The Death Of Mary Anne Rowan

Browsing the 19th century newspapers, you often come across horrific cases of terrible murders as well as of other crimes.

Some of the most horrible of the cases are those crimes in which a parent murdered a child.

The East London Observer featured one such case in its edition of Saturday the 16th of September 1882


James Rowan, 40, a labourer, was brought up before Mr. Bushby, at Worship-street Police Court on Friday last week, on suspicion of having caused the death of his daughter, Mary Ann, aged two years and four months, at 3, Queen’s Place, High-street, Whitechapel, on September 16th.


John Rowan said that he was a brother of the prisoner, with whom he lived.

At about half past seven or eight o’clock on Tuesday evening he went to the room which the family occupied in Queen’s Place.

He saw the prisoner’s wife lying on the bed, and the prisoner and the child on the floor.

Near the child was a mug, and the floor around her was wet with either water or beer, he could not say which.

He shook the mother and woke her, saying it was a nice thing to see the child lying on the floor in the wet.

She said, “Give me the child, John.”


He picked the child up, and saw some blood on its mouth. He handed it to its mother, and she cried out, “Good God the child is dead.”

He said, “Nonsense,” but on looking at the child he found it was true.

The prisoner was lying on the floor asleep all this time.

Neither the mother nor the father were sober.


John William Colley, M. D., of 68, Leman Street, Whitechapel, said that at about 11 o’clock on Tuesday night he was called to 3, Queen’s Place.

He saw the child lying on the bed quite dead. It was bruised and slightly bleeding about the right eye, and there was a contusion on the temple above the left one.

On examining the body he found a considerable abrasion of the skin, extending from about the seventh rib to the knee. He found also that the bones of the skull were loose – in other words, that there was a fracture of the skull.

There was a small quantity of blood about the nostrils and mouth.

It was to the fracture of the skull that he attributed the death of the child.

In answer to the magistrate, he said he was of opinion that the fracture was caused by a blow from a blunt instrument.

The prisoner was awake when he came to the house.

The child had then been dead about two hours.


Detective-Sergeant White, H division, said that at about nine o’clock on Thursday night he went to Queen’s Place and saw the prisoner.

He said, “I have come to speak to you about your deceased child.”


The prisoner said, “It is a crime and a mystery. I was very fond of the child. Whatever shall we do? She would meet me in the court when I came home from work at night.

On Tuesday me and my wife went to the hospital to see our child (another child).

We had some drink on the way home. I was not exactly drunk.

My wife lay down on the bed.

About half past seven I went out to get some more drink.

About half past eight I gave the child a drink of water. There was nothing the matter with her then.


I then laid down on the floor – my wife was still lying on the bed – and I know nothing more about it until my brother came in about half-past nine, and found the child lying by my side dead.”

Witness then told him that the child had died under suspicious circumstances, and he should have to take him (prisoner) into custody on suspicion of causing its death.


In answer to the charge at the police station the prisoner made a similar statement to that which he had made at home.

On looking at the prisoner’s clothes at the station witness found on the trousers some spots which looked like stains of blood, but these stains had not been further examined.


In answer to the magistrate, he said there were six rooms in the house, each occupied by a different family.

The prisoner, his wife, his brother, and the child slept in one room, in which there was only one bed.

Neither the outer door of the house nor the prisoner’s door was fastened, and anyone could have got into the room.

The prisoner was remanded for a week.