Charge of wilful Murder of a Child

Accused:                     Mary Davies
Location:                     Rosemarket.
Trial Date:                   11th March 1844

On the 12th of January 1844, the death of a child occurred at the Barley Sheaf in Rosemarket.  The trial was delayed for three months until the Pembrokeshire Spring Assizes convened on the 11th of March 1844. 

Given the seriousness of the charge, Mary James was held as a prisoner almost certainly at Haverfordwest Gaol waiting for trial.

The following are extracts taken from newspaper articles reporting the trial at the time.  The contents of the articles have been largely left unedited.  This allows us to see how Court proceeding were carried out at the time, the language used, names, occupations and places in and around Rosemarket.  The descriptions of the post-mortem have been left out as these are considered too graphic for this article.

Given the evidence reported in the trial, it is difficult to understand how the Jury could possibly have reached the verdict that they did. 


 Mary Davies, single woman, aged 21, was charged with the wilful murder of her female infant child, at Rosemarket.

 Mary James

Witness; Mary James, who spoke in Welsh by an interpreter, said: I reside at Rosemarket, I am a married woman.  My husband is a cooper.  I have known the prisoner about two months previous to the coroner's inquest on the dead body of the infant child. I was the midwife at the birth. It was a female child, and was born on New Year's Day. It was as healthy as ever I saw a child. 

I saw the prisoner three times after the birth, and the child also. The child was then quite well. The prisoner was confined at the Barley Sheaf, in Rosemarket. Last time I saw her was a couple of days before the child was injured; the child was with the mother then, but I cannot state the day of the month. The child died nine days after it was born. 

I saw the child in the mother's arms nine days after it was born; it had then been injured.  I do not think there was any breath in it.  The body was discoloured under the throat and on the cheek, with black spots under both its ears. 

I thought that the mother had squeezed the child.  it was not breathing then, and seemed to make no attempt to breathe at that time but about a quarter of an hour afterwards, after it had been rolled backwards and forwards and heated before the fire, it came to breathe a little. 

Between each breath there was about two minutes. I asked the prisoner had she done something to the child, squeezed or smothered it?  The prisoner said, “No”, but she stuttered so much she could not bring out her words.  She does not stammer in general. 

I had not seen the child on the morning of its death.  When she saw the child, the prisoner was coming from the bed. The bed was in the lower room. Nobody was in the room with her, except a girl who was sleeping with her. The girl was away at that time. 

The marks were light bruises and it seemed as if squeezed by a finger. The prisoner was then asked if she wished to ask this witness any questions, which she declined. 

Mary Rogers

Witness; Mary Rogers: I am a widow, residing at Rosemarket, and am sister to Elizabeth Thomas, who keeps the Barley Sheaf. She is not able to come here to day, she keeps to her bed, but cannot say the nature of her illness. 

I knew the prisoner at the bar when she came to the Barley Sheaf. I remember her being put to bed, it was on the 1st of January. I was in the habit of dressing the child night and morning. It was a healthy child.

I recollect going over to my sister's on the day the child died, about 11 o'clock in the morning. I went into the bedroom in which the prisoner was. She was in bed, and the child was in bed on her right arm.  The witness did not say anything to her then. 

I saw the child asleep upon her right hand, but did not notice the state it was in then. I did not remain in the room with her. About nine or ten minutes later, witness saw her again, and no one else was with her. She brought the child out of the room with her, for the witness to look at. 

The witness had heard the child give one little weak squeal, and saw the child in her arms dead. I heard the prisoner say, “Dear God! look here, Mary, at my baby." 

I said to her, "I hope, Mary, you have not hurt it." She said, “No, indeed to God my hands have not touched it." Then I said, "The child must be convulsed." I took it in my arms, and sat down before the fire and warmed it, and loosened its clothes and cap. It then came to draw breath. I saw a little drop of blood about its mouth, but nothing to speak of. 

When I took the child into my arms, and had warmed it, it foamed at the mouth and groaned. It remained in that state till eleven at night. I was with it all the time, it died at 11 by the minute. 

The prisoner had it in her lap, and remained there till the child died. Prisoner stayed at my sister's house till next day when she then went away. I never saw her again till now. [Prisoner appeared much distressed during the examination of this witness.] 

Rachel Russel

Rachel Russel: I live at Rosemarket my husband is a tailor. I am accustomed to go to the house. Saw the child was there at its birth, on New Year's Day. It appeared well when it was born. I saw it the day before it died it appeared well then. I saw it also on the day of its death it was much bruised about its neck and on its forehead, and behind its right ear. 

The bruises were more copper-coloured than black. I was not there when the child died, but it was to all appearance in a dying state when I saw it. I said very little to the prisoner but asked her what was the matter with the baby. She said she could not tell. Mary Rogers said it was convulsed. I was not present when Mr. Byers was there.  

Mr R.H. Byers (Surgeon)

Mr. R. H. Byers sworn;  I am a surgeon, residing at Milford. I was called in to examine the child on Friday, the 12th January. 

I have no doubt that suffocation was the cause of its death, produced by some pressure on the windpipe and it was my opinion that there had been pressure by the hand around the throat. 

Thomas Burns corroborated the above statements. The learned judge summed up, and charged the jury in very serious terms. 


The jury retired, and, after a short consultation, returned into court, and pronounced a verdict of “Not guilty".  The prisoner was then discharged, and left the court.