For most unmarried Victorian women an unexpected pregnancy meant poverty and hardship
Emma Darby, was in an impossible situation: she was unmarried and pregnant in 1880. Somehow she managed to conceal her pregnancy while working as a servant for James Tyler, a smith and bell-hanger from Middlesex. But early in February, she felt the first twinges of labour.
Even the usually unobservant Tyler noticed that she was unwell: “calling her to mind the shop, I noticed her looking peculiarly wild and strange.” Later he noticed that his toilet was not flushing properly. Peering down into the bowl, Tyler noticed “something like skin” wedged down the pipe. He tried to move the obstacle, nudging it with a broom handle, but it was stuck fast. Finally he reached in and pulled out the sodden corpse of a new born baby boy, “quite dead,” with his umbilical cord still attached.
The baby’s skull was “broken in, causing a hole large enough to admit a small orange,” which suggested that a “blunt iron or wooden instrument” must have been used to shove him down the toilet headfirst. His umbilical cord was still attached.
Tyler called the police, who arrested Emma and charged her with “feloniously, wilfully and of malice aforethought" murdering her new born baby son. The coroner, Dr Alfred Kay judged that the baby's injuries could not have been caused by someone pushing the child down the toilet.
Emma told the police "all she knew of it was she went to the WC to make water and fainted away." She refused to answer the charge. I haven't found any record of Emma's sentence, but other women, like Amy Gregory of Richmond in 1894, who were tried for similar crimes were sentenced to death or life in prison.
Victorian unmarried mothers, especially working class ones faced an impossible dilemma during the nineteenth century. Most employers would turn them out as soon as their condition became obvious and then it was the workhouse or often unsympathetic relatives. After they gave birth few would employ a mother and child and lodging your child with a nurse cost money.
The saddest aspect of Emma's desperate act was that it wasn't unusual – that same year Ann Noakes of Reigate was charged with murdering her baby son. In 1894 Minnie Wells was tried for killing her twin daughters.
You can read the depositions for Emma's case at The National Archives in CRIM 1/7/6.