Abel Ovans and Eliza Dore - The child murder at the
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.,
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
Margaret James, wife of Joshua James residing in
“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,
Satchell said “My husband keeps the Carpenter’s Arms in
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
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
– 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
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
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.
governor Mr. Barrett took the next coach to
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
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
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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