[The Daily News, 24. und 25. Dezember 1869]

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The Daily News. Nr. 7379, 24. Dezember 1869. S. 3.
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THE ST. PANCRAS GUARDIANS AND THE CORONER.

At a recent meeting of the St. Pancras guardians great indignation was expressed by them against Dr. Lankester, the coroner, on account of the large number of inquests he has held on persons dying in the workhouse and infirmary, and a resolution was passed that a complaint should be made to the Home Secretary on the subject. This resolution was carried out, and the following correspondence thereupon took place between Dr. Lankester and Mr. Bruce:

“Whitehall, Dec. 4, 1869.—Sir,—I am directed by the Secretary of State to transmit to you for your report thereon the enclosed letter from the Clerk to the Guardians of the Poor of the parish of St. Pancras, forwarding copies of several requisitions for inquests to be held on bodies of persons dying in the workhouse, and adding that the guardians consider that many of the inquests held have been unnecessary.—I am, sir, your obedient servant,—A. F. O. LIDDELL.—Dr. Lankester, Coroner for Middlesex, 8, Savile-row, W.”

(Enclosure.)

“2nd Dec., 1869.—Sir,—I am instructed by the guardians of the poor of the parish to inform you that they have lately had under consideration the frequency and number of the inquests which have recently been held upon the bodies of persons dying in the workhouse. In accordance with a resolution of the guardians, dated the 26th November, 1868, the medical officers of the workhouse have communicated with the clerk in every case in which they have been of opinion that an inquest was necessary. The guardians, in considering the subject, and upon an examination of these communications, are of opinion that many of the inquests held are unnecessary, and that the reasons set forth in many instances are trivial, and not of sufficient weight to warrant inquests being held. They have, therefore, instructed me to forward the accompanying copies of requisitions for your information.—(Signed)—A. J. Davies, Acting Clerk. To the Right Hon. H. A. Bruce, Esq., Secretary of State, Home Department.

The copies of requisitions forwarded, upon which the coroner ordered inquests, are ten in number. No. 1 assigns as the reason for holding an inquiry that deceased (a child) had been picked up at Gloucester-gate, Regent’s-park, in a state of starvation, and had apparently died |56 from the effects in the workhouse, seven or eight days after being found. No. 2 assigns as the reason for an inquiry that deceased died the day after his admission to the house, without the medical officer being able to ascertain how far the removal to the house occasioned his death. No. 3. That previous symptoms were not such as to indicate so rapid a death as took place. No. 4. That injuries to the side had caused death. No. 5. That death had been accelerated by injury. No. 6. That death had been accelerated by exposure and neglect. No. 7. That death had been caused by desertion and neglect. No. 8. That death was accelerated by the occupation of deceased. No. 9. That an accident accelerated death. No. 10. That deceased (a child) had pined away for want of breast-milk. In reply to the Home Secretary Dr. Lankester forwarded the following letter:

“Coroner’s-office, 23, Great Marlborough-street, W., Dec. 17, 1869.—Sir,—I am glad of the opportunity your letter gives me of answering the inquiries of the Board of Guardians. First. From the verdicts delivered in the cases transmitted to you, of which I send a list, I believe that none of the inquiries were unnecessary. Second. I do not think that any inquests held on the death of any person dying at the present time in St. Pancras Infirmary would be unnecessary on account of the obvious mismanagement of that institution. Third. I think it would be for the advantage of the poor in all our workhouses throughout the country that inquests should be held in every case of death, as it has now been demonstrated by the case of St. Pancras, that no inspection, however good, and no exercise of central authority, however able, can prevent the most gross abuses from prevailing in our workhouses. Having reported on the letter of the guardians as requested, I venture to add that the coroner is liable to indictment for refusing to hold an inquest, but that he must exercise his own discretion as to the propriety of holding it on the information laid before him, and that he is accountable only to the Lord Chancellor, and in some special cases to the Court of Queen’s Bench, and that the information from the guardians should have been addressed to either of those judicial authorities, and that in all cases not so provided, he is the sole authority in his court. I have said so much in the desire to uphold the independence of the office, and from no discourtesy to yourself, in the hope also that such complaints may be directed to the proper authorities in future.—I am, &c.,

EDWIN LANKESTER, Coroner.”

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The Daily News. Nr. 7380, 25. Dezember 1869. S. 5.
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[The Daily News, 25. Dezember 1869]

THE jury which has been inquiring into the death of the “Welsh Fasting Girl” has come to the only verdict consistent with the facts. Before the certain end had come in sight, we pointed out to those concerned that the girl would die, and that if she did die, it would be neither suicide, accidental death, nor “visitation of God”—that in short it could be nothing less than manslaughter. The evidence given at the inquest has entirely borne out all that we said upon the case. The imposture was doubly exposed—first, by the quickness with which a real fast was followed by its natural and necessary result, and secondly, by the post-mortem proofs the body presented of having been fed. The doctors declared that the child died from sheer exhaustion, and might have been saved had food and stimulants been given her the day before her death. It was proved, too, that the father and mother had distinctly refused to give food to their child—pleading an oath which they pretended to have taken two years ago never to give her food again, and keeping up to the very last the pretence that food would cause convulsions. The nurses excused their neglect to feed her by their instructions, which were simply to watch. They had not taken her out of the charge of her parents, but were merely observing how the parents discharged their trust. They were certainly witnesses of the starving to death of the child, but their plea, of [course], is that they were there as detectives engaged to expose an imposture, and not as accessories before the fact to manslaughter. They stood by in the passionless attitude of science to see what would come of it, and they saw death come of it, and did nothing to stop its coming. But why did the father and mother let the child starve? They could not have believed in her fasting powers, for during two years of pretended fast somebody had fed her. The oath the father pleaded could not have been the reason, for food had been given her in spite of it up to the very time, or within a very short period of it, when the watching began. But there are glimpses in the evidence of another motive which may have actuated them. This was the second watching the girl had undergone, and the parents probably hoped to tide through this as they had done through the first. On the first occasion four men watched for a fortnight and reported in favour of the fast, but Mr. DAVIS, surgeon, of Llandyssil, who had attended the girl, had no doubt that they were deceived. The final watch by the nurses was unfortunately, but quite naturally, arranged by Dr. FERGUSON to last for the same period, and the Rev. WILLIAM THOMAS, who had taken part in the investigation to expose what he felt sure was an imposture, believed that nothing more had been said to the father than that they wanted to watch for a fortnight. There was therefore just the possibility that the parents might see in the limitation of the time a chance of escape. If once or twice during that time they could catch the watches napping, and give the child food, as they had done before, they might tide over the watch and get a testimonial from science itself in favour of their miracle. They were never really brought face to face with the question—shall we let the child die, or shall we confess and give her food? Day by day the doctors were reporting on her condition, but as the father would not allow them to examine her, they could only judge by appearances, and did not report, so far as the nurses could hear any signs of sinking. Even on the Thursday afternoon one doctor remarked that the child seemed cheerful; and Mr. DAVIS stated in his evidence that though, on that day, the child was evidently a weaker he did not suggest food to the father “because he knew he would be offended.” Yet it was during the Thursday night, or the early hours of Friday morning, that she was so clearly dying, that the nurses ceased to watch, and gave her up to her parents. Whether the parents then offered her food or not the nurses could not say. She had gone beyond it, and was becoming delirious. Nurse Jones recommended brandy, but the mother still pleaded her oath, and neither parent made any admission of the child’s need of food. The father, indeed, professed at the inquest that had he thought, on the Thursday, that the child was sinking for want of food, he would have allowed it to be given her. It was probably too late when the watch ceased and the parents had the child in their own hands again, for she became delirious in the early hours of Friday morning, and died in the afternoon.

If this is the true explanation of the motives of the parent, it justifies the verdict of the coroner’s jury. A deliberate sacrifice of the child, in order to save their reputation and prevent discovery, would have been murder; a sacrifice which was not deliberate and intentional, but which was the result of a foolish reliance on the chapter of accidents, would be manslaughter, and the jury evidently believed that to be the case with SARAH JACOBS. The inquiry did not, of course, include the further question as to the means by which the pretence of fasting bad been so long kept up. It was shown that the girl did not wish for food, and was probably afflicted with that form of hysteria which rejects it, and even strives against it; but two facts came out which to say the least, are significant. ANN JONES, one of the nurses, said that one day the little girl asked Nurse CLENCH to give her some scent, and a bottle containing eau de cologne was given to her. The bottle disappeared, and both the nurses searched the bed for it but failed to find it. When she was put back in bed her father found it at once. On the previous day of the inquiry some facts had been mentioned which are suggestive in connection with this statement. The father had always resisted the desire of the doctors to examine the child’s person, and when, after her death, the examination took place, there was found, according to the evidence of Mr. PHILIPPS, the surgeon, “a hollow, under the left arm, sufficient to conceal a half-pint bottle.” Beyond these suggestive statements no light has been thrown on the method of the imposture. All that the committees have done is to prove what every rational being knew before, that the pretense of fasting was a sham. Is it, though, altogether creditable to the age that a committee of gentlemen, some London doctors and nurses, the starving of a girl to death; and a coroner’s inquest resulting in a verdict of manslaughter, should be required to prove that it was not possible to live without eating? We said, at the first, that even an inquiry into the possibility of the thing was superstition and not science. Such an inquiry is only possible in an age which, half skeptical and half credulous, shows at once its skepticism and its credulity by assuming that nothing has been proven, and that all questions are open questions. The experience of mankind in all ages has been that food is the condition of life, yet no sooner do some ignorant people in Wales set up a pretense of disproving the universal experience, than it is regarded as a subject for inquiry. There are certain pretentions which, on the face of them, are false, and the pretension to dispense with the regular order of nature is one of them. Ridicule, reprobation, in some cases even punishment, are the fit reply to such claims; audience, investigation, inquiry are out of place respecting them. The investigators into this case of the Welsh Fasting |57 Girl are a warning to the credulous public; the coroner’s jury, in sending Mr. EVAN JACOBS for trial on a charge of manslaughter, have taught a lesson to those who minister to its credulity. It is quite possible for people to make fools of themselves in the name of scientific inquiry, and very probable that supernatural pretensions may end in crime and punishment.

Inhalt:

  • Social cases. 1869