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Selina Sudbury and a death in Derby

Selina Sudbury was born on November 14th 1823, the elder daughter of High Street lacemaker William and Hannah (nee Swindell).
While still living at Ilkeston she gave birth to at least two illegitimate children … an unnamed son born in January 1847 who died three weeks later, and a daughter, Maria Louisa, born on July 26th 1848.
On the 1851 census Selina was listed as a house maid at Weston Lodge, Weston Underwood, the home of the Honourable Sophia Curzon (nee Holden), the (recent) widow of Reverend the Honourable Alfred Curzon. Her daughter Maria Louisa was left behind in Park Road, Ilkeston, lodging with washerwoman Mary Spencer.

While serving at the Lodge, Selina met wheelwright Benjamin Ride of the village and in August of 1851 the couple married at Derby Register Office.

Four months later the Derby Mercury reported the discovery, on December 3rd, of the dead body of a female infant in the canal near Siddal’s Bridge in the city ‘under circumstances which left no doubt as to its having been drowned’. The grim find was made by William Calladine, an employee for Messrs Smith, Cox & Co, cheese factors in Siddals Lane, as he was opening up the warehouse about 8am. He and his mate Thomas Clarke then recovered the body from the canal and took it to the nearby Railway Tavern where it was subsequently examined by the coroner and an inquest jury. There was a cord around the child’s neck and the fully-dressed body had been weighted with a brick. A post mortem examination by Derby surgeon Henry Francis Gisborne established that the child had drowned after eating a plentiful meal of meat, potatoes and apples, and had been in the water for only a few hours before its discovery.
Although several people were quickly detained, on suspicion of being connected with the revolting crime‘, neither the identity of the infant nor of the perpetrator of the wilful murder’ was immediately discovered.
The body was then buried in St Peter’s Church graveyard.

Three months later …  enter George Small.

In mid-March 1852 the constable heard talk in Ilkeston which aroused his suspicions and which, after ‘searching inquiries’, caused him to travel to Weston Underwood to interview Selina. She told him that her daughter had died in Derby and had been buried in the cemetery there, an assertion which George quickly and easily proved was false. There had been no burial at the cemetery to match that described by Selina (though on several occasions she changed her story about who had buried the child and when).
Armed with a warrant, George then apprehended Selina and accompanied her to Derby where she was interrogated by the borough magistrates along with several other concerned parties.

It emerged that Benjamin Ride only heard of his wife’s illegitimate daughter two months after their marriage and that, although he did not want the child in his house he was prepared to pay for her support. Maria Louisa was thus taken from Ilkeston to Basford Workhouse in July but Selina became concerned about the apparent lack of care her child was receiving there. So, in mid-November 1851, she took Maria Louisa out of the workhouse and to the home of her sister Ann. The latter had married labourer Charles Wright on November 27th 1849 and in 1851 the couple were living in Plumtree Place, off Darley Lane in Derby. After a few weeks Charles became dissatisfied with the weekly allowance of 1s 6d he was being paid to look after the child and ordered his wife to return Maria Louisa to her mother. Which she duly did.
The timing of these events was however much open to question … Ann’s lack of education meant that she was almost totally unware of what the present month was, what the date was, at any particular time. Also there appeared to be little love or good-feeling between Ann and her sister and her infant niece, in stark contrast to the affection and care shown by Benjamin to his wife.
The child’s body having been disinterred from the church graveyard, a few days later Selina appeared before Derby magistrates for a preliminary inquiry, charged with the murder of her daughter Maria Louisa, by drowning her in the Derby canal.
‘A painfully evident change in (Selina’s) personal deportment and appearance gave sad testimony of the mental agony under which she had suffered during the period of her incarceration … her wan visage and exclamations betokened that too surely her health had been severely affected.
Selina’s husband and uncle were present to support her although the rest of the court audience was much less charitably disposed towards her. Up to this time the legal adviser representing Selina had been refused permission to speak with her, and this refusal continued…. and would do so until or if she were committed for trial.

At the investigation Selina’s sister Ann Wright indentified only a few of the items of clothing found on the dead child, and then not with great certainty.

Also giving evidence was Ilkeston watch and clock maker James Webster Spencer of Park Road — whose unmarried sister Mary lived next door to James and had taken in the child for a time. He had known Selina from birth and had often nursed and cared for her child. He had been asked to look at the corpse, then lying in St. Peter’s Church and had been able to identify it as Maria Louisa .. a scar on the bosom had been caused by a spark when in the ‘care’ of his sister, and a wound on the thigh he recognised as one caused from previous neglect.
(Surgeon Henry Francis Gisborne later re-examined the body and was adamant that there were no scars or marks as described by James).
The watchmaker’s 17-year-old daughter Ruth Webster Spencer similarly identified the body as did two other witnesses.
Thus at the culmination of this inquiry Selina was committed for trial at the next assizes.
‘From the dreadfully prostrated state in which she continued during the investigation, and the condition in which the prisoner is, the most lively fears were entertained that a fatal result might be precipitated in her case, and during Sunday it was … rumoured that she had died in the course of the previous night’… a rumour which proved false.

We move on to July 1852 and at Derbyshire Midsummer Assizes Selina was still very weak and had to be carried into the dock where, sitting, she pleaded not guilty to the wilful murder of her daughter.

After all the evidence and witnesses had been examined, Mr Serjeant Miller, defending Selina, argued that she had no motive for killing her daughter, loved her child, visited her regularly when at the workhouse, took her away when she thought she was being neglected, and was willing to pay her sister for caring for Maria Louisa.
Selina’s conversations with George Small about the burial could well have been misunderstood or misinterpreted by the constable.
But most important of all was the doubt over identity. The child found in the canal was ‘in a healthy state’ whereas Maria Louisa was described by all as ‘exceedingly delicate’, and there was much dispute over the existence of scars and marks on the body.
Summing up, the judge Sir John Taylor Coleridge pointed out that there was no doubt that the child had been murdered but the jury must be certain that the child belonged to Selina and that she was the one who had then committed the murder.
‘The Jury, after about five minutes deliberation, returned a verdict of NOT GUILTY. This decision was received with some applause from persons in the body of the court. The woman was carried from the dock nearly in a state of insensibilty’.

 Footnotes.

During her detention period Selina was described as a ‘rather good-looking woman, about 30 years of age’, and ‘a very interesting looking person, seemingly about 25 or 27 years of age’.

Selina’s father William Sudbury died in Ilkeston on October 3rd 1844, aged 49. Her mother Hannah died on January 10th 1846.
After that she was in the care of ‘her uncle’.
She had three ‘Sudbury’ uncles….
….. Thomas Sudbury, the High Street lacemaker.
….. Francis Sudbury, hosier of South Street and father of the Francis junior, first mayor of Ilkeston.
….. Alfred Sudbury, bachelor lace manufacturer of Anchor Row.

During her trial the father of Selina’s illegitimate daughter was named as ‘Thomas Sowery’ or ‘Sowray’.

While awaiting her trial Selina gave birth to a child in prison.

And now into East Street.

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