Infant Death

In this modern era where death is a taboo subject, we seem unable to express our feelings towards those who have experienced the loss of a family member.

A ago few generations the phrase 'in the midst of life we are in death' had a very real meaning. All except the very poorest paid their penny a week to the Prudential, Liverpool Victoria, or Royal London assurance companies to make sure they got a 'decent funeral'.

The death of a child must be the worst thing that a person can experience. Even in the 'good old days' when a family would have expected to suffer the loss of at least one child, the grief must have been all engulfing.

The Victorian author, Walter Austin researching in the East End of London in 1884 for his book, 'One Dinner a Week', interviewed a docker's wife. A few months previously they had suffered the loss of three children in a fortnight.

The mother told him,
"An' a jolly good cry I had when they was took. An' I've had many a cry since ,the poor little souls. Maybe they're happy now they're dead. While they lived I know they didn't have much to make 'em happy."

Another mother had lost her only son.
"He's better off where he is, I'm pretty sure of that sir. And though I were main proud of him, I wouldn't wish him back".

Inquest in February 1891 at St George in the East Vestry Hall, into the circumstances of the deaths of the children of William Harris, a dock labourer, residing at 24 Thomas Court, Pell St, St George in the East.

William Harris, the father, a miserably clothed, haggared-looking individual, deposed that on his return home on Wednesday he found his wife very ill and lying on the floor. Witness sent for assistance and the babies (triplets) were delivered shortly after, but the first died in an hour and a half.

Laura Madden, nurse, deposed that she was called to attend to Mrs Harris. The three children were born in around half an hour. There was no fire, warm water, clothing or any other necessary to be found. The poor woman was lying on the floor, there being no bedstead, bedding or any furniture in the place. There were two children in the room crying with hunger and the poor mother told witness that all she and the children had had to eat for two days was a half-pennyworth of tea, a half-pennyworth of sugar and a half-pennyworth of bread between them. A juryman remarked that there were plenty of similar cases to be found in the East End. The witness continued that a neighbour brought in some clothing and the parish Doctor was sent for, but the eldest child died before his arrival, and the other two died early the next morning.

Harris (the father) stated he had been a dock labourer for ten years, but had had very little work lately. During the last fortnight he had only obtained four days work for which he received 6d per hour. He gave his wife whatever he was able to earn. He had never applied for parish relief and had never received any assistance from any other source. He paid 3s per week in rent, but the room was in a wretched condition and was not fit to live in, all the windows being broken. His home had been parted with piece by piece during the winter in order to obtain food.

The coroner gave the poor fellow two tickets to obtain 2s worth of food. The coroner's officer stated that there was no furniture at all in the place, with the exception of two chairs which had been sent up by a mission hall. Witness gave them 3s when he saw the condition they were in.

The jury, which was composed of working men, sent the hat round, and collected 4s 9d, which the coroner said he would make up to 10s.

The jury returned a verdict 'That the children died of inanition, want of clothing and warmth at birth.

There are 111 EATLY/EATLEY births recorded at the General Registry Office between 1837 and 1919. Of this total a fifth, 22 children, died before their tenth birthday.


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