted for trial at the Central Criminal Court, but when her case was held on 2 April, the jury found that she was clearly unfit to plead, being of unsound mind.

 

Old Bailey Online 1846

 The brief details of Mary Ann’s case, taken from the Old Bailey Proceedings.

What happened to Mary Ann afterwards? It does not appear that she regained her senses; her actions were those of a woman who had lost contact with reality and it is hard to see how she could come back from that awful night.

NOTES

  • Details found via Free BMD, Ancestry.co.uk, Preston Guardian and The Era.
  • * One report stated that Mary Ann was in the lunatic ward of Newington workhouse, but she was living at her parents’ house in Kennington, which came under the Lambeth Poor Law Union, rather than the Newington PLU, and so it is possible she was actually sent there.
  • Mary Ann’s oldest child, not mentioned by name in press reports, may have been Amelia, born in Lambeth early in 1842.