Child murder at Moreton on Lugg
or WAS it?
1856 – The Case of Eliza Davis
Eliza Davis, a good looking young woman of 27, described as a rustic, was indicted for the murder of her female infant at Kinglsland on 11th March 1856. A second indictment charged her with stealing a chemise and a pair of stockings from a garden where the child was alleged to have been drowned.
Eliza Davis gives Birth
Eliza was a domestic servant living with the family of Mr. Daw, an agricultural machine maker at Moreton on Lugg. On 11th January she gave birth to a child, and Mrs Daw was exceptionally kind to her, giving her clothes for the child and other necessary items. One of the main features of the case seemed to be the identity of a bandage which Mrs. Daw had given Eliza to use on the baby which she called Antoinette.
Eliza gives her baby to a Nurse but Changes her mind
Antoinette, had been given by Eliza to Mrs. Williams at Marden who stated during the court case that he was healthy and growing well. On 11th February, Eliza called at Mrs. Williams’ place to ask her if she would give up the child as she wanted to take it to her father’s house at Lea, beyond Ross.
On 11th March, Eliza obtained leave from Mrs. Daw to enable her, as she said, to take the child to Lea – she collected the little girl from Mrs. Williams, who later described to the jury the frock and swathing band in which she had dressed the child.
When Eliza returned to Moreton on Lugg, she told Mrs. Daw that she had left the child at Lea, but it was not very well and the people with whom she had left it did not think that it would live. From that time on the child was not seen alive.
A Child’s body is found
On the morning of 12th March, the people of Kingsland found a child’s bandage with stains of fresh soil upon it, floating in the well. On 24th March, the naked body of a female child was found floating on the well. The bandage found on 12th, was the same one put round the child by Mrs. Williams, and it was the same one which Mrs. Daw had given to Eliza. It was estimated that the child had been in the water for a good two weeks
Some time elapsed before suspicion fell upon the Eliza because where she worked was some distance from Kingsland, but in due course she was charged with the murder of her illegitimate child, Antoinette, as well as theft of items of clothing.
Testimonies in Court
The nurse, Mrs. Williams agreed that the age, size, sex, colour of the hair etc. of the dead child corresponded with the infant she had looked after for the prisoner, but that it had a strawberry mark behind one ear, and the body found was so badly decomposed that the mark could not easily be traced.
The prosecution also said that the prisoner had been seen on the afternoon of 11th going through the turnpike gate at Leominster in the direction of Kingsland with a bundle on her arm and that the next morning she was seen going back without any child or bundle.
Another feature of the case was that the child had been found on the premises of Mrs Fox, who had been washing on 11th, and had left some clothes on the hedge during the night. Next morning she found that a shift and a pair of stockings were missing; when later the prisoner was taken into custody, the shift and one of the stockings was found in her bedroom at her mistress Mrs. Daw’s house at Moreton on Lugg. Also, under the bed had been found the frock with Mrs. Williams dressed the child in the day the prisoner took it away.
The Judge for the case was definitely in a bad mood, because he set about disallowing expenses incurred by one witness when bringing in evidence and saying that it was an unnecessary waste of time.
Susan Tongue who was very deaf gave her testimony, saying that she had a 7 foot deep draw well by her house, close to the path and on the morning of 24th March she found a child floating in the well, face down and naked.
Mary Fox who lived in the same house as Susan, said that on 12th March she found a bandage in the well, which was the type of thing used to wrap babies, and there was excrement on the bandage. She told how after Susan had discovered the body on 24th march, it was brought into the house where coincidentally her husband was also lying dead. She commented that the child seemed to be smiling.
Another witness said that he wrapped the body in a cloth – the hands were clenched and there was dirt on the back and on the left hand side of the head.
Ann Williams from Marden was called, and she testified that she had nursed a child for Eliza since 8th January when it was five days old. She fetched it herself from Moreton on Lugg where the prisoner was working as a servant for Mr. Daw, a machinist. She was given 2s 6d a week for keeping the baby, but late in February the prisoner came to see her and said that she wanted to take the child away as she had been seeing the father and he would not give money for maintenance, and that she should take the child to the Old Lea where her father was making a home for his mother.
On 11th March Eliza went to take the child from Ann Williams – it was well fed and healthy – and some days later Ann saw Eliza at the Daw’s house and asked how the child was getting on – Eliza said that she had no idea.
Ann said that when she went to see the dead body of a child at Kingsland, she found it to be much discoloured, with altered features in a state of decomposition…rotten in fact….so it was difficult to identify it, but she had no doubt that it was the prisoner’s child judging by the colour of the hair, and the strange shape of the head which was flat at the top and projected a little at the sides, although a distinctive strawberry mark under the left ear was unable to be found due to excessive discolouration of the skin.
Mrs. Daw deposed that she had given her clothes for the baby, and that she later arranged for the father’s mother to take the child, and asked for leave to fetch her from the nurse and then take the train to Ross, saying that she had money for the fare and to buy a drop of gin to put in the child’s food.
Superintendent Edward Grubb of Hereford County Police deposed that on 17th April he went to Edward Daw’s house following a lead, and found the prisoner there in service. He wasked her if she was the girl who had given a child to Mrs. Williams to nurse, and she said that she was. After that however, she became evasive in her replies to his questions and when he related the account of a child being found in a well at Kingsland, she said “That’s not my child, who says that it is?”
Further testimonies from Mrs. Daw and Mr. James all pointed to the guilt of the prisoner, in that she had lied about several key aspects of the case.
The Post Mortem
Mr. Henry Wyatt Watling, surgeon was examined in the court and he said that he performed a post mortem on the body of a female infant child, which was probably around 4 months old at the time of death. He said that there were no marks of violence externally or internally, and when he opened the chest and abdomen and saw nothing to suggest that the child died by drowning, but that these appearances would vary very much according to the length of time the child had been in the water and the period which elapsed between removal from the water and examination. He said that he looked for froth in the windpipe and lungs, and for water in the lungs and stomach; he found none of these, but that could be accounted for by the fact that the body had been under water for two weeks. If death had occurred from imbibition, he said that he should have found the stomach to contain water; the bodies of drowned persons are generally found clenched with the feet and arms being contracted and the hands clenched. In this case, he could not say that the child did not die by drowning. If a child was apparently healthy at 11 in the morning of one day, it might be killed by inflammation of the chest by 7 the next morning; he said that he found disease in the chest, evidently of some weeks’ standing, but not sufficient to cause death in the time specified.
He said that the child he examined had been suffering from very serious illness in the chest; there were traces of pleurisy and the inflammation had been so great that there was adhesion of the lungs to the walls of the chest. He explained that these were sufficient in themselves to have caused death.
A bad tempered Judge
At this point, the Judge became a tad testy again and interrupted the surgeon’s report, asking the counsel for the prosecution, Mr. Cooke, what he would say to this evidence of his own witness.
Mr. Cooke was flustered and keen to get the Judge back on side, but nothing he said could sway the grumpy Judge who went on to say that the jury could not safely return a verdict that the child had died from suffocation at the hands of the prisoner, when the surgeon had said that not only was there no evidence of death by drowning, but that there were appearances of a natural character sufficient to have caused death.
Mr.Cooke, totally floored by the unexpected testimony by the surgeon was at a loss as to what to do or say other than to lamely repeat that the evidence of suffocation might have been removed by so long immersion in the water. However, in the face of hostility from the Judge he decided to abandon the case.
The judge continued to ram his point home for the Jury, saying that he doubted they would find the prisoner guilty as there was no evidence that the child found in the well was the same healthy child described by the nurse, but it was a diseased child.
Mr. Cooke, we imagine humbled and humiliated, stated that it was impossible for him to go on and said that if he had been prepared for the sort of evidence that the surgeon had given, he would have put him forward as the first witness without troubling the Jury with the other evidence and left the question of identity in their hands.
The Judge then addressed the jury and instructed them to find a verdict of Not Guilty. Then he added that there was no evidence to prove that the baby died from any cause connected with the prisoner, and that they could not find her guilty.
The jury consulted for some time, until the Judge lost patience………”I don’t know what you are debating about..”
The foreman turned round, and said “Nothing my Lord…we find the prisoner Not Guilty”
Poor Mr. Cooke didn’t really want to go on with the other indictment of stealing clothes, but the Judge told him he must.
After hearing the evidence, the jury returned a verdict of guilty, and Eliza was sentenced to three months hard labour.
A Worrying Postscript
Disturbingly, a little while after the case was heard, there were strong rumours in the press that Eliza had had three previous illegitimate children, and all of them had disappeared.
That apart, because after all they were only rumours, I cannot help but feel that Eliza quite literally got away with murder!