[This document comes from Helena Wojtczak's English Social History: Women of Nineteenth-Century Hastings and St.Leonards. An Illustrated Historical Miscellany, which the author has graciously shared with readers of the Victorian Web. Click on the title to obtain the original site, which has additional information. There are, for example, photographs and other images on her site that do not appear in the present document.]

With no contraception or abortion, unwanted babies were frequently born to working class single women. In many cases the woman was in domestic service and was seduced, tricked, persuaded or even raped by her employer, his son, or another servant. Motherhood out of wedlock brought shame and ruin upon the woman causing a great many to resort to desperate measures: concealing the pregnancy and birth, and killing the new-born.

Housemaid Hannah Moore became pregnant in February 1851 while in the service of the Duchess of St Albans at 5 Grand Parade. Soon after, she began to work for the Rev. William Gordon, of St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, West Hill Road. The child was born in the presbytery adjoining the church.

The following is from the Hastings & St Leonards News, 28th November 1851.

Murder of an Infant

On Friday last, at eleven o'clock in the forenoon, an inquest took place at the South Saxon Hotel, [13 Grand Parade] St Leonards, before J.G. Shorter, Esq, coroner, and a jury of eighteen [men]. Mr. C. V. Levett, foreman, [a baker of 19 North street], to investigate the circumstances attending the death of a newly-born male infant which was found in the privy to the rear of No 6, North street, on the previous Wednesday night.

The usual formalities having been gone through, the jury proceeded to view the body, which was lying at the St. Leonards police-station [Mercatoria]. On their return the following evidence was taken.

Catherine Pulford [16], living with her grandfather [a butcher] at No.6, North street, deposed - About a quarter before ten on Wednesday evening, the 19th instant, I had occasion to go to the privy which is in our back yard, a few steps from the back door. Other parties besides our own family used this place; and any person could have access to it, as the yard door is rarely fastened. There is a public passage leading from Shepherd street into North street, and the yard door opened into it. The yard being very dark at the time, I took a candle with me. The yard door was wide open, and the privy door was closed tight. On entering the privy my attention was attracted by something white down the hole, which looked like a bundle of clothes. The place being nearly full of soil, I had no difficulty in seeing it. I did not touch it, but immediately communicated with my grandfather who, with my grandmother and myself, went out and inspected it. My grandfather took the tongs and lifted it part of the way up, but let it go again, and went after a policeman. He afterwards returned with Barnes, who examined the place and took out the bundle. Saw Barnes open the bundle, and I then discovered that it was a child wrapped up in a cloth.

James Barnes, extra-constable -- [of 9 Lavatoria] About a quarter past ten I met Pulford near my house. I accompanied him to his house, where he then showed me the bundle in the privy. I tucked up my shirt sleeves and got it out, and carried it into Pulford's kitchen, where I opened it, and found it contained a male child. It was wrapped in an old apron with a kitchen duster over it. There was also a glass cloth twisted tightly round the child's neck, and pinned, and a thread twisted four or five times round the neck under the cloth. I gave the body into the charge of Sergeant Phillips. The body was previously shewn to Mr. Gardiner, the surgeon, and from information I received from that gentleman, I yesterday went in search of Hannah Moore, who lives as a servant to the Rev. Mr. Gordon on the West hill. At first when I knocked on the door she would not open it. When she came to the door she said, "I know who sent you - Mrs. Lamb." I asked her, what made her think Mrs. Lamb sent me? She replied, that Mrs. Lamb came there about two o clock that day and said "Dear Hannah, what have you been doing? the police have got a child which they found in the privy. Which that woman [Mrs. Ashdown] showed you into." On which Hannah Moore remarked - "well I don't care, it is not mine." Hannah Moore was about to go up stairs again, but I told her she must not go; and called Inspector Campbell, who took her in charge. I took this thread from the kitchen table, it being similar to that found on the child's neck.

Sergeant Phillips deposed to receiving the body of the child from Barnes at a quarter before twelve on Wednesday night. The witness produced the thread with which the child was supposed to have been strangled; it was of the common sort, doubled four times. He also deposed to finding the after birth in the trap of the water closet of the house where Hannah Moore was servant and giving it into the hands of Mr. Gardiner.

Anna Ashdown [of 3 Victoria passage] stated that a person of the description of Hannah Moore called at the house of Mrs. Lamb, who lives opposite to her in Shepherd street, between three and four o clock; but Mrs. Lamb being from home she asked the witness to allow her to go into her water closet; but it was inconvenient, the latter refused, and showed her into that of Mr. Pulford's. Witness said that the person in question wore a large plaid cloak, and appeared to be very stout. She has since seen the accused, but could not swear to her, in consequence of the alteration in her dress.

Jane Lamb, wife of George Lamb, labourer, living [at 2 Victoria passage] between Shepherd street and North street, deposed -- I have known Hannah Moore ever since she has lived with Mr. Gordon, which is about 8 months. Have been in the habit of going to the house. Mr. Gordon sometimes lived at his house on the West Hill, and sometimes at Silverhill cottage, about 3 miles distant. When he is at the latter place, Hannah Moore has charge of the house on the West Hill. On Saturday afternoon, I went as usual to clean up St Andrew's Church, which adjoins the house of Mr. Gordon. I knocked at the door of the house, but could get no answer. I afterwards got into the kitchen by another way, when Hannah Moore called out from her bed-room and asked if that was me. I proceeded to the bed-room where I found her in bed with her clothes on. Her hands were underneath the clothes. She appeared very faint, and there was a large pool of blood on the floor, as if a delivery had recently taken place. There were footmarks of blood round the bed leading to a little closet which is used to put the servant's clothes in. I did not look into this closet. There was a peculiar smell in the room, which I thought proceeded from a water-closet. I looked very hard at her, and she at me. I said "you look like a person who has had a miscarry or a child." She said "oh, dear me, nothing so bad as that, Mrs. Lamb, thank God." I then proceeded to my work, and took no more notice of the matter then; but told my husband. The apron in which the child was wrapped is exactly like the one which I have seen Hannah Moore wear. When Mrs. Ashdown told me what sort of apron it was, it struck me that Hannah Moore was the guilty person - she looked guilty. I afterwards said to her, "Oh, Hannah what have you been doing?" She replied, "Nothing". When I told her there had been a child found, she appeared ready to drop. The cook said, "Never mind Hannah, it is not yours." On which the latter said, "I hope you will not think it is me." She also said that she had several doctor's bills, which would prove her innocence. [A cloak was here produced, which the is accused admitted having worn on the day which she is supposed to have been seen in Shepherd street, with marks of blood upon it.] The accused denied having been at my house at all; and she said that she did not go out of the house until fve o' clock in the afternoon.

Roger Cooper Gardiner, surgeon [of 51 Marina], deposed - Hannah Moore came to my house two or three times in the month of May when I prescribed for her. The symptoms which I discovered led me to suppose that she was pregnant. On the second interview, I put several indirect questions to her for she purpose of eliciting the truth; but she would not admit that she was pregnant. She wished me to give her some stronger medicine, which from my suspicions I did not do. She did not come again; and I heard nothing more of her till Wednesday evening last. About twenty minutes to eleven Barnes called on me with the child in question. It was a male child, and had gone full period; the umbilical cord was cut close off to the body, and the head and face were tightly bound round with a cloth. The face of the child showed evident marks of strangulation; the face was black and the tongue slightly protruded. I detected no other sign of violence. There was sufficient to prove that that it had not been delivered under the care of a medical man. Barnes then left me. Yesterday at half-past two, Mrs. Lamb called on me and wished to speak to me, as she had something to say, but didn't want everybody to know it; and she then communicated her suspicions.

I subsequently went to Mr. Gordon's house, in company with Mr. Ticehurst [surgeon], for the purpose of examining the accused. On entering, I saw her in the kitchen, looking exceedingly ill. I told her the object of my visit, and requested her to go into another room and submit to an examination in the presence of the cook and her sister, which she did and I found various symptoms of a recent delivery. She positively denied that any birth had taken place, although I considered the symptoms quite conclusive. This morning I visited her in accordance with a message, and without any promise or threat, and she made the following statement:- She said she was taken ill about three o clock on Saturday morning, the 15th instant, and continued in severe pain, although she did the work of the house up till one o clock on the same day. She then went to her room, and the child was born about half-past one. After delivery she took the thread and twisted it tightly round the child's throat, with a view of destroying it. She then bound the cloth round the head and throat of the child for the purpose of stifling its cries. The child cried and struggled.

In the course of the afternoon she took the after birth and secreted it in the water-closet. The child was then wrapped up and she went partly about her work in the evening, and the cook came to assist her. On the Wednesday following, between two and three in the afternoon, she went out, taking the child as found, as threw it down the privy in the back yard of a house of which she accurately described, in the vicinity of Shepherd street. She also described the apron in which she wrapped the child, which perfectly agreed with the one produced. I found the child had breathed, and its hands were clutched as if it had struggled convulsively. I examined the lungs and found them full of air.

Sarah Dowker, living in the same family as cook in which the accused was housemaid, was called, and denied all knowledge of the transaction. although she slept with Hannah Moore on the Saturday and Sunday night, every question put to her received a negative answer. Mary Ann Miller, wife of Henry Miller [master shoemaker], living at 8 Shepherd street, deposed that she was at present nurse to Hannah Moore who was very ill. This morning the latter was crying very much, and seemed in a great deal of trouble. The accused had told her that after the delivery of the child, she had secreted it in a box under the bed, and on the following Wednesday had put it in the privy. Hannah Moore also stated that it was not her intention to make off with the child; but by some irresistible impulse she couldn't help it. Ann Pulford was recalled, and stated that she was at home all Wednesday afternoon, but it was possible for a person to go to the privy without her noticing it. The bundle containing the child was so placed that a person might have gone there without soiling it.

This being the whole of the evidence, the coroner summed up at some length, and he jury unhesitatingly returned a verdict of "Wilful murder against Hannah Moore."

The accused is a native of Norfolk and her age is 28.

Too ill to stand trial, she was held in Lewes Gaol infirmary until considered fit.

The trial opened in March 1852, and Hannah pleaded not guilty to murder. Her age, which was given as 30 in the April 1851 Census and 28 in the November 1851 newspaper, dropped to 24 at the start of the trial and to 23 by the end of it. She was found guilty of murder, but the jury recommended mercy. The judge ordered them to reconsider. The men debated for a further 50 minutes before returning a verdict of 'guilty of concealment of birth' but 'not guilty of wilful murder' as they were "not certain of the prisoner being in complete possession of her faculties at the time." She was sentenced to two years' hard labour at Lewes.


Gender History

Last modified 2000