8th November 1895, The Bedfordshire Advertiser, from the British Newspaper Archive. Click for a bigger version, although there’s a transcript below.
A Singular Case
The body of an infant exhumed
An inquest was held at the Green Man Inn, Eversholt, on Thursday, before Mr FT Tanqueray, coroner, on the body of the infant male child of Ada White. Owing to circumstances in connection with the burial of the child, information was given by the police to the coroner, resulting in the present enquiry.
The jury consisted of Mr William Gower, Foreman; Messrs Perkins, Wild, Ireland, J Goodman, Fasey, Brinklow, Gazeley, William Thompson, Shillingford, Gibbons, and Redall.
The coroner, after the jury had been sworn, gave a brief outline of the case, to the effect that girl named Ada White, about 20 years of age, the daughter of Elizabeth Randall, living at Park Road, Bedford, had apparently been in ill-health. She had previously suffered from dropsy, and for the benefit of her health her mother had sent her to her aunt, Louisa Spring, at Lower Rads End, Eversholt. A few weeks after the mother visited her daughter, and then, with the aunt, became aware of the daughter’s condition. A child was born on Friday, October 25th, and it lived until the following Sunday. Both spring and Mrs Willis, the midwife, had said that the child was stillborn, and in order to get it quietly buried they had a certificate written and signed to the effect that Mrs Willis had delivered Ada White of a stillborn male child on Friday, and this paper was mainly the cause of the enquiry. It had been dictated by Mrs Willis, written by Mrs Randall, and witnessed by Mrs Spring, and was the means of the child being quietly interred in the churchyard.
After the jury had viewed the body, which had been consumed and conveyed to the green man, the following evidence was taken.
Dr Thomas Holmes, surgeon, in practice at Woburn Sands, said he had that day made an examination of the body. It was that of a male child, and was enclosed in a box. It weighed only 5 1/4 pounds, and was not full-length for a fully timed child. It had been born alive, and had probably lived two or three days. Its lungs had been fully expanded, and it had been properly attended to at its birth. He had made a post mortem examination, the results of which was that he found no cause of death beyond premature birth and want of vitality. There was no evidence of suffocation; the stomach was empty, beyond a little mucus; therefore it was not a case of poisoning. There would be no necessity to feed the child, beyond giving it a teaspoonful of milk and water occasionally.
Elizabeth Randall said she was the wife of John Randall, labourer, and lived at 22, Park Road, Bedford. Ada White was her daughter. Two years ago she suffered from dropsy. She sent her to her niece, Mrs Spring, at Eversholt, at the beginning of August, for the good of her health. She never suspected anything wrong until three weeks afterwards, when she visited her at her aunt’s. They engaged Mrs Willis to attend her. Witness received a letter on Saturday morning, and came to Eversholt that evening, and remained until Monday evening. The child was very small and cold, and she did not think it would live. It died about 12 o’clock on Sunday night. No food was given to it. Ada White was 20 years of age.
Louisa Spring said she was the wife of George Sprin. Ada White was her husband’s niece. After giving evidence is similar to that of Mrs Randall, she said Mrs Willis was with the child nearly all day on Sunday. Witness had charge of it when she was not there. She went down to Mrs Rutland and asked for a piece of ground to be dug. Mrs Rutland asked if the child was stillborn, and witness said “Yes”. She then said it would be necessary to have a written statement with the child to that effect. Witness after identifying the child as the same, said she had stated that the child was stillborn because Mrs Willis had told her to say so.
Mrs Willis, wife of George Willis, said she had acted as midwife for 20 years, generally alone. She had arranged with doctor to follow in case of difficulty. After giving evidence connected with the birth of the child, witness said if she had done anything wrong it had been done in ignorance. She did not know that the child is dying like that, so soon after birth, had to be registered.
The coroner said that this question belonged to another court.
The jury returned a verdict in accordance with medical evidence: namely that the child died from natural causes: premature birth, and want of vitality.
I [EJW] find this so terribly sad. My reading of this article is that the women involved in the birth, the police, coroner, doctor, jury, reporter, readers, all know what is going on and are taking great care not to say it. Ada’s son was unwanted. He was born healthy. They stood by for more than two days until he was dead. They pretended it was a stillbirth because miscarriages were less socially disastrous than bastards. Everyone conspired in the pretence that this hadn’t happened.
The language in the report is telling. It carefully dehumanises the baby, never calling the baby “he” or “him”, always “the child” or “it”.
We have more humanity now, I think. I’m glad.