Concealment of a birth at Tan Y Llan Farm, Marchwiel

On Sunday 11th December 1859, the neighbourhood of Marchwiel was full of rumours and gossip about an awful event that had occurred in the village the previous day, Saturday 10th December.  It was only when this gossip reached the Parish Constable, Mr Bladen that the matter received any attention, and even then, a formal investigation was not commenced until Mr Bladen reported the matter to Mr Thelwall, the local Coroner, at noon, the following day, Monday 12th December 1859.  When the gossip was brought to his attention, the Coroner, Mr Thelwall requested Mr Bladen to summons a Jury for 1 o’clock that same day, for a Coroner’s Inquest, so that the facts of the case could be properly established.

The local gossip heard by Mr Bladen, and subsequently passed to Mr Bladen, the coroner, was that Miss Sarah Bostock, aged about 25, who was employed by Thomas Cheetham, and his wife, Ann Cheetham, as a servant, at Tan Y Llan Farm, Marchwiel, had given birth to a female baby on Saturday 10th December 1859, and that this baby was now dead, and it was suspected that the death might not be from natural causes.

When the Coroner’s Inquest met at 1 o’clock, it became apparent that not everyone had adhered to the summons.  Mr Bladen stated that several people summonsed to attend had flatly refused to do so, which led to the Inquest start time being delayed for an hour.

When the Coroner’s Inquest finally started at 2 o’clock, as was customary at that time, the Jury was asked to examine the body of a female baby that had been laid in a small box, on the parlour table.

The Coroner informed the Jury that he personally believed that the child was fully grown and that a post mortem would be required.  The Coroner then ordered that the baby and the small box be placed immediately into police custody.  He therefore adjourned the inquest until 11 0’clock on Wednesday 14th December.  Before adjourning the case, to avoid a repetition of Jury members failing to attend, he bound each of them over in the sum of £10, to personally appear at the appointed time and place.

At 11 0’clock, on Wednesday 14th December 1859, the Coroner’s Inquest reconvened at the Red Lion Inn.  It was during this hearing that the gruesome facts of the case came to light.

The Coroner’s Inquest heard that Sarah Bostock had previously been a resident of the Wrexham Workhouse.  Whilst she was residing at the workhouse, she had given birth to a child that had died whilst they were still residing in the workhouse.  Sarah Bostock for the last four years had been employed by the Cheetham family as a maid of all works, but principally in the dairy.  During this time, Sarah Bostock had resided at their farm.

At about 8 o’clock, on the morning of Saturday 10th December 1859, Sarah Bostock had approached Ann Cheetham in the dairy, and Sarah complained of having pains in her bowels.  Ann Cheetham challenged Sarah Bostock and accused her of being pregnant, an allegation that Sarah immediately denied.  For about the next hour Sarah was engaged in carrying cheeses from the dairy.  Ann Cheetham thought that a dose of “Cheshire Bottle” might help the pain in Sarah Bostock’s bowels, and went to find her.

Ann Cheetham went into the garden and saw Sarah Bostock in the privy.  Sarah was on her hands and knees cleaning the privy floor.  Ann Cheetham thought this was strange as she knew that the privy floor had only been cleaned the previous night, she assumed that Sarah must have been sick.

At about 10 o’clock, that morning Ann Cheetham spoke to Sarah Bostock in the dairy.  She provided Sarah with a dose of “Cheshire Bottle”.  Whilst asking Sarah what was wrong with her, it emerged that Sarah Bostock had been pregnant for about four months, and as a result of what she was told, Ann Cheetham thought that Sarah had suffered a miscarriage.  Ann Cheetham suggested that Sarah should go back to bed to recover.  It was then that Sarah Bostock made a strange remark that she must go out and cover it up first, and then went outside for about ten minutes.  On her return, Sarah Bostock returned to bed, telling Ann Cheetham, that if she sent for another woman to complete her work, she would pay them.  The person that Ann Cheetham called for was Ann Roberts.

At about 5 o’clock in the afternoon, after the day’s work had been completed, on the request of Ann Cheetham, Ann Roberts went to Sarah Bostock’s bedroom and asked her about the miscarriage.  It was then that Sarah Bostock admitted for the first time that she had in fact had a miscarriage.  When Ann Roberts asked Sarah Bostock what she had done with the remains, she refused to tell her, and said that she would see to the matter herself the following morning.

Ann Roberts told Ann Cheetham what Sarah Bostock had said to her, and they both went to Sarah’s bedroom to challenge her further.  It was at this point that Sarah Bostock admitted to burying the remains at the bottom of the farm’s garden.

As it was around 5 0’clock, on a mid-December evening, it had gone dark by the time that Ann Cheetham and Ann Roberts ventured into the garden to try to locate the remains using the light from a lantern.

At the bottom of the garden, they located where the remains had been buried.  Ann Roberts used a shovel to dig the remains out of the ground.  Under the depth of about a foot of earth, they discovered the remains of a baby girl, with the afterbirth placed on top of it.  They placed the remains into a cloth and took it into the farmhouse.

Ann Cheetham and Ann Roberts having seen the size of the baby further challenged Sarah Bostock stating that she must have known that it was born alive, an allegation that Sarah Bostock continued to deny.

Ann Cheetham and Ann Roberts both confirmed that the remains that they had recovered were the same as those that had been shown to the Coroner’s Inquest Jury the previous Monday.

Dr. Williams of Wrexham provided the Coroner’s Inquest with evidence about what he had found when conducting a post mortem examination on the female baby.  He stated that the baby had reached, or nearly reached full maturity, and that it was well developed and able to lead an independent existence.  He added that the baby was born alive and that he had breathed.  It had not died of either hemorrhage or bleeding from the umbilical cord.  He pointed out that the baby had marks that indicated violence after it has been born, particularly in the right side of the neck, the right ear and on the upper head.  He gave the cause of death as extravasation of blood on the brain.

Dr. Williams was questioned about the post mortem and the injuries that he had noted on the baby’s body.  He stated that the injuries could not have been caused by the delivery of the baby, or a simple fall due to pressure injuries on the body.  He would not speculate on might have caused the injuries.

The Coroner asked the Jury to judge the cause of the baby’s death.  He told them that if they were satisfied that the baby had met it’s death by accident, that is the verdict they must return; but alternatively, if they thought that the mother had killed the baby, they must return a verdict of willful murder.

After a short period of time, the Jury reached the verdict that the baby had died as a result of the injuries that had been described, although they were unable to state who had caused these injuries.

It was therefore decided that Sarah Bostock should be brought before the Magistrates charged with the murder of the baby.

On Thursday 29th December 1859, Sarah Bostock appeared before the Wrexham Magistrates who were sitting in the Wrexham Town Hall charged with murder.  It was decided that the matter should be heard before the spring sitting of the Ruthin Assizes.

On the 19th March 1860, Sarah Bostock appeared before the Ruthin Assizes charged with murder.  Throughout the court hearing, it was reported that she was very emotional, and that she was crying.

The defense argued that the injuries that had been found on the baby’s body had been caused by accident, and furthermore, that no evidence existed that the baby had been born alive.

The Jury at the Ruthin Assizes that heard the case came to the verdict that Sarah Bostock was not guilty of murder, however, it found her guilty of concealment of a birth.

For the offence of concealment of birth, Sarah Bostock was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment, with hard labour.

Source: Victorian Criminal Cases: The Wrexham Area ©2013 Wayne Piotr Cronin-Wojdat of Historical Gems.