Kent & Sussex Courier - Friday 3 June 1892


On Tuesday evening at the house of Mr E. Beecher, at Postern Heath, Thomas Buss Esq., one of the Coroners for Kent, and a jury, of which Mr Mabbett was chosen foreman, held an inquest on a child, said to be named Harry Hamilton William Hicks one year and eleven months of age supposed to be the illegitimate child of a woman whose address was unknown, who died at the house of a farm labourer, at Rats' Castle, Lower Postern.

Harriet Elizabeth Mitchell, the wife of James Mitchell, said she had had the child in her care since a year ago the 29th of last April. She was then living at Greenstreet Green, Orpington, the mother replied to an advertisement for a nurse child. An address was given her near Charing Cross, but on going there she found there were not so many houses as the number given. She received the letter produced from the mother six or seven weeks after she had had the child, but could not reply as there was no address. She went to a baker's shop from where some letters were written, but they knew nothing of the mother more than that she had her letters addressed there, and they wrote her letters for her as she could neither read nor write. Her price for the keep of the child was 5s. per week, but the mother asked her to accept £6 down and 3s per week, which she agreed to do.

Three weeks after she had the child the mother came down and had dinner and tea, for which she had 2s but that was all the money which she had had from her. The child was said to be the offspring of a gentleman, but she did not know the name. The child had had only two pieces of each kind of clothing, and she had found it in clothes, medical attendance, etc., and had not received a penny. She was not registered as baby farmer at Orpington but an officer came down from London and said that she need not be unless she had two children twelve months of age at one time. She had five children at Orpington. One girl, three years and two months old, who was always weakly, died through falling from a chair, and at an inquest a verdict of accidental death was returned. Another one, 11 weeks old, who had always been weakly, also died at Orpington.

When she first had the deceased it was very well, except that it had a large head. He was always subject to fits, and she had Dr. Curtis of Orpington, to him twice.

She left Orpington to re-join her husband, who was lodging at Lily Farm, Capel. She brought with her four nurse children-the deceased, one six years, one two years, and one seven months old. After dinner on Friday, as the deceased was worse than usual, she sent for Dr. Allan, who attended at six o'clock, and the child died about eight. The child generally slept in a cradle in his room, and he turned his cradle over Friday morning.

On Thursday the deceased was so violent on the sofa that she had to get her girl to watch him. That might account for the bruises on the body. She usually gave the baby a Steadman's powder, and she did so on Thursday, but on Friday he got worse. She had one child six years ago when she was living at Goudhurst, but she never had a second child there. From Goudhurst they moved to Yalding, where they remained for a year and nine months. Three years ago they moved to Hadlow Park Farm, where they remained from April till October. They then moved to Fairfield House at the Freehold, where she was registered as a baby farmer, and kept eight children, three of whom died from gastric fever in consequence of bad water.

She left Hadlow, separated from her husband, and went to Orpington, and lived in the name of Marden. In 6 1/2 years she lived in five different places in consequence of her husband moving for work. She did not think that the child was insured, unless his mother had insured him. She insured the eldest child she had now, but seeing in the papers that it was illegal she did not pay the premiums. Her average takings were 5s. per week for a child. The mother of the deceased said that she was lady's-maid, but she believed that she was a housemaid. She tried when she could not find the mother to get the deceased into Bromley Union and Dr. Barnardo's Home, but was unsuccessful. Children were taken from her when the mother got married, and other times they were taken away to destroy identity. 

By the Jury: The father of the child, who died at Orpington, paid her £10, so that at the death he did not owe her anything. Generally the children were the offspring of single girls, who could not give a reference, but the custom was to pay month in advance. 

James Mitchell said he had been married to his wife about seven years. He knew that she took in children. His wife was at Orpington about two years. He sent her certain sums while she was away. 

By the Jury : He did not think he was to say why they parted, which was by mutual consent. 

Dr. Allan of Tonbridge, said he was called in on Friday, and found the deceased child in a comatose state, and apparently dying from evidence of brain pressure. There were bruises on the cheeks and on the left arm, which he was told was caused by the child dashing itself about. On the 30th May he made a post mortem examination of the body, and found that it was fairly well nourished. There were remains of former chronic meningitis, and evidence of present meningitis, and also tubercle in the bowels. He believed that death resulted from acute meningitis, due to natural causes. The deceased was clean, and appeared to have been well attended to. A child with the disease he mentioned would be delirious, and might knock itself about or fall off a sofa. 

I.C. Weller said that when he paid a visit to the house, which the woman could not have known about, he found the other children clean and well attended to. The Coroner summed up the evidence, and the jury returned a verdict "Death from natural causes."