CrimeLocal History

1849 – Murder at Dunley

Warning: Sometimes we discover things that can make us uncomfortable, and this is certainly one of those times for me. However, I believe that events that make us uncomfortable should not be events we ignore. This event occured within the parish of St. Mary Bourne, it is part of the social history of the parish and therefore as such relevant when it comes to crimes the local police had to deal with.

Before we get to the murder in 1849 some information about the family may be helpful. It starts with the marriage of Joseph Izard (originally from Kingsclere) to Sophia Palmer (of St Mary Bourne) on the 16th November 1825 at St Peter’s Church, St Mary Bourne.

By 1828 the Izard’s are living at Bradley (presumed to be Bradley Farm) in the parish of Whitchurch when the baptisms of their daughters Mary & Jane took place on the 24th February at All Hallows Church, Whitchurch. Whether Mary & Jane were twins is unknown. Just a couple of weeks later sadly Jane dies and is buried in Whitchurch on 7th March. On the 28th August 1830 a third daughter Sarah is baptised in Whitchurch and again another baptism at Whitchurch for son John on 4th November 1832, the family were still in Bradley.

The family move back to the parish of St Mary Bourne at some point after John’s baptism as a fifth child another son William was baptised in St Mary Bourne on 26th April 1835, like his older sister Jane his life was short and he was buried in St Mary Bourne on the 24th July 1836.

Extract from Andover (Outline), Sheet 283, Revised: 1893, Published: 1895

The map above shows the areas family events happened.

  • St Mary Bourne village in the parish of St Mary Bourne (yellow pin)
  • Dunley hamlet in the parish of St Mary Bourne (turquoise pin)
  • Bradley Farm in the parish of Whitchurch (pink pin)
  • Whitchurch town in the parish of Whitchurch (orange pin)

As you can see Dunley & Bradley Farm are very close to each other and either side of the parish border.

By the time of the 1841 census the 5 surviving members of the Izard family had settled in Dunley, and likely had been for a few years as the parish records in this period normally just give the parish in the abode column. Joseph like the majority of the males in the parish was working as an Agricultural Labourer. There is nothing so far in the story that is unusual.

In 1847, Mary the oldest of Joseph & Sarah’s children had an illegitimate son George. This was nothing unusual in the previous decade 8.68% of baptisms in the parish of St Mary Bourne were for illegitimate children, the vast majority of these stayed with their mothers and if not are likely to be found with their grandparents. This was followed by more sadness as on the 26th March 1849, 17 year old John died of Consumption (Tuberculosis), he was buried in St Mary Bourne on 30th March 1849.

Young George is living with his mother Mary and his Grandmother Sophia (stated as head of the household) in Dunley at the time of the 1851 census, fitting the usual pattern when it comes to illegitimate children in the parish.

But what is unusual at this time is Joseph is listed in the census entry for Dunley House, as a groom instead of with his family. Whether there is any significance to this is unknown, maybe it’s just more convenient (or even just for the one night) as the Hooper family are in residence (unlike 1841 when only servants are at Dunley House). Alternatively had events in the late 1840s caused marital issues for Joseph & Sophia. Maybe Joseph wasn’t as accepting as Sophia appeared to be over George’s birth, something we’ll never know.

Who was murdered in 1849 and by whom?

When researching events that referenced the Police in the parish of St. Mary Bourne, I came across a murder in 1849

Hampshire Advertiser, 8 Dec 1849, Pg. 5

The article above show that Sarah had been committed to Winchester Gaol at the Andover County Petty Sessions for the murder of her illegitimate child and was to be tried at the next Assizes. When I first saw this I was horrified as a mother myself I can not think of any circumstance that would have caused me to commit such an act. Then I started to think about why might Sarah have done!

Was she from a very strict family where having an illegitimate child would not have been accepted? Clearly from the family history we can see that she was not the first to have an illegitimate child so no this is unlikely.

Who was the father? Here I have found no clues to whom this might have been, but what about her father? The only strange thing about the family was the 1851 census.

Was there something wrong with the child? No evidence has been found to suggest this. But what I did find was the child was actually a new born. So this murder would actually be a case of “infanticide”.

What was the state of Sarah’s mental health? Postnatal depression as we would call it today was in my opinion the most likely case and at the time it is possible that “Criminal Lunacy” may have been cited at her trial. Today although these horrific acts can still occur, they don’t as often as they did in Victorian time. We are fortunate now that we have a lot more support for new mothers and cases of postnatal depression are more likely to be spotted and therefore treated.

The terms of the Criminal Lunatics Act applied to people charged with treason, murder, or felony who were acquitted on the grounds of insanity or who appeared to be insane when apprehended, brought in for arraignment, or summoned for discharge due to a lack of prosecution.

As Sarah had been committed to the County Gaol I consulted what surviving records there were for the time period and discovered that there was a “Surgeon’s Journal for 23 Oct 1849 – 12 Sep 1856” available. I discovered, Sarah had been admitted to the infirmary a transcript of the entry is below.

Date: 23 Feb 1850
Register No. 305
Division: A
Ward: 1
Cell: 3
Name of Patient: Sarah Hizzard
Age: 21 yrs
Disease: Dropsy
State of Patient: Serious
Medicines: Tonic
Diet: prison diet + extra
Any other treatment:
Dates when first in infirmary or died: died 28th February 1850 at 10 o’clock p.m.

dropsy oedema, abnormal collection and water-logging of the tissues by fluid in limbs and cavities of the body.

A Dictionary of Medical & Related Terms for the Family Historian

So from the surgeon’s journal we see that Sarah had been ill and died 5 days after being admitted to the prison infirmary on 28th February 1850. This was the only mention of Sarah being seen by the surgeon since she was sent to the prison in December 1849.

Hampshire Chronicle, 2 Mar 1850, Pg. 4

The Hampshire Chronicle on the 2nd March 1850 reported on the inquest for Sarah, and in it we see that in addition to dropsy the coroner states “water on the chest” as her cause of death, as was recorded on her death certificate. He also comments on her “own imprudence and self-neglect immediately after her confinement.

Death Registration for Sarah Izard (Q1 1850 Winchester, 7/205)

This inquest report does suggest that Sarah didn’t care about herself after the birth of her baby son, which loosely supports the post-natal depression theory. But why was she not seen sooner by the surgeon at the gaol? We know from the history of the family that Sarah’s brother died the previous March of Consumption, it is possible that the then pregnant Sarah also caught it but survived, could this have contributed to Sarah’s poor health?

Sarah Izard’s entry from “The Calendar of the Prisoners in the County Gaol at Winchester, tried at the Lent Assizes, 28th February 1850”

Sarah’s Trial is mentioned in the official records as shown above. Plus there are two other cases listed on the same trial paperwork one for “wilful murder” as in Sarah’s case and the other “attempted suffocation”. In both these cases the mothers were Acquitted! We’ll never know what the outcome of Sarah’s trial would have been or the reasons why she committed such an awful act.

Entries for Sarah Wild & Hester Robinson in “The Calendar of the Prisoners in the County Gaol at Winchester, tried at the Lent Assizes, 28th February 1850”

Infanticide (as a crime) gained both popular and bureaucratic significance in Victorian Britain. By the mid-19th century, in the context of criminal lunacy and the insanity defence, killing one’s own child(ren) attracted ferocious debate, as the role of women in society was defined by motherhood, and it was thought that any woman who murdered her own child was by definition insane and could not be held responsible for her actions.

Sarah’s baby son never had a name and his birth was never registered, his death was and a copy of the entry is below which does give us his date of death of the 3rd November 1849. There is no mention of a burial for baby Izard in the parish records so what happened to the poor little boy is unknown, I like to hope that maybe his body was placed with that of his uncle who had died a few months before, or at least with the next person to be buried in the churchyard. This is yet another unknown in this sad case.

Death registration for infant son of Sarah Izard (Q4 1849 Whitchurch, 7/186)

Note: It’s unclear how old she was at the time she was baptised as later records are inconsistent (nothing unusual) which place her birth between 1826 and 1830.

Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland,, [accessed 22 January 2024]
Grundy, J. E. (2006). A Dictionary of Medical & Related Terms for the Family Historian. Rotherham: Swansong Publications.
England & Wales, UK, Prison Commission Records, 1770-1951 available at
UK Census Records available at
General Register Office of England & Wales
Newspapers available from
Q13/2/11 – Surgeon’s Journal 23 Oct 1849-12 Sep 1856 available at Hampshire Archives & Local Studies, Winchester, Hampshire, England.

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