Buried amongst reports of a lecture on the beauty of historic books at the Assembly Rooms in Faversham, a daring robbery from a watch-shop in Folkestone, the theft of a pair of boots in Harbledown and drunkenness in Whitstable, the pages of the Faversham Gazette published on the 24 January, 1857, disclose a dark episode in the history of the village of Hernhill.
In response to rumours abounding in the area of the death of a child, police visited a Mrs Charlotte Butcher in Waterham, the grandmother of Amelia Collyer, a former servant in Margate – Amelia, a married woman, had apparently given birth to a child on 9 January. According to Charlotte Butcher, her granddaughter had given birth but the child was deceased, and ‘had been thrown down the cesspool.’ When a search could find no trace of the child, the police went to visit the surgeon for confirmation; during the visit, a neighbour came in a revealed that Mrs Butcher had admitted that the child had in fact been delivered alive, but her granddaughter had strangled it. The child’s body had been hidden ‘in a hole between the ceiling and the roof’ and the police took it to the Red Lion in Hernhill.
Amelia Collyer and her husband had by now sailed ‘as emigrants to Australia on Saturday last, at the Government’s expense.’ The husband was reported as not being the father of the child and quite ignorant of what had transpired. According to the newspaper, ‘the statements of the grandmother, who does not bear a very good character in the village, are extraordinary.’ In the view of the surgeon, one Mr Francis, the child had indeed been born alive. The inquest found Amelia Collyer guilty of wilful murder, and issued a warrant for her arrest, although the story concludes by saying that ‘should the vessel, in which Collyer and her husand have embarked, have left…the officer will have some difficulty in effecting her capture.’
Click each image above to read the original story. Thank you to Johanne Edgington of Rotten Ramsgate Tours for providing the story, found in the British Newspaper Archive, shedding light on a dark chapter of Hernhill’s history…