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.  

Double #OnePlaceTragedies

Our saga of Thomas Finch and family continues. Last week we heard about the Coroner’s case when Victor Thomas Finch drowned aged 22 months. Happier times followed when Gladys Lena was born in 1897 and then Leslie George in 1900.

Sadly the newspapers tell of further tragic circumstances 10 years later.

The Western Times on Friday 25 November 1910 reported:

The British Library Board accessed via British Newspapers Archive online February 2021

It paints a touching picture of the relationship with his sister. So many wreaths for a small coffin. I need to investigate further, as, for example, I don’t know who was at Walnut Road, Chester or Friendship but these appear to be important, as they are listed first.

Such reports are ideal for genealogists, with many FANs named. (The FAN Club abbreviation was developed by Elizabeth Shown Mills, a highly respected genealogist and relates to cluster research. When investigating an ancestor, their FANs or Friends, Neighbours and Associates can tell us a great deal about their situation, social status, occupation etc. ).

The brief Western Times report of a week earlier – Friday 18 November 1910, written before the funeral, adds a different slant:

Clearly Thomas and Annie had been very caring parents, but this hints at the ‘delicate’ nature of Leslie. Taken together with the photograph I suggest Leslie had Down’s Syndrome.

Leslie and Lena Finch

In 1866 Dr John Langdon Down first identified a group of patients with certain characteristics. In 1959, it was discovered that it is a genetic condition due to an extra chromosome (Trisomy 21). It wasn’t until 1965 that the World Health Organisation adopted the term Down’s syndrome. I don’t know when the term came into common usage or if the syndrome would have been recognised by a village GP in 1900 – 1910.

Leslie had been poorly for some time and his death certificate shows he died of consumption, which is TB or tuberculosis. Three generations of the family at least were affected by this disease. This is an image from the memorial card:

The two brothers, Victor Thomas and Leslie George Finch, are buried in the same grave in Sticklepath with their memorials on either side of the short stone.

Move the arrow side to side to see front and back of the gravestone.

The 1911 census states the facts as cold statistics. Three children born alive, two who have died. One still living. Childhood deaths were still fairly common.  Daughter Gladys aged 14 continues at school.  Annie Standlake domestic servant has been with the family for over 10 years.  

England & Wales Census 1911 accessed through Ancestry
. . . . . . . . . . . . . Gladys Lena Finch

We finish on a happier note –

Gladys survived and later married William Gater Heard and had children.  John Heard, a very tall man in shorts and sandals, came to visit us in Sticklepath when I was young. He brought a family tree he had been working on for us to see.

Western Times – Wednesday 25 May 1921

HEARD – FINCH On May 24th at the Parish Church South Tawton, by the vicar (Rev E.F.Ball). William Gater Heard, eldest son of Mrs W.J. Heard, Exmouth to Gladys Lena, only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. T. Finch, Sticklepath, Okehampton.

Annie and Thomas Finch on the beach with the Heard Family – Gladys and William, and their grandchildren.

Looking at this photo you can see why Thomas was invited to be Father Christmas for the WI party each year!

The Toddler’s Tale #OnePlaceTragedies in #Sticklepath

Sticklepath’s leat provided water power to run the mills. Primula House, seen here in the top right corner of the photograph marks the place where the leat moves from behind the houses to the front gardens. Shortly afterwards the water re-joins the Taw River at Sticklepath Bridge. Jessie Barron, nee Finch, is seen here next to the leat in her lovely sunny garden. It looks idyllic. However, several tragedies are associated with this waterway.

Explore the lives of Jessie’s Uncle, Thomas Finch and his family, to discover their tragic story for yourself, using the census and registry office information (birth marriage and death), a newspaper article and some memorial cards.  

Researching family history is exciting as we discover records, imagine celebrations and solve mysteries. However it can be frustrating when we can’t find answers, and surviving records often relate to deaths and tragedies. Then our hearts go out to those involved.

Thomas Seacombe Finch was born in 1866 when his brother James was 10, Susan was 6, Jessie (not the one above) was 5 and Albany was 3.  In 1871 we find them with their parents George and Rebecca Finch in Primula House.  This timeline follows events in their lives:

1872 sister Naomi was born

1881 Census – Thomas age 15 is living in Primula House with his parents

1885 father George died

1886 sister Jessie died

1891 Census – Thomas is still living in Primula House

George Finch, aged only 50, took ill fairly suddenly and died.  The family understood he had toothache, the doctor prescribed opium, and he died seemingly of an overdose.  The death certificate tells a different story, which need not concern us here.  Even today, with all our scientific advances there are often inconsistencies and unanswered questions surrounding a death.  Were people more accepting in the past?  I wonder. 

Ten months later Jessie died of tuberculosis. TB was a common cause of death in young adults at the time.  Often people became pale, weak and lost weight, giving it the name ‘consumption’.  Coughing up blood was often a late sign of pulmonary TB.  There was no cure.

Happier days followed.  I have no idea how Thomas met Essex girl Annie but the timeline continues with a marriage certificate, and the birth of a son:

1893 January Thomas Seacombe Finch married Annie Lena Locking in Essex 

1893 December Victor Thomas Finch was born

Victor was healthy, growing well, starting to walk and watch the other children around him with interest. Just when things were going well, totally out of the blue, tragedy struck.  2 months before his 2nd birthday Victor died.

An unexpected death means a coroner’s inquest.  These were often held in the local pub.  Coroner’s records often do not survive or are not accessible, but the newspaper reports are fairly detailed.  The Western Times of Friday 25th October 1895 (accessed from http://britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk January 2021) tells us:

Child Drowned at Sticklepath

Mr Coroner Prickman held an inquest at the Taw River Hotel, Sticklepath, on Wednesday, on the body of Victor Finch, aged one year and ten months, who was drowned in the Taw River on Monday.  Mary Ann Cooper, of South Zeal, said she saw the deceased playing with some other children in the garden adjoining the mill leat.  The water in the leat is about a foot deep and the bank about five feet high.  Thomas Finch, blacksmith, of Stickelpath, said the deceased was his only child.  He went into the garden to fetch his child to dinner, and found him lying in the river quite dead.  The other children who were playing with the deceased were too young to give evidence. Dr Middlemist, of Okehamptnn, said he considered the child was stunned by the fall.  Accidental drowning was the verdict.  (Transcription includes spelling errors as printed).

Reflecting on the story, shows how times have changed.  A group of young children, of different parents, would not be left completely unsupervised in a garden, especially not with an unguarded 5 foot drop and a stream running through.  Even the smallest ponds tend to be covered or filled in.  No hint of blame or reprimand was mentioned. I wonder how much shame or guilt would have been felt?  On the other hand, perhaps our children lose something by not being allowed to play freely outside, albeit in a safer environment.

“The only and Dearly-loved Child of Thomas and Annie Finch” – their grief is almost palpable.

This newspaper gave a relatively sanitised version of the story.  Another paper clarifies that the body was indeed found in the river, not the leat, having presumably been swept along by the water almost to the bridge. We can picture the rising panic, hunting for the toddler, before the dreadful truth is discovered. Very distressing. 

A couple of years later, happier times follow:

1897 daughter Gladys Lena Finch born 

1900  son Leslie George Finch born

1901 census Thomas, who describes himself as a farmer, is living with family, a domestic servant aged 17 and brother-in-law Stephen Locking is staying. 

(You could only put one occupation on the 1901 census. Thomas was one of the three Finch Brothers running the Finch Foundry or smithy at the time, but he took the lead for the farming aspects).

COMING SOON: Tragedy strikes this same family again.  Part 2 next week!

#OnePlaceStudies Society provides blog prompts for each month during 2021. You don’t have to be a Society member or have a registered One Place study to join in. Everyone is invited. February’s prompt is #OnePlaceTragedies. Further details at https://www.one-place-studies.org/resources/blogging-prompts/