What follows is the story of a disturbing, sad and untimely death of a ten day old baby at the Carmarthen Workhouse in 1846. Over two years later Hannah’s sister also died in her infancy – aged 10 months old, again in the Carmarthen Workhouse. The conditions alluded to of the sick ward during this time, at the end of this report are also of great concern though unsurprising. Readers will know by now that the Workhouse itself fell under the Parish of St David’s Carmarthen at this time and therefore most burials took place here at St David’s Cemetery, often at an alarming rate. In some ways I consider myself not only as Chairman of this charity but also as Curator of an “outdoor museum”, the exhibits being the memorials to those who are interred here. There are many memorials of course that no longer exist, but that does not mean that their stories cannot also be told, even those like Hannah whose life was ended all too soon after just ten days…..their stories also need to be told however harrowing the facts may be. May she rest in peace.
ALLEGED INFANTICIDE. – On Tuesday morning, considerable excitement prevailed in this town in consequence of a rumour which was extensively circulated, that a child had been murdered in the Union Workhouse, and that suspicion was attached to the mother as being the unnatural perpetrator of the horrid deed. E. H. Stacey, Esq., the Vice Chairman of the Board of Guardians, deeming it proper to arrest these idle rumours, requested Geo. Thomas, Esq., coroner, to hold an inquest upon the body of the deceased infant, whose name was Hannah Marks, aged 10 days, an illegitimate daughter of Phoebe Marks, a pauper confined in the Workhouse. Accordingly the coroner and a respectable jury (Mr. Job Jones, Foreman), met at the Workhouse at half past 2 o’clock, and having viewed the child’s body, which appeared very much emaciated and was marked with considerable lividity or echymosis, proceeded to hear evidence touching the cause of death. From the evidence of Hester Joseph, nurse to the sick ward, it appeared that the child was born on Saturday week and that it was from the first extremely sickly, but improved considerably up to Monday night. The mother received every attention during her confinement, although she frequently complained that she had not half enough to eat. She never showed much attention to her child and several times said that it would be a good thing if it was dead, and she should be glad if it was so. In consequence of what she said, Mrs. Johns, the matron, was fearful that the infant was deprived of its proper nourishment, and on Monday night the nurse fed the child, as on previous occasions she had detected the mother eating the food which was provided for her child. About 5 o’clock on Tuesday morning the nurse was awoke by Phoebe Marks calling her, and telling her she was afraid the child was dead, as it was quite cold. Upon taking it from her arms the nurse found the child quite dead, and blood oozing from its mouth and nose. She accused the mother of having done something to injure the child, or of having lain upon it, but this was strenuously denied. There were black marks behind the child’s ears. There was no blood on the bed clothes. Mr. Williams, surgeon to the Union Workhouse, deposed that he was present at the child’s birth. It was a small child, but had much improved on Monday evening. The mother did not suckle the child as she ought to have done and upon his reproaching her for her cruelty, she told him he might take the child himself if he liked. The umbilical cord was twisted round the child’s neck when it was born and he severed it. No injury, however, resulted to the child, nor was any mark left on its neck.
He had examined the body that day and found some livid marks about the ears and the posterior part of the head. He thought the marks were caused by pressure which had stopped the respiration. He was decidedly of opinion the mother had overlain the child, and it had thus been suffocated. After some further evidence, the Coroner addressed the jury, and begged them not to jump to a hasty conclusion, but to weigh well the evidence in their minds. He then explained the law of the case to the jury and having commented at great length upon the evidence adduced, left three verdicts for their choice. If they thought the mother had designedly been accessory to the death of the child, their verdict must be “willful murder,” but there was no evidence to support that verdict. If they thought with Mr Williams, the surgeon, that the mother had over-laid the child, their verdict must be “accidental death,” but if otherwise their verdict would be “natural death.” Having consulted together for about five minutes, the jury returned a verdict of “Natural death.” The Coroner very properly remarked upon the unwholesome stench prevailing in the sick ward, and said that no person ought properly to be allowed to remain in a room where the atmosphere was in such a polluted state. He could not remain in such a room for any length of time. “We can bear testimony to the dreadful smell emitted from the room, which every one of the jury also observed, as well as the Vice Chairman of the Board. It is to be hoped the Guardians will lose no time in securing ventilation for the sick ward”
(THE WELSHMAN, DECEMBER 1846)
There is one “twist however to this story which doesn’t end there……over TWO YEARS LATER after the mysterious death of her baby daughter in 1846, another illegitimate baby girl by the name of Hannah Marks was also buried in St David’s Cemetery on February 16th 1849 aged ten months.
The mother being the same Phoebe Marks and the same place of death – the Workhouse. No record exists of any inquest on the death of this infant unlike her sister two years earlier. Clearly, even being “confined” to the Workhouse in the female wing of the building and suffering the deprivations therein, was not enough to stop this lady from becoming pregnant again which in itself throws up even more questions on how the Workhouse was managed during this period.
What Happened to Phoebe Marks herself we will never know. There is only one entry that matches her name and date of birth in all available records and it relates to the death of a Phoebe Marks in the Parish of Beddington in the County of Surrey in January 1904 aged 77. I would like to think that this is her and her end was a peaceful one.