WHO was Mary Haskall and why had she not come forward?

The baby farmer, as she was termed, stood between Maria Jewer and execution at Winchester jail.

Despite a substantial reward, she had not been traced. Hardly a surprise to detectives convinced that Haskall never existed.

The financial incentive was offered after the discovery of a baby's body in a small stream that ran close to the London Hotel in Bournemouth.

It was about 2pm on May 22, 1872, when she was found dumped by young porter Harry Wareham who had been playing in a meadow with Fred Barrow. Spotting a black shawl on the other side of the brook, he went to investigate.

What he found as he lifted it with a stick was to horrify him - the arm of a body that lay in the water.

Barrow ran off to fetch the police as Wareham guarded the scene but shortly he was joined by poulterer Alf Newman and Henry Cutler who had been walking together that warm summer's afternoon.

"I showed it to them and then they took it out. Then I saw the child's face. They laid it on the bank. There were no marks on its face. I went for the police, leaving the child in their care."

Newman confirmed his story.

"I took it out of the brook, handed it to Cutler and found it contained the body of a child, dressed. I saw no marks on the face or arms."

By an extra-ordinary coincidence, Dr Richards was passing and in vain tried to loosen her clothing tightly bound together, with a pin fastened at the side of the hip.

However Cutler succeeded before they were joined by Pc Hatcher who carried the corpse to the hotel where Richards carried out a preliminary examination before conducting a post mortem the following day which confirmed his suspicions the infant had died from drowning.

Often in such circumstances it takes police weeks, if not months, to establish the victim's identity but not in this instance.

The mother was Maria Jewer, a widow of some six years, who had been delivered of an illegitimate healthy baby girl on May 6, and for two weeks was tended in Poole by midwife Ann Cole for two weeks.

Jewer was determined to return to her work caring from Monday to Saturday in Bournemouth and would then spend weekends with her parents in Poole.

"She nursed the child herself," Cole told magistrates at the committal proceedings where she recognised the clothing that she had left in as being similar discovered at the murder scene.

"During the whole of the time she was very kind and fond of it. That afternoon, there was no difference in her manner to the child."

Jewer set off with the baby and her 12-year-old daughter Sarah, walking until they reached the three mile stone on the Parkstone road when they separated.

"She told me not to go any further because she said I should be tired," the daughter told magistrates. "My mother went on to Bournemouth and I went back to Poole. I don't know what time I parted from my mother but I think it was after eight. It was getting dark."

Sadly, she added: "I never saw the baby again."

Late that evening, George Knight was walking by the West Cliff in Bournemouth and hearing a noise, his attention was directed to a woman wearing a black shawl and carrying a bundle in her left arm. He was convinced it was Jewer who he had known for several years.

The joiner commented: "I thought there was something wrong as she was apparently keeping her face on me. Just at a point I lost sight of her in a clump of furze. I was 20 to 30 yards away from her. Directly she stopped, she raised the bundle to her left breast. I thought it was a baby."

She headed towards the pier but as his boots were making a noise, he stopped following her.

Post-murder publicity alerted labourer's wife Thirza Lewis who told police she had known Jewer for two years. That same night, she had called at her home in St John's Road and asked to stay.

"I made up a bed for the night and she slept there. She told me she had walked from Poole in answer to my question. She said nothing else, had some supper and went to bed.

"She had no child or anything with her.

"I had not seen her for a long time before this. She did not allude to her confinement in any way. She would come to my house occasionally when she was taken up. I know nothing about her except she is a hard working, industrious woman."

The following afternoon, the body was found.

Jewer was arrested in the George public house in Longfleet, near Poole, on June 15 by Sgt Brewer who called her outside. She immediately demanded "What for?"

He explained he was arresting her for murder and she made no reply.

At the police station, she was charged by Superintendent Hunt who in cautioning her, warned that anything she said could be used as evidence against her.

Jewer did not remain silent.

Instead she told the two officers she had walked with the baby to Bournemouth where by the arcade she met Haskall who agreed to take her on the condition she paid two shillings a week for her upkeep.

"I was to meet her again at the arcade in a month's time but I don't know where she lived."

It was the same defence she was put to put forward at her trial at Hampshire Assizes. Initially, it was to take place within a month but had to be adjourned, very much against the defence's objection to the Winter sessions because of the doctor's absence in the West Indies.

However, jurors heard, that despite a substantial reward, 'Haskall' had never come forward.

Defence counsel Bullen countered they should not read too much into that, as 'baby farmers' would not reveal their address for fear of prosecution and were thus difficult to trace.

"It is not for the defence to produce Mary Haskall who might be a criminal herself," he submitted, saying of Jewer: "She has clothed and nursed the child well and had, as she had asserted, put it to some woman to keep, which is a reasonable and proper defence who would find a child an encumbrance to her in her daily avocations."

Having retired for 90 minutes, jurors returned with a guilty verdict accompanied with a strong recommendation for mercy.

But Mr Justice Byles told Jewer that after a full, careful and searching examination of the evidence, they had convicted her of putting her child into the water.

"There is only one sentence that can be passed and it is that you be taken to the place from where you came and from there to the place of execution where you will be hanged by the neck until you are dead and your body buried in the precincts of the prison.

"May the Lord have mercy on your soul."

Jewer immediately collapsed and had to be carried out of the dock.

But the execution never took place.

Within a fortnight she was spared, the sentence commuted to life imprisonment.