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Infanticide By A Deaf And Dumb Mother


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Sheffield, Sept. 28.—Some excitement has been occasioned in Sheffield and the neighbourhood, for the last two days, in consequence of the discovery of a child-murder by a young woman twenty-three years of age, at a village called Ecclesfield, on the road to Leeds from Sheffield. The accused person is Esther Dyson, a Deaf and Dumb girl, working at a thread-mill at that place, a girl of exceedingly good appearance, and remarkably shrewd and cunning.

The Inquest.—On Thursday a respectable body of men assembled at the house of Mr. Ashton, the Black Bull Inn, in Ecclesfield, near Sheffield, before Mr. B. Badge, Coroner, for that district of Yorkshire, on view of the body of the child, when the following evidence was adduced.

Ellen Greaves, the wife of Thomas Greaves, of Ecclesfield, in the county of York, file-cutter, deposed ; I know Esther Dyson, of Ecclesfield, single woman, who is about twenty-three years of age ; she is Deaf and Dumb ; I live next door to her, and she lives with her brother who is also Deal and Dumb. Three or four months ago I challenged her with being in the family-way, but she denied it; she has sufficient knowledge, in my opinion, as to what is right or wrong, and I can make her understand by signs what I mean. About a month ago I again challenged her with being with child, and she seemed angry with me, and told me by signs, that it was some stuff that she had applied inwardly and outwardly to her throat, which had made her body swell. I made signs to her to begin and make some clothes for her child, at the same time showing her my infant, but she seemed to blow it away, making signs showing that she was not with child.

I was in the habit of seeing Esther Dyson daily. On Friday last, the 24th ult. I saw her about two o'clock, at her own house door, and she appeared quite big in the family-way ; I did not see her again till about nine o'clock on Saturday morning, when she was washing the house-floor, and she seemed pale, languid, and weak. On Saturday morning last, about nine o'clock, I motioned to her to know how she was ; she then had a flannel tied round her neck. She motioned to me, that she had thrown up a large substance, and it had settled her body. About three o'clock on Sunday last, the 26th instant, I went to her house, and her brother motioned to me that his sister was in bed very sick, but I did not go up stairs. About four o'clock on the same day, she appeared poorly and weak, and I desired her brother to make her some tea, and I stopped till she took it. I left about five o'clock on Sunday afternoon. From her altered appearance I have no doubt she had been delivered of a child.

Hannah Butcher corroborated the above evidence, and said, that from her observation, as a married woman, she believed the prisoner had been delivered of a child on the Friday.

William Graham examined.—On Saturday night last, the 26th instant, about eight o'clock, I was returning home to Ecclesfield from Wortley, and I met the prisoner in Lee-lane in Ecclesfield township, with something under her apron. She was on a foot-path leading from Ecclesfield to Wortley, and about six hundred yards from the cotton-mill dam, where the body of a female child has been found. She having passed, I met Henry Woodhouse, and he asked me if it was not the dumb girl, whom I had met ? and I answered, yes, it was.

Fanny Guest, aberrant, deposed to her having also seen the dumb girl pass her, with something under her apron.

James Henderson, overlooker of the thread-mill belonging to Mr. Barlow, knows the prisoner and her brother, who is also Deaf and Dumb. They have worked in the mill eleven years. On Sunday last, witness went to W. Dyson, the dumb man's house, and he willingly gave me his keys to examine the boxes belonging to him. I saw nothing suspicious in his room. I then examined the prisoner's room' and I found blood on the chamber-floor and blood partially wiped off the floor. The wall was also sprinkled with blood.

I withdrew the curtain of her chamber-window, and observed marks of blood on the window bottom. I opened a band-box, and found two aprons and a skirt on which blood appeared. Being convinced that something wrong had been done, I sent for the vestry-clerk, and in his presence searched the prisoner's box, and found several articles, from which it was evident that they belonged to a person who had been delivered of a child. On Monday last, about an hour after the child had been found in the dam, it was brought to the Ecclesfield work-house, and laid down by her. She told her brother in my presence that she did not throw the child into the dam, she merely laid it in.

Ann Briggs, examined.—The piece of green cloth produced by William Shaw, the constable, and in which the child was found, is a part of a sofa cover belonging to Wm. Dyson, prisoner's brother. I took the body of the child out of the cloth, and then to the work-house ; I also at the same time, took the head of the child, also found in the dam, out of a separate piece of green cloth, which also belonged to the sofa alluded to. I have practised as a midwife for upwards of twenty years, and it is my opinion, that the head of the child has been cut off by some dull instrument. On Monday last, I went to the prisoner, and asked her to explain the manner to me how she was delivered of her child. I said to her, " the, child's head is cut off." I have seen her several times since, and she still insists that the head came off. On reproving her with throwing it into the dam, she showed me that she had not thrown it in, but had laid it in pretty and nice.

James Machin deposed, that in consequence of information given to him on Sunday night, he went to the prisoner's house, and found it in the state described by the other witnesses. I, assisted by W. Shaw, the constable of Ecclesfield, searched the dam, and pulled out the headless body of a fine full-grown infant, a female. The witness went on to corroborate the testimony of Henderson and Greaves, at to the appearances in the prisoner's bed-room.

Sarah Ingham deposed ; I am the governess of the Ecclesfield work-house. I examined the breasts of the prisoner and found a deal of milk in them. She told me the same story, as to the manner in which the head came off, as she did the other witnesses. I produced a knife to her and showed by signs that she had cut the head off. But she threw herself on one side and shunned the idea.

William Shaw, the constable of Ecclesfield, confirmed the testimony of Machin.

Mr. William Jackson, lecturer on anatomy, stated, that on the 28th day of September last, he examined Esther Dyson, the prisoner, and she had every appearance of having recently been delivered. He was decidedly of opinion from the examination, that the head of the child had not been torn or screwed off by the mother. He also had no doubt, from the particular examination made of the body of the deceased, and from the appearance which it exhibited on that examination, that the child was born alive.

Mr. Joseph Campbell, surgeon, having also examined both the woman and the child, fully corroborated Mr. Jackson's testimony.

The Coroner having summed up, the Jury retired, and in a few minutes returned with a verdict of " Wilful murder, against Esther Dyson."

The Coroner then issued a warrant for the unfortunate woman's committal to York Castle, to take her trial at the ensuing Lent Assizes.

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Iit would appear that Esther is the one in the family below.-

Isaac Dyson- family (“Ecclesfield Common” on the grave) 1763-1829 married 1791 to Hannah DYSON. The Cutlers Company in (1792) lists him as a Knife Maker and gives Isaac’s address as “Mertnall” Ecclesfield


Ann 1792-1819 “Shotnell” on grave. Single? Daughter Hanna in 1814

John 1795-

Elis. 1797-

Mary 1799- 1859 (Ecclesfield Burial age 57 ?)

Hannah 1802-

William 1804- 1875? (Deaf and dumb barber in 1861,71 Census.Stocks Hill)

Sarah 1807-

Esther 1809-1869 (Deaf and dumb)

It seems Esther was deemed insane, the case was very notable because of difficulties in communication and took place at York in 1831. She did manage to convey a plea of not guilty, She was sent to an Asylum where she "showed no sign of insanity".

I have been informed that deaf people were rarely dumb, they just never learned to talk.

Anyone any idea where LEE LANE was? , and I met the prisoner in Lee-lane in Ecclesfield township, with something under her apron. She was on a foot-path leading from Ecclesfield to Wortley, and about six hundred yards from the cotton-mill dam", (The Cotton Mill later became the Hallamshire Paper Mill)


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