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Saturday, 28 February 2015

Controversial Inquest into the Death of Ida Titheridge in 1882

Alverstoke Parish Church
In the June quarter of 1882 the records show an unusual marriage with Richard Titheridge marrying Mary Ann Titheridge in Portsea. They were first cousins.  This was the first time I had come across first cousins marrying and I was surprised to find that although the law forbids certain relatives marrying each other, and there is a long list of forbidden relationships, there is no law to stop first cousins marrying. 
Richard was born in 1845 in Alverstoke and was the son of William Titheridge and Jane Ann Hewett (and descended from John Titheridge and Ann Quallat of Cheriton).  Richard was a shipwright at Portsmouth Dockyard and was still unmarried and living at 6 Alver Road on the 1881 census. 

Mary Ann was born in 1846 in Alverstoke and was the daughter of William’s brother Henry Titheridge and Agnes Taylor.  In the 1881 census she too was living in Alverstoke at 2 Park Street and she was a dress maker.

In the September quarter of 1882, three months after the marriage was registered, the records show the birth of Richard and Mary Ann’s first child Ida Titheridge in Alverstoke.  This birth was followed by William Richard Titheridge on 6 June 1883, Beatrice May Titheridge on 18 July 1885 and Daisy Mary in March 1889.

The death record show that Ida’s death was registered in the same quarter as her birth. While this was not an unusual occurrence in the 1880s the records fail to tell the unusual story that followed.

Richard and Mary’s first child died aged 7 weeks having been found dead in bed and an inquest was held at the Red Lion Tavern in South Street Gosport by the county coroner E Goble.  It was the inquest into the baby Ida’s death that hit the local news. 

Below is the account of the inquest into Ida’s death as reported in The Hampshire Telegraph on 5th August 1882.

County coroner and a jury at variance

Yesterday afternoon County Coroner (E. Goble Esquire) held an inquest at the Red Lion Tavern, South Street, Gosport, on the body of Eda Titheridge, seven weeks old, the child of Richard and Mary Ann Titheridge, a married couple, living in Upper South Street, the husband being a shipwright in the dockyard at Portsmouth. The deceased was found dead in bed, and the coroner, stating the facts of the case to the jury, alluded to the practice of parents taking infants to bed with them as a fruitful source of death. He was very sorry, he said, to have to sit as coroner in cases of that description. People would daily read of cases of that sort, and it must therefore, be bought prominently before the public that children were constantly being smothered by being taken into bed with their parents. There was not the least suspicion of all at wilful negligence in the present instance, but in cases of illegitimate children there was not always that absence of doubt.

Evidence was then taken. From the testimony thus adduced it appeared that the child, which was an only one, was put to bed with its parents about 11 o’clock on the night of the second inst. On waking the next morning the father discovered that the child was quite cold. Assistance was summoned and the baby was put into a warm bath, but life was found to extinct.

The Coroner (to the father): haven’t you read in the papers of children being frequently smothered in this way?

Witness: yes

Tthe coroner asked witness if he could explain the fact that he, with 30 shillings per week wages a shipwright in the dockyard, should have considered it advisable to have that had a crib for the child, instead of running the risk attending to having it in bed?

Witness replied that the child was only seven weeks old, and it was not usual to provide a crib to the baby got much older than that.

The coroner: it ought not to be so.

A jury man: Mister Coroner, is the question you have just put to that gentleman (referring to the witness) legal?

The Coroner: certainly

The jury man: oh!

Another jury man said he should be very sorry to have his child sleep away from him

A third jury man: so should I

Another jury man gave it as his opinion that the witness had only done the proper thing in having the child in bed with him.

One of the jury man who had previously spoken remarked that all of them did not possess thousands a year in income

The Coroner: the question is not one of money. It is whether you value the life of your child
Doctor R. O. Minchin, who had made a post-mortem examination of the body, was then called. He said the primary cause of death was inflammation of the lungs of a very insidious character.
In summing up, the Coroner reiterated the remarks he had made in the opening, and said that of course the jury did not see the number of cases which came before him week after week. They might think it preferable that children should be taken with parents into bed, but where this was done the utmost caution ought to be used to see the child did not slip off the breast and get its head underneath, or shift from the pillow underneath the clothes. The chances were that parents slept heavily, the child struggled a little, not enough to wake the wife and husband up, so fatal accidents happened. He felt that in very many cases death arose from carelessness. Still, the jury had to deal with criminal law, and he could only say that it was easy matter, in cases in which illegitimate children were concerned to take a baby to bed, lie upon it, and then say that death was caused accidentally. It was necessary to make those remarks generally, as it was requested that the utmost caution should be observed where children were taken into bed with the parents,

The jury returned a verdict of “Death from natural causes”.

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