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Last evening Dr. Lankester, the coroner for Central Middlesex, delivered a lecture on this subject to a large audience, in the Free-mason’s-hall, over which Mr. Charles Reed, M.P., presided, in the absence of the Earl of Shaftesbury, who was detained in the House of Lords by the debate on the Life Peerages Bill. Dr. Lankester, after a scriptural and historical retrospect, proceeded to deal with the question as it addressed itself to the Christian world, and bore upon the wellbeing of society in modern times. Infanticide he defined to be the destruction or murder of a new-born child, but under another name the law also took cognizance of the destruction of a child before-it was born. He proposed to deal with the former of those crimes, and to draw upon his own experience for his facts, thus following in the footsteps of the late Mr. Wakley, who, like himself, had been wrongly accused of exaggeration while treating of this matter. In 1863 there were 55 cases of infanticide in his district; in 1864, 56; in 1865, 61; in 1866, 75; in 1867, 53; and in 1868, 52; but in too many instances he had discovered a tendency to return open verdicts of found dead or “still-born.” According to the judicial statistics of the Home-office the ratio of the crime for the whole of England was 1 in 170,000 of the population, and in Middlesex 1 in 20,000, while for the central and western districts it was 1 in 12,000, confirming him in the opinion that the crime was mainly confined to the domestic servants of the West-end. Indeed, on an average of five years the return for Clerkenwell was 1 in 30,000; St. Pancras, 1 in 20,000; Marylebone, 1 in 10,000; Paddington, 1 in 8,000; and Islington, 1 in 6,000. Having shown that the mother was generally alone in the murder and disposal of her child, Dr. Lankester went on to assert that the verdicts returned afforded no indication of the actual number of cases. He believed Mr. Wakley was right in fixing it at 300 a year, and as the murderess was generally twenty years of age, and seldom repeated her crime, taking the average life of women at 60, it followed that there were 12,000 women living who had committed the offence. He next glanced at the deaths occasioned amongst mothers and the effects of “baby farming,” observing that half the children upon whom he held inquests were illegitimate, and that from 40 to 80 per cent. of children admitted into foundling hospitals die within the first year, and concluded by stating his cure for the evil, which was to be worked through the pulpit, an alteration of the bastardy laws, as not more than one in 70 of the fathers contributed to the support of the child, the substitution of other than the capital punishment for the crime, a certified registration of births, as in Ireland and Scotland, and of still-born, as on the continent, and the enactment of punishments for the concealment of pregnancy.


  • Social cases. 1869