Executed for infanticide, March 17th, 1780
THIS unfortunate young woman was a native of Saffron Walden, in Essex, born of honest and industrious parents, and bad lived for a considerable time with her aunt, who was a bed-maker belonging to Trinity College. Till the unhappy affair which brought her to so ignominious an end she was generally esteemed for the decency and modesty of her conduct; and it is to be lamented that a mistaken fear of shame should have induced her to commit an action at which Nature shudders -- the destruction of her own offspring!
The following are the particulars of the shocking murder perpetrated by this malefactor, as they appeared on the coroner's inquest and on the trial.
On Friday, the 7th of January, 1780, about eleven in the morning, the body of a new-born female infant was found in the river near Trinity College bogs; which was immediately taken out, and the coroner's jury summoned to sit on the body.
Mr. Bond, a surgeon, deposed that he examined the body, when he found the head swelled and bruised, the skull fractured in several places: that, on opening the body, the lungs appeared distended, and were on trial specifically lighter than water; and that he was of opinion the child was born alive, and received its death by the wounds in the head.
Esther Hall, the wife of William Hall, a brewer to Trinity College, whose dwelling-house was within the College gates, at no great distance from the place where the child was found, deposed that her niece, Elizabeth Butchill, had lived about three years with her in the capacity of a bed-maker in the said college; that, about three o'clock in the morning of the 6th instant, she heard her niece groan very much, and, getting up to inquire into the cause, found her complaining of a violent colic; that she heated some peppermint-water, &c. and gave it her, with some hot flannels, which seemed to give her ease; that, about six in the morning, the said Esther Hall went to College, leaving her niece in bed, where she found her on her return about ten o'clock.
William Hall, husband to the said witness, hearing a child had been found, suspected the said Elizabeth Butchill, and sent for a surgeon to examine her. In her voluntary confession, taken before the mayor and Dr. Ewin, and read to the jury, she confessed that she was delivered of a female child on Thursday morning, about half past six o'clock, by herself; that the child cried some little time after its birth; and that, in about twenty minutes after, she herself threw the said infant down one of the holes of the necessary into the river, and buried the placenta, &c. in the dunghill near the house. Upon this evidence the jury brought in their verdict Wilful Murder, but did not charge the said Elizabeth Butchill as the mother: she was therefore committed to the Castle, on her own confession, as soon as she could be removed with safety.
On Wednesday morning she was tried before Judge Buller, when her voluntary confession being produced, and many corroborating circumstances appearing in evidence, the jury found her guilty, and the judge passed sentence on her in a very pathetic and affecting manner. When the unhappy culprit, in extreme agony, solicited mercy, his lordship told her that, as she had been deaf to the cries of the innocent, and, stifling the strong ties of maternal affection, had been the murderer of her child, it was impossible for mercy to be extended to her in this world; he therefore exhorted her to seek for a sincere repentance, and sentenced her to be executed the succeeding Friday, and her body to be anatomized.
From the time of her commitment she was in a bad state of health; but her behaviour was modest, patient, and penitent. A worthy clergyman visited her daily, and administered the sacrament to her, when she was perfectly resigned to her fate, and acknowledged the justice of her sentence. In the evening before her death she took an affectionate leave of her friends, and passed the night tolerably composed, except at intervals, when she seemed to be deprived of her senses.
In the morning of the fatal day the before-mentioned clergyman attended her to the place of execution, where her behaviour was firm, resigned, and exemplary. She joined with the minister in prayer, and sung the lamentation of a sinner with marks of a sincere penitent, declaring she had made her peace with God, and was reconciled to her fate. Desiring her example might be a warning to all thoughtless young women, and calling on Jesus Christ for mercy, she was launched into eternity amidst thousands of commiserating spectators, who, though they abhorred the crime, shed tears of pity for the unhappy criminal.
She was a decent plain young woman, about twenty-two years of age; and, before this unfortunate affair, bore a good character for her modest behaviour.
She was executed at Cambridge, March 17, 1780.