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The Alleged Baby Farm at Tuebrook
On Monday, at the County Magistrates’ Court, Sophia Torney, an old, respectably dressed woman, living at 63 Sutton street, Tuebrook, was summoned before Messrs. G. Winter Moss and E. K. Muspratt for an infringement of the third section of the infant life protection act of 1872, which provides that no person can receive for hire or reward more than one child under the age of one year for the purpose of nursing or maintaining them apart from their parents for more than 24 hours, except in a house registered under the act.
Superintendent Bryning, who prosecuted, said that the defendant had been in the habit of keeping young children, and that she got her livelihood from it.
Sergeant Pitt deposed that on the 18th inst. He went to the defendant’s house and found a child lying dead on the sofa. It was three and a half months old, and the defendant had received 5s. a week for nursing it. There were also in the house a child three weeks old and a girl two and a half years old, and Mrs. Torney was receiving 3s. a week for keeping the latter and 5s. a week for the former. The registrar had refused to register the death because no doctor had seen the baby for a fortnight before its death, and also because the house was not registered. The two other children were well and healthy.
Superintendent Bryning said that the police did not impute any wrong treatment of the children to the defendant.
The police sergeant added that the woman said she was ignorant of the necessity for registration.
In reply to Mr. Moss, Supt. Bryning said that the parents of the deceased child were not present. An inquest had been held, and the jury found that death was from natural causes. The defendant had lived in Tuebrook for the last eight or nine years, and was a very respectable woman. She kept the children very well.
The defendant said that the dead child, who was very delicate, was taken to a doctor four times. The youngest child she only had a week on trial when the police visited her house; and as for the eldest, the mother had a very beautiful home, but let the girl stay with her because she had become so fond of her nurse. She was quite willing to be registered.
A fine of 40s. and costs, or one month in default, was inflicted.
Liverpool Weekly Courier – Saturday 29 March 1890
The Birkdale Baby Farming Case.
Trial at the Liverpool Assizes
At the Liverpool Assizes on Thursday, before Mr. Justice Mathew, William Pearson, 51, labourer; Elizabeth Pearson, 38, no occupation; and Sarah Froggart Drury Brade were indicted for having, on the 16th November, 1889, at Birkdale, feloniously killed and slain May Oldfield, and on the 28th November killed and slain Rosina Oldfield. Brade was also charged with being an accessory before the fact. She was arraigned on the coroner’s warrant only.
Mr. Shee and Mr. Swift appeared for the prosecution, and Mr. Sheppard Little represented Brade, the other prisoners being undefended.
Mr. Shee, in laying his instructions before the jury, said the case for the prosecution was that the death of the deceased, a child of about three years of age, named May Oldfield, was brought about by the systematic neglect on the part of the two Pearsons, with the knowledge and connivance of the prisoner Brade, who at the time of its decease was a Mrs. Oldfield. The two Pearsons were in a humble station of life, the male prisoner being a mason’s labourer by occupation. In addition to his work, which when he was sober seemed to be regular, he and his wife apparently had been increasing their means of livelihood by taking in children to look after and keep. The prisoner Brade, who was known throughout most of the case as Mrs. Oldfield, was a woman of independent means and in good circumstances. She was left a widow some four or five years ago, with five children, and was living at the time they were inquiring about either at Birkdale or Southport. Since the death of her husband she had led an irregular life, and she was the mother since then of two illegitimate children – May Oldfield and Rosina Oldfield.
He had looked through the evidence, and he found it was impossible to separate the facts of the case, so far as they related to both children, although they were only inquiring now into the cause of the death of May Oldfield. In dealing with the evidence in the case, Mr. Shee mentioned that the child May was not affiliated by Brade, who had to provide her maintenance without assistance. When these children were sent to the Pearsons they were both described by the witnesses as being in good condition, and they did not allege against them any neglect amounting to criminal neglect until about the end of July 1889.
But from July until their deaths in November the case for the prosecution was they were neglected in such a way as the jury were invited to say amounted to culpable neglect by the Pearsons with the knowledge and connivance of Brade. They were kept along with two other children, one of whom was the Pearsons’ own child, in bassinettes, one of which had been brought in from the yard in a damp condition. The children were kept in a filthy condition; in fact, the whole house was is in a filthy condition. When the children’s clothes became dirty they were not cleaned; but an old cloak belonging to Mrs. Pearson was wrapped round one of them – May, he believed. The bedding smelt terribly, and vermin were crawling about the children. The male prisoner seemed to have worn a belt, with which he used to beat the child May.
Within eight days of May’s death, which took place on the 16th November, May was said to have been suffering from measles. The male prisoner put her into a cold bath, his excuse being that she had wet her clothes, and that it was good punishment for her. It was due, however, to the prisoners to say that when the doctors examined the child afterwards they did not find any signs of measles. During the week May died the mother was in the Pearsons’ drinking with them, and though she must have seen the condition of May no doctor was called in. On the day May died the mother was in the house. Rosina was then in a sinking condition, tied in a chair, and unable to hold up her head. On the day the body of May was exhumed Mrs. Oldfield got married again, thus showing that she had no care whatever as to what became of the child. A doctor had been called in two days before the child died, and the female prisoner’s excuse as to why she had not called one in sooner was that when she took the child to its mother the mother said, “I will not pay for a doctor; make it die if you can.”
Witnesses were then called.
The male prisoner in his defence said he had given way to drink and he asked for mercy at the hands of the court.
Mrs. Pearson said she had nothing to say in defence, except to ask that the court would be as lenient with her as possible.
The jury retired to consider their verdict and after an absence of 20 minutes returned with a verdict of guilty against the Pearsons and Brade not guilty.
His Lordship ordered the Pearsons to stand down and said he would consider their sentence.
Mr. Shee intimated that he would withdraw the charge against Brade respecting the death of the child Rosina.
Brade was then ordered to be discharged.
Yesterday the prisoners were placed in the dock to receive sentence.
His Lordship, addressing the prisoners, said they had been convicted upon the clearest evidence of having caused the death of the child May Oldfield by the grossest neglect. They were further proved to have been guilty by their own admissions of seeking to involve in their crime the other prisoner, Brade, and they charged her with having instigated them to kill the children. Fortunately the law saved her from being involved in the consequences of their statement against her. What they said was no evidence against her, but it was fatal to them. They had ample means given to them to maintain those children. William Pearson was once a respectable man, earning an honest living, but he allowed himself to be tempted by the money paid to him regularly by the mother, and to be led into habits of drinking. The consequence was the children were neglected and left without food and without proper treatment, and when they were seized with illness he and his wife left them to die. Drunkenness was no excuse in such a case, and he must sentence each of them to a severe punishment. William Pearson he sentenced to seven years penal servitude, and Elizabeth Pearson to five years penal servitude.
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