30th May 1781
Reference Numbert17810530-42
VerdictNot Guilty

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339. REBECCA COWLEY , spinster , was indicted for the wilful murder of her new-born female bastard child .


I am a constable, of the parish of St. Martin in the Fields. I was sent by the sitting magistrate to Mrs. Margaret Marsh 's, at No. 5, in Coventry-court, on the 1st of May. I went to desire Mrs. Marsh to come to speak to Justice Addington. Mrs. Marsh came up to the office, and told the justice where the prisoner lived. Charles Jealous and I went to the prisoner's lodgings. We found her mending her stays. She was at a house they sell greens at, in Church-court, at the back of St. Martin's church. I told her she must come along with me. She was willing to come. She fell a-crying as soon as she saw me. She was taken before Justice Addington.

Was her examination taken in writing? - I cannot be positive whether it was or not: I heard her say she was but four or five months gone with child.

Did she say in what manner she had been delivered? - She said she was upon the necessary, at her mistress's house, and the child dropped from her. I was immediately dispatched from the office for a nightman: this was about one at noon. I went with the nightman to search the necessary. We pulled the flooring up. He went down, and brought up a female child.

Could you see the child before it was fetched up? - We had looked with a candle, but could not see it. The nightman washed the child.

Was any after-burthen found in the necessary? - Nothing else but the child was found at that time.

Was it a wet soil or otherwise? - Wet; the child lay under what they call the crust.

After the child was washed, did you make any observation upon the body? - The child looked fair and white: in an hour after it changed. It had been in the privy from Friday till Tuesday.


I am a nightman. I went on the 1st of May to examine this little house. I looked with a candle into the filth, but could not see any thing without going down.

How low did the child lie in the filth? - About eighteen inches below the surface.

Was the ordure moist, so that any thing could sink into it? - Yes, it was. It was a female child. I washed it; and then examined it very closely.

Did you see any bruise, mark, or wound, upon it? - None but a little blemish, a lump at the back of the head, about the size of a pea.

In what posture did the child lie in the filth? - Upon its belly.


I lodged between six and seven months at Mrs. Marsh's, in Coventry-court.

Did you usually lie with the servant, Rebecca Cowley ? - Sometimes.

Do you remember on Thursday going to bed with Rebecca Cowley ? - Yes; but I cannot tell the day of the month: but it was the Thursday preceding the Monday when the child was taken out of the necessary, when we were going to bed, she said she was very ill, and would rather I should sleep by myself. I said she would not disturb me. We both went to bed together. I went to sleep. I awaked, and asked her how she was. She said she was very ill. Some time after I asked her again how she did. She said she was better.

Was this the middle of the night? - Yes.

Did she say what had made her better, or where she had been? - She said she had been in the yard.

Did she get up in the morning? - Yes, and did her business as usual. When I got up, I saw something upon the sheets which appeared like a miscarriage. I told Mrs. Marsh so. Mrs. Marsh called the prisoner, and asked her what was the meaning of it. She said she had not been very well.

Did she deny it being a miscarriage? - Yes.

Was there no candle in the room? - I cannot tell whether there was a candle in the room or not. We went to bed together again on the Friday night. She then said she wanted to do something. I lifted her a hand-bason. There was a candle burning. I looked into the bason, and saw something wrong. I went down and told Mrs. Marsh, and she came up immediately. Mrs. Marsh then went and called Mrs. Wilson.

Are you an unmarried woman? - Yes.

Therefore you don't understand the nature of what was in the bason? - No; but there was something wrong in the bason.


I lodge at Mrs. Marsh's house.

Are you an married woman, or a widow? - I am a widow.

Have you had children? - One. I was called up by Mrs. Marsh on Saturday, between two and three o'clock in the morning. She carried me into the prisoner's room, to look at a bason; I looked into it, and there I saw the after-birth of a child. I asked the prisoner if she had had any thing come from her? She said, No. She said, the morning before she had something dropped from her into the little house; but she could not tell what it was.

- MARSH sworn.

How long had the prisoner lived with you? - A little better than three years. She was very young when she came to me: the mistress she lived with before is in court. She was a very honest, sober, well-behaved girl.

You heard some whisper in the neighbourhood that she was with child? - I did, near three months ago; I believe I challenged her with it. She said, She was not with child; and she wished people would trouble their head with their own business: she was not with child; and if she was, she should not trouble them with it.

Did Mrs. Spencer lodge in the house? She did then, and does now. She told me she thought Beckey had miscarried; I spoke to the prisoner about it. She said, she had not; it was no such thing. She said, she was taken very ill on Friday morning, with eating of spinach; that she went down into the yard, and was better; but she had no miscarriage, nor nothing of that kind. I was called out of bed between two and three o'clock on Saturday morning by Ann Spencer , and I called Mrs. Wilson up. Ann Spencer desired me, for God's sake, to come up stairs, for she believed Beckey would die. When I went up, I saw the prisoner upon the bed, leaning on her right elbow, with the wash-hand bason in her hand: I saw something in the bason, which I thought was the miscarriage of a child.

Are you a married woman yourself? - Yes.

Was it the after-burden? - Yes, it was.

This girl, you said, behaved sober and honest? - Yes; and I never saw her in company with a man in my life.

Was she in her disposition humane and tender? - Yes.

Did you ever see the child? - No.

When I told her, it was an after-birth, she said, if she had had any child, what I saw was it; that she knew nothing of any other.


I had suspected her to be with child for some months past. I met her one day in Rupert-street, in the beginning of February; I asked her, if she was not with child? She said, No. I said, You are with child. Come to me before you are brought to bed, and I will give you some baby-clothes.

You had a kindness for her, had you? - I knew her three years ago, an honest, modest, simple girl.

You heard afterwards that she was brought to bed? - I did.


I have had a great deal of conversation with Mrs. Marsh, about this.

Had you any conversation with Mrs. Marsh in the presence of the prisoner? - On the Monday after she was brought to bed, I went to Mrs. Marsh's; the prisoner opened the door; that was between eleven and twelve o'clock: the prisoner was present. I asked Mrs. Marsh, which I was to believe, her, or her maid? Mrs. Marsh said, she had had a child; the prisoner said, No. I had no more conversation while the prisoner was by.


I live at Mr. Thompson's, a green-shop. The prisoner came to me about three months ago: I suspected she was with child. She desired me to get her some savoign root; I said, I could not. I thought she was with child.

Mr. JOHN THOMAS sworn.

I am a surgeon. I was called upon to examine the body of the child, on the first of May.

Did the child appear to you to be full grown? - It was a female child, and appeared to be full grown.

Were there any marks of violence upon it? - There was the appearance of a blow upon the head; but it did not appear to be inflicted by any acute body, but something blunt; a board, or stone, or the like.

Might not that bruise be occasioned by its falling from her body into this little house? - If it fell upon any hard substance: it was on the back part of the head.

You cannot say, what might be the occasion of the death? - No.

To Ann Spencer . Was you awake when she went down into the necessary, on the Friday morning? - I was not.


I am a surgeon. I examined the body.

Was there any external appearance upon the body? - There was some little blow, or black appearance upon the back part of the head.

You cannot tell how that was occasioned? - It is impossible for any person to say: it might have happened upon falling into the necessary, or an accidental pinch upon the body. It did not appear that any blow had been given.


Tried by the First Middlesex Jury, before Mr. Justice WILLES.

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