|A View of High Street, Narberth.|
Mary Prout was born to Thomas and Mary Prout sometime during the December of 1842. (She was later baptised on January 29th, 1843.) Thomas who was born c.1815, married Mary Llewellyn in 1836. The family originated from and lived in Amroth.
The 1851 Census tell us that Mary was living at Summer Hill (Amroth) with her parents and six of her siblings. At that time her father is listed as a Coalminer and her mother his listed as not having an occupation. In 1861, as with the 1851 – Mary is listed as living with her parents and four of her siblings but at Foxennooks Street, Amroth. Later in the august of the census year, Mary's mother died aged 50.
It is known that at some point within the next two years Mary had become a servant at a 'big house' in the local area. Around summertime of 1863, Mary then aged 21 fell pregnant out of wedlock and subsequently ended up at Narberth Union Workhouse. It is not known how she came to be at the workhouse but we know that on the 9th of April, 1864 she gave birth to a baby girl named Rhoda.
It is highly possible that Rhoda was named after the sister of Mary who died in the February of that year aged just seven years old.
Just six weeks after her birth, Rhoda was found deceased in a coalpit in the vicinity of Colby Lodge, Amroth. There is no physical record to tell us what exactly happened to Mary's child, but we can gather information that is taken from regional newspapers and tales that have been passed down throughout the generations.
At an inquest that was held on Tuesday 24th of May at Saundersfoot, before W. V. James Esq - Mary Prout who is described as a 22 years old servant and spinster – is charged with the wilful murder of the her daughter.
Various witnesses including family, police officials and members of the public are sworn in and tell the inquest their version of events. (These accounts are documented in 'Welshman')
Martha Williams of Narberth Workhouse tells the inquest that she last saw the mother and child on the 20th of May at Narberth Workhouse. At this time the child was 'well' but it had not throven very well since birth. On leaving the workhouse the child had 'red gum' that produced a little rash. She tells the court that both mother and child were leaving for Mary's grandmothers on the night in question. From this statement we also learn that the child was illegitimate.
Hannah Davies tells the inquest that she is the wife of a labourer living near Colby Lodge. She and her daughter last saw Mary on the 20th of May, at about eight o'clock in the evening whilst walking through an open field leading from the high road down to Amroth Church. At that time Mary was still with child.
Ann Prout, the grandmother of Mary Prout, tells the court that Mary arrived at her home around half past eight that same evening without the child. When Ann proceeded to ask about the whereabouts of the child Mary broke down into tears and tells her that the baby is at the Union Workhouse, dead. She told her grandmother that she hadn't seen the child since I had passed.
One of the Superintendents of the Pembrokeshire Police is taken to the stand:
Thomas Kelly speaks of how he apprehended Ms Prout at Pembroke Dock and subsequently charged her with the murder of her child b throwing her into a pit. She was taken to the Pembroke lock up at 6am that morning and was moved to Saundersfoot lock up later that afternoon.
Thomas tells us of Mary's confession: “I'll tell the truth if they hang me. I threw it in and run away a short distance. I returned and found there was no noise.” This confession was made during the journey to the Saundersfoot lock up and was “completely voluntary”.
Thomas Newsham, the surgeon who performed the post-mortem of the child is sworn in.
"I made a post-mortem examination of the child to-day. It is a female child, about six weeks old, of spare habit, small of its age. On examining the head, I found a fracture of the left temple and of the parietal bones; the whole of the left side of the head fell away on being cut, disclosing the brain and a mass of clotted blood. There was a small contused wound over the forehead on the right & another on the crown of the head, also contused. The brain was healthy. There were bruises below the right lower rib, the lungs and heart were healthy, the stomach full of milk, the intestines healthy in appearance. There was a fracture of the left thigh, and discolouration of the left knee. There were extensive bruises on the right buttock and thigh. In my opinion death resulted from the fracture of the skull. The lungs were healthy, in fact the whole of the viscera beautifully healthy. I saw nothing to induce me to believe death ensued from natural causes. I am certain that the injuries were inflicted during life for these reasons the ecchymosis and the rigidity of the extremities."
Peter Royle (P.C) tells the inquest that on Sunday he was given information which led him to ask for the assistance of two miners. They were William and John Davies. They were asked to help search the pits and later asked to descend into one of them. They were down the pit for ten minutes and they came back up with the dead body of a child. One of the men, William Davies goes on to tell the court that he and his son (John) went down 'little pit' at the request of Peter Royle and found the child.
(read the full article)
On the 11th of July, 1864, at the Summer Assizes, Haverfordwest: Mary Prout pleaded not guilty to the charge of wilful murder of her child. Again, the same witnesses are brought forward, the same individuals are cross examined and the same words are uttered.
The Jury gave the verdict of guilty but with recommending the prisoner to mercy. It seems that they had come to this decision as they believed the offence was not pre-meditated and that it was a spur of the moment decision.
"The jury no doubt feel that you have been probably seduced by some man, who seems to have deserted you, and I do hope and trust that the sad state in which you are, will be a warning to young women not to yield to their passions and give up their virtue to manhood, for most certainly they will be forsaken, for it is one of the most painful parts of cases of this kind that the men who betray young women always forsake them and leave them to support their children, and consign them to dreadful misery."
In the same reporting, it is mentioned that the Judge would be forwarding the judgement on to Her Majesties Advisers. He goes on to say that he shall forward the recommendation of the jury to the officials of the crown but what they may do he cannot say. (read the full article)
The final verdict was given and Mary Prout was sentenced to be hanged by the neck until she is dead.
The 'sin' of Mary Prout was reported throughout the united kingdom, featuring in many newspapers including the Baner ac Amserau Cymru, Liverpool Mercury, Berkshire Chronicle, Sussex Advertiser, Hull Packet and the London Standard etc.
One week after the sentence of death was passed, Mary Prout was reprieved.
Mr. Scourfield MP had written to Mr. John Harvey informing him that he had written to the home office “on the subject of a woman condemned to death for the murder of her child, where he learned that it was not intended to carry out the capital sentence.”
A memorial was forwarded to Sir George Grey, hoping for Queen Victoria to extend her royal pardon to Mary Prout and perhaps save her life. The memorial totalled 1120 signatures and was signed by many of the local high standing.
Mary was spared the death penalty and was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in London. She served 10 years incarceration and returned to her native Pembrokeshire. Her father Thomas passed away in 1882. She later married a gentleman over ten years her senior with whom she had two children.
Mary died in London aged 79.
(Sources: Ancestry - Welshman - Findmypast - LLGC - WelshNewspapersOnline)