One of the most startling revelations about the East End of London during the Victorian period is the high rate of infant mortality.
One in five children were destined to die before they reached the age of five years old.
Starvation and deprivation, as well as disease, undoubtedly played the largest part in the deaths of children in the 19th century East End; but there was also the ever present danger that a child might be murdered shortly after birth, simply because the mother did not want the burden of a child.
One such case was reported in the Herts Guardian, Agricultural Journal, and General Advertiser on Saturday the 9th of September 1865:-
CHILD MURDER IN WHITECHAPEL
“On Saturday, the Thames Police-court, Mary Ginnew, alias Palmer, aged 28, and Thomas Aldridge, aged 30, were brought before Mr. Paget on remand and for final hearing, charged, the former with the wilful murder of a male illegitimate child and concealing its birth, and Aldridge with aiding and abetting in the secret disposition of the body.
Mr. Joseph Smith, solicitor, defended Aldridge.
A PREVIOUS CHILD
On former investigation it was stated that the woman gave birth to another illegitimate child several years ago, and there was something very suspicious about its disappearance. The mystery has been cleared up, and it has been ascertained that the child was taken to America by its relatives and was alive a few weeks since.
Chandler, a police-constable, 117 H, who has charge of the case, said the coroner’s jury, after several adjournments, returned a verdict on Friday, that the deceased child of which the woman was delivered a fortnight ago was suffocated, but that there was not sufficient evidence before them to prove how was done.
It was an open verdict.
THE CHARWOMAN’S EVIDENCE
Elizabeth Chapman, a charwoman, of No. 1, Rose-lane, Ratcliff, said that about nine or half-past nine o’clock on the night of Tuesday, the 22nd of last month, the prisoner Aldridge, who was manager at the White Swan Tavern, at the corner of White Horse street and Commercial-road, Ratcliff, sent for her and said that a shocking thing had happened since he had seen her last, and that Mary, the cook (meaning the female prisoner) had been delivered of a baby which was dead, and asked her to take some wet clothes, belonging to Mary, out of a pail and a foot-pan, and wash them.
Aldridge also said that he did not want the young men in the house to know anything at all about it.
She took the articles out of a pail and foot-pan. The water was very much discoloured in the pail and foot-pan. She had no doubt the clothes belonged to a lying-in woman.
She was very much excited on hearing what had happened, and could not recollect all that took place.
The prisoner, Mary Ginnew, here said:- “When I was taken into custody I asked Mr. Aldridge to send for Mrs. Chapman and ask her to take away my clothes and wash them.”
MICHAEL HATTON’S TESTIMONY
Michael Hatton, an Irish labourer, of 19, White Bear-court, Whitechapel, said that on Sunday, the 20th of August, the female prisoner brought a parcel wrapped up in paper to his house, and asked him to put it in box.
He did so.
The prisoner said that she had been delivered of a child.
He cut the string of the parcel and opened it, and, to his great surprise, he found it to contain a dead infant. He then sent for doctor. He was regularly upset at this discovery.
The female prisoner again interposed and said:- “I sent for a doctor, who said his fee was 1l. I gave him the money, and I sent for an undertaker, who measured the body and procured a coffin for it, and he charged me thirty shillings. The doctor said that he would give me a certificate.”
THE SUREGON’S EVIDENCE
Mr. Alfred Budgett, a surgeon, of No. 2, Backchurch-lane, Whitechapel, stated that on Sunday morning, the 20th of August, at eleven o’clock, he was sent for and saw the female prisoner, who gave the name of Mary Palmer, at Halton’s house. She was in her ordinary dress, and said that she had given birth to a child the night before.
He asked her where the child was, to which she replied that it was in possession of an undertaker.
He questioned her again and she said that she did not know. He then asked Halton where the child was, and he said that he did not know.
On the same afternoon he again visited the female prisoner, who was in bed.
The body of a fine full grown male child, partly dressed, was then shown to him in a box. The prisoner asked him to give her a certificate that the child was stillborn. He declined doing so. The child was a perfectly healthy one.
On a post-mortem examination there was incontestable evidence that the child was born alive.
The cause of death was suffocation. The body was purple and the lips very much blackened. The child had all the appearance of death from asphyxia or suffocation.
The young woman told him on his first visit that Mrs. Halton was present when the child was born, which took place the night before at twelve o’clock.
He said to Mrs. Halton, “Are you a married woman? The mother of the child has not been properly attended.”
The prisoner said that Mrs. Halton was not a mother. Mrs. Halton said, “Oh, yes, I have had four children.”
The Female Prisoner:- “You told me, Sir, you would give me a certificate that the child was stillborn.”
Mr. Budgett:- “No, I said I would send up to you the evening. I never intended to send you a certificate that the child was stillborn.”
THE LANDLORD’S EVIDENCE
Mr. Thomas Smith Watts, of the White Swan Tavern, Commercial-road, near the Stepney railway station, said that both prisoners had been in his service – Aldridge as manager, and Palmer as cook.
He saw her her customary duties on the evening of Saturday, the 19th of August, and directed her to prepare the supper at nine o’clock.
He closed his house at twelve o’clock the same night, and he had no doubt that she slept in his house that night.
On the morning of Sunday, the 20th, she knocked at his bedroom door at nine o’clock, and asked permission to go out. He refused at first, and said, “You complained of illness last night.” She said that she was much better, and wanted to go to the West-end. He therefore gave her permission to go out.
CONSTABLE CHANDLER’S TESTIMONY
William Chandler, a police-constable, No. 117 H, said:- “On the evening of the 22nd August I went to the White Swan, and saw Aldridge, who said he was the manager.
I asked him if there was a servant woman named Mary Palmer there, to which he answered “No.” I asked for Mary Ginnow, and he said, “Yes, that is our cook.”
After some further conversation the female prisoner came in, and said that her name was Mary Ginnow.
I told her I was a police-officer, and must take her into custody.
Aldridge said to her, “You had better not say anything.”
The female prisoner did speak, and said, “I paid the doctor a sovereign.”
CAN’T WE SQUARE THIS?
Aldridge then beckoned me out of the room, and said, “Can’t we square this? You know what things are between man and man. She will only get the sack, it will be ten thousand pities.”
I said, “No, all your master has got in this house and at Woodford will not square me.”
Mr. Watts, jun., came in, and sent for Mr. Miller, his own surgeon, and at his desire she was removed, first to the police-station, and thence to the infirmary of Ratcliff Workhouse.
The next evening I arrested Aldridge, who said nothing.
MRS. HALTON’S EVIDENCE
Mrs. Halton was examined at some length, and said that when Mary came there on Sunday morning she said that she had a pain in her side.
The parcel was put in a box.
The Female Prisoner:- “But not at my request. I did not ask you to put it there.”
Mrs. Halton:- “No, you did not.”
MORE EVIDENCE GIVEN
Chandler produced a sheet of brown paper, a sheet of foolscap, and two old newspapers, in which the body was wrapped.
Mr. Budgett was recalled, and said that the child might have been suffocated without leaving any external marks. A slight pressure with a soft substance would do it.
Mr. Watts (recalled):- “The female prisoner has been in my service for three years. She was a very good servant, and kind to people in illness.”
NO CASE AGAINST ALDRIDGE
Mr. Smith, in a lengthened speech, contended that there was no case against Aldridge, and that he had not been engaged the “secret disposition” of the body of the child in the words of the statute.
Mr. Paget:- “I think it my duty to commit both prisoners for trial for concealing the birth of the child – the woman as principal, the man for aiding and assisting. The case will receive every attention from a higher tribunal.”
BAIL FOR ALDRIDGE
On Tuesday, Mr. Charles Young attended and offered bail for Aldridge, the prisoner’s own recognisances in 400l., and two sureties in 200l. each.
Mrs. Sarah Ann Robson, the landlady of the Victoria Dock Tavern, near the Victoria Dock, and Mr. Henry Love, baker, Sun Tavern Fields, St. George-in-the- East, offered themselves as bail, and were accepted.
Aldridge, who had been in prison for a fortnight, was then liberated.”