Women’s rights were in serious need of reform in the 18th century and many women were unrightfully tried and convicted of crimes that they did not commit. It was much easier for a woman to be unfairly tried than it was for a man because of their status. Women were also judged for having a child out of wedlock. A child who was born a bastard was looked down on by the rest of society and so was their mother. In many cases some women felt they had no other choice than to get rid of the child to save themselves from a life full of ridicule and harassment from other people. They felt helpless if they became pregnant with someone they were not married to and that sometimes drove them to drastic measures. The women who were driven to kill their babies who had been born out of wedlock affected the way that Sarah Lucas was tried when she was accused of killing her child.
On the 9th of July, 1718, Sarah Lucas was on trial for the murder of her baby girl, born a bastard. She was accused of throwing her baby into a “House of Office”, which in today’s world would be the toilet. Mary Row was the first person to see the baby that had been thrown into the “vault” when she was making a necessary trip to the facilities in the dark with a candle around 10pm on the 25th of May. She was shocked by what she had just seen and went back to tell her husband, Joseph, immediately after. Joseph was skeptical of her story as it was dark and she could have mistaken what it actually was, so he wanted to see it with his own eyes. After he confirmed for himself that his wife was actually telling the truth about what he saw she, he went to a Justice of Peace to tell him what himself and his wife had found. The Justice of Peace, accompanied by an Officer went to their house to see the child for themselves and removed the child. At this point it was still unclear how the baby had died and who it had actually belonged to. There was another women who they suspected was the mother of the child but after further examination they came to the conclusion that she was the wrong women. A man who had used the “house” the night before seemed to be uneasy about something and when questioned he revealed that he was concerned about the child who has been found in the “vault”. He seemed to have more information regarding the child they had found but he would wait until the next day to get his information straight. According to this person the Prisoner had been at the House because she was returning a candle that she had borrowed and he saw her go “hastily through the House into the yard”. This seemed suspicious for him and he also noticed that she was wearing a gown. She was asked about it and her answer was that she had been to a Sister in Convent Garden for her to do work. After the recollection of this he concluded that it must have been her who had put the child in the vault.
The next day she was questioned about the baby. At first Lucas denied knowing anything about it, but finally acknowledged it as her baby. After the fact that she did admit that the baby had been hers many midwifes were questioned in regards to the babies birth. Frances Amberry was a midwife who was questioned in this trial. She claims that the baby had been carried to its full-term and that it had been born alive because its hands were open. She believed that the child had died from “want of help” because there did not seem to be any marks of violence on her, which would have meant that Lucas had killed her intentionally. Elizabeth Bennet who was another midwife confirmed that what the previous midwife who testified was right and that it did not look like the child had suffered from any marks of violence.
When Sarah was on trial she did admit to the child being hers and that it was her who had put it in the vault. Her story elaborates as she tells the court that the baby belongs to her and that she had been mislead by the father of the baby, who promised to marry her but his word proved to be untrue and he never did carry out his word. Lucas also claims that the baby did not die from lack of help at birth, she claims that the baby was never actually alive when it was born. It was pre-mature by 6 weeks and she had delivered her all by herself. Since the baby was early a midwife had been arranged but was not expected to be needed at that time so when she went into labour there was no midwife to help her deliver it. She lay in her bed for two hours alone delivering the child, and her Master and Lady could not hear her because they were on the first floor of the house. After her baby had been born she never heard it stir or cry so she came to the conclusion that the baby was dead. Lucas claims that she had fallen twice during her pregnancy which resulted her in harm, as well as her baby. It was because of the two falls Lucas suffered from and the baby being born 6 weeks early that the child did not survive. Lucas could prove to the court that she already had “Childbed Linnen” for her baby which shows that she did have intentions of keeping the child after it was born. Her mistress also confirmed that she had asked for help to get the baby Linnen some time before it had actually been born and Lucas was able to produce three other Linnens to the court to prove that she had acquired them beforehand.
With all this evidence presented to the court the jury decided that Sarah Lucas was not guilty of killing her child. Lucas had the support of her Master and Mistress and they did confirm to the jury that she had suffered a fall in the previous weeks. It also helped her case that she had the babies Linnens before the birth of her child because that confirms that Lucas did have the intention of keeping her baby.
In the case of Sarah Lucas she should have considered herself lucky. At the beginning of the trail the evidence seemed to point against her when her baby was found abandoned in a vault, but with further investigation the trial slowly turned to her favour and was proven not guilty of infanticide.