Home Crime Murder Murder of a Child At Darfield

Murder of a Child At Darfield

June 1849

Sheffield Independent – Saturday 23 June 1849

Murder of a Child At Darfield.

On Thursday last, a highly respectable jury of farmers and yeomen assembled at the house of Mr. Parkin, constable and farmer, Darfield, to investigate the facts of a case which involved a charge against a young woman, named Emma Mellor, of having murdered her illegitimate child, and concealed its birth. The girl Mellor is about 21 years of age, and resides with her father, a respect- able but poor old man, at Darfield. She was put out to service, where she remained until about two years ago, when she had an illegitimate child. Since then, she and the child, and also a brother two years older than herself, of very indolent habits, had lived with her father, and had been maintained out of the pittance allowed the old man by the parish, and what the girl could earn by working in the fields.

For some months past, it had been suspected that the girl Mellor was again enceinte; but to every person who charged her with it, she denied in the most positive manner that such was the case. On Friday morning, however, the neighbours became satisfied from her altered appearance, and the fact that the cries of an infant had been heard in the privy when she was there, that she had been delivered of a child, and the constable was sent for. The girl, however, to him, as well as the neighbours, and also to Mr. Jackson, surgeon, who was called in by Mr. Parkin, constable, to examine her, denied the imputation. Mr. Jackson, however, was satisfied that she was not speaking the truth, and the result was, that on Monday morning, the suspicions were confirmed, by the body of a male child being found concealed in the chaff of a bed. This bed had been twice examined by a constable, named Cooper, who, however, performed his task with such carelessness, that the body of the child, though in the bed at the time, was not found by him. The following is the evidence taken before the Jury :—

John Mellor, the father, deposed that he had for several months suspected that his daughter was in the family way, but whenever he named it to her she denied it. Last Friday morning he got up about half-past five, and found her up and dressed. She accounted for her early rising by saying that she was rather unwell in her bowels. She went to the privy several times, and at intervals remained there a length of time. She declined giving him any further explanation, and after the lapse of two or three hours he was obliged to leave home to go off to Masbro’ by train, so he desired Mary Ann Barratt, a young woman who lived close at hand, to look after his daughter, and induce her to come out of the privy. He returned home at nine in the evening, and then noticed that his daughter was reduced in size. He told her she had been delivered of a child during his absence, but she met the charge with a denial.

Mary Ann Barrett, of Darfield, single-woman, stated, that between seven and eight o’clock on Friday morning last, John Mellor, the father of the prisoner, came to her, and in consequence of what he said, she went to the privy in his garden. When she got near, the prisoner called from the inside, and asked who was there ? She replied, “It’s only me, Emma.” The prisoner said, “You must go back, I can’t open the door.” She went nearer to the door, and hearing cries, as of a new-born child, said, “Emma, you are doing something wrong.” The prisoner replied, “I am not; don’t you go and set that tale ‘ agate.’ “She went to the house of Amos Ibbotson, but finding the door fastened, returned to the privy. There was no one in; but there were marks of blood on the seat and floor. She went to the prisoner, and had some conversation with her, in the course of which she made a statement to account for the appearances in the privy. She denied that she had had a child. Witness had challenged her repeatedly with being in the family way, but she always denied it, and said she was suffering from dropsy.

Hannah, wife of Joseph Dyson, labourer, proved that she had lately worked in the fields with the prisoner, and heard her frequently deny that she was in the family way. On Friday morning, she came to witness’s house, to excuse herself from going to work, as she was ill.

Mr. George Parkin, of Millhouses, Darfield, constable, proved, that on several occasions lately he had noticed the appearance of the prisoner, and being of opinion that she was in the family way, had frequently made enquiries concerning her. On Friday morning, about half-past nine, from some information, he went to her father’s house. The door was fastened, and he called, “Emma, open the door.” Receiving no answer, and observing that the key was in the lock, he repeated the call. The prisoner then called out, “Is that Mr. Parkin?” He replied that it was, and asked her to open the door, and admit two women he had brought with him. He also asked if she was dressed, and she replied, “Yes, nothing is the matter with me.” When the door was opened, the two women went in. They remained some time; and in consequence of what they said, he went into the house. There is only one room, which served both for day and sleeping room for the prisoner, her brother, and her father. He saw a quantity of blood on the floor, near the bed, and told the prisoner he was afraid something wrong was going off, and if his suspicions were true, she had better not conceal it, as that would be a serious thing, but allow him at once to send for a doctor. She denied most positively that she had had a child; but being satisfied, from the alteration in her appearance, that this was untrue, he sent a note to Messrs. Theaxton and Jackson. Mr. Jackson came in the afternoon, and from his statement, Cooper, another constable, searched the bed in the room, but said that he could find nothing. Witness told him that he had not searched the bed well, and he felt about the bed again, but with the same result. He watched the house day and night after this, suspecting that the body of the child was secreted in it, and might be removed. On Monday, he went again to the house, and in the bed which Cooper had previously pretended to search, he found the body of a male child. When he went into the house, he told the prisoner that he was not satisfied with Cooper’s searching, and had come to examine the house again. She said— “You may search and welcome, but you’ll find nothing.” On examining the bed- tick, he found that a hole eight or ten inches long had been recently cut, and sewed up again. He opened this, and on feeling among the chaff, found the body of the child. The prisoner, on seeing that he had found the body, burst into tears, and said—” Oh, Mr. Parkin, don’t say anything about it.” She afterwards told him that it was dead when horn. He removed the prisoner and the body of the child to his house.

Mrs. Mary Parkin, wife of the last witness, proved that on Monday, her husband left the prisoner with her and her servant, while he went to the Coroner to acquaint him with the case. The witness detailed a statement made to her by the prisoner, to the effect that she was seized with pain in the privy, and the child was born in a few minutes afterwards. She accidentally trode upon it when it was upon the floor, and when she took it up, it was dead.

Rachel Holmes proved the prisoner having made a similar statement to her, adding in the most positive manner, that she had done nothing to hurt the child.

Jane Burrows, servant to Mr. Green, of Barnsley, farmer and constable, proved that the prisoner was brought into custody to her master’s house on Monday, and was placed under the care of Mr. Jackson, surgeon. When she went to bed, the prisoner asked if that other girl (meaning a young woman who was charged with concealing the birth of her child at Ryhill,) was there? and on being told she was, made a statement to the effect that her (prisoners) was born in the privy, but did not live five minutes. As soon as she could, she took it in the house and laid it on the bed. While it was there, Mr Parkin the constable, came inside the house, but went away without having seen it. She then thought that as he not seen it, she would put it inside the bed-tick among the chaff. Cooper, another constable, afterwards came and having searched the bed without finding it, she had intended then to take it out at night, and bury it in the church yard.

Amos Mellor, the brother of the prisoner, proved that on Monday morning, about eight o’clock, he was in bed with a young man named Wm. Lockwood, and felt something hard at the foot of the bed. In consequence of the reports he had heard in the neighbourhood, it popped into his head that it was the body of a child which his sister had concealed there. He and Lockwood got up and dressed. His sister was in the room, and when he told her what he had felt in the bed, she said it was her child. Witness communication this to his father ; and Mr. Parkin, the constable came a few minutes after, and took the body way.

‘Mr. F. G. Jackson, of the firm of Theaxton and Jackson, Barnsley, surgeons, proved that on Tuesday afternoon he was called in to see Emma Miller. In reply to his question, she denied most positively the rumours which were spread in the neighbourhood, and at once submitted to be examined. The result of that examination was that all the usual symptoms were found of her having been recently delivered. He told her his conviction and advise that the best course would he for her to confess the fact at once. She still stoutly denied that she had had a child and said that the fact of her having an illegitimate child which was then two or three years old shewed that she could have no desire to conceal such a circumstance. On Monday, after the body of the child had been found he made a post mortem examination. The general appearance indicated that it had arrived at its full growth. The body was clean, except that it was covered in several places with chaff, which, when washed off, discovered discovered marks of violence about the face and neck. Around the mouth and nose there were distinct and well marked a ecchymosis companied by abrasions of the skin, while, on the left side of the neck, immediately beneath the angle of the jaw, was another ecchymosis, corresponding in size to the impression of an adult thumb ; and on the left side of the neck there was a longitudinal grazing or scratch, as if made by the nails of a person’s finger. These appearances were not the result of the putrifactive process, from which the body was perfectly free, nor from their severity and situation could they have been caused by accident. With the exceptions named, the whole surface of the body was natural in aspect, and seemed quite healthy. From the appearances presented, he considered the child had been born three or four days previous to his examination, The capacity of the chest was such as is usually observed in infants who have respired, being elongated and expanded. He had no doubt, from die particular examination he had made of the body, and from the appearances it exhibited on that examination, that it was born alive, and that the cause of death was suffocation, produced by forcible closure of the mouth and nose, and wilful pressure on the throat, and not from accidental circumstances during labour. The marks about the mouth, nose, and throat could not have been produced by the prisoner accidentally treading upon the child, as she had stated to Mrs. Parkin.

Emma Mellor (the prisoner,) having been cautioned in the usual form, made a voluntary statement in reference to the affair, which was only a repetition of what she had said to Mrs. Parkin and to Jane Burrows. She declared she had done nothing wilfully to hurt the child, and that she had accidentally set her foot upon it when about to take it from the floor. She added that the evidence of all the witnesses was true, except that of Hannah Dyson.

When the examination of the witnesses was concluded the Coroner asked the father of the prisoner why, in defiance of all sense of morality, he and his daughter had been sleeping together in one bed, while his son and another young man slept in another bed close by the side of his? The old man, who appeared greatly distressed, said it was poverty alone which had compelled them to live in that way. He formerly kept a school at Darfield, but, from an attack of paralysis, was obliged to give it up, and he had now for a long time been a burden to the parish. He had looked forward to his children doing something towards maintaining him, but their conduct had not been what was right . The house which he lived in belonged the parish, and consisted only of one room. All he could have done to mend their mode of sleeping together, would have been to have got another bed. But it was because he had felt that he had been so long a burden to the parish when he ought not, if his son had been industrious, that he could not, from shame, ask anything more from the overseers. So strongly was he influenced by this feeling, that when, about a year ago, in consequence of the high price of bread, the parish officers offered him, along with others who were receiving relief, an extra sixpence a week, he refused it.

One of the jurymen, whom the old man appealed to, bore his testimony to the truth of this statement.

The Coroner then addressed the Jury, and alluded in detail to the points upon which they would have to be satisfied. Of the fact that the girl had been delivered of a child they could have no doubt after her own statement though she had up to the last moment of the body being found denied it, and declared most positively to every person who had questioned her upon the subject, that she had not been enceinte. The questions for them to consider were, whether the child was born alive and the mode of its death. Upon the first point he referred them to the evidence of the girl Barrett, who heard cries in the privy, and to the statements made by the prisoner to other witnesses since she had been in custody. If the prisoner’s statement of having been suddenly seized while in the privy was true, she ought, instead of making the denial she did to the witness Barrett, to have called her in to her aid. Had she done so, and her statement of the manner of the child’s death was true, she would now have been in a very different position. It was his duty, however, to tell the Jury, that if they were of opinion that the child was born alive, and came to its death in the manner stated by the surgeon, they had no alternative but to find a verdict upon that of wilful murder. If on the other hand, they should think — and at these critical times great allowance ought to be made for females — that those marks on the child’s mouth, nose, and neck, which shewed that from pressure applied there the child had been suffocated, were made by the prisoner in endeavouring to deliver herself, their verdict against the prisoner would be for concealment of the birth only.

The Jury, after consulting together a short time, returned a verdict of Wilful Murder against the prisoner, and the Coroner committed her to York, to take her trial at the next Assizes.