“Didn’t Mary push George into the Water?”
A seven word sentence that would seal the fate of the 4 year old girl who uttered it.
April 1899 – Mary Viney Allman and her three year old brother George were part of a family of eight siblings living at Park Farm, Pipe Gate, Market Drayton.
Their parents were Henry and Elizabeth Allman.
They’d recently employed a 15 year old girl as a servant for the household – her name, coincidentally, was Mary Elizabeth Allman.
On Thursday April 20th young George goes out to play in the garden with a little girl at around 3 in the afternoon but he didn’t return. His mum went out to look for him around an hour later – and saw his body floating in the orchard pond.
Screaming for help her husband came running, saw the boy, hastily tied a length of rope around himself and waded in to retrieve him.
But it was too late. There were marks on the edge of the bank where it appeared the boy had slipped in. Devastated Henry removed the rope from his body and left it on the ground.
An inquest was held and a verdict of accident death was returned.
The family were grief stricken at what they believed had been a tragic accident.
Five days later, Tuesday 25th April, in the afternoon the children were playing in a room in the house and the servant Mary was scrubbing the floor in another. The mother Elizabeth had been in the cellar with her daughter Mary at around 4.30pm but then headed upstairs.
The father Henry, told the eldest of the children to look after the younger ones.
A short time later Henry was in the yard and overheard a conversation between his niece, who lived next door, and the servant Mary.
The servant asked about the younger Mary’s whereabouts “Is Mary in your house?” she said. The niece replied “No”.
An immediate jolt of panic struck Henry who went straight to the servant girl and asked if his daughter was missing, and she told him yes.
He ran as fast as he could towards the Orchard Pond, 80 yards away, and went around twice but couldn’t see his little girl.
He called for help and his brother-in-law and wife came.
They searched the farm buildings before returning to the pool where they saw the servant girl, Mary, standing. She pointed to an object under the water. Elizabeth recognised the red frock – it was young Mary.
He grabbed the rope that he’d used 5 days earlier to retrieve his son, and again tied it around his waist, climbed down the sloping bank, plunged into the 8 foot deep water, and swam a further 8 feet to get her. He dived down and pulled her out but despite attempts to revive her she “was quite dead”.
It was no doubt another cruel sleepless night for the family as they struggled to understand how two of their children had succumbed to same fate within a few days of each other, and what or who was to blame. But it was something the little girl Mary had said leading up to her death that continued to play on their minds – and suspicion fell on the servant girl.
The children had always been forbidden to go near the pool and they had never been known to go near it.
In the morning, Wednesday, the father asked the servant Mary her where she was when it happened and she told him she was in the house and hadn’t been outside – but he knew that wasn’t the case – he’d seen her in the outhouse. He challenged and asked if the she thought both children had either slipped or been pushed.
“I really think they were pushed in, Mr Allman”.
The police were called.
PC Lucas visited the scene and could see a patch of trampled grass close to pool, with 3 or 4 plucked Primroses just inches from the pool. He cautioned the servant Mary, and asked her where she’d gone after she left the house in the afternoon. This was her reply… Wellington Journal – Saturday 06 May 1899
She was arrested and taken to the cells in Market Drayton where she was charged with murder. The inquest was opened and adjourned so the police could gather more evidence.
So who was the servant girl?
Mary Elizabeth Allman was 15 years old and had been working at the farm for 10 weeks.
Born in Newport her start in life was a sad and neglected one. An orphan, her mother died when she was an infant and her father died just a few months later in a hayfield. From the age of two or three she spent most of her time in the Newport Workhouse or as out-boarder.
Her aunty was a Mrs Bratton who came to visit her in the cells before she was taken to the county prison at Shrewsbury. As her closest relative she called her Mother, and it was during this meeting the girl is said to have shown a first flicker of emotion during the events.
As ‘Mother’ was about to leave, Mary changed from her apparent non-concerned demeanour, and became “prostrate with paroxysms of hysteria” – It was to Mrs Bratton she also passed on this letter…
On Thursday the inquest was resumed – the parents, police, and children gave evidence to the coroner who came to a verdict of Wilful Murder.
The case was sent to the summer assizes.
The Court Case
Saturday 15th July 1899 – Shirehall Shrewsbury. The jury were sworn in and the judge hearing the case was Mr Justice Day.
In his opening remarks he talked about the circumstances of what happened, and the events leading up to the girl’s death, namely the death of her brother just a few days earlier and the different accounts given by the prisoner. He said he could understand why the jury at the inquest would have come to a verdict of Wilful Murder – However, it was his duty as a judge to reduce the charge to Manslaughter. There wasn’t enough evidence to get a conviction of murder – and so the result of a not guilty verdict would mean the girl would be allowed go free “into the world again relieved entirely of the imputation made against her”. Despite her lies, untruthfulness was not a crime, he said.
The parents Henry and Elizabeth stood up to give their evidence. Henry described how he’d seen all the children playing in greenhouse and asked the eldest to look after everyone. He said he’d also seen the servant girl in the kitchen scrubbing the floor, and then outside when he asked her where his daughter was. He described how, when he questioned Mary she claimed she had been indoors the whole time.
But it was the evidence from the mother, Elizabeth Marjory Allman, that was the most chilling.
She recalled how the day after their son ‘Georgie’ had drowned, the family were all sitting down having breakfast when the little girl exclaimed “Mamma, Mary (meaning the servant) pushed George into the water, didn’t she?”
The servant was present but said nothing. Elizabeth paid little attention and told young Mary not to say such things. It was only later she remembered that the girl had made the same remark just after the boy and been pulled out of the water.
Two of the other children also gave evidence to corroborate their parent’s version of events.
The two police officers who were dealing with the case were PC Lucas and PC Harris.
Constable Lucas recounted the statement that the servant Mary had made to him – that while looking at a train passing from a bank she saw the girl struggling in the pool but then couldn’t find her.
But John Edwards the signalman at Pipe Gate Train Station gave evidence saying no trains had passed at the time Mary said she saw one.
PC Harris gave more contradictory evidence of what Mary had said.
PC Harris was responsible for taking her to the Gaol in Shrewsbury by train. When they got on she started to cry because she was missing her aunt. When they got to Shrewsbury she told the officer “they can’t say I did anything” – she was cautioned but continued to speak saying she’d seen the girl fall in and tried to help her….
The man charged with defending Mary Allman was a Mr Plumtree. He told the coroners court he would not be calling any witnesses. Instead his argument was that if Mary was guilty of anything, it was only one of negligence at best.
Had the servant been given the task of looking after the child she would only then be guilty of being criminally negligent, however she hadn’t been given that responsibility. He said there was no shred of evidence, only the contradictory statements made by the prisoner that she had anything to with what had happened. Nobody had seen them together that day, or seen either of them near the pool.
His final statement to the Jury was that Mary was one of those “unhappy individuals with a constitutional inability to speak the truth. She seemed to be a consummate liar, and the real point at issue was which statement was to be believed.”
The jury retired to consider their verdict. On their return they found Mary Allman, the servant, guilty of Manslaughter – but recommended her to mercy.
The court was adjourned.
On Monday morning it reconvened for sentencing and judge summed up his feelings.
So should she be shown mercy, as the jury suggested? No. Mr Justice Day said that the jury appeared to be saying that Manslaughter was scarcely indistinguishable from accidental death, but their opinion of the facts differed very much from his own.
His verdict of what had happened was damning.
It was his opinion that Mary Elizabeth Allman “had had in her charge the brother of the child whose death they’ve been enquiring into, and who was drowned in the same pond, and almost at the very same place, as she was three or four days before she was drowned. That ought to have been a warning to her to be more careful in future, but unfortunately the poor little child brought this sad disaster upon itself by its own careless conduct – not carelessness by slipping into the pond when gathering primroses, as prisoner herself has said, – a statement which he should think no one who heard the story would believe in an instant; no, the carelessness of which the child was guilty of a different character, though at the same time he had no doubt in his own mind that it led to its death.
In the innocence of its heart, in relief of the oppression which had naturally fell upon the family, the child, on the very day it met its own death, observed to its mother, “didn’t Mary push George into the water?”
The little child probably had some knowledge of how her brother met his death; and unhappily these words, uttered carelessly by the child entered into the prisoner’s heart –if she had one- into her soul – if she had one; they went into the darksome recesses of her nature, and that very day that poor child was found drowned in the very same pool.”
The judge went on to list the “unconscionable number of lies” that Mary had told.
She pointed out the location of the body to both parents, and yet had made no attempt to rescue, assist or raise the alarm.
He could see no reason whatsoever why mercy should be shown. She was a danger to the public and those “who might fall within her clutches”.
As far as he was concerned she should have “No opportunity for indulging in any more of her homicidal tendencies and slaughtering qualifications”.
Mary Elizabeth Allman was sentenced to 15 year in gaol.
Below you can see her in the 1901 Census – due to be released in 1914 I have so far been unable to find out what happened to her.
The Allman family went on to have more children listed in the 1901 Census still living at the same address
|Amy E Allman||13|
|Laura Ann Allman||12|
|William Henry Allman||10|
|Elsia May Allman||8|
|Margery M Allman||3|
|Florance Ida Allman||2|
|Walter R Allman||7/12|
However by 1911 they’d moved to Stoke-on-Trent. I am still yet to trace a descendant of one of the family.