Rest in Peace Michael W

Such a sad story next. This time from the end of 1901, the location, at former miners houses, Dixon’s Rows, Blantyre. Warning this article contains some upsetting content and deals with the subject of child neglect. I’ve masked the surname, though it is available in newspaper reports.

In January 1902, Jessie W of Dixon Street, Dixon’s Rows found herself in Hamilton Sheriff Court, charged with neglecting her child and subsequently causing the death of her 8 months old son, Michael. Death caused by exposing the child to cold, wintry inclement weather on Sunday 1st December 1901.

This was a fairly sizeable case and during the trial, several neighbours and witnesses who lived at Dixon’s Rows were called to give evidence.

On the night of Sunday 30th November 1901, a “booking” (party) was taking place at Mrs MacDonalds house at 42 Dixon’s Rows. Blantyre women Mary McGurk and Maggie McGhee left the party at 2 o clock on the morning. When they were walking past the house of Jessie W, they noticed across the road, a baby crying. The baby recognised as being 8 month old Michael W, the infant son of Jessie W. Mary quickly picked up the baby, who was lying alone on the ground. The weather was fierce, bitterly cold and raining.

The women, immediately concerned for the welfare of the child, picked up the baby, who was soaked through. To the right, on the footpath, lay Jessie W, quite drunk and incoherent. She was not ill, but was under the influence. The women primarily concerned for the child, wrapped the baby in their coat and took him inside one of their homes.

Little Michael had no hat or covering. The little pinafore the tot wore was soaked from the rain and the baby looked a blue colour. The women decided to bathe the child in warm water and wrapped him in a flannel shirt belonging to Mary’s husband. The police were fetched and the child was only in this house for 20 minutes before the constable arrived.

The child was taken to an aunt’s for safe keeping, whilst the police dealt with Jessie W by removing the mother from the pavement. They tried her door, not knowing if her husband was at home and could not get in, with no answer. So, police took Jessie to the gaol in Glasgow Road, where she would remain for 2 days.

Incredibly after all this happened, the aunt, who had been at the party, went BACK to the party at 4am with the child and sat with the baby on her knee until leaving at 6am. There were many people drunk at the party and it continued beyond 6am when people were still up dancing. It was later learned that Jessie herself had been seen at the party carrying a half empty bottle of whisky, but no baby at the time! Police presumed the baby had been laid down outside the house on the pavement and had been there for some hours, outside in the rain.

In the days which followed, the aunt noticed the baby was cold and her husband kept the fire nearby going to provide some heat. Eventually though, they realised with Jessie still in gaol, they would have to fetch a doctor. Dr Grant arrived and knew immediately the signs of pneumonia. He persuaded police to immediately release Jessie W from prison and come quickly to her child.

When Jessie arrived, her son was gravely ill and sadly little Michael died the next day on 4th December.

In court in the following February, one of the people called to the dock, was Mary Elizabeth W, 11 year old daughter of Jessie, who told the court her mother made her go to the shops and buy 3 pints of beer that afternoon of the party. Jessie consumed these quickly then made a start on whisky. She took the baby away at 11 o clock at night, leaving Mary Elizabeth in the house, whilst mother and baby went to the party, the adult being in an intoxicated state.

Jessie W was charged with child cruelty and the death of her child. However, before we’re quick to judge this story, Jessie was given time to tell her story in court. She mentioned how she was struggling to fit in with community and was pleased to be invited to the party. She was not accustomed to drinking and had proven to neighbours the child was clothed and cared for in previous days. Jessie told the court that her child had a cough on the day of the party and had taken her son to the doctors, but the doctor wasn’t in. She admitted she had bought liquor with intention of joining in the party, regardless. The court heard how she simply lay down on the footpath. She stood in court blinded by tears, still grieving for the loss of her child, and now quite sober.

Jessie was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment and was taken from the dock by officers in floods of tears. Rest in Peace little Michael W.

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