; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Monday, September 21, 2015

Deadly Dream

This rather odd story appeared in the London Star on July 21, 1818:

Friday night, Mrs. Peat, the Landlady of the Carpenters' Arms public house, in John-street, Tottenham-court-road, retired to rest, about 12 o'clock, but had not slept many minutes before she dreamed that some person had given three knocks at her chamber-door and she fancied she heard a female voice exclaim--"Mistress! Mistress! here's some one putting a child down the privy!" During the whole of the night the idea haunted her, and she arose extremely troubled.

On coming to the breakfast-table she related the circumstance to Mr. Peat, the brother of her late husband, who treated the idea with ridicule; but, seeing that it had made more than a common impression on her mind, he endeavoured by every means in his power to divert her thoughts from such an improbable circumstance. In order to gratify her curiosity, she determined to explore the drain of the privy. For this purpose, she provided herself with a stick, and after about a minute's search succeeded in bringing the arm of an infant above the surface of the drain!! This terrible conformation of her dream had such an effect on her as nearly to overpower her: she could only call her brother-in-law, who, with another person, came immediately to her assistance, and, after a few minutes' trouble, succeeded in getting the body out, which had every appearance of a full-grown child, and did not seem to have been long placed there.

As the story got wind in the neighbourhood, the utmost consternation prevailed, and various and many were the conjectures formed. Information was at length sent to the Parish Officers, who caused proper steps to be taken to investigate the matter.

Saturday evening, at nine o'clock, an inquest was held at Mrs. Peat's house, before T. Stirling, Esq. and Mr. Raynsford, the Police Magistrate, with many other Gentlemen. The first witness examined was the Maidservant; but, after a most ingenious examination, nothing could be elicited to throw the least light on the subject, and, from her manner, the girl seemed to have no guilty knowledge of the transaction.

Mrs. Peat detailed, in a firm unhesitating manner, her singular dream to the Jury; and her brother-in-law confirmed her in that part which related to finding the body.

Isaac Moodie, the Waterman at the Coach-stand, stated, that on Saturday he was in the Carpenters' Arms: he heard Mrs. Peat scream, and accompanied her brother-in-law to her assistance: she told them that she had found the body of a child in the water-closet; but although she said she had found it in half a minute, witness could not find it in five minutes, or more! He was afterwards told that she had dreamed over-night that some person had buried it there. Mrs. Peat had been for some time a widow.

Mr. Upham, a Surgeon, said he had examined the body: it appeared full-grown, but he could not positively say whether it was still-born: the nails on the fingers and toes were perfect, and it seemed in every respect to have come to its full time. This witness, at the request of the Coroner and Jury, examined Mrs. Peat and her female servant, and he gave it as his opinion that neither could have been recently delivered.

The Coroner charged the Jury at some length, and at two o'clock on Sunday morning they brought in a - Verdict of Wilful Murder against some person or persons unknown.

So the jury determined that this was a homicide by an unknown assailant. I could not find if anyone was ever charged in the child's death.

The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime

Murder by Candlelight: The Gruesome Crimes Behind Our Romance with the Macabre

A Treasury of Victorian Murder

The Damnation of John Donellan: A Mysterious Case of Death and Scandal in Georgian England