Saturday, 12th July, 1862
The Suspected Child Murder At Egremont, Cheshire
On Thursday afternoon the coroner for the district, H. Churton, Esq., held an inquest, adjourned from Wednesday, the 2nd instant, on the body of a male child, which had been found in a heap of night soil, collected from one of the Seacombe hotels, by the night-soilman, on the Monday previous, a fact sworn to in evidence at the previous inquest by a man named John Hodson. The only witness examined on Thursday was Samuel Wagstaff Smith, member of the colleague of surgeons, who deposed – I am the medical officer of the Wallasey dispensary, and on the 2nd July, in virtue of instructions, made a post mortem examination of the body of a male child, found amidst a heap of night-soil. The body somewhat decomposed and could not have been more than a few days old. It was not full-grown, but an eight-months’ child. There was no external marks of violence about the body, except blood about the right ear : that the umbilical cord was about fourteen inches in length, somewhat shrunk, no way tight, and very dry; that it was rough at the extremities, as it torn, not cut.
On opening the chest I examined the lungs and found them of a pink colour, which floated when immersed in water, even when cut into pieces, from which I inferred that the child had inspired slightly. There was evidently atmospheric influence on the lungs; the left side of the heart was full of black blood; all the other organs appeared healthy and natural. In answer to the coroner, the witness said, I do not think that the child could be said to be born alive; the lungs were imperfectly distended. Cases have occurred where prior to birth the child has breathed : it might have died during parturition; or the child’s head, which naturally comes first, might have been alive, and then instantaneous death followed. The body was so fresh when I examined it that I do not think it could have been born more than three days.
On this evidence being given, the coroner addressing the jury said. From the statements now made by the medic I gentlemen, it is clear the case is at an end. He then reviewed the evidence, which he considered clear and highly satisfactory, that the jury could return no other verdict than that the child has been still-born. At first, remarked the coroner, there were many circumstances connected with the finding of the body calculated to arouse the suspicion of Inspector Rowbottom. In the hotel, adjoining the ashpit whence the body had been taken, a woman suspected to have delivered of a child : that the woman had somewhat suddenly left the service of the hotel-keeper, on the 28th May, and had gone to Liverpool, where she consulted a Dr. Waters as to her health, and afterwards was admitted into one of the Liverpool hospitals, from which she was dismissed on the 6th June. The jury, without retiring, returned the verdict – “Still-born.”
At the conclusion of the inquest, and while remarking in very complimentary terms on the evidence given by Mr. Smith, the coroner said – Recently I had a very notable instance of the importance of correct medical evidence. In another section of the county I held an inquest on the body of a child found dead under similar circumstances, and on the same day the magistrates held a court, and had signed a commitment of the mother on the serious charge of murder, founding their procedure on the medical testimony given by a surgeon who had been examined before the court. I directed the jury to return the verdict still-born; and on this being told to the magistrates I was sent for. I showed to the satisfaction of the bench that the child had been stillborn, that the lungs being like jelly and adhering to the spine, could never have been distended, and the child could not have been born alive. I had the satisfaction of seeing the murder-commitment paper torn in pieces, and the innocent but unfortunate mother acquitted. So much for perfect and imperfect medical evidence.
In connection with the inquest we were much gratified that the coroner had one of the jurors give a donation to Mr. Smith, for the benefit of the funds of Wallasey dispensary.