Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0, 28 September 2020), May 1757, trial of Mary Mussen (t17570526-22).

Mary Mussen, Killing > infanticide, 26th May 1757.

235. (L.) Mary Mussen , spinster , was indicted for the murder of her female bastard child, by cutting its throat , April 29 . She stood likewise charg'd on the coroner's inquest for the said murder.

Mr. Phipps. Although I am prosecutor in this trial, I can give but little light into it. I can only inform the court I did suspect the prisoner to be with child, and very strictly charged her with it.

Q. What was she?

Phipps. She was my servant .

Q. Can you tell the time you charged her with being with child?

Phipps. I can't exactly tell the time. I believe it might be about two months before she was brought to bed.

Q. What was her answer?

Phipps. She very boldly denied it, and assur'd me with great truth and veracity it was a very unjust censure; she shew'd no signs of guilt at all. She answer'd in such a manner that I was really a good deal inclined to think she was innocent.

Q. Did she appear big?

Phipps. She did, which was the cause of suspicion. She told me it was a distemper, and was inclinable to think it was the dropsy.

Q. Was it very visible?

Phipps. It was. She never in the least strove to conceal that, which rather confirm'd me in the belief of her innocence. I told her if that was the case, she was an object of pity and compassion, and I would get her to be an out patient in the hospital. I thought that to discharge her my service would be of hurt to her, rather than alleviate her case (as there are undeniable cases where women may have the appearance of being with child, when really they are not so) so I continued her in my service till it came to this unhappy issue. I did not see the child nor her after she was delivered. Here are witnesses that can inform the court as to the particulars of it. So I shall beg leave to refer your lordship to their examination.

Q. Do you know that she had taken any thing by way of medicine?

Phipps. She told me she was under the care of some person (whom I forget) and had taken a very strong dose of medicine.

Q. When did she tell you this?

Phipps. The preceding night of her being brought to bed.

Cross Examination.

Q. How long had she liv'd with you?

Phipps. I believe she liv'd with me about eight months.

Q. How was her behaviour that time?

Phipps. Her behaviour was nothing amiss, and to the last went about the house very chearful and merry, and I really thought it had been a distemper.

Mary Short . I am servant to Mr. Phipps. On the over night that the prisoner was brought to bed, she told me she had taken physic.

Q. Did you see her take it?

A. No, I did not; when I went to see her in the morning she told me she had been very ill of the cholic.

Q. How long had she been in the house?

A. About eight months.

Q. How long have you been there?

A. I have been there longer.

Q. What morning was this you speak of?

A. This was on the 29th of April. I ask'd her how she was then, she said she was very ill, but said she was a great deal easier than she had been.

Q. What time of the day was this?

A. This was about ten o'clock. I ask'd her if she would please to have any thing, she said no. I went down and brought her up some broth; she eat them, and said she was a good deal easier and better, and beg'd she might lie down and go to sleep.

Q. Was she up at that time?

A. No, she was in bed then. I went down, and after that went to her again, and said I thought she seemed very ill, and if she would have body of her acquaintance to come I would send for them.

Q. What time was this?

A. This was about half an hour after ten o'clock; her answer was she was better, and she chose to lie still, and did not want any body. I went away from her, and went again in less than half an hour.

Q. Did she and you lie together?

A. No, we did not.

Q. What did she say then ?

A. She said she was a great deal better, and desir'd she might not be disturb'd, for she was going to sleep. I left her, and after that she had some water gruel, and still desir'd to be alone by herself, and said she thought she should go to sleep.

Q. Did you ever suspect she was with child ?

A. I did, and have often charged her with being with child, but she never would own it.

Q. How often have you charged her?

A. A great many times. She said she was no more with child than I was, and if she was, the D - l got it, for she never knew a man. From her answers she made me, I did believe it was a distemper, as she so stedsastly denied it; that afternoon she had some wine.

Q. What time was that?

A. It was between three and four o'clock. I never left her alone all day long, but was backwards and forwards; when I gave her the wine I perceived she was in a great deal of pain, I ask'd her if she would have any more, she said no, she had rather be left alone than to be troubled so. I was with her till the midwife came.

Q. Did you know she was sent for?

A. No, I did not.

Q. What time was it when she came?

A. I believe it was between 7 and 8 in the evening.

Q. After she came what did you observe?

A. I was sent for something that was wanting, and was not in the room when the midwife found the child.

Q. What did you see when you return'd ?

A. When I came again I saw a child lying on the table with its throat cut.

Q. Describe the cut.

A. It seem'd to be two inches long, crossway, directly in the middle of the throat.

Q. How deep did it seem to be?

A. I can't particularly tell that.

Q. Did you hear the prisoner say any thing?

A. I heard her say she did not know how that happen'd, for she did not go to do it.

Q. Did you observe any thing else?

A. I observed a great quantity of blood wrap'd up in a colour'd apron.

Q. Was the body warm or cold?

A. I was so frighted I could not observe any thing as to that.

Q. Did you observe any thing besides blood in the colour'd apron?

A. I observed the stool of a new-born infant there; it was wrap'd up with the child.

Q. Did you observe any more blood than what you speak of?

A. I observed blood in the bed, and I saw likewise more about the bed-side, on the bed, not on the floor.

Q. What quantity?

A. I really can't tell what quantity, there was a great deal.

Cross Examination.

Q. How did she behave during the time she lived fellow servant with you?

A. She always behaved well.

Q. Did you or did you not believe she was with child?

A. I did not believe she was.

Q. Did she appear like a person that had been in great torture ?

A. Not then; she told me she was much easier than she had been.

Q. How then did she appear?

A. Not as a person in great torture.

Q. When you carried her up some wine, and found her in pain, about three or four o'clock, how long did you stay with her?

A. I staid with her till the midwife came.

Q. Did you think her with child then?

A. No, I did not.

Q. Why so?

A. Because she had so stiffly denied it to me. I was backwards and forwards all day long.

Q. What were the times you were with her ?

A. I was with her at ten, at eleven, between twelve and one, and when I came from dinner, which was about half an hour after three; it was at that time I went up and gave her some wine and a bit of bread.

Q. How long was it at the most you was absent from her at any one time that day?

A. There was about half an hour's space between the times of my going to her.

Q. Was you commonly in the room with her, or what you call backwards and forwards?

A. I was backwards and forwards with her, she was not left alone any length of time.

Q. When was the child born?

A. I don't know that.

Mrs. Ann Farrer . I was sent for to Mr. Phipps's, and when I came there was told they had a suspicion that the prisoner was with child.

Q. What time of the day was it that you went?

A. I believe it was about eight at night; I was desired by Mrs. Phipps to go up-stairs, but not to let her know who I was, or what I came about. I went up and told her I came from her friends ow how she did; she told me she was be than what she had been, but she had had the cholick a great many hours, and on asking of her several questions I had reason to believe that a child was born, upon which I acquainted Mrs. Phipps with my suspicion who desired I would insist upon knowing where the child was laid.

Q. What did you upon that ?

A. I told her I found she was suspected in the house for being with child, and I apprehended she would make no scruple in letting the family know whether she was or not; she said she was not. I told her she had been delivered of a child.

Q. What answer did she make to that?

A. I told her I was very well assured there had been a child born. She said, how could I prove that? I said from many circumstances, and your master and his lady are in the other room with an officer, who will come in and take you into custody if you will not confess it, and where it is laid; then, after a great many hesitations; she told me it was under the bolster, where I look'd and found it.

Q. In what condition did you find it?

A. The throat was cut, and it was wrap'd up in a colour'd apron.

Q. Was it a large or small wound?

A. There was a large wound cross the throat, as to the length I can't be particular.

Q. Did you observe, according to your judgment, whether the child had been dead long or not?

A. I believe not.

Q. Why do you believe not?

A. The stomach was warm, and I observ'd two or three drops of blood issue from the throat, after it was laid upon the table.

Q. How were the limbs, was there any warmth there?

A. I believe not.

Q. Did you observe any quantity of blood?

A. I can't be a judge as to the quantity, the apron was full; there was a great deal.

Q. Did you observe any thing else upon the apron?

A. I observed a stool there.

Q. From what you observ'd, can you form any judgment whether the child was born alive or not.

A. I rather think it was than it was not.

Q. Don't you recollect something from that stool being upon the apron?

A. Yes.

Q. Did ever a child that was born dead make a stool to your knowledge?

A. I think not.

Q. Did you observe whether it was a perfect child?

A. It was at its full time.

Q. Did you observe any blood upon the bed?

A. Yes; there was a large quantity.

Q. Could you form any judgment how long the child had been dead?

A. The limbs seem'd as if they had been cram'd together.

Q. How, and in what manner?

A. One leg seem'd to be drawn up backwards.

Q. Can you form any judgment with what instrument this incision was made?

A. I asked her where the knife was. She said it was in the chair by her.

Q. Did you find it there?

A. Yes, I did, as she directed. (Produced in court; the court and jury look at it, and find blood dried on it.)

Cross Examination.

Q. Have you been a midwife a great while?

A. I have.

Q. Have you sufficient knowledge to know this; supposing a child is strangled, or otherwise killed just at the time it is born, so that it does not come alive from the woman, can you distinguish whether it can have a stool, supposing life just departed from it?

A. I think it impossible.

Q. When life is going by violence from any person, do you know or not, whether those persons have evacuations at the mouth, or otherwise?

A. We have often instances in that at the mouth, but I can't say I ever met with it in this kind.

Q. Whether that blood that was in the bed was in that part of the bed where the prisoner lay?

A. It was.

Q. Do you apprehend that issued from the child?

A. No, I do not; but it was the consequence of another cause.

Council. You say one of the child's legs was a little drawn up.

A. Yes, it was.

Q. Is it customary of a child, if there should be a hard birth, to be distorted in its birth?

A. They are generally contracted, but where there is life we put them strait; a child is generally drawn a little.

Q. Have you seen women in great torture of a hard birth; is it not such as would make her glad of every opportunity to relieve herself from that torture?

A. To be sure it would.

Council. You say you ask'd her where the knife was, with which she made the wound, and she said it lay in the chair by the bedside; what was her answer to the next question ?

A. I asked her how she could be so cruel. She said, she did not intend to murder it.

Q. Supposing you had had no directions at all of the prisoner, might not you have found the knife by the bedside?

A. I imagine I should.

Q. Was there any thing upon the chair besides the knife?

A. I can't take upon me to say there was, but I was very much surprised.

Q. In the delivery of this child, might it not be necessary to make use of some sort of an instrument?

A. Yes.

Q. In what manner?

A. To part the child.

Q. Must that instrument be applied to the child's throat?

A. No.

Q. There is something to be cut, is there not?

A. There is.

Q. Supposing the child in the delivery was to be very difficult in coming from the mother, and the mother should attempt to cut the navel-string, might not she cut the throat through mistake?

A. I can't say any thing to that; I never met with any instance of that sort.

Q. Have not children sometimes their navel-strings wrap'd round their necks in their birth?

A. Very often; the umbilical vein was cut within an inch and a half, or two inches of the body.

John James . I was desired to examine the child, to determine whether it was born alive or dead if I could; I found it lying at it's full length upon a table.

Q. Did it appear to you to have been born perfect?

A. It did, in all its parts, and at it's full time. I f ound a large wound extended cross the neck.

Q. How long might that wound be?

A. From skin to skin it might be about three inches in length; it had divided the wind-pipe entirely, and all the blood vessels on each side the wind-pipe, both veins and arteries. I thought I observed that blood had been forced from the wound backwards, there was the trace of fresh blood in the nose, and the child had been washed very clean.

Q. What did you collect from seeing fresh blood there?

A. From that I collected that the child was born alive, for I imagine the blood by the breath had been forced up into the nose thro' the wind-pipe; this was an argument with me to induce me to believe it, for no dead body breathes. I then open'd the body, and examin'd the state of the lungs, and found they had been inflated, there had wind passed into the lungs; the nature of the lungs is, when the animal has been alive and air has passed into them, that they will float in water; any animal that has never been alive, and breath has never passed into the lungs, they will sink in water. This is a positive proof to know that the child had been alive. From this circumstance I did conclude that the child had been alive, and gave it in as my judgment.

Q. Could you form any judgment how long the child had been alive?

A. No, I could not.

Q. Do you take it that the lungs were as much inflated as if the child had breathed for for a considerable time?

A. I don't determine that, the lungs may inlarge by the continual admission of air; they may extend themselves.

Q. Supposing the child strangled in its birth, with its head foremost, as soon as the mouth is exposed to the air, might it not be said the lungs are in some degree inflated?

A. I can't take upon me to determine that. In such cases it is the strongest proof we can arrive at, by trying the lungs in water, to know whether the child has or has not breathed.

Q. Did you see the apron afterwards?

A. I did.

Q. Did you see the stool?

A. I did, but can't pretend to say any thing in relation to that; that is not what I was call'd to determine.

Cross Examination.

Council. Then the moment the air gets into the lungs they become inflated; can you see any reason why a child that has got it's head in the air, and afterwards dies in the birth, why that child's lungs should not be inflated, because inflation must go in at the mouth?

A. I can't determine how far that may or may not be the case, because I have not examin'd it so critically.

Prisoner's Defence.

I am innocent of what is laid to my charge. I did not know what I did at that time.

For the Prisoner.

Mr. Shaw. I have been in the midwisry and surgery way many years. I have known more instances than one, that children have had stools and urine where they have died in the birth.

Q. Supposing a woman in great agony in labour should attempt to cut the navel string, might not she cut the child's throat?

A. I can't say as to that.

Q. Have you known navel strings wrap'd round the child's neck?

A. I have known that very often. I was once call'd upon such an occasion, and I found a piece of the navel string left in the kitchen, cut in two different places.

John Mussen . The prisoner is my daughter. I carry'd her a bottle of hiera picra, on the Wednesday before this accident happen'd.

Q. How came you to carry that?

A. She had complain'd to her mother that she had got the dropsy, so my wife desired me to carry it to her.

Margaret Cook . I have known the prisoner very well these eighteen or nineteen years.

Q. What has her behaviour been?

A. She was always a very civil quiet girl, extremely sober and honest.

Q. Was she of a tender or a cruel disposition towards children?

A. Nobody was more tender of children, she has been so to mine?

Q. What is her general character?

A. She had always a good character till this time.

Elizabeth Cofield . I have known the prisoner nineteen years, or almost from her birth; when she was a child, she was under my care.

Q. What is her general character?

A. She always was a very sober and modest girl.

Q. How was her disposition towards children, tender or cruel?

A. I never perceived but that she was a tender mild girl, and never heard of any blemish in her character till this time.

Sarah Spradbrough . I have known the prisoner ten or twelve years.

Q. What is her general character?

A. She was a very sober modest girl, as far as ever I heard.

Q. What was her disposition towards children?

A. She was a very meek girl, universally good till this accident happen'd.

Mrs. Hines. I have known her ever since she was fourteen years of age.

Q. How long is it ago since you first knew her?

A. That is about thirteen years ago.

Q. What is her general character?

A. I never heard any thing amiss of her till this time.

Q. Was she tender or cruel towards children?

A. She was remarkable for tenderness to children; she used to dress out all the children in the town where she was born, and would give them any thing.

Mrs. York. I have known her eighteen years.

Q. What has been her behaviour and character?

A. She was always reckon'd a very sober virtuous young woman.

Q. Was she tender of children?

A. She was extremely tender of children. I lived in the house with her mother, and could not have believed any such thing of her, or that she could be capable of doing what is laid to her charge.

Mary Edwards . I have known her about twelve years.

Q. What is her general character?

A. A very sober honest girl as any I know. Her character was generally good.

Q. Was she humane or tender, or what?

A. She was a very tender girl, and fond of children; she used to take the neighbours children about with her as if they were her own.

Mr. Wells. I have known her ever since she was born. I served my time next door to her father's house.

Q. What was her general character ?

A. She was always a very modest girl, I never heard the least word amiss of her till now.

Q. Was she humane or cruel to children?

A. She was always good-natur'd and always counted so.

Charles Harding . I have known her twenty four years.

Q. What is her general character?

A. She always had an extream good character; a tender, sober, honest girl.

Q. With regard to her tenderness to children, how was she?

A. She always seemed very tender to children, she loved to play in the street with them.

William Rogers . I have known her ever since her birth almost; her father and I were fellow apprentices together.

Q. What is her general character?

A. A modest sober well behaved girl; I never heard any thing to the contrary in my life time.

Q. How did she behave towards children?

A. As to children I cannot give any account, because I was very seldom at Highgate, where she lived.

Guilty , Death .

This being Friday, she received sentence immediately after the verdict given to be executed the Monday following, and to be dissected and anatomiz'd, and was executed accordingly .