THE public attention was so much excited by the case of Mrs. Magnis, who stole the little boy in 1811, that an express act of parliament was passed, making child-stealing felony, thereby subjecting the offender to transportation -- a punishment by no means too severe for this species of crime, by which families are thrown into the greatest confusion and distress.
The following curious case was the first which occurred after the passing of the act; and, though we rejoice at the conviction of the woman, we cannot but smile at the simplicity of the ignorant tar, whose credulity seems extraordinary, though his paternal affection was amiable.
At the Old Bailey sessions, January the 18th, 1815, Sarah Stone was indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 14th of October, 1814, a female child, seven weeks old. The following was the evidence against her:-
Catharine Kreemer, the prosecutrix, deposed that she was a poor woman, residing at No.3, Swan's Court, Cowheel Alley, Golden Lane: her husband was a labourer; she had had six children, two of them twins, and was occasionally obliged to solicit charity in the streets for their support. On the 14th of October the twins were about seven weeks old, on which day she went out with one of her children, five years old, having her twins in her arms; and, whilst she was sitting on the steps in St. Paul's Churchyard, the prisoner accosted her -- gave her a penny, saying she had fine babies in her arms -- and observed that, if she would go with her she would introduce her to a .fine lady, who would give her half a guinea. She accordingly set off with the prisoner, carrying her twins, and followed by her other child. In Cheap-side her cloak fell from off her babes, when she requested the prisoner to put it over them, to prevent them from catching cold, who offered to carry one of them. She delivered the largest of them into her arms, and they proceeded together to the Commercial Road, where, at the corner of a public house, the prisoner gave her threepence, to get something to drink. The prosecutrix thanked her for the money, but said she did not want either beer or gin, but wished to see the fine lady. The prisoner said she would go and show the lady her fine twin, and immediately return to her. She followed the prisoner up a court, not choosing to part from her child, when her little girl, who was walking by her side, fell over some bricks. She assisted her to get up, and then turned round to look for the prisoner, who was gone out of sight. The prosecutrix immediately screamed out, being unable to pursue the prisoner, from the incumbrance of her two children. Her cries collected a number of people about her, some of whom were going to take her into custody, on account of the clamour she raised. This was about three o'clock in the afternoon; she ran about in search of the prisoner and her child until half past seven o'clock. She particularly noticed the prisoner's person, who had a tooth broken out in her right upper jaw, was of a swarthy complexion, had dark eyes, and was much pitted with the small-pox: she was dressed in a reddish spotted gown, a light shawl, and a black straw bonnet. Poor as she was, the prosecutrix immediately had advertisements and hand-bills published, with this description of the prisoner, for which she paid seventeen shillings. The same night she gave information at Lambeth Street police office. Six weeks afterwards she was taken on board a ship in the Thames, when the prisoner was pointed out to her, and she immediately recognised her, and found her lost child in the prisoner's arms. As she ascended the side of the ship she heard a child cry, and knew it was the voice of her infant. The moment she perceived it she asked the prisoner to let her have a kiss of her baby, when a sailor, who was standing by, said 'No, not if you were the Queen of England,' and took the child out of the prisoner's arms. Her child appeared thinner than it was when she lost it. The prisoner was not suckling the child.. She never entertained a doubt of the prisoner being the woman who stole her child. Dalton then took the prisoner into custody, and went ashore with her, the prosecutrix, and child. When she undressed the child she found the piece of blanket it had on when she lost it round its body. The prisoner said it was very silly of the prosecutrix to think the child was hers, it being her own, and seemed very unwilling to part with it. The twins were females, and greatly resembled each other. The sailor said he was the father of the child, and acted as if he thought so.
Elizabeth Murray, a widow, deposed that she lived next door to the prosecutrix: had known her for fifteen years: remembered her being delivered of twins: saw her in Golden Lane about six or seven o'clock in the evening of the day on which she lost one of them; saw a child that was found on board of a ship by the prosecutrix, which she believed was the same that was lost, though it was much wasted. It died last Friday. The mother had plenty of milk, and kept them in 'good case.'
Ebenezer Dalton, the officer, deposed that he went with the prosecutrix on board the Hugh Inglis East Indiaman where he saw the prisoner, and, from the description he had had of her from the prosecutrix, immediately knew her: she had a child in her arms, which she fed with pap. He told the prisoner he had come about the child, which she said was her own, and she would show him the room where she was delivered: that she was taken in labour in the Minories, and named the very day on which the child was lost, when she stated a young woman took her to her apartments, where she was immediately delivered, in White Horse Court, Rosemary Lane: the young Woman's name, she said, was Mary Brown. When there, she could show the officer where the man-midwife lived who was fetched to attend upon her, as it must be near the place, the young woman who went for him having been absent only a very short time; that she was delivered at three o'clock, and returned to her home in Blythe's Buildings, Sun Street, Bishopsgate, at five o'clock, in a coach, where she lived with her mother, though in a separate apartment; and Swaine (the sailor who refused to let the prosecutrix kiss the child) was its father. When the prosecutrix first saw the prisoner with the child in her arms, she flew towards her, and would have struck her if he had not interfered, exclaiming, 'That is my child, and that is the woman who stole her from me.' The prosecutrix's description of the prisoner's person was correct, except with regard to her age. He brought the prisoner to London, accompanied by the prosecutrix, who refused to be again separated from her child, and it was restored to her by the order of the magistrate. He then inquired ineffectually, at every house in White Hart Court, for a person named Mary Brown; and, on telling the prisoner of his ill success, she said she must have mistaken the name of the court; but, if she were to go herself, she could find the place. He went with her by desire of the magistrate, and she led him to Johnson's Court, Rosemary Lame, and pointed out a house, in which she said she was delivered in the front room, up one pair of stairs. Miller, another officer, who was along with them, went into the house, and returned with Elizabeth Fisher, who inhabited the room described by the prisoner, who, when she saw her, appeared much confused, and said she did not know her, though she was sure of the house; and Elizabeth Fisher professed herself unacquainted with the prisoner. He went to the only man-midwife near, who said he had never delivered a woman in the house they mentioned, and the prisoner said he was not the person. Swaine gave up his voyage, and accompanied the witness and prisoner in a post-chaise to London, to assert his right to the child. There were other women with children in their arms besides the prisoner on the deck of the ship, when the prosecutrix, without hesitation, fixed upon her as the woman who stole her child.
Isabella Gray deposed that she lived at No.3, Blythe's Buildings, in Sun Street. The prisoner and Swaine lodged in her house as man and wife. Saw the prisoner go out about one o'clock on the 14th October: remembers her dress, which she described to have been the same as that the prosecutrix swore was worn by the woman who stole her child. Prisoner had lodged in her house about three months. The witness went out in the afternoon, and on her return was told by the prisoner's mother that she was delivered. Saw the child, and remarked it was a very large one, appearing like a child of a month old more than like a new-born infant. The prisoner heard her say this, but made no reply. Swaine was in the room at the time: witness asked him if that was his child. He said 'So they told him: he had just come into the house.' Prisoner had previously appeared like a woman who was pregnant: never saw any medical man or other person attending the prisoner on account of her lying-in.
Grace Brown deposed that she lived opposite to the prisoner in Blythe's Buildings: saw her come into the court about five o'clock in the afternoon of the 14th of October. The prisoner did not appear as if she had been just delivered: she had had children herself, and did not believe that any woman who had been only delivered that afternoon could have walked up the court as prisoner did. Prisoner had been big six months: she had jumped out of a two pair of stairs' window whilst she was said to be pregnant: never spoke to the prisoner.
The prisoner, in her defence, told the same story to the Court which she had related to Dalton, and pointed out Elizabeth Fisher as the person who took her into her room, where she persisted she was delivered, and that Elizabeth Fisher called herself Mary Brown, to which name she said she answered before the magistrate.
Elizabeth Fisher was called, and declared she never saw the prisoner before she was brought to her house by the officer; that, when before the magistrate, she had answered to the name of Brown, on some person's addressing her by that appellation, being greatly alarmed by the circumstance of appearing before a magistrate.
The mother of the prisoner, Swaine, the reputed father of the child, and two other persons, ineffectually endeavoured to establish the prisoner's innocence, and to prove that the child was her own.
The jury unhesitatingly found her Guilty; sentence, seven years' transportation. A sum of money, for the relief of the prosecutrix, was subscribed by the jury.