ELIZABETH HARRIS.
30th May 1781
Reference Numbert17810530-1
VerdictNot Guilty

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284. ELIZABETH, the wife of Thomas HARRIS , was indicted for the wilful murder of her new-born male child , May the 14th . She likewise stood charged on the Coroner's inquisition, with the like murder.

- MACDONALD sworn.

I am Lady Carysford's maid. The prisoner was nurse at Lord Carysford's house. She nursed a child there: the child she nursed will be two years old next month; she had been from its birth in the family.

Is she a married woman? - Yes: her husband is a servant in another family.

Relate all you know of this unfortunate matter. - I went into her room on the 14th of May, about noon. The prisoner was sitting on the bed-side, and I observed blood upon the floor near where she was sitting. I asked her

"what was the matter?" she said, she was ill, but did not tell me the cause of her illness. I left the room immediately, and went and told my Lady. There were, I think, two of my Lady's children with her; the one that she nursed, and another three years and an half old.

How long before that had you seen the prisoner? - I had seen her in her room that morning, some hours before: she then complained of a pain in her head. My Lady came down stairs with me; my Lady asked her

"how she did?"

Relate the questions Lady Carysford asked, and the answers given by the prisoner. - I don't think I heard her answers. My Lady came out of her room into the next room with me, to speak to me; I told my Lady what I suspected; then my Lady returned into the room; I heard my Lady tell her

"she was ashamed of her;" the prisoner asked for what? my Lady said,

"for having been with child."

Had it been known or suspected in the family before, that this young woman was with child? - Yes; it had been suspected some time by the servants, but nobody had ever told my Lady of it. She said, she had not been with child, as she knew of. My Lady ordered me to go down stairs, and send for a midwife; I went down, and told the man to fetch the first midwife he could meet with. My Lady went down stairs, and I went up and sat in the room with her till the midwife came; I don't recollect that any conversation passed between us. Some time after the midwife came (her name is Sarah Tuffnell ) she came up stairs, and asked the prisoner

"what was the matter?" I think the prisoner told the midwife, that she had miscarried; I am pretty sure she did say so. After some enquiries, the prisoner desired the midwife to look into a box, which was under a small bed in the room, opposite the bed she sat upon. That box was locked; I think the prisoner gave her the key, but I was in a great deal of confusion, and cannot exactly recollect: when the box was opened, I gave but one look into it, and saw a child; but I was so frightened that I don't know whether it was its back or face that I saw: the midwife mentioned a wound, and at that one look I gave, I saw a wound, but I did not make any particular observation upon it.

After the child was found, what did you hear the prisoner say? - The midwife asked her

"why she had cut its throat?" she cried very much, and said, she did not. The midwife asked her

"what she did with those ugly scissars, which the midwife said were in the box?" I did not see them in the box, but I saw them outside the box. The prisoner said, she made use of the scissars to disentangle the child.

Do you recollect the midwife making any reply to that? - I do not: she asked her for the after-burthen; the prisoner said it was in the box with the child. It was not there, for it was not come away at that time. I remember, in the course of the day, I asked her

"if she had prepared any baby-linen for the child?" she told me, I should find some in a drawer at the foot of her bed; I looked there, and did find some.

Were they the sort of things that are usually prepared for a new-born infant? - They were.

You said it had been suspected in the family for some time that she was with child? - Yes.

Had you known of that suspicion? - Yes.

Had you, or any of the servants, been able, from observation, to form any judgment how far she was gone with child? - I believe every body thought she must have been near her time, for we had noticed her great with child for three or four months.

She was not so big, however, that it had come to the observation of your Lady? - My Lady, I believe, suspected it a little before it happened, or rather that she had got some dropsical disorder.

You said the prisoner had lived near two years in the family: what character had she in the family? How had she behaved herself? -

She took good care of the child she nursed, and was an inoffensive woman; she discharged her trust well, and behaved very civil and well to every person in the house.

Had she appeared to be tender to, and fond of children? - Yes; she was remarkably fond of the child she nursed.

Did you make any observation, particularly, in what manner she behaved when the child was discovered in the box? - She cried, and seemed much distressed; but denied knowing any thing of the murder; she denied having done any violence to the child.

Did you observe the scissars? - I don't recollect any thing about the scissars after.

Do you happen to know whether these were the scissars she usually had, and carried about her? - I do not know that circumstance; I know she had a pair of old scissars.

Cross-examination.

When the midwife came, the prisoner told her she had miscarried? - I think she did.

She told her so voluntarily? - I think she did.

And she directed the midwife to the box where the child was? - Yes.

SARAH TUFFNEL sworn.

I am a midwife; I was sent for to Lady Carysford's; I was conducted up to the prisoner's room, by my lady's orders; I asked her,

"How she did?" she said, Very poorly, or to that purpose. I said,

"You have had a child, or else have miscarried." I formed that opinion, from seeing the floor bloody near the bed. She said, she had not. I pressed her farther; I said,

"I was sure she had;" and I insisted upon knowing where it was. She pointed with her hand to a box that was under the bed, and said, It was in that box.

Did not she first say she had miscarried? - I don't recollect that she did.

Do you recollect that she did not; or have not you a certain recollection about it? - I have not.

Did she seem much confused, or afflicted? - She seemed to give very odd answers at times, as if she was not quite right in her head: I was not used to her before; but she seemed very odd and pale.

She must certainly have been pale from her situation. Did she appear much agitated in her mind? - Yes, I think she was; she gave the key either to Mrs. Macdonald, or me, I can't be sure which: I opened the box; upon opening it, I found a fine male child, with an incision in its throat.

From the view of the child did it appear to be a full grown child, or as having come before its time? - The child appeared to me to be full grown, or nearly; I saw an incision in the neck, under the throat.

What kind of appearance had it? - It appeared to me as if it had been cut.

Was it a large wound? - I did not take particular notice of the length of it, but I saw that it was not from ear to ear.

Did you observe whether it was a deep wound? - I observed the skin was cut, but I did not observe whether it was a deep wound.

Did you observe whether the windpipe was cut? - I did not; I was much frightened, and shut the box down again.

And you did not observe whether the wound was deep, or superficial? - I did not.

Did you, or any person in your presence, examine the wound afterwards? - No.

From the appearance of the child was it possible for you to form any judgment whether it had been born alive or dead? - I cannot positively say; it might have been strangled with the cord.

After you found the child, what questions did you ask the prisoner? - I asked her

"How she came to cut its throat?" she said, She found something hung very much, and she thought the child was entangled; (she said) she knew nothing of cutting its throat.

Did she say what she had done to disentangle it? - I told her,

"She had used those scissars;" she said, If it was done, if it was cut, she had done it by disintangling it. I said,

"What did you use those scissars for?" she made no answer then, I believe; but there was nothing else but these scissars to have done it with.

Had you seen the scissars at all? - Yes; and they seemed to be a little bloody: I asked her,

"Where the after-birth was?" she said, It was with the child; I looked for

it, and could not find it. I said,

"It is not come away;" she said, It was, and she did not know where it was, if it was not with the child. I afterwards brought the after-burthen from her; I might have been there three quarters of an hour before I took it away.

Could you form any judgment, from the appearance of the woman, whether she had had a difficult or an entangled labour? - No, I could not form any judgment; but it is likely she might, for want of assistance.

But if she had been in the situation she described to you, with the child much entangled, and without assistance, must she not have been in great pain and agony? - To be sure she must.

When children in the birth are entangled with the string, is it not usually about the neck? - Yes.

If the child had been so entangled, from your observation of the wound upon the neck of the child, was it or not possible that that wound might have happened in her attempt to extricate it? - It is very possible, and very probable, that she might not be capable, at that time, of knowing what she did in her extremity.

Am I to understand you, that, if the child was so entangled with the string about its neck, it is possible that that wound might have been given in the attempt to disentangle it? - It might with an unskilful woman; especially with her, if she was not in her senses.

I believe it is not an unusual thing for children to be entangled about the neck? - It is very common.

Do you recollect any thing else that is material? - No farther than that, while I was with her, she appeared sometimes to be delirious.

- KING sworn.

I am beadle of Marybone parish. I was sent for to the Rotation-office, and was directed to apply to the coroner, for him to summon a jury; the jury were summoned, and sat.

Was any surgeon sent for, to examine the body of the child? - No, the jury and coroner thought there was no occasion.

Court. They both thought extremely wrong.

(The prisoner did not say any thing in her defence.)

NOT GUILTY .

Tried by the First Middlesex Jury, before Mr. RECORDER.


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