The Post Infanticide In Victorian Keynsham

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Infanticide in Victorian Keynsham

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posted by Paul Townsend alias brizzle born and bred on Friday 12th of January 2018 02:10:26 AM

Richard Mortimer, manager of the Keynsham Brass Mills lived in this house in 1863. (off Avon Mill Lane). Now a waste paper recycling plant. Annie was the daughter of Richard Mortimer, manager of the Keynsham Brass Mills. It is intriguing to speculate on the affair that precipitated her actions on to that day in May when she locked herself in her room for 7 hours. When she was eventually persuaded to open the door a dead baby was found on her bed, lying on the mattress under the bedclothes. From the very outset the entire investigation seems to have been handled with kid gloves. Miss Mortimer failed to put in an appearance at the coroner's inquest although the jury were insistent she attended. The coroner waived the instruction so that no accusation could be levelled against her. Afterwards the police were forced to take charge and she was taken into custody. The post-mortem was carried out by Keynsham surgeon Robert Nash assisted by a Bristol doctor, James Foxwell. Their findings were that Anne had given birth to a healthy and fully mature male child. There were no outward signs of violence. The lungs were not fully expanded and when they were removed, together with the heart, and placed in water they floated. There was no disease and all the blood vessels were healthy as were all the internal organs. When the brain was removed a quantity of blood was discovered. The skull was not fractured but Nash thought the child had received an accidental blow to the head. He believed the baby to have been alive at birth but could not establish if it had actually drawn breath. From then on it was a battle of wills between the jury and the coroner. At the adjourned hearing once again Annie's appearance was passed off by the coroner as 'not so important' and he stated his opinion that the evidence suggested only 'concealment of birth' which could not be entertained in a coroner's court. He suggested a verdict of 'Found dead' leaving the magistrates to proceed further in the matter and reiterated that the evidence would not support a charge of manslaughter. The jury were not satisfied and insisted that they needed to talk the matter over for themselves whereupon the court was cleared and they were left to undertake a lengthy debate. Eventually they announced their verdict that 'the child's death was occasioned by wilful neglect'. The coroner was aghast. He addressed the jury, saying 'Do you know, gentlemen, that that amounts to murder? That is not the verdict you intended I presume?' to which the foreman doggedly replied: 'The child died from wilful neglect. That is how every man brings it in.' The coroner strove to gain ascendancy and said 'You are quite aware, I suppose, that this is at variance with the medical evidence?' The foreman was not to be moved. He said firmly: 'The medical evidence is that the child was born alive; and the medical gentleman believes it would still have been alive if it had been properly cared for and attended. Therefore we consider it died from neglect.' Mr Foxwell then explained at length the difference between respiring and being born alive, striving to influence the relentless panel of men before him and the coroner again pointed out the difference between murder and manslaughter and said the medical evidence was opposed to either. He asked them to reconsider their verdict. Murder or manslaughter? The foreman answered 'Manslaughter'. All attempts by the coroner to persuade the jury to back down had failed. He said: 'Then you intend to find a verdict of manslaughter? You believe that if the child had had proper care at birth it would have lived.' 'Yes,' replied the foreman, 'that is our opinion. We mean a verdict of manslaughter. We find that Annie Mortimer did feloniously kill and slay her infant male illegitimate child on 15 May.' The coroner, who by this stage must have been almost choking with indignation, said he would make out her commitment to Taunton Gaol and he could not bring her before his court. He declared that he had no idea how such a verdict could be recorded in the teeth of the medical evidence. At last Miss Mortimer was brought into the room and was cautioned. She declined to say anything. The coroner offered to take bail but it was not forthcoming. Annie's trial took place on the same day as Elizabeth Ann Targett who had, for some time, been languishing in Wilton Gaol. She was a domestic servant who had been in the employ of a surgeon, a Mr Ford of Wedmore. His sister kept house for him. Elizabeth had started work there on 25 March 1863 but when it was discovered she was pregnant she was asked to leave. Before her departure could be arranged though a child was born to her. The baby was found in an outside lavatory in the yard by local policeman, Sergeant Noble. The inquest findings showed death was due to 'neglect' but the actual details relating to the condition of the body were deemed unfit for publication.

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