My initial starting point for this project was the discovery of a story in The Oxford Journal dated 13 November 1869. I had previously received a reduced subscription to The British News Archives and had spent some time searching their database for local stories.
Susannah Hyde the wife of a shoe maker murdered her 3 year old son George by slitting his throat and then attempted to kill herself. She had sent two of her daughters to a neighbours house but had shut her 5 year old daughter Henrietta in a room with the intention of also murdering her. Henrietta saw the whole awful scene through a crack in the door.
Susannah had been stuck within a difficult marriage where her husband an alcoholic often deserted her leaving no money to support herself and her 5 children. She had taken sewing in to try to make ends meet but her husband was of the opinion that she had become a prostitute.
Susannah was origonally sentenced to death but this was later reduced to a sentence of penal servitude. She was sent to Oxford Prison, then transfered to Holloway and then to the Female Convict Prison at Knaphill in Woking. In 1881 she was still there aged 56 years old.
All the remaining children were sent to live with an Aunt and Uncle in Haddenham in Buckinhamshire. In a later census Henrietta is found in the records of a workhouse at Thame aged 17, she is described within the record as ‘Lunatic’.
I find this story really compelling, and extraordinarily sad.
- What could Henrietta have become without this unbelievable trauma in her life.
- Could things have been different with some support and understanding of her situation.
- She was sent into a spiral that she could not get herself out of.
- All because of someone else’s actions – no fault of her own.
- Alcohol, depression, despair as the start of it all.
- Was her life in vain, purposeless.
Sources of reference:
- Sly, N. (2010) Oxfordshire Murders. United Kingdom: The History Press Ltd – (Sly, 2010, pp. 49 – 52)