SHE was a killer but was she mad? Fanny Stow Godding had drowned her daughter in a creek but was she aware of what she was doing? It was for jurors at Hampshire Assizes to decide.

Godding, 39, was employed as a maid when she gave birth to the child who she christened Louisa Mary. But whether she was a good mother remains unclear because she gave her baby, when 15-months-old, to a Portsmouth woman to look after.

The toddler's health was not good but by the time Godding reclaimed her 18 months later, it had greatly improved. Bizarrely, the woman, a Mrs Allen, did not immediately hand her over when Godding called at her house at 7am and went for a walk. However, by the time she returned, mother and daughter had gone, and she reported her concerns to the police.

Godding was seen in the neighbourhood by several people the same day, apparently in what jurors were told was "a state of trouble." A police constable eventually traced her - floundering in water in a creek at Portsmouth Harbour as she attempted to commit suicide. She was taken to the police station and questioned about her missing daughter.

After some hesitation, she confessed: "I have drowned her. I held it under the water until she was dead. The water was shallow, too shallow to drown myself."

Police instituted a search but no doubt because it was dark, they were unable to locate the body which was not discovered until the following morning lying in mud at Haslar Creek.

Snape, Martin; Haslar Creek; Hampshire County Councils Fine Art Collection;

Snape, Martin; Haslar Creek; Hampshire County Council's Fine Art Collection;

Two days later on September 18, 1880, an inquest into the child's fate was conducted by the county coroner, Mr E Gable, at Gosport police court. Unlike today, the jury number totalled 15 which in part explained why the issue took almost four hours to resolve.

The first division revealed ten were in favour of wilful murder but five dissented. The coroner would not accept it and sent them away for further discussion. Considerable time passed before they filed back to say they had reached a verdict but it transpired they were still not unanimous.

Coroner - "Mr Foreman, are you all agreed?"

Mr A Buckler - "Twelve of us are."

Coroner- "That is enough. When did you find the child had died?"

Buckler - "Between 6pm of the 15th inst. and 7am on the 16th."

Coroner - "How do you find the deceased die?"

Buckler - "By drowning."

Coroner - "Do you find anyone responsible for the death of the diseased?"

Buckler - "We find that the death of the child was caused by the mother, Fanny Stow Godding."

Coroner - ""I quite agree with your verdict with regard to the absolute evidence of the sergeant of police. I think it is a proper verdict and I am pleased now to think that I have kept you here to consider it because I was certain you must come to that conclusion. In my mind, the evidence of the sergeant, who stated that the conversation between him and that woman, was quite sufficient to act upon."

He then made out the warrant for Godding's committal to the Hampshire Winter Assizes where the prosecution and defence clashed over her state of mind.

Gosport Town Hall

Gosport Town Hall

Gosport Town Hall

The prosecution refused to accept she was insane and had planned to do away with her daughter.

Mr G D Warry, who led for the Crown, alleged: "The prisoner, among other statements to the police, said she had taken for some time the resolve that she would make away with herself but thought that if she did so, Mrs Allen would throw the child on her father's hands, and she knew that he could not afford to keep it. She had therefore drowned it."

However, Mr Matthews for the defence rejected that submission, maintaining she had been suffering from erysipelas in the head which was often accompanied by delirium and had caused her to give up her job at the Pier Hotel in Southsea.

"She had been strange and rambling on the day before. There is no evidence of any intention to kill the child. The murder would appear to have been the result of a sudden impulse arising from the diseased state of her mind which had been unhinged by illness by brooding on her misfortunes and indulging in the contemplation of suicide."

Directing jurors to the law, Mr Justice Denman said the facts were "terribly plain" and for them to acquit Godding on the grounds of insanity, they had to be sure she did not know what she was doing and that it was also wrong.

"Unless you are so satisfied, it is your duty to find her guilty," he concluded before they left court to deliberate.

It did not take them long. Only 20 minutes elapsed before they returned, bringing a verdict of not guilty through insanity.

But Godding did not leave a free woman, the judge ordering her to be detained during Her Majesty's Pleasure until medical experts believed she was safe to be returned to the community.