The Western Times – Tuesday 15 November 1904 reported a ‘STICKLEPATH SENSATION’. (Complete transcript, photo not from the paper).
Supposed Case of Concealment of Birth.
Mr. Prickman (coroner) held an inquest, at Sticklepath, on Saturday, relative to the finding of dead body the day before. Mr. Thomas White, gardener, deposed that on Friday he discovered the body of a female infant, wrapped in a piece of rag, and placed just beneath the grass behind a tombstone, about 16 feet from the entrance gate of the Cemetery. He communicated with P.C. Berry, who removed the remains to the Taw River Hotel.
Dr. Davies, of Okehampton, said he had made a post-mortem examination of the body, which was in a bad state of decomposition. The child was fully developed, 20 ½ inches length. It was not born alive. There was no external marks of violence about the body, and no bones were broken, but there was evidence of general inattention at birth. The lungs had not been inflated.
The child had evidently been born more than three weeks, and certainly under two months. The Coroner said, under the circumstances, the jury could not return a verdict, but they could make a memorandum to the effect that The body which the jury had viewed that of a female child, born not more than two months, and not less than three weeks since.” Mr. A. G. Finch was the foreman of the jury.
Comments – Pregnancies can be denied or perhaps some women are not aware of their pregnancy (about 1 in 400 women are said to be 5 months pregnant before they realise). I have certainly seen a young teenager who concealed their pregnancy and presented in A&E with ‘abdominal pains’ shortly before giving birth.
The pregnancy in 1904 must have been concealed and then when the child was born dead, the birth was concealed. It seems most likely that this would be an unmarried mother, a married woman whose husband had been away or possibly the result of rape or incest. The mother could seek no advice or help. The Offences against the Person Act 1861 meant that every person involved in the endeavour to conceal a birth, regardless of whether the baby was still born or died later, was guilty of a Misdemeanour and could be given a prison sentence of up to two years with hard labour.
The contraceptive pill first became available, to married women only, on the NHS in 1961.