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‘I said to her, “The child’s head is cut off.” I have seen her several times since, and she still insists that the head came off.’ Esther Dyson 1807-1869

Hugh Dominic WStiles29 November 2019

William Dyson (baptised 1804) and his sister Esther, were born in Ecclesfield, Yorkshire, and were both Deaf.  They were children of Isaac and Hannah Dyson, and Esther was the youngest of eight.  I do not know the fates of all the children, but one of the newspapers said that they had no parents or siblings surviving in 1831, though there were other Dysons still in the village.  I came across Esther’s story in the newspaper archive, and it is a sorry tale of neglect.  I will leave it to the papers to tell the story.

CHILD MURDER. Sheffield, Sept. 30.

Some excitement has been occasioned in Sheffield and the neighbourhood for the last two days, in consequence of the discovery of child murder, young woman, 23 years of age, at a village called Ecclesfield, on the road to Leeds from Sheffield. The accused person is Esther Dyson, a deaf and dumb girl, working at a thread-mill at that place, girl of exceeding good appearance, and remarkably shrewd and cunning.

THE INQUEST.

On Thursday, a respectable body of men assembled at the house of Mr. Ashton, the Black Bull Inn, in Ecclesfield, near Sheffield, before Mr. B. Badge, coroner for that district of Yorkshire, on view of the body of the child, when the following evidence was adduced -Ellen Greaves, the wife Thomas Greaves, of Ecclesfield, in the county York, file-cutter, deposed – I knew Esther Dyson, single woman, who is about 23 years of age; she is deaf and dumb ; I live next door to her, and she lives with her brother, who is also deaf and dumb. Three or four months ago I challenged her with being in the family way, but she denied it; she has sufficient knowledge, in my opinion, to know what is right or wrong, and I can make her understand by signs what I mean. About a month ago I again challenged her with being with child, and she seemed angry with me, and she told me signs that it was some stuff that she had applied inwardly and outwardly to her throat, which had made her body swell. I made signs to her to begin and make some clothes for her child, at the same time showing her my infant, but she seemed to blow it away, making signs showing that she was not with child; I was in the habit of seeing Esther Dyson daily. On Friday last, the 24th ult., I saw her about twelve o’clock, at her own house-door, and she appeared quite big in the family way ; I did not see her again till about nine o’clock on Saturday morning, when she was washing the house-floor, and she seemed pale, languid, and weak. On Saturday morning last, about nine o’clock, I motioned her to know how she was; she then had a flannel tied round her neck. She motioned to that she had thrown up a large substance, and it had settled her body. About three o’clock on Sunday last, the 20th inst., I went to her house, and her brother motioned me that his sister was in bed very sick, but I did not go up stairs. About four o’clock on the same day, she appeared poorly and weak, and I desired her brother make her some tea, and I stopped till she took it. I left about five o’clock Sunday afternoon. From her altered appearance I have doubt she had been delivered of a child.

Hannah Butcher corroborated the above evidence, and said, that from her observation, as a married woman, she believed the prisoner had been delivered of a child on the Friday.

William Graham examined.- I am a blacksmith. I know the prisoner, and think her intelligent. On Saturday night last, 20th inst., at about 8 o’clock, I was returning home to Ecclesfield from Wortley, and I met the prisoner in Lee-lane, in Ecclesfield township, with something wrapped before her apron. She was on a footpath leading from Ecclesfield to Wortley and about 600 yards from the Cotton-mill Dam, where the body of female child has been found. She having passed, I met H. Woodhouse, and he asked me if it was not the dumb girl whom I had met ? and I said yes, it was.

Fanny Guest, a gentleman’s servant, who had been in conversation with Woodhouse, deposed to her having also seen the dumb girl pass her, with something under her apron.
James Henderson, overlooker of the thread-mill belonging to Mr. Barlow, knows the prisoner and her brother, who is also deaf and dumb. They have worked in the mill 11 years. Is satisfied that the dumb girl is capable of distinguishing right from wrong. On Sunday last witness went to Wm. Dyson, the dumb man’s house, and he willingly gave me his keys to examine the boxes belonging to him. I saw nothing suspicious in his room. I then examined the prisoner’s room, and I found blood on the chamber floor, and blood partially wiped off the floor. The wall was also sprinkled with blood. I withdrew the curtain of her chamber window, and observed marks of blood on the window bottom. I opened a hand-box, and found two aprons and a skirt, on which appeared as if a substance had been laid upon them, the blood having run through the skirt. The prisoner came up stairs, and, by signs, desired me to come away, and not search. Being convinced that something wrong had been done, I sent for the vestry clark, and in his presence searched the prisoner’s box, and found several articles, from which it was evident that they belonged to person who had been delivered of a child. On Monday last, about an hour after the child had been found in the dam, it was brought to the Ecclesfield workhouse, and laid down she blamed him? She then satisfied me that he had no-thing to do with it, but that she had done it herself .She told her brother in my presence that she did not throw the child into the dam. She merely laid it in. I conceive the prisoner to be a shrewd, clever woman.

Ann Briggs examined – I am the wife of Thomas Briggs, cutler of Ecclesfield. The piece of green cloth produced by Wm. Shaw, the constable, and in which the child was found, is part of a sofa cover belonging to Wm. Dyson, prisoner’s brother ; I took the body of the child out the cloth, and then to the workhouse ; I also, at the same time, took the head of the child also found in the dam, out of a separate piece of green cloth, which also belonged the sofa alluded to. I have practised as midwife for upwards of 20 years, and it is my opinion that the head of the child had been cut off by some dull instrument. Mr. Thomas Yeardley, who has a dumb child of his own gave me some books, which are published for the purpose of instructing deaf and dumb children; for up- wards of 12 months I instructed the prisoner in signs and learning her the dumb alphabet, and she obtained that instruction that I am convinced she can understand me ; she is of very quick apprehension. Monday last I went to the prisoner, and asked her to explain the manner to me how she was delivered of her child. I said to her, “The child’s head is cut off.” I have seen her several times since, and she still insists that the head came off. On reproving her with throwing it into the dam, she showed that she had, not thrown in it, but had laid it in pretty and nice.

James Machin deposed that, in consequence of information given him Sunday night, he went to the prisoner’s house, and found it in the state described by the other witnesses. I, assisted by W. Shaw, the constable of Ecclesfield, searched the dam, and pulled out the headless body of a fine full-grown infant – a female. This witness went on to corroborate the testimony of Henderson and Greaves, as to the appearance, in the prisoner’s bed-room.

Sarah Ingham deposed – l am the governess of the Ecclesfield workhouse. I went to the house of Dyson, and received from Henderson certain articles wrapped in bundle; they were saturated with blood. The articles produced are the same, and have been in my care ever since. I examined the breasts of the prisoner, and found a deal milk in them. She told the same story to the manner in which the head came off, she did the other witnesses. I produced a knife to her, and showed signs that she bad cut the head off. But she threw herself on one side, and shunned the idea.

Wm. Shaw, the constable of Ecclesfield, confirmed the testimony of Machin.

Mr. Wm. Jackson, lecturer on anatomy, stated that on the 27th day of September last he examined Esther Dyson the prisoner, and she had every appearance of having been recently delivered. He was decidedly of opinion, from the examination, that the head of the child had not been torn or screwed off by the mother. He had had no doubt, from the particular examination of the body of the deceased, and from the appearance that it exhibited on that examination, that the child was born alive.

Mr. Joseph Campbell, surgeon, having also examined both the woman and the child, fully corroborated Mr. Jackson’s testimony.

The coroner having summed up,

The jury retired, and in few minutes returned with verdict of Wilful Murder against Esther Dyson.

The coroner then issued a warrant for the unfortunate woman’s committal to York Castle, to take her trial the ensuing Lent Assizes. (London Evening Standard – Saturday, 2nd October, 1830)

It would be interesting to trace Yeardley’s child, and work out which book she or he was taught with – I would suggest Watson’s as used in the Old Kent Road Asylum.  No one seems interested in who the father might have been – no doubt there was plenty of speculation locally.  How much Esther knew of what society deems right and wrong, we can only guess.

Six months later, the case was decided in the Assizes.

FRIDAY, March 25. CHARGE OF MURDER.

ESTHER DYSON was this morning placed at the bar, charged with the wilful murder of her female bastard child, at Ecclesfield, near Rotherham, on the 24th of Sept, last.
In consequence of the prisoner labouring under the infirmity of having been born deaf and dumb, the greatest interest was excited, and the galleries were crowded on the opening of Court.

The prisoner is 26 years of age, but does not appear so old. She is rather tall, and of slender make. She has light hair and complexion, and of rather a pleasing and pensive cast of feature. She was dressed in a coloured silk bonnet, a light calico printed dress, and a red cloth cloak. She had the appearance of a respectable female in the lower walks of life.

The Clerk of the Arraigns having read over the indictment, which contained four counts, in which the charge was differently stated, put the question, “Guilty or Not Guilty,” to which, in consequence of her infirmity, she made no answer.

The Jury was then impanelled, pro forma, to try whether she stood mute of malice, or from the act of God.

James Henderson was then sworn, who deposed that he communicate ideas to her by signs. He was then sworn to interpret the various questions to the prisoner.

In reply to a question from the judge, the witness stated In reply to a question from the judge, the witness stated that the prisoner had no counsel – that she had no father, mother or relative, except a brother, who was himself deaf and dumb.

His Lordship said she must have counsel, and at his request Sir Gregory Lewin undertook to conduct the defence. years, endeavoured to make the prisoner understand, by signs, that she might object to any of the gentlemen of the Jury, but he failed to make her comprehend the Jury, but he failed to make her comprehend the nature of the question.

The Jury returned a verdict “that the prisoner was not sane.”

The Judge then directed her to be remanded, and every proper means taken to instruct her. In a previous part of the proceedings, the Judge said he should reserve the point tor the consideration of the Judges, whether she should be tried upon the charge, or confined during the King’s pleasure. (York Herald – Saturday, 26th of March 1831)

Esther seems to have lived out her life in the asylum, dying in 1869, and was buried on the 23rd of March 1869, at the Parish of Stanley, York, England.  William died, I think, in 1875.

We should recall that at this time you could be hanged for robbery and assault – that was the fate of three young men at the same assizes – Turner, Twibell and Priestley-

“Lord have mercy upon your souls.” During the passing of the sentence, Turner wept bitterly ; and, at the conclusion, exclaimed ” Oh, dear.” Twibell also sobs, and cried out – Oh, Lord spare our lives.” (ibid)

…so I think she was fortunate.

It really is not my intention to continually add lurid stories of death here, but that was life at the time.  This tale is another one that points to the sad way many Deaf people in the past were unsupported, though it also shows that 19th century society was not without compassion, and how, despite their faults, the Institutions (schools and missions) could reduce this from happening as often, by giving children the ability to communicate and belong to a community.

Incidentally, Sir George Lewin came to an unfortunate end after getting into financial trouble.

Esther 

1841 Census – Class: HO107; Piece: 1271; Book: 10; Civil Parish: Wakefield; County: Yorkshire; Enumeration District: West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum Yorkshire; Folio: 51; Page: 16; Line: 10; GSU roll: 464241

England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892 Class: HO 27; Piece: 42; Page: 403

England, Select Deaths and Burials, 1538-1991

https://ourcriminalancestors.org/the-story-of-esther-dyson/

‘Natural Pantomime’: Spectacle, Silence and Speech Disability Kate Mattacks

https://www.sheffieldhistory.co.uk/forums/topic/9047-infanticide-by-a-deaf-and-dumb-mother/

William

Deaths, 1875, March – 

DYSON  William  71  Wortley  9c 191

1871 Census – Class: HO107; Piece: 2335; Folio: 241; Page: 21; GSU roll: 87581-87582 

Yorkshire CCLXXXVIII.8 (Ecclesfield; Sheffield) 
Surveyed: 1890, Published: 1892

 

“the trouble… starting through one of them brushing some water on to the other’s coal” – Deaf Derbyshire Dress Maker, Sarah (H)annice Sneap, née Grainger,1871-1955

Hugh Dominic WStiles14 November 2019

Sarah Grainger was born on the 11th of January, 1871, in Stoneyford (a small place right on the railway line that seems to have disappeared from modern maps), Loscoe, Derbyshire, and her birth registered as Sarah Hannice Grainger.  Her parents were Frances and Samuel Grainger, and her father worked in a colliery as an engine driver.  She attended the Derby School under Dr. William R. Roe, and in the beautifully produced quarterly magazine for the school, Our Deaf and Dumb for September 1895, her photograph appears with a column that was, I imagine, written by Roe.

At the time it came out, Sarah was working as a dress maker.  Roe tells us that the photographer has not flattered her.  He continues,

Our friend, when a pupil here, showed no special aptitude in any particular line, but a cheerful willingness to do whatever she was called upon to undertake, and to ‘do it well.’ This, after all, is a very good trait in anyone’s character, and reminds us of a leading statesman, who, on being reminded by a fellow-statesman that he used to be only a boot-black, replied, Didn’t I black the boots well r That’s the point, to do well’ all we undertake, and then success is sure to follow, as in the case of our friend, who is now in business for herself as a dressmaker, and, we are told, ‘has a nice little connexion.’ When travelling once, a lady told us she thought our old pupil improved both in lip-reading and speech.’ This is encouraging to us, and no doubt is a great aid to our friend in speaking on business matters to her customers.

We know she has had many obstacles in her way, and are glad of it. Yes, the true value of a difficulty has never yet been estimated. It is a real stimulus. It is like a ladder set up that one may climb. It is a tacit invitation to command the outlook. It is the open door of opportunity. It is the intimation to look within and discover one’s latent powers, and use them. Very few come up to their highest measure of success. Some fail through timidity or lack of nerve ; they are unwilling to take the risks incident to life, and fail through fear in venturing on ordinary duties ; they lack the pluck necessary to success in life. Others fail through imprudence, lack of discretion, care, or sound judgment. ‘They over-estimate the future, build air-castles, venture beyond their depth, fail, and fall. A still greater number fail through lack of application and perseverance. They begin with good resolves, but soon get tired of that and want a change, thinking they can do much better at something else, and, alas ! move aimlessly from one thing to another without any set purpose in view. No one has a right to live aimlessly, for no one has a right to abandon reason and self-control, and consent to be a mere waif, drifting hither and thither like chaff before the wind. Whether deaf or hearing we are endowed with reason, conscience, and will, in order that we may both become and do that which is noble and beneficent. Let us remember that we live in a busy world, where the idle and lazy do not count in the plan of campaign ; and let every girl now within the walls of our Institution—yea, and those who have left us, too—remember the good old text, ‘Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might.’

In 1905 Sarah married a Deaf man from Ilkeston, who was ten years younger, a labourer and coal hewer called John Henry Sneap (1881-1936).  Sneap was possibly the same person who was recorded as having an accident in the Derby Daily Telegraph for Friday 31st of May, 1935 –

John Sneap (60), miner, of Marehay was admitted to the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary to-day with a severely injured right leg. He is employed by the Butterley Co., and was caught by a fall of bind in the Marehay pit.

If that is him, it may have contributed to his death the following year, as he died in 1936.

Just as I thought I had finished writing this, I discovered that Sarah was another Deaf person who made it into the local press, in an unfortunate minor case.  This is from the Mansfield Reporter for Friday, the 23rd of November, 1917, adjacent to stories about cauliflower thefts and damaging turnips 

DEAF AND DUMB WOMAN IN COURT.

Two Selston women aired their grievances before the magistrates, the trouble apparently starting through one of them brushing some water on to the other’s coal. The complainant was Elias Jane Swain, and she said that a week ago last Tuesday the defendant Sarah A. Sneap, who is deaf and dumb, and who had the assistance of her brother-in-law as interpreter, struck her on the face with a yard brush, and when she put her hand up to defend herself she got a second blow on the arm.

—When this was explained to defendant through the deaf and dumb alphabet, she stated, through the same means, that complainant struck her first, and that she then acted in self defence.—The brother-in-law: She can’t hear or speak, but she has instincts, and she knows that complainant has made game of her, and has put her fists into her face.

—Defendant: I have not done such a thing.

—Complainant’s little boy said defendant struck the first blow, and then his mother took the brush away from her, and struck her with it.

—The Bench dismissed the case.

—The brother-in-law asked for some form of protection for Mrs. Sneap, but was told she must take proceedings with this end in view.

We learn from this that John Sneap’s brother could presumably sign, though it is always difficult to be sure whether someone is only using the ‘finger alphabet’ or is properly interpreting with sign language, as local reporters would possibly not have been clear as to the difference.

Sarah lived on in Basford, closer to Nottingham, and died in 1955.  Her death merited a notice in the Ripley and Heanor News and Ilkeston Division Free Press for Friday, the 6th of January, 1956 – 

BRINSLEY RESIDENT’S DEATH.

The death occurred on Wednesday of last week of Mrs. Sarah Annice Sneap, of 37, Plain Spot, New Brinsley, at the ago of 84 years. Although deaf and dumb, Mrs. Sneap led very active life, and was well-known locally for her dressmaking abilities, which she carried on until prevented by her declining years.

The funeral took place at St. James’ Church. Brinsley, and was conducted by the Rev. F. H. Newbery on Saturday last.  Mrs. Daff, sister of deceased, was unable to attend.

The chief mourners were: Mr. and Mrs G. Grainger, Mr. and Mrs. R. V. Daff, Mr. and Mrs. H. Reynolds, Mr. and Mrs. A. Daff, Mr. and Mrs. I. Daff. Mr. B. Eley, Mrs. Clarke, Mrs. Mellors, Mrs. Williamson, nephews and nieces; Mr. L. Moore and Mrs. Ayre, cousins; Mr. W. Rockley, friend; Mr. Fox (Deaf and Dumb Institute secretary); Mrs. Hill and Mrs. Chamberlain, friends.

Floral tributes were sent all the above; also Annice. Mabel and family; Mr. and Mrs. Rockley and Shirley; Mr. and Mrs. Purdy; Mr. and Mrs. Riley and Kit; Mrs. Andrews; Friends and Neighbours of Plain Spot and Frances Street.

Sarah Annice Grainger, Our Deaf and Dumb, September 1895, Vol. 2 no. 2 p. 25

Grainger

1881 Census – Class: RG11; Piece: 3320; Folio: 40; Page: 6; GSU roll: 1341791

1891 Census – Class: RG12; Piece: 2658; Folio: 32; Page: 3

1901 Census – Class: RG13; Piece: 3143; Folio: 51; Page: 41

1939 Register; Reference: RG 101/6254C

Sneap

1901  Census – Class: RG13; Piece: 3150; Folio: 72; Page: 28

1911 Census – Class: RG14; Piece: 20357

Derby Daily Telegraph – Friday 31 May 1935

Two Lady Workers, Sophia Rhind & Rose Maugham

Hugh Dominic WStiles19 December 2014

Sophia Rhind (also called Sophie) was born in Belfast circa 1846 (she was 89 when she died in 1933), when her father Charles Rhind was teaching in that city.  They moved around a fair amount when she was young.  They lived in Aberystwyth for a while where her father founded the Cambrian Institution before it moved to Swansea, then on to Edinburgh, and the family ended up in London, with Charles Rhind becoming the Chaplain to the Deaf at St. Saviour’s Church after the Rev. Stainer.  She learnt teaching with the oral method from Simon Schoentheil or Schöntheil and became a teacher of the deaf, but only learnt finger-spelling properly Gilby says, when her father became the Chaplain.  Sophia taught the girls’ bible class, and the mothers’ Dorcas meetings.  After her parents died the R.A.D.D. appointed her ‘lady-visitor’ to the deaf until she retired from that work in 1916 (Ephphatha 1916).

Rose Maugham was born in Clerkenwell in 1849, losing her hearing we are told aged 10 due to scarlet fever.  The 1871 census, when she was living in Paradise Road, Lambeth with her father Alexander (a printer) and mother Ellen (a laundress) does not record her as deaf.  This shows that we should be cautious with census information because people often under-reported these things, did not know them, or made mistakes.  Additionally, the transcriptions I used have her surname as ‘Mangham’ – an easy error for someone unfamiliar with English names.*  In the 1891 census she was still living in Paradise Road, with her brother-in-law Edwin Penn who ran a laundry.  Interestingly a neighbour who was a dressmaker, Sarah Chandler (born in Effingham and aged 59), was also ‘deaf from childhood’.  There is much potential to use census returns and other records to fill out our understanding of the lives of ordinary people in the 19th century.

Lady workers 001Of the mission work that Miss Maugham and Miss Rhind did in the 1890s, Gilby says,

The poor women of the Mothers’ Meetings were given tea and a bun, and to see them bringing their children from even Fulham some miles away made one realise how precious to them was this hour or two of human fellowship, enjoyed fortnightly. Cricklewood and Kensal Green sent their poor and the good that Miss Rhind did at Oxford Street and Miss Maugham did at Deptford will only be known in that Great Day when the Master shall reward his faithful servants who toiled for love of His children, for whom He died.

Miss Rhind

The lady we see here, is Miss Rhind, at a flag day outside St. Saviour’s Oxford Street, circa 1920.

In 1911 Rose Maugham was living in Balham*, and she lived on until 1936, dying aged 87.

*Her name is consistently wrongly transcribed as ‘Mangham’ in the transcriptions of the censuses.

Miss Maugham died in 1936, aged eighty-seven (BDT).

Sophie Rhind

Miss Sophie Mary Rhind, and Miss R. Maugham.  Ephphatha, Vol. 1 1896, p.21-2

Miss Sophie Mary Rhind.  Ephphatha, 1916, no.29 p.422-3

Gilby Memoirs

1891 Census RG12; Piece: 401; Folio: 19; Page: 31; GSU roll: 6095511

Late Miss Rose Maugham, BDT p.84, 1936

Page updated 26/4/2019

 

 

“Social purity work” – Dunbar Lodge, Maternity and Rescue Home for Deaf and Dumb Girls, 1927-1940?

Hugh Dominic WStiles8 August 2014

Dunbar Lodge, 20 Kings Avenue Clapham,the Maternity and Rescue Home for Deaf and Dumb Girls was founded by the Royal Association for the Deaf and Dumb in 1927.  It had its roots in 1924 “the year a Committee was first appointed to deal with the question of making special provision for Deaf and Dumb girls in this branch of Social purity work” (Annual Report 1929-30).  It aimed to rescue and house “Deaf and Dumb unmarried mothers and their babies, and […] other Deaf and Dumb girls in moral danger” (see various annual reports).  In March 1929 there were eight girls and seven babies.  “The girls stay at least one year and longer if it is thought necessary” (Annual Report 1929-30).  In addition to annual reports we have two minute books that cover the period up to 1938.   They cover all sorts of issues including building work, for example on 18th December 1929 we read that

A letter was read from the Architect giving estimates for various items in his original report. It was decided to authorise Miss Daniels to have the tiles and gutters attended to and the Baby Shelter re-roofed with asbestos but not to proceed with the other items.

We can only hope that mesothelioma was not a consequence in those babies.Dunbar Lodge

Although of the nature of these minutes, covering delicate issues that include illegitimacy and having the names of some of the women concerned might make us consider that early parts of the minutes are closed records, they pretty quickly started to refer to the inmates by number, thus ensuring anonymity.  An early Medical Officer for the home in 1929 was a Dr. Janet McGill.  I am sure it would be possible to find out more about her from a medical directory of the appropriate date.  That same year the home was visited by H.H. Princess Marie Louise who “spoke most feelingly to the guests, assembled in the garden, of the handicap of Deaf and Dumbness, and of the need which the Home was supplying.”  In the 1937/8 report we read that

Minutes Dunbar LodgeThe Home is financed by payments made for the girls  and their babies by those responsible for sending them to the Home, usually Public Assistance Committees, and by the grant from the L.C.C., these represent, roughly, two thirds of the total cost, leaving the final third, about £350 to be met by subscriptions and donations. The Committee decided last year to raise the charge made for the maintenance of the girls but it is impossible to raise it sufficiently to cover the whole cost and the Committee therefore appeal again for increased supposrt in the for of subscriptions and donations, an additional £250 p.a. is needed.

As we see, it was not a cheap place to keep running.  The 21st January 1938 minutes say there was an accumulated deficit of £1,213!  Without checking the R.A.D.D. annual reports I am not clear when the home closed, but wonder if the war was the final nail?  In the last report we have, for 1940, Lord Nuffield had generously given £500 on condition that they raised £100 more.  The building is gone now.

Click onto this page from the minutes where we read the shocking news that nurse Masters had joined the Church of Rome!

 

Annual Reports 1928-38

Minute books 1929-38

Updated 4/2/2019