The dangers for children in the Victorian East End of London were manifold. Disease was rife. Malnutrition was almost endemic. Drinking the water that was at the time available posed its own threats.
And there were also, in some cases, dangers posed by those who should have protected them, their parents. The Dover Telegraph and Cinque Ports General Advertiser, on Saturday, 9th September 1865, reported on a dreadful case of parental neglect towards their offspring:-
A SHOCKING CASE OF STARVATION AND NEGLECT IN VICTORIAN SPITALFIEDLS
On Monday afternoon, Mr. John Humphrey resumed an inquiry at Mr. Keymer’s, the Commercial Tavern, Commercial-street, Spitalfields, respecting the death of Joseph Stack, aged three weeks, who died from gross neglect of his parent.
Mr. John Allison, M.R.C.S, of No 1, Norton Folgate, said that he was called to the deceased. He administered stimulants, but the deceased, who was dying, never rallied, and expired shortly after his arrival.
The boy was very much emaciated, but on making a post-mortem examination he found the lungs healthy, as also was the heart. The stomach and small intestines were perfectly empty, showing that the deceased had had no nourishment for some days. The child had clearly died from starvation and continued privations.
THE PARENTS WENT DRINKING
Sergeant Gee, of the H division, said that since the jury last assembled the parents of the child had been apprehended, and were now under remand.
Mr. George Steadman, the proprietor of the Prince of Wales beershop, Great Pearl-street, Spitalfields, said that he recollected the parents coming to his house at ten o’clock in the morning.
At that time they had no drink that they paid for, but they drank with others in front of the bar.
The female was in and out until about four o’clock in the afternoon.
THE DRUNKEN MOTHER
At that time a shoemaker, lodging in the same house, came in, and spoke to the man and woman. He said, “Come home; the child is not dead.”
They then went outside into the street, and began fighting.
He did not recollect seeing them again.
The woman was not sober when she first came in, but the man was; the latter was drunk when he left, and witness gave him an order for a pair of boots.
The man tried several times to get her home, but she was noisy, and would not go away.
IT IS ALL HER FAULT
Sergeant Gee said that when he apprehended the mother and father, the latter, on the way to the police station, said, “It is all her fault.”
He had a child three years old in his arms, and when the child was taken away from him to go to the workhouse, he exclaimed, “Oh, let it die if it likes.”
THE CHILD WAS UNDERWEIGHT
The child was weighed, and it was just eight pounds, the weight of a newly born child. It was now very ill in the Whitechapel Union.
The little boy examined on the last occasion was also there, but the girl was in the care of a neighbour.
Mr. Allison, M.R.C. S., of Norton Folgate, said that he had examined the mother since the last meeting of the jury, and he had found the mother’s breasts well supplied with milk.
The deceased scarcely weighed eight pounds.
A VERDICT OF MURDER
The Coroner then summed up.
The cause of death was from inanition from the want of proper food and nourishment.
The question for the consideration of the jury was whether the evidence showed that the deceased died from the gross and wilful negligence of the parents – if so it would amount to wilful murder.
The Jury, after a brief consultation, returned a verdict of “Wilful murder against Edward and Ann Stack, for feloniously killing and slaying their infant child, Joseph Stack.”
The Coroner then made out his warrant for their committal to Newgate for trial.”