A rather gruesome concealed pregnancy at #Sticklepath for #OnePlaceTragedies

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.

Coroners court often met at the local public house, as here. Chapman postcard.

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.  

Precious Papers

How old are the most ancient baptism certificates you possess?

I have two certified copies of baptisms, one baptism was in 1818 and the other in 1786. So what you say – we can all order certified copies. These however were written in 1882 and 1851 respectively. Why I wonder might they have needed them?

John Huxtable my 3x Gt Grandfather was baptised on 26 March 1786 in Bondleigh, the son of John and Mary (?W) Huxtable, certified copy of the register entry written out by Geo Stone Rector of Bondleigh 1 June 1851.

It seems very likely this was to prove his age in order to claim his pension. That was 5 shillings for a single person or 7 shillings for a married couple.

The certified copy baptism certificate for his daughter Kezia Ellis Huxtable born 18 Oct 1818, daughter of John and Kezia Huxtable, and older sister of my 2x Gt Grandmother Eliza Ching was written out in 1882. I would suspect this was also acquired in order to prove she was above pensionable age.

Note the one penny stamp given in payment to validate it, signed by the rector Edw R Theed. He clearly took considerable care to draw the pencil lines with his ruler to keep it neat! He gives the page number (17) and the entry number (129).

I suspect it was the third Kezia, Kezia Huxtable Ching, Eliza’s daughter who carefully preserved and passed them on.

What is the oldest original (or almost original) baptism certificate you have in your possession?

Please note I would love to see family trees and copies of any certificates or documents relating to anyone who has ever been a Sticklepath resident. Certificates are very helpful for constructing and proving family connections, and looking at prevailing causes of death.