Was it born dead? Concealment of Birth and Infanticide in the Regency.

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In the case of Mary Fordham of Hertford, the answer to the bleak question was yes; it was born dead. This mattered in Regency England, and not for reasons of concern for the mother, who had just gone through a traumatic experience. Murder carried the death penalty in Regency England; but then so did stealing lambs or spoons or passing a forged banknote. The difference is that the sentence for Infanticide was usually carried out and the body dispatched to the anatomists for dissection
Mary Fordham was a servant in Stevenage, living in the house of a man called Mr Whittingham. Mary Chapman, a sixteen year old fellow servant had no inkling that Mary Fordham was pregnant, despite living at close quarters. They had shared the same bed on 2nd September 1810 and Chapman had been kept up all night by Fordham complaining about pains in her bowels. Chapman spent the next night in her own room; she went to visit Fordham the next morning and found her room in disarray. Chapman believed that Mary Fordham had given birth, and suggested that she clean up her room and go to work as normal. Later on the same day, Mary Chapman told the mistress of the house what had happened and together they searched the house for evidence of a baby. They found a five foot hole where rubbish was deposited; in the hole was Mary Chapman’s bloody stocking with a new-born boy in it.
Then the story becomes odd as well as grotesque. Mrs Whittingham appeared as a witness and recounted as story about how, about a month earlier, a labourer had entered their house in a scary mask. Although it had been a “frolic”, it had scared both Mrs Whittingham and Mary Fordham and was, according to the Mistress of the house, very likely to make pregnant women miscarry. Why would Mrs Whittingham come up with this story? Was she trying to move the date of conception by claiming that the baby had not gone full term, therefore obscuring the father’s identity- protecting the family honour-or was she trying to provide a plausible reason for the child dying at birth to protect her servant?
An apothecary (not a more expensive doctor) was called. He declared the child full-grown, but could not rule out a miscarriage. There was a wound on the child’s head, and brick the same size with blood on it next to the body. Mary was lactating; the male apothecary examined her breasts to check, truly adding insult and humiliation to unimaginable trauma
It didn’t look good for Mary Fordham, despite the possibility of some support for whatever reason from the family. However, the draconian nature of the Georgian penal system came to her rescue. A surgeon deposed that the blow to the child’s head could have been caused either by a blow from the brick OR as a result of being thrown into the hole after dying at birth. It partly came down to who was believed, whether the defendant cut a good figure in court, and whether conspiracy could be proved. Mary’s applying experience, whatever it was, was one that she would have to do alone; to avoid the accusation of conspiracy ; perhaps her friend Mary Chapman realised this when she suggested that Mary Fordham “clean her room” and then went on to give her enough time to hide the body before she informed Mrs Whittingham
Desperate as her life was, Mary Fordham, as a servant away from home, had some advantages. She had no family to monitor the shape of her body or check out on her sexual relationships. She did not give birth in a room in a slum where the cries of a new-born baby would be heard through thin walls. There was just not enough evidence.
The Newgate report suggested that “the learned judge summed up the evidence with great humanity” The jury followed his hint and found her guilty of concealment of birth only, with a sentence of two years in gaol. That this was the best possible outcome shows the horror of being pregnant, single and powerless in Regency Britain
Lots of children were adjudged to be born dead and their birth concealed. On the same day as Mary was sent to prison, another women, Martha Woods in Winchester received the same punishment

There was very little change in attitudes over the next century .One hundred years later, 1918, also in Hertfordshire, Amy Cook (21), a domestic servant, pleaded guilty to endeavoring to conceal the birth of her male child.

Mr J.H. Murphy, on behalf of the prosecution, said that it was one of those sad cases of a respectable young woman getting into trouble and then trying to conceal the consequences. She had no assistance at the birth of her child, and afterwards hid the body away in a box in her bedroom, and was thus able to resume her work the next day.
Suspicions, however, were aroused, the police were called in, and she eventually produced the body. There was nothing against the prisoner, and probably it was more the fault of the man who got her into trouble than her own for she said that she did not know what to do.
The girl’s mother said her daughter had been well-behaved and had been in good service for several years. Asked by the Judge if she was aware of her daughter’s condition before the concealment, she replied that at about Christmas time she had had suspicions and had challenged her, but her daughter denied that there was anything wrong. She did not see her daughter again until after this affair happened.
His Lordship said the prisoner was young and hitherto had a good character; otherwise he should have passed a more severe sentence upon her than he was going to pass. This kind of offence had been too prevalent in recent years, much too prevalent. Having regard to the circumstances, he should pass the very lenient sentence of 3 months’ imprisonment in the second division.
On hearing the sentence, the prisoner screamed, threw up her hands, and was carried out of Court in a fainting condition.

( From http://www.hertspastpolicing.org.uk/)

The stories are remarkably similar; the main differences are that Amy had a mother she had to lie to, and the father was also blamed-a bit.

 Perhaps more significantly, Amy received a more severe sentence than even the Georgian “bloody code” had suggested one hundred years earlier.

My book-a social history of the Regency- available from November 30- 210 pages, despite what the websites say!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dark-Days-Georgian-Britain-Rethinking/dp/1526702541/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1502132558&sr=8-1&keywords=dark+days+of+georgian+britain

 

 

 

A “man of colour” becomes political and not everyone is pleased; Robert Wedderburn, 1817

“Persons of colour”  were mentioned regularly in the Regency newspapers. If abroad, they were slaves in revolt or in need of liberation; in Britain they were the menservants of plantation owners, dockers, or under-employed sailors in the Royal Navy or the merchant marine. They were not people whose voice was usually listened to in political debate; if they were heard, then they were saying things that the British establishment were ready to hear. Robert Wedderburn was probably the first man of colour to say what he wanted without caring  what the British establishment thought of him.

Wedderburn was present at a packed meeting of the reforming establishment on August 21, 1817 at the City of London Tavern. Many of the” big names” were there; Robert Owen, currently on a tour to promote his own radical view of rural cooperative communities; Terence ( “TJ”) Wooler –journalist, publisher, republican and proto-feminist; William Hone, radical bookseller; “ Major” John Cartwright, who had been making speeches about Parliamentary reform since 1780. Others such a Colonel Robert Torrens was a Malthusian and early proponent of free trade and no friend of Owen or the others; but it did not matter. There was going to be a pleasant debate. The audience was mixed; what they had in common was a belief that the present status quo in Regency Britain was unacceptable.

Owen spoke first, and for a long time. The star speaker arrived to great applause; he was about to talk about the “remoralising of the poor”. Today,” remoralising” is not even a word, but in 1817 austerity and hunger wee so bad that it was felt that the poor were being demoralised and now the alternative process needed to begin. A chair was suggested and then elected. It was bureaucratic meeting Owen made his opening remarks; he was sorry that the last meeting had ended in confusion. He bemoaned the fact that not enough people there had any knowledge of political economy- what today we would call economics.

He went on the give the crowd and economics lesson that they already knew about and agreed with. Government expenditure had fallen since the end of the war; production had followed employment into a downward spiral and the “working classes” were miserable- this may have been one of the first time the expression had been used instead of the “lower orders”. Owen had a radical plan of small communities of villages that worked in co-operation. It bore no relation to any form of society that existed; it did not even include Christianity; Owen could see no connection between the practice and theory of Christianity and a society that helped each other. Owen’s utter scorn of organised religion began to alienate elements of the audience. In any case nothing was actually going to happen today; Owen merely called for a committee to consider the merits of his plan.

There then followed a procedural wrangle about previous resolutions at other meetings, whether they could be discussed if they had not been seconded, and other items of no interest to normal people either now, or then. Colonel Torrens then spoke.  Robert Torrens was a Malthusian who believed that the population was rising much faster than the ability to provide food and that disaster in the form of famine or fights over resources was much more likely than Owen’s utopian communities. He proposed that Mr Owen had not adequately proved his point and suggested an adjournment of the meeting until the third Friday in January of next year.

At this point Robert Wedderburn made his contribution, after first “ begging” the meeting for a mere 10 minutes to speak and at the end apologising many times for talking up their times. We know that Wedderburn made two points. That Mr Owen’s plan was another form of slavery, and he (Wedderburn) knew about slavery and that the Irish Catholic peasant was treated appallingly.

So said the establishment Morning Post, anyway.

Other papers reported it differently. The Suffolk Chronicle reported that the man the Robert Wedderburn who had made his comment about slavery was a “man of colour”. In a Regency newspaper, this word was a warning- some bad news was coming- a murder, a robbery, a revolt or a riot.

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Wedderburn had clearly been trying to make his point for a long time, and seemed to have forced his way onto the podium. This was breaking all the rules .A black man who asked – more demanded- to speak was somebody who scared the ladies. His inability to take a desiccated view of poverty and slavery meant that he was judged insane. He was a man of great anger and emotion, because unlike Owen, Torrens and the rest, he had felt poverty and injustice, not just though deeply about it.

So, in order to get rid of him- in effect to humour him- he was allowed to speak. He was Robert Wedderburn, some of James Wedderburn and slave women called Rosanna. That would have made him, in the ugly language of the day, a “mullato” (“little mule” in Spanish).

That’s all that we know he said. His later writings express the horror of slavery and the unique tragedy of his own situation. His father had, after his birth, sold his mother back into slavery. He may not have said that he was a Unitarian minister who denied the Trinity; a republican and a revolutionary supporter of the Spencean Philanthropists who wanted to overthrow the government. In any case, being a “man of colour ” was enough. Who did he think he was, coming into a meeting, voicing his opinions on injustice, based on real knowledge of injustice?

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A cartoon of Wedderburn in action at the meeting, suggesting a degree of importance not hinted at in the newspapers. Is his stance a little like this one below, without the physical chains?

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My thanks to
eblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/21/today-in-londons-radical-history-black-revolutionary-robert-wedderburn-disputes-with-utopian-socialist-robert-owen-maybe-1817/

There is more about Wedderburn’s later career in my book, out on November 30th, 2017.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dark-Days-Georgian-Britain-Rethinking/dp/1526702541/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1501671771&sr=1-1&keywords=dark+days+of+georgian+britain

Black People in Regency Britain – the murder of Dilly Jerome, 1815

There were “persons of colour” in Regency Britain. They congregated around ports and were the lowest deckhands in the Royal Navy; they were manservants to young gentlemen or plantation owners living in Britain. But most of all, they were sailors. Many had a very hard time; none more so than Dilly Jerome.

Dilly Jerome was a deck hand on a Royal Navy ship and was found naked with his throat cut on Southsea beach, near the Castle, on Wednesday 16th August 1815. He had a reputation of being generous to his comrades to the point of being a little vulnerable to exploitation. When the ship arrived at Portsmouth, Dilly, a man of Caribbean descent was robbed and murdered by three ship mates- Joseph , Antonio and Philip Pique- all Africans. All four men were “people of colour” The three Piques were described by the newspapers as African and Jerome as “not African”- he may well have been from the Caribbean. The Georgian Navy was very multi-racial and so this would not have been a surprise; and the papers, while horrified at the murders, did not seem to suggest that their ethnic origin was significant. It was a violent world everywhere, and everybody knew it.

The Piques were not brothers; indeed not related in any way. They were given their shared surname by the captain of their ship, the HMS Pique. This was rather indicative of the degree of respect the men received. The Ship itself had been captured from the French in 1800 and was originally called the Pallas, and like the seaman, had been given a name that suited the new owner- only one step above a slave name, arguably.

In August 1815 they were discharged from their ship and three days later they had spent all their money and with no prospect of employment, decided to rob Dilly Jerome and murder him if he resisted.

They confronted him on Southsea Common at 4o’clock in the afternoon and proceeded to attack him in broad daylight. Philip Pique held his legs so he could be robbed, but when he resisted, Antonio cut his throat, and severed his head with a small clasp knife. Philip desposed in court that Dilly’s clothing hid the wound; but would not have hidden the blood that gushed out so badly that the three men had to bathe in the sea to wash it off. Philip was believed, and later turned evidence against the other two and was the only one that was not hanged; so it seemed that the head had not come off completely, as Philip might have noticed that.

In any case, Jerome was soon naked and pushed into a sluice near the Castle. There was a desultory attempt to cover the dead man with shingle from the beach. Finding nothing of value in his pockets, they sold his clothes to a slopman- a second-hand clothes dealer – at the Hard in Portsea for 14 shillings, which they shared between them. As the purchaser was Jewish, the papers did not hesitate to say so and make it part of the story. The fence/ clothes dealer was suspicious that the clothes were wet; and the fact that they might have tried to wash the blood off them was one of the first suspicions he had, which tells you a lot about life in Portsmouth at the time. The three managed to convince the intermediary that the clothes had become wet through falling into the sea when being transported.

Philip was found first because he did not seem to be hiding; this fact was to help him later. Antonio was picked up after a raid on Portsmouth public houses and was asleep at the Market House in a rich man’s coat that he had clearly stole. Joseph was also apprehended and they were all sent to Winchester gaol.

There were two other incidents in Portsmouth in the same week over demobilized sailors who were persons of colour and a panic set in; the magistrates in Gosport combed the streets and public houses to find former sailors who had no livelihood and oblige them to leave the country, chartering ships to do so.

In March 1816, Antonio and Joseph Pique were two of 19 prisoners sentenced to death at Winchester. Only three actually hanged; the two Piques and John Goddard, a child rapist. It was a ludicrous system where far more people were condemned than actually hanged. One third of those committed to hang were pardoned, giving significant power to the Crown to use or withhold a royal pardon. In 1817, for example, the total number of executions was 115, although 1,300 received the death sentence. It was a random and capricious system although it has to be said that the investigation into Jerome’s murder was taken as seriously and the murder of other, native, people.
The Piques died well and in the approved state of mind. This really mattered to public opinion. The two Piques were contrite at the end, despite being (rightly) portrayed as monsters earlier;image002

 

The Piques were ideal candidates for the anatomists. In theory, all murderer’s corpses could be used but their families moved heaven and earth to prevent it. The Piques, whatever their real names were, had no-one to speak for them.

If you liked this blog, please consider my book

Available from November 30th 2017

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Thomas Erskine – Georgian Animal Rights Activist

“They are created indeed for our use, but not for our abuse.”

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A young Thomas

After 1815, the British were much more likely to condemn animal cruelty, especially towards horses and dogs, who were very much their favourites. Dogs were pets and horses were visible in the streets being clearly overburdened. Donkeys received some sympathy, especially when they were yoked to carts to avoid paying fees when going through toll gates.

Opposition to animal cruelty had a few roots; a new emphasis on human feeling ; religion; and social prejudice. The barbaric sports of the vicious lower orders needed to be eliminated. As this article from the Bath Chronicle ( 1810) shows, motives were mixed

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“Throwing at Cocks” did what it said. A cock was tethered to a post and people threw stones at it. The winner was the one who finally killed it. Mayor of Bath John Palmer- the man who also invented Britain’s first efficient Post Office- opposed for humanitarian reasons, but one that has its basis in religion. There was no licence to treat even the meanest of God’s creatures in this way. It made you insensible to the sufferings of humanity. Both arguments resonate today and most people’s opposition to animal cruelty derive from one or both of these propositions.
Palmer fails to mention that many of the ruling class were worried by orchestrated examples of the lower orders enjoying themselves in this manner; but there is some indication here of a slight reformation in manners that was evident in the late Georgian period. It is also interesting that there was no assault on hare coursing or fox-hunting in the early nineteenth century; both as barbaric as cock throwing, but enjoyed exclusively by the upper classes.

Thomas, Lord Erskine was the “morning star” of the new movement to be kind to animals. He deserves much of the credit for changing deep-seated traditional views. It was he who tried to push  “A bill to prevent cruelty to brute animals”  through the House of Lords  in 1809.  His speech on the 15 May 1809 was perhaps the first speech in a British Parliament to put the intellectual case against animal  cruelty.

Like John Palmer and the leading citizens of Bath, part of Erskine’s argument was that prevention of cruelty was needed to redeem the lower orders- they, in their unthinking state, were responsible for much of the cruelty and were the hardest to reform- the law was needed as they would not be capable of doing it themselves. Erskine was referring to the mistreatment of dogs and horses; he deliberately omitted bull-baiting and cock throwing from his bill because he knew that too many Lords believed that these activities encouraged manly vigour.

These unmanly and disgusting outrages are most frequently perpetrated by the basest and most worthless; incapable, for the most part, of any reproof which can reach the mind, and who know no more of the law, than that it suffers them to indulge their savage dispositions with impunity.”

When animal abusers were challenged, according to Lord Erskine- “ what is it to you?”- was their answer. In order to refute this argument, Erskine had to reject two key Georgian beliefs; the immunity of the servant when ordered to do something  by a master; and that owning a creature was a justification for any kind of treatment. His denial of the absolute right of a property was radical for the time. His 1809 speech called it a “stupid defence”

Erskine used theological arguments too. Mankind, despite his “ God- like qualities” would be helpless without the contribution of animals. They were creatures created by God, and the dominion over the animals that is declared in Genesis is not a carte blanche to do anything. The very usefulness of the lower creatures was perfect evidence that they were a gift from God’s creation; looking after them was a trust and abusing them was a sin- there was already a Georgian society called the Society against the Sin of Cruelty to Dumb Animals

Animals had rights because they were created with similar features to humans. This did not imply equality, but inequality was no justification for abuse”

Almost every sense bestowed upon man is equally bestowed upon them; seeing, hearing, feeling, thinking; the sense of pain and pleasure; the passions of love and anger; sensibility to kindness, and pangs from unkindness and neglect, are inseparable characteristics of their natures as much as of our own”

Erskine was not a vegetarian. He did not imbue animals with the same characteristics of man, but did not see this a justification for their suffering;

They have, besides, no knowledge of the future, and their end, when appropriated fitly for our food, is without prolonged suffering.”

Although Erskine had intellectual agreements in favour of kindness to animals, he also liked them to an extent that modern readers would recognise. In 1811, he rescued a dog from the street that was about to be killed by some boys. He had his own adored Newfoundland dog, Toss, who he taught to do tricks. He had a macaw, a goose that followed him around and two leeches who he believed had saved his life in a medical procedure. He gave the leeches names, could distinguish between them and believed that they knew and liked him. So he was “guilty” of anthropomorphism way before it became popular.

Erskine’s Bill failed in the Commons on two occasions in 1809 and 1810. It was lost very narrowly in the Commons, because too many members were worried that horse racing and fox hunting would be next on the list.

Despite the defeat, Erskine predicted that future generations would treat the lower orders of animals with more respect. He did not have to wait long. The first animal protection law ( for cattle) was passed in 1821; an organisation for the protection of animals, the forerunner of the RSPCA, was formed in 1824. The crude Georgian attitudes to living creatures were passing.

Further reading
International Vegetarian Union
https://ivu.org/history/england19a/erskine.html

My book (Out November 2017, Pen and Sword Books)

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https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dark-Days-Georgian-Britain-Rethinking/dp/1526702541/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1498384239&sr=1-3&keywords=James+Hobson

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Anti-Semitism in the Regency

In 1782, the German tourist, Karl Philipp Moritz toured England on foot and by stagecoach. He was a liberal Anglophile clergyman who loved the countryside and architecture of England but had mixed feeling about some of the English people he met. After his visit to London he decided to take the coach the village of Richmond and, en route, the coach stopped at Kensington to pick up more passengers and fill the pockets of the driver with extra money. A Jew applied for a place and wished to have one for the more comfortable seats inside the vehicle. This would not have bothered the passengers on the inside, as it was perfectly possible to go for miles without talking to anybody on English stagecoach journey if the company was disagreeable.

What bothered Moritz’s fellow travellers was the fact that there were places free on the more dangerous and uncomfortable outside seats, but the Jew decided not to bother. “They could not help thinking it somewhat preposterous that a Jew should be ashamed to ride on the outside, or on any side, and in any way; since as they added, he was nothing more than a Jew”. Moritz noted that antipathy towards Jews was as bad, if not slightly worse than his native Prussia, and that it was prejudice rather than discrimination. A Jew with money could ride in whatever part of the vehicle he wanted – this was not the segregated public transport of 1950s USA – but they had no right to have even a moderate opinion of themselves.

Anti-Semitism in England was of the unthinking, religiously inspired, casual variety, not the farrago of conspiracy and racial theory that we see today. It went deep into all social classes. Moritz left his coach and tramped all over the country on foot and therefore could only gain access to the Inns and public houses of the lower classes. He met a lot of casual racism there too; he remembers one throw away conversation

The one that sat next to him now began to talk about the Jews of the Old Testament, and assured us that the present race were all descended from those old ones. “Ay, and they are all damned to all eternity!” said his companion, as coolly and as confidently as if at that moment he had seen them burning in the bottomless pit.

So taking a random month and year of the Regency – September 1816- the Jews are seen in various ways. On September 1, The Scots’ Magazine produced a disturbing image of Tangier. This primitive and dangerous “piratical emporium” was the home of Turks, Moors, Jews, Renegades (Pirates and criminals) and Christians held as slaves- all of the bad things it was possible to be, and all in the same place

On September 2 , Patrick Colquhoun, the legal reformer was questioned by a parliamentary committee about the explosion in the incidents of petty crime since the war with France. Colquhoun noted that there were 8000 places in central London where stolen goods could be fenced, and this did not include the iterant Jews who dealt in second hand clothes and other goods- it is easy to see where the Fagin image came from; Jews who were rootless were a threat; some form of licensing and identification was desirable to identify them
There was a strong belief in what the Nazis would later call “rootless cosmopolitanism”- the idea that the Jews could thrive anywhere while remaining loyal to nobody but themselves. On 5 September, the Derby Mercury admitted that the brutal treatment of Jews in Spain and Portugal had forced them to become refugees in Morocco. However, their sympathy was quickly expended.

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It goes on to list of the appalling treatment of the Jews and to list their activities- they farmed revenues, they coined money, “ furnished and fabricated jewellery” and generally acted as intermediaries in finance and government. In exchange this they were hated by both the elite and the rabble. While they article did not approve of the barbaric treatment of the Jews ( it was being done by Muslim Moors-an even more barbaric group and therefore this made sense) there was little sympathy either.

Jews were always identified. On September 1816, Andrew Davis was in court, accused of being an insolvent debtor while seeming to have a large number of businesses on the go. The prosecution asked him if he was a Jew; he replied that yes he was, and would die one, but he was “ not a Jew in all the principles of these people” ….meaning that he was honest. Davis didn’t take the court very seriously; when asked if he had ever run an establishment for virtuous ladies in Covent Garden, replied “I was never that fortunate”. As he left the court, the Morning Chronicle reported that “gave one of his uncircumcised creditors a blow to the eye, saying that he would never have a shilling. In a similar case that month, the “Jew Cohen”, another bankrupt, was accused of creating fictional debts to others Jews and paying them before his genuine Christian creditors.

Jews were often seen as undermining the legal system. So it is unsurprising that a case of a Jewish bankrupt behaving badly should make the national newspapers. Patrick Colquhoun, who had linked Jews to receivers of stolen goods earlier in the month, complained on 8 September that prisoners were avoiding justice by Jews swearing that they were financially able to honour a bail bond and then running off after taking a payment from the prisoner, who likewise would not be seen again. However, all the blame was heaped on only one of the two criminals for this “Jew Bail”
A conversion was news in newspapers all over the country. George Gerfon “ a respectable Jew” aged about 40, converted to Christianity when he realised he was dying. Rather than doubt his motives, the Bath Chronicle of September 12 believed that he was under pressure from his religious community “in a way not consistent with liberty of conscience or the delicacy due to a dying man”
In late 1816 there was a currency crisis in Britain; small denomination coins were in short supply and at the same time the old defaced silver coins were being replaced by new ones. The old coins were still legal, but it was reported that “Moses” – the stereotypical cunning Jew -was presenting themselves outside coaching in and telling more credulous incoming passengers that the old coins “ would not pass” and offered to buy them at a discount. This story, mentioned only once, is hard to believe; the whole country knew the status of the coins; and those travelling on the stage coach were an elite who would certainly not be fooled by anybody trying this ruse.

Remember this was only one month…….

 

My book (Out November 2017, Pen and Sword Books)

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                                     Child Dropping in the Regency

 

Child Dropping

Child dropping was one way that unmarried women in the Regency   dealt with the consequences of an unplanned   or socially unacceptable pregnancy. A child would be abandoned; it would either perish outside, or much more likely, be found and mostly looked after in the workhouse. Then the authorities would react; sometimes harshly, but sometimes with a degree of compassion that the Regency is not particularly known for

By our period 1810-1820, attitudes were softening a little to child dropping, as it was increasingly seen as a desperate act. It is clear that the children were, in the vast majority of cases, meant to be found before they died. In September 1811 some labourers working in a brick field at first light found a three month old girl carefully placed in a place where the workers would be bound to find her. A genteel, well dressed woman had been 15 minutes earlier in the fields and the child was thought to be hers. The child was then sent to the St Pancras workhouse to be cared for.

 In February 1813, a nine month old child was left in the East India Docks, Blackwall and put next to a large consignment of timber on the quayside. This may seem to be a highly irresponsible place to leave a child; but the truth of the matter is that, just like the Hampstead brick field, it was a place of work were there was a time when it would be deserted, but another time when it was equally certain that it would fill up with people who would find the child. The baby was well “clothed and in a thriving state”; it had not been mistreated until the moment of its abandonment and it was not left there to die. These babies were made to be found; for those who wanted their children dead, the River Thames was a few yards away. Newspaper reports would make indirect judgement on the mother through the clues it had.

 Timing and location were crucial for success. These two examples were babies dropped in the early morning outside a busy work place. The other possibility is to place them outside a busy doorway which would be opened regularly. On a busy Saturday night in New Cut, Canterbury  in July 1813 unknown women left her four month old child ( “respectable clothed” )on the doorstep of a large house and she was found almost immediately by a maidservant. The gentlemen who owned the house took the child in, looked after it and made plans for its future at his own expense. It is very likely that this was exactly what the poor mother would have wished for, and may well have planned it.

In November 1813, another female infant, a new born, was found, once again on a Saturday evening and once again at the front of a gentlemen’s house in Bath. She was well clothed, wrapped in something that looked like her mother’s petticoat. She was placed in a hat box with a hole pierced in the front to allow the child to breathe. The box was not new; there had been a name written on the outside that had been deliberately erased. The child, like others, ended up in the local workhouse and the   Poor Law officers offered 10 guineas for information about the identity of the mother, or the people who planted the baby- their determination of “make a signal   example of all such offenders”. However, they also suggested that if the women came forward and had an adequate appalling story to tell, then “they may depend on being treated with every degree of tenderness and delicacy”. The Overseers of the poor finished their newspaper advertisement with news for the mother

NB The Child is alive in the Walcot Poor-House, and is likely to do well

It was a message to the parent. No serious crime had been committed yet. There was a way out.

When did the women become “unnatural mothers”?  They would normally have to do more than leave their child on the door step. They would have to be flagrant or ungrateful. In another example from Canterbury in October 1813, a nine month old boy was left at the door of  a Mr Hutchinson at the Cattle Market. So far, so good; but it was wrapped in an “old cloak “-that was a judgement- and a reward was put out for the identification of the mother. Any such reward would be cost effective, as otherwise the child would be a burden on the parish. The next day a women called Fitzgerald (“Wife of a sailor”, whose husband may have sailed away somewhere during conception) She came back to claim the child and seemed to be given some money to go away (she would have no right to claim money from the parish, but the child may have been entitled). Instead she took the money, got drunk and broke a window and the child ended up back in the workhouse, this time for good.

It may have been a coincidence, but the use of the expression “unnatural mother” or “inhuman wretch” seems to have been more prevalent in the provincial papers; London papers seem to have been more pragmatic. In November 1816, one child   was left outside the Foundling Hospital, a charitable institution which   would have been the ideal placement for such a child. He was covered in green baize, with a sign saying “ live lumber “ The “fine boy” was wearing a fine great coat with silk cuffs on his shirt. Somebody had written a poem to the officials of the Foundling Hospital perhaps in order to charm the boy’s way through the Hospitals admission system

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It didn’t work. The child was dispatched to the St Pancras workhouse. A reward was offered for the mother; whose poetry and  ability to buy nice clothes meant that she was spared the epithet “ unnatural”

 

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Women’s rights and rape; a breakthrough in 1811 and a lesson for 2016?

Two hundred years ago, rape was a capital crime and dealt with very severely. However, convictions were rare because of the nature of the questions that the women could be asked and the likelihood, as in other cases, that witnesses would be paid to defame those giving evidence.
There was a case in 1811. William Hodgson was found guilty of the “ravishment” of nineteen year old Harriet Halliday. Her evidence was strong; witnesses had seen her dragged into a stable by Hodgson; a local surgeon had heard her screams, rescued her afterwards and financed the prosecution against Hodgson. Halliday was a servant, and would not have the money to prosecute Hodgson herself; another weakness of  the regency justice system.

After Harriet had given her evidence in support of the prosecution she was cross examined by the prisoner’s counsel. In the face of such strong evidence, Hodgson’s defence became aggressive. They called Halliday’s former employer and were about to ask why she had discharged the servant after a mere two weeks work, they were stopped by Baron Wood. The judge ruled this and told it was not relevant to the case. Then the defence asked her whether she had had any “connection” with any boy in the past. Judge Baron Wood then made a novel and important ruling;

The learned judge allowed the objection on the ground that witness was not bound to answer these questions as they to criminate and disgrace herself and said that he there was not any exception to the rule in the case  of  rape

The prisoner’s counsel called witnesses and among others a witness to prove that the girl had been caught in bed a year before this charge with a young man
This second piece of evidence was ruled inadmissible and Harriet’s evidence stood. The new rule (called Hodgson) was extended in 1817 to attempted rape and although it did not ban general questions about the women’s lifestyle, it did rule inadmissible specific ones, such as were asked in this case.

The court was utterly aghast at these comments. One lawyer commented that his main method of attack in these cases had been taken away from him. It turned out to be a turning point in women’s legal rights in cases of sexual assault.

Until now?