The Death of Baby Gordon

I had been researching my Chandler and Inman ancestors for about two years, and to all appearances they seemed to be perfectly respectable people. However, an unexpected find in a local newspaper told a rather different story.

Gamekeeper Arthur Chandler and his wife Jane, from Beckenham, Kent, had nine children, including my great x2 grandmother Amelia, who was born in 1838. Amelia met a Yorkshireman, George Inman; they married in Penge, Surrey, in 1856, and moved to live in George’s home town, Bradford. In 1857 Amelia’s parents Arthur and Jane emigrated to Australia with their four daughters - Asenath, Amy Jane, Angelina and Alice (the fifth, Antoinette, had died in infancy). One son, Andrew, travelled to Australia separately the same year, and another, Arthur William, followed in 1865 with his wife and seven children.

So by the time of the events recounted here (1864), most of Amelia’s family had emigrated, apart from her brother Arthur and family, who were preparing to leave, and her brother Alfred, who was living in Nottinghamshire, although he later moved to live in Bradford, in the same street as Amelia. George and Amelia had one child so far: my great grandfather Arthur Inman. Their second child, Alice, had died in 1861 when she was only 6 months old. Sometime between 1861 and 1864 they moved to 100 Otley Road, Bradford.

The following news item appeared in the Leeds Mercury on 3rd September 1864:- 

THE ALLEGED CHILD MURDER AT BRADFORD

Mary and Ann Gordon, the two women in custody on the charge of murdering Ann Gordon’s illegitimate child, were brought before the Bradford bench yesterday, and remanded for a week, in order to allow time for the completion of the coroner’s inquiry. The prisoners are Irishwomen, the mother being forty-two, and the daughter twenty years of age. The latter had a bastard child two years ago.

On 8th September the Leeds Mercury carried a report on the coroner’s inquest into the death of the Gordon baby, which had been held the previous day.

Briefly, the evidence given to the inquest was that Ann Gordon had given birth to a living child. This was confirmed by the midwife who delivered the baby, despite an attempt by the Gordons to buy her silence. The child had died, and Ann and her mother had procured a false stillbirth certificate enabling them to bury it. They stated that the child had lived for a week, but the post-mortem indicated that the baby had not lived for more than two days at most, and had never been fed. As a result of this evidence, the jury brought in a verdict of 'wilful murder' against both women, and they were committed for trial at Leeds Assizes.

As a result of the inquest, the coroner issued a death certificate, an extract of which is shown here:-



The trial was held on 21st December, and the Leeds Mercury carried a detailed report of the proceedings.

According to the evidence, Ann Gordon gave birth to a female child on 24th July 1864. The baby was delivered by midwife Mary Patchett, who confirmed that it was born alive and healthy. The following day, Mary Gordon went to Mrs Patchett’s house and asked her not to call again, because she did not want her daughter’s shame to become generally known. Mrs Patchett said she would call anyway, as this was her usual practice, but when she went to the house three days later, Mary Gordon said that Ann had gone back to work, and the baby had been sent out to nurse in the country. On 28th August Mary Gordon returned to Mrs Patchett’s house, said that the baby was dead and buried, and offered her money to say that it was stillborn if the registrar should enquire. Mrs Patchett refused.

Grace Stead of 108, Otley Road, Bradford, then testified that Mary Gordon had visited her on 25th August (this appears to be a misprint for 15th August) and told her that she had a problem: a baby to bury. She said that the child had been born the previous day. Mrs Stead told her that she would need a certificate, and offered to introduce her to a neighbour who had recently had a stillborn child. She took Mrs Gordon to see Amelia Inman, and left them alone. Later, Mrs Gordon told Mrs Stead that the child had lived for three weeks.

Amelia Inman then gave the following evidence:-

The sexton of Undercliffe cemetery testified that he had seen Amelia Inman at the cemetery on 16th August. She brought with her a certificate, which he produced, and a coffin. He disinterred the coffin on 30th August.

The Bradford registrar, John Wilcock, testified that he had called at Mary Gordon’s house and asked if a baby had been born there. She said that no child had been born there for two years, and was indignant when the registrar asked if her daughter Ann had had a baby. The registrar asked her to attend at his office with her daughter. After telling a number of conflicting stories, the women admitted that Ann had had a baby, which had never left the house, and said that it had died after being given medicine for stomach ache. After their arrest, they confessed that the child’s body had remained at their house for two weeks after its death, as they did not have the means to bury it.

The surgeon who had conducted the post-mortem testified that the child appeared to have been born alive, could have lived no longer than three days, perhaps less, and did not appear to have received any food. He stated that the child could have died from suffocation, but could also have died from natural causes. The judge informed the jury that although the two defendants had clearly told a series of lies, which aroused great suspicion, that alone was not sufficient evidence of their guilt, and as the medical evidence was consistent with death by natural causes, they must find the defendants not guilty. A verdict of not guilty was duly returned, and the two women were released.

Meanwhile, on 15th September, Martha Butler, the midwife who had told Amelia what to write on the stillbirth certificate, had been brought before the Bradford Borough Court, charged with making a false statement. She was let off with a reprimand from the Mayor, who said he hoped that this would serve as a warning to the prisoner, and the public in general, not to tamper with any certificate or other document required by registration law.

As far as I can establish, no charge ever seems to have been brought against Amelia for her part in the case.

What actually happened is not entirely clear from the evidence published in the newspapers. If the child had really been stillborn, the attending midwife would have made out a stillbirth certificate. However, it was evidently born alive. }If it had died of natural causes, there would have been no difficulty in obtaining a death certificate from a doctor. In view of the lies the two women told, it seems likely that they were responsible for the baby’s death, and then realised that it could not be buried without a certificate of some kind. They decided to pretend that it had been stillborn, and were presumably put in contact with Amelia because she had recently had a stillborn child and would know the procedure. Amelia contacted the second midwife, Martha Butler, who does not appear to have written out a certificate herself, but told Amelia how to write a stillbirth certificate. The certificate has not survived, so whether Amelia signed it in her own name or made it out in Mrs Butler’s name is unknown. Amelia not only provided the certificate, but accompanied Mary Gordon to the cemetery, and took the coffin and certificate in herself – to the same cemetery where her daughter Alice was buried three years earlier. Amelia does not appear to have known the Gordons before she was introduced to Mary Gordon by Mrs Stead, so her only motive in providing the false certificate was presumably financial.

Amelia and George went on to have four more children. George died in 1880, at the age of 46, and for a while Amelia continued to run his business, trading as a butcher and summerhouse builder. In 1883 her oldest son Arthur emigrated to Australia with his wife, and sometime in the 1880s Amelia and her other four children followed suit.

Amelia remarried in Uralla, New South Wales, in 1892, at the age of 54, and died in 1909, aged 71.

Mary from Italy

© Mary from Italy 2008

 

 

 

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