Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0, 30 June 2022), May 1832, trial of MARIA POULTON (t18320517-65).

MARIA POULTON, Killing > infanticide, 17th May 1832.

Before Mr. Justice Littledale.

1189. MARIA POULTON was indicted for the wilful murder of her illegitimate female child .

SARAH SIMMONS. I live at No. 6, Off-alley, Strand, and am a charwoman. I have known the prisoner these twelve months - she lived as cook at the Coal Hole tavern, Strand , kept by Mr. Rhodes; I asked her four or five months ago if she was in the family way; she replied No; I had no other conversation with her - on Friday, the 13th of April, I was sent up stairs to see what was the matter with the prisoner; I saw her in her bed-room - she appeared as if she was sitting on the pot; I observed a little stain of blood about the floor, and her petticoats were very much stained with blood; I asked her what was the matter - she said nothing was the matter, and requested me to leave the room, and then she would tell me what was the matter; she said she had a small miscarriage, and if I would leave the room she should be glad - I offered to help her up and put her on the bed; she would not let me - I said nothing more but left her, and a doctor was sent for - I went up again with Emmerson, the housemaid; the prisoner was then sitting on the bed, or on a chair by the side of the bed - I observed a great mess of blood on the floor, and she desired me to clean it up before the doctor came - this was between two and three o'clock in the morning; I did so, and asked her if she had not got a baby - she said No; I said she must have a baby somewhere or other; she said she had not any thing of the kind - and the second time of going up stairs I perceived a stain of blood from the bed side to a box; Mr. Jones, the doctor's assistant, came and asked her what was the matter; she said she had the stomach ache - he requested me to leave the room, which I did - when he came out of the room I called him into the laundry, and shewed him the pot which the prisoner had been using; she had desired me to empty it before the doctor came, but I did not; I went into her room again about six o'clock, with Emmerson; we asked her to show us the baby - she said she had none; we said if she did not let us see where the baby was, master said he would send for an officer; she said she did not care for all the officers in the parish, for she would not open her box till the next morning; Emmerson went down stairs; the prisoner then got out of bed, unlocked the box, and brought the baby out; I hallooed out, "Oh, cook, you have hanged the baby," and then Emmerson came up; she had laid it on the floor, by the drawers - she then went to the drawer by the window, took out a pair of scissors, and did something to the bundle, but what I do not know, for she prevented my seeing what she did.

Q.What bundle? A. The child was in a bundle; I said, "Oh, cook, Oh, cook, you have hanged the baby;" she said, "Hush, hush, Mrs. Simmons, you will hang me- I shall be hanged; shut the door, and keep it secret from master;" Mr. Jones, the doctor, was in the house at this time, and he came into the room, looked at the bundle and the baby, and perceived a piece of tape round its neck - he took it away from its neck, and threw it by the window; Thomas, the inspector, has it.

Cross-examined by MR. CLARKSON. Q.Had you seen a good deal of the prisoner? A. I am generally there on Saturdays, and when they are without a servant; she was mild, well behaved, kind, and good-natured - the child was wrapped in the prisoner's own night-gown and black apron; they appeared to be wrapped round the child - night-gowns have strings at the neck; she was agitated - she came down stairs into the kitchen for three quarters of an hour, after she delivered herself; there is no Mrs. Rhodes.

ELIZABETH EMMERSON. I have been housemaid to Mr. Rhodes, for three months, and have known the prisoner during that time - I slept in the same bed with her, and did so on the Thursday night. I got up about nine o'clock on Friday morning - she was in bed then; I had heard nothing particular in the night - she came down to breakfast, and I saw her up stairs about half-past one o'clock; she requested me to retire to the kitchen to my business, as she was very poorly with a bad head-ache - we were then up stairs in the room joining the bed-room; I went down stairs in about half an hour, went up again in five or ten minutes, alone, and saw her there; Simmons came up - we went into the prisoner's bed-room, and saw her apparently sitting on the pot; I saw stains of blood about her clothes; I asked what was the matter - she said Nothing, and requested us to leave the room, which we did - I requested Rhodes to send for a doctor, but before he came, I saw her - Simmons assisted to undress her, and the dirt in the room was cleared away - Mr. Thompson came into the room; the pot was shown to him in the next room - after he went away, we suspected all was not right, and requested her to open her box, which she refused - I left the room - I was called immediately after, and went up -I saw a bundle laying on the floor; I saw it opened by Mr.Jones - it contained a baby - I do not think it had been opened before I went in - the prisoner desired me not to make a noise, to let Mr. Rhodes know it - I saw Mr. Jones uncover the baby, and take a piece of tape off some part of its body; I cannot say what part - he placed the tape on the floor - I left the room, and saw nothing more; I cannot say whether the prisoner is single or married.

Cross-examined. Q.Was she a kind, well-conducted woman, and very humane? A. Yes.

CHARLES THOMPSON. I am assistant to Mr. Jones, surgeon, of the Strand. I went to Mr. Rhodes' between three and four o'clock, and saw the prisoner in bed - I asked her what was the matter; she said she felt a violent pain in her stomach, but was better then - I inquired the cause of the pain; she said she had not been periodically unwell for two months before, but was then relieved, was much better, and thought she should get up; I left the room - one of the servants came out, and showed me the pot, which had a quantity of cloths, and blood on it; I went back to the prisoner alone, and asked if she had been with child; she denied it - I left, and did not see her again.

WILLIAM JONES. I am a surgeon. On the 13th of April, about seven o'clock in the evening, I went to Mr. Rhodes', No. 4, Fountain-court, Strand, and saw the prisoner laying on the bed - she said she was a great deal better than she had been, and had been down stairs, but feeling fatigued, she came up again; I left her, and was beckoned into the next room by the servants, who showed me the pot - it contained a quantity of blood, cloths, and water; I was then confident there must be a child, and recommended them to search the room: when I went into the room again there was a child laying on the floor - the bundle was untied, and the child laying on it, when I entered - I found a piece of tape laying on the child, some-where about the body; the child appeared to have been born some hours; it was not quite cold then - I noticed a mark round the neck, and left the further examination of it till next day, when I examined it with Dr. Lee and Mr. Beavan, about noon, and under this mark I found extravasated blood in the cellular membrane, under the skin - the child was well formed in every respect; its lungs fully inflated with air; in fact it had every appearance of having been born alive - of having breathed; there was a bruise on the back of the head, which I consider most probably occasioned by a fall; I do not remember any thing else which struck me, except that the after birth was unusually small.

Q. Did you not before the Coroner express yourself not quite so strong, and say you were inclined to think it was born alive? A. I most likely said so; the naval string was unusually short and small - it was not separated till I cut it; the impression on my mind is that the mark round the neck could not be caused by the navalstring - the mark was much smaller than I consider the naval string would have made; the tongue protruded from the mouth, and the left side of the face appeared more puffed than the other, and drawn up; the vessels of the brain were filled with blood, and there was a spot of extravasated blood on the left side of the brain; every thing induced me to think death had been caused by strangulation; I attended the prisoner afterwards, but had no conversation with her about this - previous to the dissection, when I mentioned to her the mark round the neck, she told me she could in no way account for it; the mark on the head might be caused by a pressure at the birth - the tape was a string of the night-gown: somebody applied it to the neck of the child - it appeared to correspond with the mark on the neck.

Cross-examined. Q. Is it within your knowledge, that a child may be strangled by natural causes in the progress of its birth? A. It frequently happens; that would be more likely when a woman delivered herself - I should think it often happens that they have an absence of intellect at the moment of delivery; it is frequently the case in deliveries that the head may protrude, and the child breathe, and yet death happen before the delivery is complete; the circumstance of the lungs floating in water, is an unsafe criterion to ascertain if a child has been born alive; I cannot say this child was wholly born alive - I think if the tape had been applied to the neck immediately after death, it would leave a mark, while the blood was warm - if it had been put round the neck, or had been round the gown, before the blood had ceased to flow, I think the appearances might have been the same; we tried the lungs, and they were perfectly inflated - there were no appearances on the brain corresponding with the bruise on the skin; no bone could be fractured in so young a child, it would give way; I always provide myself with thread to tie the naval string - I think it probable if the child was strangled in its birth, that the tongue would protrude - it is very difficult to come to any conclusion further than that the child had breathed - it must have breathed several times, no doubt.

Dr. Lee and and Mr. Breamer, a surgeon, confirmed the evidence of the last witness, that it was not possible to decide whether the child had been completely born alive.

JOSEPH SADLER THOMAS. I am superintendent of Covent-garden division of the Police. I accompanied Mr. Jones the surgeon, to Mr. Rhodes' house, between seven and eight o'clock in the evening - I saw the prisoner in bed; the child was enclosed in a night-gown and black apron; the night-gown was next the body - Mr. Jones pointed out to me a discoloured mark round the child's neck, close to the jaw, and handed me a small string which was discoloured with blood; in fact it was saturated through - here it is; I then examined more particularly the wrappers, and found the collar of the bed-gown had only one string on it, but there was a fragment on the opposite corner of the collar, which showed that a string had been torn away, or broken - the string appeared to agree with the fragment, as well as the state of it would allow; I turned to the prisoner, and asked how she accounted for the death of the child - she said, "I don't know any think about it; I cannot tell; I have not done it;" I asked if she had made any provision of clothing for the child; she said, no, she had not, for she had no money to purchase any thing - I asked if any one knew of her situation - she said she had never acquainted any one but the father of the child - she had informed him some months ago; that he was a long way in the country, and she would never say who he was; she subsquently told me his name was Harris or Harrison, and that he had lately married; she was inclined to say more - I said she had better not - I placed her in custody, and she had every care taken of her.

Cross-examined. Q. Did you state before the Coroner that she said she had lately got married? A. I am not certain - I think I did, but I am sure she stated so; she appeared in an exhausted state, which was my reason for not entering into further conversation - I went to see her daily while she was confined to her room, and I found on my first visit she had entirely forgotten all that had passed at our first interview - she subsequently appeared unconscious of what had passed before; she said Harris had promised her marriage.

Prisoner's Defence. In the state of mind I was in, I was unconscious of what I said or did.

MARY ARNOLD. I live in Herberts-passage, Beaufort-buildings. About three weeks before this occured, the prisoner desired me to purchase her a piece of diaper to make napkins of; she afterwards asked if I had purchased it - I said I had not; a piece makes a dozen napkins - she desired that my daughter should make them for her.

GUILTY of concealment only . Aged 27.

Confined Two Years .