During my perusals of various sites and old local newspapers I often come across some intriguing stories. Such was the case a few weeks ago when I was mooching through the old Police Gazettes, a periodical which gives a fascinating and highly detailed insight into our Victorian ancestors lives and their mishaps or misdemeanours. Should such a publication be issued nowadays, goodness only knows how many tomes it would run to and just imagine the poor old paper boy trying to shove that through your letter box!
In the said gazette of April 23rd 1880 a sad but unfortunately not rare case was reported.“A child was left on the door-step of a house in Belgrave-Terrace, Radipole, Weymouth between 9 and 10 pm, on the 19th inst. £2 reward will be paid by Mr Superintendent Vickery to any person who will give such information as will lead to the discovery of the person who placed the child where found;”
The house receiving the little live bundle was no 3 Belgrave Terrace, the home of 70-year-old Glaswegian lady. What on earth could an elderly Scottish lady have in connection with a seemingly unwanted child? (Belgrave Terrace no longer exists, but it was off Dorchester road, somewhere in the Lodmoor Hill area)
The article goes on to reveal yet more details…
“a Male Child five weeks old, fresh complexion, dark hair, blue eyes, large mouth and nose; dressed in two head flannels, a white shirt, three under ditto, a white night dress, a black wool shawl, a white wool jacket, a white wool hood, a white fall, a piece of white gutta percha between a white cloth; these articles are all new. ”
Obviously the baby had been warmly dressed for its night time doorstep delivery therefore presumably up until then had been well loved and provided for.
“The Child had a ticket placed on its breast, addressed to ‘P. Peck Esquire.’ Also on a piece of paper written -‘Take care of me, I have no mother.-Baby.’ In a bundle, tied up in a black and white Indian silk handkerchief, 3/4 yards square, were five napkins, two shirts trimmed with lace around the sleeves, a nightdress trimmed with lace around the neck and sleeves, a child’s flannel (old), a new mouth piece for child’s bottle, two brushed for cleaning the same, and some new wadding.”
Yet more evidence that someone had obviously adored and cared for this tiny scrap of humanity, so why would they give him up now? A fairly vivid description of the person deemed guilty of the baby’s abandonment followed in the piece
“Supposed by a young woman, dark complexion, medium height, rather slightly built, speaking with a French or Italian accent; dressed in black dress, black jacket trimmed with black fur, black hat with heavy black fall, carrying a small bag or waterproof done up with straps. she had the appearance of a governess,”
The police, ( and no doubt those in charge of parish finances) were eager to apprehend this ‘terrible’ being. They knew she had left via the railway station…but to where?
“£2 reward will be paid to any person who will give such information as will lead to the discovery of the person who placed the Child where found, by Mr Superintendent Vickery, Police Office, Weymouth.-Bow Street, April 23rd.”
But like most sensational stories of the day, there lies a lot more behind the melodramatic newspaper headlines. Come the 30th April 1880 and the Western Gazette declares that the good old police had got their man, (or woman as in this case.) Superintendent Vickery had
“Traced her to Waterloo Station, London and then left the Criminal Investigation Department to Apprehend her. this was done a day or two ago, and on Tuesday the woman (who is a German governess named Rasch) was brought to Weymouth. She admits her guilt”
At the start of May, the case was brought before the courts held in Weymouth’s GuildHall.
Of course, human nature being what it is and has always been, locals jostled for space in the already packed out the courtroom, eager to absorbed every sordid detail of the terrible affair. The numerous attending reporters jotted down all the juicy bits, well aware that such highly emotive tales sells their papers far better than boring old Council matters and the usual drunks and debtors that normally filled their columns..
One of many reporters following the case, the Bridport News declared that it was a story of
“ALLEGED SEDUCTION AND HEARTLESS CONDUCT.”
Before the panel of local judges stood a sorry looking lass, German born Emma Rasch. With Weymouth solicitor Mr Howard defending her, Emma’s sad story that was revealed before one and all was one that must have occurred numerous times over the centuries. She had been employed by a gentleman and his wife as a governess at their home, Templecombe House, Templecombe, Somerset. (Oddly enough, I lived there for a short while and used to visit the doctor’s family who lived and had a surgery in that very same house!) Not surprisingly, this family were wealthy land owners.
Originally from Hanover in Germany, Emma was a well educated, well brought up young woman, who was staying with a friend of the family in Templecombe at the time of her employment.
Of course, their two tales of the tragic events differed widely. Emma claimed that Peter was the father of her child, and that come the November of the previous year, when things were beginning to become too obvious, he paid her off with £50.00 in gold coins. She was told to take herself off to London and find herself some rooms there to have the baby. Off she obediently toddled and duly found a place to live, only problem was, that £50.00 wasn’t going to go very far at London prices, and babies don’t come cheap. Undaunted, Emma had written to Peter asking for support, surely he wouldn’t fail her and their child?
Poor gullible Emma, she wrote not once, not twice, but a whole series of letter to the errant father, by now she was destitute and had absolutely nowhere to turn to. Finally, in desperation, she wrote a final letter informing Peter that if she didn’t hear from him then she would take the child to his mother’s as she could no longer care for it.
His mother was the Scottish lady of no 3 Belgrave Terrace, Weymouth, the recipient of the baby bundle that April’s night.
The dye was cast, Emma boarded the waiting train, her journey from London to Weymouth was all too quickly over, a last few precious moments with her child.
In court, a tearful Emma vehemently declared that she hadn’t simply abandoned her child, “I did not desert it, as I rang the bell and waited and waited about until the door was opened.” Having seen her child being safely taken inside and the door closed, a heart broken Emma turned and walked away, her only consolation being that she knew it would be much better off with family who could afford to care for it and love it.
Therein lay the crux of the problem. For what ever reason, the family wouldn’t accept any responsibility for the poor child. A young local girl, Annie Ames, was left to care for the abandoned baby that night and during the next day and a terrible chore befell her later that evening. Annie was made to take the hapless tiny bundle along to the Union Workhouse and handed it over to John Lee, the Weymouth Receiving Officer who took delivery of it. Baby Rasch was now “chargeable to Weymouth Union,”
A terrible crime in the eyes of the law and an offence definitely not taken lightly by those who held close to the town’s purse strings. There was a certain amount of sympathy for Emma, after all she did what many young gullible girls had done before her, fallen under the spell of her employers false promises. While she was in Weymouth standing trial she was “being allowed to remain at the house of a policeman under the care of his wife.”
The supposed ‘gentleman’ concerned, not surprisingly denied any knowledge of such events, claiming he didn’t know about the baby until it was placed at his mother’s home. He had never received any of her letters. As far as he knew Emma had simply left to return to Germany to take care of her sick mother.
All that was left to do was for the men of the town who sat in judgement to make their decision. Who would they believe? How harsh would their punishment be?
“Emma Rasch, we have come to the conclusion, and it is the only conclusion we can come to, that you have brought yourself within the limits of the law, insomuch that you have deserted your child, so as to leave it chargeable to the Union. The punishment we shall inflict will be of the very slightest description. Upon the consideration that first of all what you did we believe you did for the best of your child under the circumstances, and in consideration that you are a foreigner, the sentence we shall pass on you will be one day’s imprisonment, dating from this morning. you will therefore be discharged at the close of this court.”
With that closing statement the courtroom erupted, loud cheers and clapping echoed around the walls. Though the spectators were ecstatic with the lenient verdict, Emma walked slowly from the courtroom, her head hung low. She was taken up to Dorchester Gaol and put into a cell where for 24 hours she sat and undoubtedly had time to deeply reflect. Here she was, an unmarried mother, her child now in the Workhouse, her respectable family back home who possibly didn’t know anything about her ‘crimes’ or even worse, didn’t want to know. For not long after her release Emma packed her trunk and sailed back to Germany.
…without her son.
The man of the tragic case didn’t get off lightly either, “As Mr Peck left the Guildhall he was hooted by a large crowd and he took refuge in the Golden Lion.” Good old Weymouth folk, never slow in coming forwards with their views on such matters!
A little footnote to this sorry tale sees the abandoned young child christened at the Holy Trinity church on the 9th May…
…his given name was Victor.
A note hastily scribbled in the side column says it all, “Left at the Union-mother returned to Germany.”
Tragically, little Victor wasn’t destined to make old bones. He died on October 23rd aged just 8 months and his tiny body was buried in a paupers grave along with others from the union Workhouse, their bones lay congenially in adjoining graves at the Wyke Regis churchyard.
R.I.P. little man.
If you enjoy reading stories of Weymouth and Portland of old, why not buy a copy of my book Nothe Fort and Beyond. Enough gossip in there to fill your evenings.
Available at the Nothe Fort and Weymouth Museum bookshops or on Amazon at
Interested in more old views of Weymouth and Portland, check out my numerous local Pinterest Boards to see how our town once looked when your ancestors strolled its streets, browsed the shops and relaxed.