Murder of a 3 year old boy in 1851

This story comes from the Northampton Mercury of Saturday, August 2nd. 1851, and tells a rather tragic tale of Sarah Irons, who, if this report is to be believed, drowned her own three year old son. The drowned body of the boy was found in the canal on the west side, just beside the Surgeon’s house. This is now where the Secret Garden is. The body was left at the Radcliffe Arms over the bridge on the other side of the canal. This was more-or-less where the Park entrance used to be.
Sarah Irons doesn’t appear in the 1851 census in Wolverton, but a 23 year-old of that name was working as a cook in Stanmore. Her son does not show at this address but may have been deposited with relatives. Fromthe reports below it does appear that she presented herself for these jobs as a single woman and had obviously arranged for her son to be lodged elsewhere. This stratagem fell apart when the woman who was caring for the boy presented him on the doorstep of Mr. Rogers’ house saying that she could not keep him any longer. The Sarah Irons of Stanmore  could be the same woman.

Wolverton.— Alleged Murder.—On Monday last, Sarah Irons, a single woman, was brought in custody of Superintendent Driscoll, at the Magistrates’ Clerk’s office, Newport Pagnel, on the charge of murdering her illegitimate child, boy about three years of age, by drowning him in the Grand Junction Canal, at the Wolverton Station of the London and North-Western Railway. The Magistrates present were the Rev. George Phillimore and W. G. Duncan, Esq. It should be premised tbat on the previous Tuesday coroner’s inquest had been held on the body, and an open verdict of “Found drowned” returned ; but tbe circumstances of tbe case having come to the knowledge of the Magistrates of the district, they deemed it necessary that the affair should undergo further investigation. A. warrant was accordingly placed the hands of Superintendent Driscoll, who apprehended the prisoner in London on the following Wednesday evening. Mr. Arrowsmith, solicitor, of Newport Pagnel, attended for the accused. Several witnesses were examined, the substance of whose evidence will be found in the following narrative. It appeared that the prisoner had been in the service of Mr. Rogers, surgeon, of Wolverton, as cook, for a period of about seven weeks. On the morning of Saturday, 19th inst., John Tyler, a police-constable on the London and North-Western Railway, was going his rounds at half-past six in the morning, when he perceived the body of child lying in the water a short distance from the bank of the canal. The spot where the body lay was nearly opposite a small wicket gate opening from Mr. Rogers’s garden upon a narrow footpath leading along the canal bank—the towing path being on the opposite side of the water. The constable removed the body to the Radcliffe Arms Inn, and from some information he received, went Mrs. Rogers’s and saw the accused. He asked where the child was, and she replied at Bradwell. a village about a mile and quarter distant. On his stating his intention of taking her into custody, she said, ” I’ll tell you the truth, was taking the child to Bradwell on Tuesday morning, and being unwell, let go my hand, and fell into the canal. From the evidence of two of the prisoner’s fellow servants, seemed that the deceased had been taken to Wolverton some weeks since by a person from Bedford (of which town prisoner a native) with whom she had left it at nurse. It was afterwards placed with a party at Haversham, and finally with a woman named Franklin. The last named person kept it but a night and day, and then returned it to the prisoner, who concealed it in her master house. The last time was seen alive was on the night of Monday, 14th inst. It was likewise given in evidence that the prisoner had remarked it would be a happy release for her if the boy were dead. She had also been heard to say that she never liked the child, for she never had any love for his father. On the 17th inst., two days previously to the body being found, she appeared very merry, and accounted for by saying she had received a letter that morning informing her that she should have no more trouble about the boy. She had sold its clothes on this day to a rag dealer, and they were now produced by Superintendent Driscoll, and identified by both her fellow servants and Mrs. Franklin, who had the child at Bradwell. Messrs. J. S. Gent and J. M. Freeman made post-mortem examination of the remains they gave a very detailed description of the internal appearances, and both gentlemen were of opinion that deceased had not died a natural death, and that tbe appearances, congestion of the lungs, &c, were consistent with the fact that death had resulted from drowning. The prisoner having had the usual caution read to her, said she awoke about four on the Tuesday morning, and finding the child did not move or breathe, and not having the means to bury it, she took it to the canal and threw it in. She was then fully committed for trial the next Assizes, and Superintendent Driscoll was bound over to prosecute. The prisoner was soon after taken off to Aylesbury Gaol.

A more detailed account appeared on the same day in the Bucks Herald.

NEWPORT PAGNELL, On Monday last, a young woman named Sarah Irons, was brought before the Rev. Geo, Phillimore and W. G. Duncan, Esq., charged with the murder of her illegitimate child, three years of age. John Tyler, constable of Wolverton, deposed that Saturday evening, the 19th July, about half past six o’clock in the morning, he discovered the body of male child in the canal, near to the bridge which leads to the Wolvcrton Station from the Newport Road. It had on only a shirt. It had apparently been the water some days. There were no external marks of violence about it. Witness went shortly afterwards to the house of Mr. Rogers, the surgeon, at Wolverton, in whose service the prisoner then was, and questioned her about the child, which she said was at Bradwell. On his telling her that child had been found in the canal, and he had reason to believe it was hers, she said she would tell him all about it, and she then said that on Tuesday morning, she was going to take the child to Bradwell, when it slipped into the canal, and she was afraid to say anything about it. She afterwards made another statement to the effect, that on Tuesday morning she awoke early and found the child nearly dead, and that she took it down the garden and threw it into the canal. Witness took her into custody, and detained her until an inquest was held on the body, when she was released, a verdict of found drowned having been returned by the jury. Ann Harriett Whiffen, a fellow serv ant of the prisoner’s, stated that the prisoner came into Mr. Rogers’s service about seven weeks ago—about four weeks ago some one brought child to her at Mr. Rogers. She told witness it was her child. The woman who brought it refused to keep it any longer. The child remained at Mr. Rogers’s, with the prisoner, for one night, and the next morning she told witness she had taken the child to Bradwell. A fortnight ago last Saturday, the child was again brought back to Mr. Rogers’s to the prisoner. It remained there until the following Monday. It was kept in the prisoner’s bed-room, and the door was kept locked. Witness saw the child between five and six o’clock on the Monday evening, it looked thin and pale, but appeared as well as usual. The prisoner went to witness between 11 and 12 o’clock the same night and told her the child was ill. Witness went to the prisoner’s room, and found the child dressed and lying on the floor, with its head on a pillow, its mouth open, and it was making a choking noise in its throat. Witness did not stay long, and prisoner said if the child was worse she would call her. She did not do so, and at seven o’clock the next morning, on enqniring about the child, the prisoner said it was better, and she had taken it to Bradwell at five o’clock. On the following Thursday, the prisoner said she had received a letter from a person, and she should not have to pay for the child much longer. She would not tell who the letter came from. On the same evening, she said, it would be happy release for her if the child was to die. She said she had no love for it, as she had none for its father. About half-an-hour afterwards she said, all of a sudden, “it’s enough to make one think of doing what they wouldn’t do.” Witness saw the child, which was found in the canal, and has no doubt it is the child she saw with the prisoner. William Todd, groom in the service of Mr. Rogers, identified the child as being the same one had seen with Sarah Irons. She told him it was her cousin, and wanted him to take charge of it for 2s. a week, but witness declined doing so. Mr. J. J. Gent, of Stoney Stratford, surgeon, said that he was called in about 12 o’clock on Saturday, the 19th, to examine the body of male child, about three years old, which was stated to have been found in the canal. He made then merely an external examination. The general appearance was healthy. It appeared to have been in the water some days. The mouth was partially open, and the tongue protruding. The pupils of the eyes were much dilated. the following day Mr Gent of Stoney Stratford, surgeon, made post-mortem examination. On removing the scalp there was red appearance on its internal surface on the left temporal muscle, and immediately above and behind the ear a slight extravasation of blood was perceptible between the integuments and the cranium. The blood vessels were found generally gorged and tended. The vessels of the brain” were turgid, and in that part corresponding with the external appearances extravasation of blood was found, indicating that some injury had been inflicted during life, but witness did not consider it sufficient to cause death. The stomach was free from appearance of inflammation. The heart also was healthy. The lungs were congested, and there was escape of frothy mucus from the nose and mouth. Witness was of opinion that the child did not die natural death. Mr. Freeman confirmed the statement made by Mr. Gent, and was also of opinion that the child did not die a natural death. Witness thought if the child had been thrown into the water after death there would not have been congestion of the lungs or water in the bronchial tubes. Sarah Franklin, Bradwell, gave evidence to the fact of having had the care of the child a few days at the request of the prisoner, who told her it belonged to woman living at the station. John Daniells, a general dealer at Newport Pagnell, said that Thursday, the 17th instant, he bought a child’s frock and petticoat and a pair of shoes of the prisoner, at Wolverton. She said they belonged to the child she had asked him to get a home for the week before. Witness asked her where the child was. She said she had sent long way off, as she did not wish to be bothered by the parties who had the care of it. The prisoner, in reply to the charge, said the child died in her bed-room about four o’clock in the morning—that she awoke and found him very silent —he was not breathing, and being alarmed she dressed herself and put the child into a basket, intending to take it to Bradwell, but not being able to do it she went part of the way and turned back, and not having any money or any friends to assist her she was afraid of making an alarm, and not knowing what to do she put it it into the water, but she could say with a clear conscience that the child died a natural death her bed-room. She was committed to take her trial for wilful murder.

OnTuesday, March 2 1852,Sarah Irons was brought for trial at Aylesbury before a jury. Witnesses were sworn, including the local police constable, Tyler, and the evidence above was presented the jury. However, the jury chose to be compassionate and delivered a “Not Guilty” verdict.  What happened to Sarah Irons after that I do not know.