Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Negligent Discharge of a Mother

A woman who chose drink over looking after her baby boy was found guilty of manslaughter after he starved to death.

On the 2nd August 1876 a police constable patrolling in South Castle Street found thirty year old Jane Kelly lying drunk on the pavement. On closer examination the officer found that the baby boy she had in her arms was dead.  

Kelly and the baby, who was three months old and called John, were taken to the Northern Hospital. A post mortem revealed that there were no traces of disease in any of the organs and that the cause of death was insufficient food. John weighed just 5 pounds and 3 ounces, as opposed to the expected 12 pounds for a baby of his age. He was also covered in sores as a result of not being washed often enough, if at all.

An inquest on 12th August heard from neighbours of Kelly who lived in Olivia Street with a man named Cunningham. They said she was rarely sober and never breast fed the baby. Another told how soon after the birth, Cunningham had paid a neighbour five shillings to look after John for a week but Kelly then took him back.

After a verdict of manslaughter was returned Kelly was placed before the magistrates and given bail. When she presented herself at St George's Hall at the beginning of the assizes on 15th March the following year, she was so drunk that Baron Huddleston immediately ordered that she be detained in the cells. 

Five days later her case was heard and she was found guilty of manslaughter. The the judge told her that 'in this town there is too much drunkenness, it is necessary when death occurs owing to the negligent discharge of the mother that an example should be made of that person.' He then imposed a sentence of twelve months imprisonment with hard labour.

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