Victorian London - Death and Dying - Customs and Dealing with Death - Burial of stillborn children

Mr Thomas Cocks, an undertaker, of Rochester-row, Westminster, appeared to a summons taken out by Frederick Harvey, a dairyman, for procuring to be buried the body of a deceased child of the said Frederick Harvey as if it were stillborn. Mr. Edward Lewis appeared for the prosecution; Mr. W.D.Dutton for the defence. Mr. Lewis, in opening the case, said that this was a matter of very grave importance. The child in question lived only six hours, and the defendant agreed to bury it for 10s. He had buried another child six months ago for 31s., but that was followed to the grave. He sent one of his men for the body, and afterwards informed the father that it had been duly buried at Hanwell Cemetery. The defendant, being asked for the grave certificate, said that he had mislaid it, but made a statement on one of his bill-forms to the effect that the child was buried at Hanwell, number of grave 48 P. In point of fact the child was not buried in that grave, to which the defendant had no sort of right. Up to this moment no tidings had been heard of the body, although repeated applications had been made for particulars. He supposed that the body had been disposed of for anatomical purposes, or had been buried as a stillborn child to save the cost of burial. He was informed that institutions in the country were in the habit of purchasing dead bodies for dissection without the consent of the friends or relations, although such a course was to be severely reprehended. On the other hand, the bodies of stillborn and other children were put into coffins with adults, and were even used as pillows. He should also have to ask for summonses against 27 persons who had confided their interests to the defendant, and if he could show that the defendant was in the habit of disposing of these bodies in this wholesale manner, he should ask the magistrate to send the case for trial. Mr. Woolrych said the statement foreshadowed a serious state of affairs; but under what Act did Mr. Lewis intend to proceed to trial? Mr. Lewis said he intended to frame his charges hereafter. Mr. Harvey was then called. He said he had repeatedly asked where the child was buried. The defendant at length said that he had not attended the funeral, but his men had "squared" the gravediggers, put the child in as a stillborn, and shared the fees among them. The case was adjourned, bail in 70 being taken for the defendant.

The Times, 1 June, 1875