Thomas Newman – Singular Infant Mortality

Thomas Newman - Singular Infant Mortality

The Bedfordshire Times and Independent, Saturday 17 April 1880 [p. 6] reported as follows:

‘On Monday afternoon the borough coroner (Dr. Prior) held an enquiry at the Angel Inn, Cauldwell-street, Bedford, into the circumstances attending the death of Thomas Newman, the infant son of Thomas and Mary Newman of Bridewell-yard, St. Mary’s.

‘The coroner explained to the jury (Mr. Richards foreman) that the sudden death of this infant came to the knowledge of the police. From enquiries that had since been made it appeared that this was a legitimate child, but there had been a singular mortality in the same family, and therefore he considered it right that an inquest should be held. The following evidence was then taken:-

‘Mary Ann Richardson, living in Bridewell-Yard (see image above), wife of Benjamin Richardson, labourer, deposed that the body viewed by the Jury was that of Thomas Newman, son of Thomas Newman, a labourer. Witness lived next door to Mr. Newman. She had known deceased about six weeks, since she resided in the yard, and had seen him frequently. It was a thin delicate child. There had not been much alteration in him since. He was always wrapped up and cared for. The child looked as if he were going in a consumption. He had had no medical attendance that she knew of. Saturday morning witness noticed an alteration. On Sunday morning at four o’clock, the mother called witness up. She went into Mr. Newman’s house, when Mrs. Newman said, “I think my baby is worse.” Witness took the child from her and kept it in her arms until it died. Its breathing was very bad when she took it. The child got gradually worse, and died about 20 minutes past five. It had the whooping cough and went off in a fit of coughing. The Newmans had two other children living. Dr. Johnson attended Mrs. Newman at her confinement. She knew nothing of the family previous to her residence in Bridewell-yard.

‘Mary Newman, mother of the deceased, deposed that herself and her husband had lived in Bridewell-yard about four years. They came from Biggleswade to Bedford. She had had 12 children altogether, two of whom were now living. Two or three of them were still born and some only lived two or three days. The last who died was 9 months old all but a week. No inquest had ever been held on any of her children before. She had had a medical certificate in every case except the present. Deceased was born 10 weeks last Sunday morning. When born it appeared to be a beautiful baby. At the end of five weeks the cough came upon him and he turned black in the face several times and vomited blood. A week last Sunday she sent her daughter for Mr. Johnson. Witness received a message that he could not come, because she had not paid him. She made no other attempt to obtain medical assistance. Mr. Peer, the relieving officer, had several times refused her husband medical assistance when he made application for it. On Sunday morning, about 4 o’clock deceased was taken with a fit of coughing. There was no change until this time. Witness did not like the look of her child and called in her next-door neighbour, Mrs. Richardson, who held the baby until it died, that was say in about one hour and 20 minutes. In reply to the foreman witness said the child had had no medicine whatever. She had given it some Spanish Liquorice, which was boiled with some clover-hay, as the doctor advised her. She gave the child some milk sop.

‘In reply to the coroner witness said she had had three children born in Bedford. They were all dead. Before this child, the two children were attended by Dr. Goldsmith, one died when it was about 10 weeks old, the other was 9 months old when it died. Dr. Goldsmith gave her the certificate for the child who died at 9 months. She forgot what the disease was that this child died from. In the second case, of the child before the present, Dr. Goldsmith gave a certificate which was to the effect that the child died from ulcerated bowels.

‘Dr. C. G. Johnson, Harpur-street, deposed that in December of last year he was engaged to attend Mrs. Newman in what he understood to be her third confinement. He was told distinctly that this was the third child and produced a memoranda book in which this was recorded. Deceased was a healthy child when born and did well until he left them in about 12 days. Shortly after this he was called to see the husband who was suffering from bronchitis and when attending him the mother told witness that the child was not well. There were two other children in the house that had whooping cough; he heard them coughing. He visited the man two or three times and told them if they wanted any future attendance they must enter the dispensary. Since then he had heard nothing of the family and had not since seen deceased until this afternoon. He had made an external examination of the deceased and found no marks upon the body. The child was considerably thinner than when born but not more than would be due to whooping cough. He would not term it emaciated. The appearances were not inconsistent with death from whooping cough. It was correct that he ordered boiled clover for deceased about six weeks since as a kind of domestic remedy.

‘The mother recalled, said the two children in the house were not hers but Mrs. Cox’s. Her son was in the Militia Band and her daughter lived at home with her.

‘The coroner having reviewed the evidence the jury returned a verdict of “Death from Natural Causes.”’

Ten dead children in one family is tragic; little or no medical attention, and nothing more than a ‘domestic remedy’ suggested by the doctor. Whooping cough, bronchitis, ulcerated bowels and who knows what else. Poverty played a large part in this dreadful outcome, with parents struggling to exist and in no way able to support twelve children. Impoverished living conditions as the picture of Bridewell-yard illustrates, condemned the occupants to poor health. Boiled clover for a dying infant, Spanish Liquorice, milk sop and a miserable wait for nature to take its cruel course. Such children had no chance of a life.



Copyright: Brenda Fraser-Newstead
22nd November 2019


The Bedfordshire Times and Independent, Saturday 17 April 1880 [p.6]

Burial ref: 41-G9, Burial Register 8 page 19 entry 92
Date of burial 16 April 1880. Age 10 months.


Maurice Nicholson

The Writer thanks Colin Woolf and Maurice Nicholson for their assistance.