Child death at Mexborough.

Eveline Cotton was aged nineteen when she lived with her grandparents, Mr and Mrs Charles Lefley at the Barracks, Doncaster Road, Mexborough. Her grandfather was a poultry dealer by trade and with the assistance of his wife and granddaughter he also ran a local shop. On Friday 17 October, Eveline was working in the shop when she complained of feeling ill. Her grandfather told her to go home and go straight to bed, which she did. After the shop had closed, her grandmother returned home and asked Eveline if she was feeling better, but the girl who was still in bed shook her head. She told Charlotte Lefley that she was feeling much worse.

So the elderly woman brought her up some gruel and a small glass of gin and urged the girl to drink it as it would help her, if she was developing a cold. However a few hours later Charlotte was in for a shock when she returned upstairs to see how Eveline was now feeling. The girl was still in bed and crying profusely. Shocked, the elderly woman put her arms around her granddaughter and urged her to tell her what the matter was. Through her tears Eveline admitted to her horrified relative that she was not ill, but had instead given birth to a male child which, she said had been born dead.

When Charlotte asked her where was the body, the girl told her that it was in a box at the bottom of the bed. A local, newly qualified doctor, Dr Huey was called to the house and he quickly attended. To his shock he was told that there was a deceased child which had been born on the premises. Then he was taken upstairs to Eveline’s bedroom where she was still sobbing quietly. Charlotte told him that her granddaughter had given birth to the child that very day. When Dr Huey opened the box, inside he found the body of a newly born, deceased, male child. He asked the stricken girl if she was the mother and she admitted that the child was hers and that she had given birth a few hours before.

Eveline told him that the child had never made a sound after it had been born. The surgeon told her that he would have to report the finding of the body to the Coroner and that a full investigation would have to be made, which made the girl cry even more. The news that an illegitimate child had been born and died soon became a great sensation in the village of Mexborough, as many people crowded around the house on Doncaster Road. However they saw very little as the curtains were kept firmly closed. Meanwhile the Coroner Mr Wightman was informed and he, in return reported the case to the police at Rotherham.

He also requested that Dr Huey make a post mortem of the child’s body in the hope of establishing the cause of death. Mr Wightman then arranged for an inquest to be held at the Montague Cottage Hospital at Mexborough on the afternoon of Tuesday 21 October. On that day, Eveline was escorted into the room by Police Sergeant Foreman and it was noted that she looked very pale and not quite recovered from her recent ordeal. As a result she was given a chair and allowed to be seated to give her own evidence. Also in attendance was Inspector Watson who was the newly-appointed Inspector of Police at Mexborough.

The jury were sworn in, and the first witness was the young Dr Huey. He was asked whether he had attended to the prisoner before being called to the house the previous Tuesday, to which he admitted that he had not. The surgeon then described being called to the house and being shown the body of the child. When asked by the coroner if the girl had been reluctant to show him the body, Dr Huey responded that she wasn’t. He stated that there had been no attempt to hide the child and that the prisoner had readily pointed to her box at the bottom of the bed when asked where the body was.
She had also told him that she was alone when she gave birth in the house, as her grandparents were still at the shop.

Dr Huey then described how it was Charlotte Lefley who had taken the body out of the box and handed it to him. He described how the baby’s body had been wrapped in an old apron. The young surgeon said that he had examined the child and found it to be deceased, before having it removed to the mortuary of the Montague Hospital. The coroner then asked Dr Huey what were his findings at the post mortem and he described how he had first made an external examination of the body, and had found that it had been a full term, healthy looking child.

He had found no marks of violence upon it, but internally he had paid close attention to the lungs and found them to be fully inflated. Mr Wightman had turned to the jury at this point and warned them to play close attention to the medical evidence. He said:

‘That is a very important statement, as you can see. If the lungs had never been fully inflated, then the child could not have had a separate existence from the mother after birth. Therefore if they were fully inflated, the child had a partial existence separate from the mother.’

Dr Huey was asked for his opinion for the cause of death, and he concluded that was due to neglect at the point of birth and inattention from any professional midwife. Continuing with his evidence the young surgeon said that after being shown the dead body, he asked Eveline how long she had kept the baby in bed with her after the birth. The girl stated that it was only about ten minutes or so. She then admitted that she did not know what to do with the child and at first had put it under the bed. As dawn broke, and the sky got lighter, only then did she put it in the box.

Mr Wightman then asked him if it struck him at the time that anything was suspicious about the birth, but Dr Huey stated that he put the death down purely to the lack of professional help at the point of birth. The coroner then summed up for the jury. He told them:

‘I had thought that the case might turn out to be one of manslaughter, not because the mother had murdered or strangled the child, but she might have allowed it to die. If she had taken proper care and precaution, which a woman under those circumstances ought to take, the child might have been alive. That would mean a case of manslaughter.

However after the evidence of Dr Huey there is no earthly possibility of the woman being convicted of manslaughter or murder. I am satisfied of that. You gentlemen, after hearing all the evidence might return an open verdict. In that case if the police thought proper, they might prosecute the prisoner for concealment of birth, but you gentlemen would have nothing to do with that decision.’

Turning to Dr Huey the coroner had not finished with him yet. He asked him ‘was the mother so weak that she was in a state where she was totally unfit to assist the child’ to which the surgeon agreed that she might well have been. Mr Wightman then asked him if she might have been in a state of total collapse, to which Dr Huey again agreed that too was possible. The surgeon told him that upon his initial examination it was clear that the child had been born, just a few hours before his own arrival. After hearing all the evidence, the foreman of the jury Mr Tyas told the inquest that the jury had reached a unanimous decision on an open verdict.

A verdict to this effect was duly recorded.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *