A Distressing Case Of Attempted Suicide

In September, 1861, a case was heard at Worship Street Police Court that really did illustrate the mental impact that the hardships faced by the destitute poor of the Victorian era could have on those who found themselves in dire straits.

The London Evening Standard reported on the case in its issue of Wednesday, 25th September 1861:-


Mary Ann Hamer, a wretchedly clad pale-faced girl, of 18, was re-examined before Mr. Leigh on a charge of having attempted suicide by throwing herself into the Regent’s Canal.

On the night of the 17th a young seamstress, named Herring, living in Regents-row, Queen’s-road, Dalston, perceived from her window a woman floating in the canal opposite.

She gave an alarm, which apparently had the effect of causing her to make an effort to regain the bank, in which, singularly enough, she succeeded, but instantly fell senseless.

Several of the neighbours found her in this state, and ultimately she was removed to the parish workhouse at Shoreditch in a very enfeebled state.


When charged at this court on the following morning with the attempt upon her life, her statement as to the motives that impelled the act excited much commiseration, it appearing that she was unable to obtain employment at her work as a boot fitter for machine work, in consequence of scarcity of clothing, and had endured great privation.

Mr. Leigh ordered a remand for the purpose of affording Devitt, the officer in charge of the case, an opportunity to make inquiries into it.


The father of the poor girl was now in attendance, and, in reply to questions from the magistrate, he entirely corroborated his daughter’s story.

She was his only girl, but he had for some time past been unable to assist her, in consequence of one hand having been paralysed by his occupation as a composition doll maker.

One of two sons had been run over and thereby crippled, and the other was too young to work.

Add to these misfortunes that he was a widower, and his destitution might be considered complete.


Devitt said that he had visited the lodging of the father, in Pool-place, City-road. It was very clean, but most destitute of every necessary.

The room itself was not more than three yards square. There was a small table, one chair with only three legs, a stool, and a scanty bed on the floor.

The constable added that his inquiries had resulted in ascertaining that the family bore a good name and were respected in their way of life.


Mr. Leigh then told the prisoner that she would be discharged from custody, as the chaplain of the House of Detention had communicated his belief that she was penitent for the rash attempt upon her life, and had promised never to repeat it.

Some kind and benevolent persons had forwarded to that court money for her use, and this would be placed at her disposal by degrees.

More had also been promised in the event of its being ascertained that she was worthy of it, and at the end of a fortnight she was to call upon him, and state her success or otherwise in endeavouring to obtain employment.

The girl appeared very thankful, although still despondent, and left the court with her parent.