AN extraordinary blunder by the prosecuting authorities enabled a woman to cheat justice over the death of her baby.

Condemned by a coroner as an unfit mother, Caroline Wareham escaped the clutches of the law after the indictment had been incorrectly framed, forcing the Crown to offer no evidence against her.

Her son, John Wareham, had a pitifully short life, just four months.

He was born on May 5, 1859, a healthy child but his mother often abandoned him to slake her thirst in any alehouse she could frequent, more often than not returning drunk.

Either because she was unwilling to feed him or he would not eat, his constitution at the Southampton workhouse had markedly deteriorated by September 6 when he was discovered by the matron lying on a cold stone in the waiting room, so hoarse he could not cry.

Daily Echo:

Miss Payne said Wareham was so tipsy she called the police who took her away for being drunk and incapable. The baby was handed over to another woman resident, and despite her care and a doctor's attention, he died within hours.

The inquest was conducted at Winchester Prison where Warham was brought from the cells "suffering the penalty of her dissolute habits" as it was reported of her wretched appearance.

Payne told the county coroner JH Todd she had warned her of the potential repercussions if her baby died.

"I had cautioned his mother on the consequences to herself if anything happened to the child. She made no particular reply and did not seem to care about it. I consider the mother very much neglected the child, though I did not see her strike him."

Nurse Elizabeth Allen concurred, recalling an incident when Wareham had returned to the workhouse drunk and with the baby soaking wet.

"She was tipsy at the time and the child was hanging in her arms exposed to the cold and rain. The mother has been in and out several times and he was always exposed and neglected."

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Surgeon Henry Bencroft was much of the same opinion, telling jurors the baby had suffered from debility and diarrhoea from apparent neglect.

"Exposure to wet or cold could be calculated to aggravate the disease."

But a visibly distressed and emotional Wareham blasted her husband as equally culpable for failing to look after them and encouraging her to drink.

"I took care of the child as far as I could. My husband took me out and gave me sixpence. I didn't take it and told him the Guardians had given him half a day to find me a home and he ought to have done it. He said the sixpence would do for two halves of beer and gave me one."

Defending herself, she insisted: "I never ill-used my child. I could have left it in the poorhouse where my husband would have kept it. During the four months I have been in the house, I have had the child on two nights and one day. The child would not eat its food but was always sucking the breast. The father despised the child and for that reason I took more notice of it."

Daily Echo:

But in directing jurors as to the law, the coroner said if they were satisfied that anything had been or not done to accelerate his death, that neglect was criminal. On the other hand, if they believed he had died from diarrhoea which had not been aggravated by neglect, they would have to deliver a verdict where no blame could be apportioned.

"But I am afraid these facts are against such a verdict," he commented. "There is a great deal of evidence which I will not detain you by reading. You have heard it and I fear it is against the woman."

Jurors concurred.

Committing her to stand trial for manslaughter, Todd told Wareham: "I do this less reluctantly because if this had not taken place, you would in all probability have taken refuge in your distress in drink which has always been your ruin. You have a considerable time before your trial to reflect on the shocking course you have pursued and I hope it will be the means of inducing you to forsake drink and live a better life afterwards."

Wareham still blamed her husband for driving her to drink to which Todd commented: "I have no doubt he is a very bad man but this was your own deed."

But the case against her at Hampshire Assizes dramatically collapsed.

Prosecutor Mr Russell was left to explain: "The indictment has been laid for killing a child by improper exposure, but looking through the depositions, I do not think the charge can be made out, though the mother may be guilty of great negligence. I therefore offer no evidence."

Following the judge's direction, the jury found her not guilty and she was discharged.