The death of a child is always one of sorrow and grief and for some people, especially the parents of the child, it is often said that they have felt great pain and regret, with some placing blame onto themselves because they feel they hadn’t done enough to prevent the death.

Victorian times saw a huge amount of child mortality which may have been caused due to disease, poverty, incidents occurring within the factories and mills and murder, and as hard as it is to believe, a substantial amount of deaths of young children occurred at the hands of someone close to them – their mother.

Poison would often be the preferred choice when it came to filicide – a term used to refer to the act of a parent deliberately killing their own child, and our next story tells the tale of a young boy by the name of Samuel Hutton who was only four years old when he would sadly lose his life in what, at the time, would seem to be a case of murder – or was it?

Born in 1867, Samuel was the ninth child of parents, James and Eliza Hutton.  His parent had married on 11th February 1849 and Eliza had given birth to her first child, Jane, in January 1850.  In 1851, they welcomed John into the family but two years later and in 1853, Jane would sadly pass away.

Six more additions into the family would come between the years 1853 to 1866 – Andrew, Alice, Charles, William, Thomas and David before the arrival of Samuel in 1867.

As you can see, it was a relatively large family but one that appeared from the outside to be a well loved and respected family.

1871 Census Record of Hutton Family.

On the morning of Tuesday, 8th August, 1871 – Samuel, like many young children, had awoken and after having his breakfast, had played with other children of similar age.  He would spend a large portion of the day in and out of the house he had shared with his brothers and sisters.

However, at around 5pm, Samuel went into a house at Brookside which was owned by Elizabeth Scholes where his mother Eliza had visited and was baking a cake.

Laying down on the floor, he flung his legs around as if they didn’t belong to his body – something Elizabeth would go on to tell at the later inquest.

When laid down, Elizabeth said to Samuel, ‘Sammy, if you fall asleep there I shall put you under the stairs, where the dog sleeps.’

Samuel, seemingly a little disgruntled, sat up and looked at Elizabeth and then his mother. 

‘Get up and go into the house and lay you down on the sofa,’ said his mother, Eliza.

Samuel got himself up off the floor and did as his mother had asked.

Between six and seven o’ clock, and when Eliza had returned home, Elizabeth visited the Hutton’s house and noticed Samuel laying on the sofa and sleeping.  She then visited again around eight o’clock having gone on an errand, and Samuel was laying in the same place.

Samuel would go on to having a restless night, often waking in a sweat, shivering and seemingly in pain, and at two o’ clock he had asked his mother for a drink of tea and a ‘butty.’

Between half-past four and five o’ clock in the morning, Elizabeth was woken by Eliza and asked if she would go and look on Samuel and offer any advice on how to ease his pain.

‘Well, if we give him a little castor oil it would do him no harm.’ she would tell Eliza.

After administering a teaspoonful of the oil, Eliza said to her husband James, ‘Jimmy, you will have to go to Bury, as our Sammy is a deal worse.’  James put on his jacket and then went out to fetch Dr. Harris from nearby Bury.

Samuel was now looking much worse, grinding his teeth and his eyes remaining shut.  He breathing was becoming short, as if he had hard work to breathe.

Elizabeth asked Samuel if he was poorly, to which he replied in a very low tone of voice, ‘Aye.’

This would be the last time Samuel would speak, as sometime around six o’ clock on Wednesday, 9th August, he would sadly pass away.

 It was three hours later when Police Constable Reuben Barton was called for.  James Hutton made the short trip to the police station in Tottington to report his son’s death and when asked what had been wrong with Samuel, James replied saying he didn’t know – but that the child began to be ill around four o’clock in the morning and died about six o’clock.

PC Reuben then reported the death in the usual manner, with doctors being notified in preparation for a post-mortem to take place on Friday 11th August.

PC Reuben then visited the home of Samuel and whilst he was speaking to those still inside the premises, something as said to him that raised one or two suspicions.  He asked Eliza is she could let him see the shirt that Samuel had been wearing when he died.

‘Ay, I don’t know wherever it is, I don’t for sure.  It hasn’t a spot or anything at all on it.’

It is impossible to know what had been said to PC Reuben for him to be showing an interest in the clothing worn by Samuel, but after he had disappeared back upstairs, he soon returned, again asking to see the shirt Samuel had been wearing.

This time, Eliza said it was only an odd one (the shirt), and she had ripped it up and made it away.

PC Reuben then asked to see the rest of the clothing Samuel had been wearing.  They had been recently washed and put away in a drawer.  The clothes consisted of a pair of trousers, waistcoat, jacket and a shirt.  The shirt seemed to cause a stir, with one witness – that of Elizabeth Scholes, who seemed agitated by the constant questioning over a shirt.

‘If they are so ill off for a shirt, I will find them one or go home for one.’ she was reported as saying.

And when she took the shirt from a drawer, Eliza remonstrated saying it was not the shirt her son had been wearing on the morning of his death.

‘Nay, it’s not that : it was an old one.  I ripped it up!’

Confused by all the fuss Samuel’s shirt was making, PC Reuben examined all the clothing, and apart from a few dark and brown stains found on a jacket and the waistcoat, nothing else untoward was found.

However, a jar and a bottle was discovered that seemed to intrigue PC Reuben.  He took possession of both of them and passed them to Dr. Harris.

On Friday, 11th August, a post mortem on the body of Samuel took place, with PC Reuben witnessing the proceedings.  The post mortem was carried out by Dr. Harris, Dr. Crompton and Dr. Ashworth, and it appears that from the results of the post mortem, something of interest had been discovered.

Based on the results, PC Reuben communicated the findings to Superintendent Milne from the police station in nearby Bury,  and in the afternoon of Saturday 12th August, and in the company of Superintendent Andrew Milne, they went to the home of James and Eliza Hutton.

Superintendent Milne, after searching their home, then took James outside and asked him if he knew what sulphuric acid was, or oil of vitriol. 

James replied with, ‘I suppose it’s poison.’

Superintendent Milne the went back inside, followed by James and PC Reuben.  There, he asked both James and his wife Eliza if they had any acid in their home, and both replied with, ‘No.’

Milne then charged both James and Eliza with administrating sulphuric acid poison to their son, Samuel.

James said that if Samuel had anything, he had ‘got it himself.’

Eliza replied, ‘He’s surely not got to that stuff out Alice got to clean her gloves with!’

Superintendent Milne then asked where was the shirt Samuel had been wearing prior to his death and surprisingly, Eliza replied, ‘It’s washed, and our David has it on.’

David, another son of James and Eliza, was in the house and took off the shirt before passing it over to Superintendent Milne.

Eliza was also asked to hand over the dress she was wearing when Samuel was first taken ill, along with the clothing Samuel was wearing – such as his waistcoat and a pair of trousers.

Nothing more was said, and both James and Eliza were removed to Bury.

On the afternoon of Monday, 14th August – both James and Eliza were brought up before the magistrates at the Bury Police Court and charged with causing the death of their son, Samuel Hutton, by administrating to him sulphuric acid or some other poisonous substance.

Information given by Dr. Harris would tell the jury that the result of the post-mortem examination was to the effect that death had been caused by having taken, or there having been administered to Samuel, some corrosive irritant – or a poison – with sulphuric acid being the most likely.

The clothes worn by Samuel would be shown as evidence, with stains that appeared to show some form of liquid.  Information would also tell that some stains where also found on the bed-room floor where Samuel had slept, and these, Dr. Harris told the jury, might be sulphuric acid.

As for the symptoms manifested by Samuel prior to his death, Dr. Harris would say that as far as the evidence showed, some poisonous substance had been administered at some point. 

There was a white ‘curdy’ appearance about the mouth and throat, and the general result of the medical examination showed that Samuel must have suffered a terrible amount of pain before dying.

With this, Dr. Harris would ask for the prisoners to be remanded for a little longer so further examination of Samuel’s clothing, as well as the floor boards within the bedroom of the deceased could be undertaken.  Both James and Eliza’s defense team appealed to the judge to have both prisoners released on bail, but this would be refused due to the severity of the case.

During the intervening days, Frederick Calvert, doctor of physics and Fellow of the Royal Society, Manchester, received several jars containing parts of Samuel Hutton’s anatomy.  These included the whole of the intestines, liver and heart.  A smaller jar contained the stomach and its contents, and a bottle containing the gullet and the tongue.

Along with the jars, he also received a small shirt, coat, waistcoat and trousers that once belonged to Samuel.

He would also receive, on the 30th August, 14 pieces of flooring taken from the bedroom of where Samuel had slept.

Many tests were performed on all of the samples received by Dr. Calvert, and it came to no surprise that sulphuric acid was indeed found in the stomach as well as traces being found in the throat.  However, there was insufficient amounts to give positive results.

The gullet, tongue and mouth appeared white in colour, and the interior of the stomach was highly inflamed and in parts appeared of a darkish colour which was due to decomposition. 

The stains on the trousers was found to have been sulphuric acid but no traces of acid was found on the flooring.

On Wednesday, 30th August, the adjourned inquest would resume, this time over in Tottington and within the Free Church of England school-room.

Mr. Cottingham, who appeared for both James and Eliza would begin proceedings by asking John Hutton, brother of Samuel, to give evidence.  And during his testimony, he would reveal that a painter named Scholes used to keep paints for many years in the same house he had shared with both his parents as well as his brothers and sisters.

Alice Jane Hutton, sister of Samuel, was next to be questioned.  She would tell of how Samuel appeared normal between eight and nine o’clock in the evening, at which time he lay asleep on the sofa.  When he awoke, he had asked for some tea and a ‘butty,’ and her mother, Eliza, prepared him some tea, which he drank, but did not eat the bread and butter.  When he had finished the tea, he was shortly after taken to his bed.

Next morning, her mother woke Alice at five o’clock, telling her to get up as Samuel was ill.  He put his hand on his breast and said he was poorly there.

‘He looked ill, and was white and hot,’ Alice would tell the jury.

Alice would also tell the jury that her mother, during the day, had washed the clothes Samuel had been wearing.

She would then go into great detail explaining what Samuel had been doing on the day he fell ill, saying that he had been playing near a pig-stye where a large collection of bottles had been discarded in a basket.

Sixteen witnesses would, in total, be called to give evidence.  These people included not only immediate family members such as William Hutton, Charles Hutton and Andrew Hutton -all brothers of Samuel, but also Dr. Harris, Superintendent Milne and police constable Reuben.

Even some of the neighbours of James and Eliza Hutton were called for, including Elizabeth Shaw, Mrs. Scholes and a lady called Ellen Shaw.

The inquest was then adjourned for a third time, but would resume on Friday, 15th September and it would take until around half-past ten in the evening before finally coming to an end.

After hearing from many witnesses, with many being the same from the inquest that had taken place on Wednesday, 30th August, the jury, after retiring for around twenty-minutes, returned a verdict that –

“…the deceased died from poisoning by sulphuric acid, but that there was not sufficient evidence before them to show how or by whom such poison was administered.”


The foreman added that in the opinion of the jury, the prisoners were entirely innocent.  Mr. Cottingham, defending, asked that this expression of opinion should be appended to the verdict, and the jury were unanimously in favour of that being done, but the coroner declined to do it.

Several enthusiastic rounds of cheers were then given by the crowded assembly of people who had attended the hearing, and this was repeated by a vast number of people, mainly women, outside the hearing. 

That same evening, and shortly before eleven o’clock, a public event took place in the Wesleyan schoolroom in Tottington to congratulate James and Eliza Hutton on their release.  Some, 1,700 people all crammed into the building.

Their verdict of not-guilty of the murder of their son, Samuel, had caused an enthusiastic demonstration that, it appears, many people wanted to be part of!

Speakers that had included Mr. Cottingham and Mr. F. Anderson (attorney), was followed up by Mr. William Hoyle and Mr. Samuel Knowles.  Even the Reverand, J. Brunskill voiced his delight at the verdict!

The proceedings ended just before midnight, but a procession, four deep, was afterwards formed, with around 2,000 people joining in, and this was headed by the Tottington Temperance Brass Band. 

The procession then proceeded to make its way to the former home of James and Eliza Hutton.  Many hundreds turned out into the road, and cheered lustily on learning the finding of the jury.

It was after midnight when the village of Tottington finally resumed some sort of normality.

However, on Saturday, at noon, both James and Eliza were brought up at the Bury police court, and were bound over in £200 and having to pay two sureties of £100 each to appear at a future date.  Superintendent Milne, not happy with the jury’s verdict, felt that the case warranted further investigation and he had accordingly managed to obtain the consent of the magistrates to a remand.

However, upon their return to the police court on September 25th, Mr. Cottingham, again defending both James and Eliza, argued their case, stating in no uncertain terms that both his clients had already had their day in court and were found not guilty of the death of Samuel Hutton. 

Superintendent Milne, still having no evidence to offer against the accused, had no other option but to allow their discharge. 

Both James and Eliza would finally walk away free people.

Burial record of Samuel Hutton 1871

But where James and Eliza innocent or did they get away with murder?

It appears that this wasn’t the only time one of their children had died in suspicious circumstances as, their first child – a daughter called Jane Hutton, who was born in 1850, sadly passed away three years later in 1853.  Her death was at the time treated as suspicious and whilst we cannot yet find any reports of HOW she died, the press in 1871 all wrote about her dying in ‘similar’ ways to that of young Samuel.  Yet this information, whilst it was brought before the jury during the inquest on the 15th September; incredibly, it was deemed not relevant to the case of Samuel.

Witness testimonies for both James and Eliza by family members, friends and neighours would all seem positive in that they were highly thought of in the community.  Nobody, it seems, had a bad word to say about the couple and indeed, the family as a whole.  James was a hard worker who always provided for his family and was one of the first to help his children when in need.  As for Eliza, she would often be found in neighbours houses, cooking and helping with chores.

As for the celebrations and the procession that followed the verdict of not guilty, it appears that the death of young Samuel had been pushed to one side, something not to be spoken of again.  I’ve never read or heard of anything like this having ever taken place before, and especially with the subject of a young child and the suspicious circumstances surrounding his death.  Surely, as grieving parents, a procession and the celebrations should have been met with a fierce scowl and something they should not have participated with and in context with the death and it being their son, perhaps they really should have been left to grieve as any normal parent would do?


Sources used in this story;

Courtesy of the British Newspaper Archivewww.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk and www.ancestry.co.uk


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