The Tragic Death Of Sarah Hayles

For many of the Victorian residents of the East End of London, life was a daily battle for survival. In the case of many of the women, as is illustrated by the stories of several of the victims of Jack the Ripper, they lived precarious, hand-to-mouth existences, where just a minor twist of fate could tip them over the edge, often with fatal consequences.

One such tragic case was reported by Reynolds’s Newspaper, in its edition of Sunday, 18th November, 1894:-


“Mr. W. E. Baxter held an inquiry at the Whitechapel Infirmary, with reference to the death of Sarah Hayles, aged nineteen years, a single woman, of Spitalfields.

The Coroner remarked that the deceased had been living with a man named Frost, and had a child by him, which was born on October 21 last. The child was found dead in a box under the bed a few days later. An inquest was held on the 27th ult., at which a verdict to the effect that the child was stillborn was returned by the jury.

A photograph of Coroner Baxter.
Coroner Wynne Edwin Baxter


At the inquest the man Frost first stated that the woman was his wife, and it was only admitted by him that this was not the case at the last moment, when pressed by the Coroner.

He (the Coroner) was not at all surprised when he heard of the death of the deceased.

The evidence showed that the poor woman was greatly neglected at the time of her confinement, no-one being present.


A doctor was sent for, to whom a sum of 1s. 6d. was paid. When he came to the house, and finding that it was a confinement case, it was alleged that he threw the 1s. 6d. on the table and refused to attend.

Dr. Hume, the parish doctor, was then asked to attend the case, but the person who went for him stated that he declined to go without a proper parish order or the payment of a guinea.

A search was then made for the Relieving Officer; but he was out, and the person was referred to another address, but, apparently, she got tired and did not go.


Three days later, a Dr. Leslie, of Norton Folgate, was passing the house by chance, and was asked to see the deceased, which he did, and he had attended the deceased until her removal to the infirmary.

It was a case that required prompt medical attention, but he certainly thought that an amount of red tapeism had been displayed.

The woman did not have any medical attention until after the child’s death.


Samuel Wm. Frost, a newsvendor, living at a common lodging-house in Dorset-street, Spitalfields, stated that be had lived with the deceased for twelve months.

When the child was born, they were living at Wilks-court.

The deceased was removed to the infirmary on November 9, at the instigation of her father.

Witness did not know that the deceased was going to be removed.

A sketch showing Dorset Street.
Dorset Street, Spitalfields. From Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 2nd June 1901. Copyright The British Library Board.


Mary Hayles, the wife of a picture-frame maker, of 8, Mashams-place, Whitecross-street, said the deceased was her daughter. She left home at Christmas, and they did not know where she had gone. They tried to find her but failed.

They heard nothing of her for four months, when one day her younger sister met her in the street, and the deceased said that she was married and living in Pearl-street, Spitalfields.

Witness afterwards ascertained that the house was a brothel.

The Coroner: “Did you go and try to get her away?”

Witness: “Yes; but she refused to leave.”


Dr. Larder deposed that the deceased was brought to the infirmary in a very exhausted condition. She was too ill to give any account of herself. She gradually sank, and she died on Thursday last.

Witness had since made a post-mortem examination, which showed that death was due to peritonitis and blood poisoning, the result of want of proper attention at childbirth.


The Coroner and jury remarked that, in their opinion, the machinery of the law required alteration, so that poor people could obtain medical aid without so much formality.

The jury eventually returned a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence, but expressed their regret that they could not hold Frost legally responsible, which they could have done had the couple been married.”