Abel Ovans and Eliza Dore - The child murder at the Newport millpond.

With special thanks to Monty Dart for researching and writing this article.

On the 15th of January 1852 the body of a female infant was found by Hannah Burton floating in the Mill Pond at Newport., Monmouthshire, South Wales. She called to a neighbour, Mrs Dix and between them they managed to pull the dead child from the water. In her testimony to Newport court she stated: “I am Hannah Burton, wife of John Burton of 31 Marshes Road, Newport. Behind our house is a mill pond. About 10 am I found the body of a dead female child. I called Mrs Dix (a neighbour) and between us we managed to secure the body”. She went on to explain that the water “was troublesome” and said that “We laid her out, she was naked”. The local undertaker, Mr Albert Warr, arrived and put the child in a coffin and took it to the local hospital. At the subsequent inquest the verdict was “Found dead”.  From there the child was conveyed to the churchyard and on 17th January was buried by Mr Welsh, the gravedigger, in a corner plot, with nothing to mark the spot.

However, the local police decided to issue handbills and more importantly a reward of £5 if the child could be identified. It didn’t take long before Eliza Dore was identified as a woman who had recently had a child, but no one had seen the child for days. Charlotte Hemmings of King’s Parade gave evidence to say that she knew Eliza Dore and that she had attended her on the 1st of December 1851 when she was confined of a female child.

“I dressed the child twice. She was a perfectly healthy child. I observed that it had an inflammation of the left eye and on the right side of the head there was a mark. I asked the mother what was the mark, and she said she had marked it with some bacon. It was a dark mark, as big as a shilling. The mother said she had seen some bacon in Mrs Smith’s window and that caused the mark.” It was a popular misconception at the time that if a child was born with a birthmark, it was a result of something the mother saw during pregnancy.

As a result of local gossip, on the 4th of February the poor child was exhumed and the body displayed in the Six Bells public house on Stow Hill. It was customary to have inquests in public houses as they were sufficiently large to accommodate a coroner’s court and viewings such as these. The cellars were cold, an ideal place to store a dead body. Mrs. Hemmings went to see the child in her coffin – as did others, curious to see such a sight. Mrs. Hemmings continues “I saw the child again in a coffin at the Six Bells by Stow Church, (now St Woolos Cathedral). Mr. Warr the undertaker was there. I know it was the same child by the mark and from the inflammation of the eye and from its general appearance. Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Satchell and Mrs. Burnam were also there. “There was no hair on the mark, it was on the left side”. Mrs. Hemmings went on to say “I have had 14 children of my own. Six living, one died from convulsions. I have had many miscarriages. I have seen children died very suddenly from convulsions”.

Margaret James, wife of Joshua James residing in Dolphin Street said she knew both Eliza Dore and Abel Ovens.

“They lodged with me until the time she was confined. I gave her some baby clothes which I should know again. I have seen them since in her possession. She was given a bed gown by Mrs Satchell. I was present when Eliza was delivered. I first dressed the child and washed it several times and saw it every day until 11th January. It had a mark on its head.  Eliza Dore had confided to Mrs James that she was not married to Ovans, who had beaten her, she wished the d_______young devil would be dead”.

On the 11th of January Eliza Dore and Abel Ovans moved to the Carpenter’s Arms, Newport, where the landlord was a Mr. Satchell.

Mrs Eliza Satchell said “My husband keeps the Carpenter’s Arms in Dolphin Street’. She had also seen the baby frequently until the 13th of January, when Ovans, Dore and the baby left the lodgings. She said the child was perfectly well apart from an infection in its eye. Indeed she said “the child ate a hearty supper before they left. I lent Eliza Dore an umbrella, a basket and a shawl”. She said that she had seen Eliza on the 18th and on more occasions and asked after the baby. “It was quite well” was the reply. She said she never saw the child again until she viewed the body at the Six Bells.

Agnes Burman said that on 2nd February she read a handbill offering a reward for the identification of the child. On speaking to Eliza Dore about it she said ‘The bitch (the mother of the child) ought to be burned whoever she is’ and Eiza Dore agreed. Eliza was unable to read or write so Anges helped her write a letter to her parents

Dated 2nd January 1852 it said

Dear Father and Mother – ‘I dare say you think that I have quite forgot you all by being so unkind as to not write to you before and tell you what had become of me’, she went on to say that she had a bad leg ‘and I’m quite a cripple’ and added that she had given birth to a girl child some five weeks before. She begged her sisters to come and visit her in Newport.

John James of the New Market beer house saw Dore and Abel in the tap room around 5 pm – they left at 7pm, the baby was wrapped in a shawl and Eliza was crying. It was a cold wet day he said.

Emma Carter a thirteen year old girl also saw the family in the New Market beer house and again on the 14th of January when the baby seemed fretful.

James Mason from 26 Charles Street let out lodgings and on the 14th of January Abel Ovans had asked for a room. In the evening he returned with Eliza Dore – they had no baby with them. They resided there for almost two weeks, having paid nothing. When the police caught up with them they left their belongings – just baby linen which was subsequently identified by Mrs James as the clothing she had given to Eliza Dore.

Another witness – on asking about the baby was told that it had gone to live with Eliza’s mother. When brought before the court, by a cruel twist of fate Eliza’s father stated ‘I am Richard Dore, father of Eliza. My wife was Harriette Dore, she died on Saturday. No child of Eliza has resided at my house’. Before she died however, Harriette had given Moses Scard, the Newport constable the letter written by Agnes Burman for Eliza.  Harriette Dore denied that the baby had been sent to her. According to the doctor who attended Harriette, she had died ‘of apoplexy brought on by intense grief and excitement’.

Constable Bath at Newport Police Station listened to Eliza’s statement but apparently the only pencil available at the station to take it down was blunt! He asked his wife to sit in and listen to the statement as a witness and after several refusals Mrs. Bath did so.

Eliza said that Ovans had taken her to Mill Street Bridge, “If you don’t give me that child, you will not live with me for I will not keep the b-----------.”  Eliza was pregnant with another man’s child when she met Ovans, which explained his animosity to it.  It was described as “the sinless child of sin” in court. According to Eliza, Ovans then disappeared with the baby, coming back on his own, with the child’s shawl and in it, bundled up the little girl’s clothing. Eliza said she was frightened to tell anyone what he’d done with the baby as she would be beaten by Ovans.

In the court an unseemly action then took place between Moses Scard, his assistant Tallimore and the magistrates. Both Scard and Tallimore had applied for the £5 reward. The judge said that two lives (Dore and Ovans) were at stake and to quibble over “a mere £5” was inappropriate at this moment. He also reminded the jury of the outcome shoud they choose a guilty verdict.

The jury were only out for 20 minutes before they filed back in with a guilty verdict for both but with a recommendation for mercy for Dore.  The judge put on the black cap – both would be executed by the the hand of the common hangman. Ovans was heard to laugh and joke with his warders, Eliza was carried from the court in an hysterical state, screaming and crying. She had been convinced that she wouldn’t be found guilty.

Eliza was taken to Monmouth gaol and was housed in the condemned cell. The day before her execution she received word of a repreive from the Secretary of State. Instead of the anticipated relief, Eliza simply said “I knew they would not hang me, they dare not do it”. Eliza said that she was pregnant. Numerous letters had been sent back and forth to local newspapers and eminent citizens calling for mercy. These were forwarded to the Home Office. A petition was started up by her mother’s doctor. The eloquent pleas led to her reprieve though subsequently it transpired that she wasn’t pregnant.

Monmouth prison governor Mr. Barrett took the next coach to London to petition to the trial judge Mr Justice Wightman for mercy for Ovans. However, the judge would not be swayed and confirmed that Ovans should die on Friday the 18th of April 1852.

The evening before the execution, William Calcraft, the hangman, arrived in Monmouth. Until his arrival the scaffold had not been erected, it was said that the Monmouth scaffold was of an ingenious design “which could be erected in minutes without the aid of a hammer”.

The Monmouthshire Merlin newspaper described the scene:

On the day of execution, a crowd, described as “low and vagrant” had been gathering outside Monmouth goal since early morning. It was expected that the execution would take place at 9am.There was, as often observed at public hangings, a carnival atmosphere, though the Merlin dismissed earlier newspaper reports that there were some 4,000 present, declaring it was “more like 400”.  “Mere execution fanciers of the lowest order” the Merlin said. “The crowd consistered of local people, particularly women and children and a contingent of Romanies who had parked their caravans nearby. The black flag flown previously to announce an execution was not flown that day.”

“Hundreds of people had gathered to witness the appalling spectacle. There was considerable levity among this crowd, which was composed chiefly of young women and children. Here and there we noticed very aged spectators, palsied and crippled and there were two or three who appeared to move in a respectable sphere of life. Some gipsies had come in from the country, with their caravans, and they, too, stopped to witness the execution. Laughter and jests were heard on all hands and this, chiefly among the females. At five minutes to nine o'clock, the bell of the prison commenced tolling, and the procession then moved from the interior, towards the scaffold. In a short time, the governor, carrying a white wand, was observed on the scaffold. The criminal was by his side, and Calcraft, the hangman, close by. The criminal knelt at the foot of the scaffold, and uttered a short prayer with much earnestness. He was then placed beneath the beam, the fatal rope was adjusted, the white cap was drawn out by Calcraft, and pulled over the wretched man's eyes; and stepping softly away, Calcraft moved towards the spring, touched it, and in a moment, the drop fell with a violent jerk. A sudden screaming of the women on the road, was heard. All eyes were fixed on the wretched man, who appeared to struggle terribly. The loose part of the cap above his head, and the prison jacket, which had been tied around the waist, and was now drawn up by the wretched man's contortions, into loose folds above the waist cord, were observed for eight or ten seconds to quiver violently, this was succeeded by a death shudder, and the spirit fled from the body. After hanging the usual time, the body was cut down, and interred in the grave prepared for it inside the prison walls. We have heard that Ovans freely admitted his connection with the murder of the child; but imputed to Dore a larger share therein than was previously supposed stating that she had stripped the clothing off the child, and then given it to him, while she remained on the canal-side, with the clothing, where he found her on returning. A respite, however, was received for the wretched woman. Ovans had continually expressed his deep repentance since his trial; and evinced a decided interest in the ministrations of the chaplain of the gaol, who deemed the wretched man's professions of contrition, sincere. The itinerant hawkers, immediately after the execution, were heard in every part of the town, shouting “The last dying speech and confession of Abel Ovans”, and singing doggerel ballads, said to be copies of verses found in the convict's cell. We regret that Newport is attaining so unenviable a notoriety in the annals of murder, as the graves in the prison yard at Monmouth, and the convict hulks, too truthfully attest. Within the brief period of four years, seven persons have been committed from, Newport on the charge of wilful murder; and of them, Matthias Kelly, for shooting his mistress in a fit of jealousy, at the barracks Murphy and Sullivan, for the murder of an old woman; and Abel Ovans, for the murder of the child, now lie mouldering, side by side, in felons' graves; while the men, Murphy and O'Keefe who were convicted of the manslaughter of Dowd, are suffering transportation, one for fourteen years, and the other for life: which, also, will perhaps be the fate of the latest criminal, Eliza Dore.”

And this was indeed her fate. She was to be transported for seven years.  Eliza was to be in Monmouth prison for another three months, prior to being sent to Millbank prison, London on the 22nd of September 1852. Millbank was a “holding prison” for those awaiting transportation. A few months later Eliza left on a journey which was to change her way of life forever.  She boarded “The Duchess of Northumberland” on the 16th of November 1852 with another 219 females, bound for Van Diemen’s Land. After 108 days they disembarked in Hogarth, Australia and Eliza began her new life.  Incredibly she later married and went on to have 14 children.

You can read more of her story here http://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/docs/convicts/ElizaDore.pdf thanks to her great, great, great grandson Barry Files.
Female Convicts is a not-for-profit organisation entirely run by volunteers.

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