February 25, 1852
Faringdon, Oxfordshire, England
Mary Westall (16) gives birth to a baby whose body is later rolled in a piece of carpet and thrown in a pond
Westall had been a servant for saddle maker Christopher Maisey (33) for several years by the time she was impregnated by him. When Westall’s parents learned of the pregnancy, they took her back to their home and forbade the two from meeting again. Westall was able to slip away from her parents’ home on February 25, and she was seen entering Maisey’s home the same day.
Westall’s parents demanded to see her though Maisey initially stated she was not at his home. Within a few days, Westall returned to her parents’ house looking ill. She was examined and a doctor determined she had recently given birth, but Westall refused to tell anyone where her baby might be.
On June 13, two young men saw a floating form on a pond’s surface. The shape, upon retrieving it from the water, was discovered to be the body of an infant in an advanced state of decay and wrapped in a piece of carpet. The Standard reported, “the brain was gone, and several of the joints fractured and dislocated, with other marks of violence” were found on the body. Surgeons determined the baby had been born alive and Westall was immediately arrested for the “willful murder” of her child. Maisey was also charged with the infant’s death, but he fled the area before he could be arrested. He was apprehended in Liverpool while disguised as a woman, and returned to Faringdon to face trial.
At trial, Westall claimed she very suddenly gave birth (saying the baby “fell out of her”) as she was crossing the brick walkway at the entrance to Maisey’s home. She explained Maisey pushed her into a room for a while, took the baby, then moved Westall to a hayloft where he covered her with hay and insisted she “hold her tongue” about the baby before she returned home days later. Due to her testimony, the jury decided Westall had no knowledge of her child’s fate and she was acquitted of the murder.
At Maisey’s trial, it was proven the carpet the infant had been found wrapped in had come from Maisey’s home, and he never attempted to deny such. The prosecutors used the surgeons’ ruling, declaring the infant had not been stillborn, to prove murder, though the defense used Westall’s testimony from her own trial to suggest the fall onto the brick pavement had caused the fractures and dislocations. The jury sided with the defense and Maisey was acquitted as well.
Sly, Nicola. A Grim Almanac of Oxfordshire. The History Press, 2013
“Oxford Circuit.” The Standard [London, England]. March 5, 1853
“Faringdon.” Jackson’s Oxford Journal. July 31, 1852 (image source, via newspapers.com)
“Child Murder.” The Star of Freedom [London, England]. July 3, 1852