In August 1875 a woman presented herself at Lambeth Police Court and made an application ‘of a very singular character’ to the sitting justice, Mr Chance.
She told him that she had twin girls but had been forced to give one of them up to the care of another woman some years before. Now she wanted her daughter back. She was ‘respectable looking’ and her child was now seven years of age. The girl’s father had left some time ago and she believed he was now in America, she was now living with another man and perhaps felt her relationship was more stable and she was better able to care for two children.
I can’t imagine the decision making that allowed a mother to part with one twin and keep the other, she must have been in a very dark place at the time.
However, having traced her daughter she now found that the woman that had brought her up was reluctant to part with her. The court inquired and the woman was brought to Lambeth along with the child in question. The public in court must have been gripped by this domestic drama unfolding before their eyes.
The stepmother told Mt Chance that she had looked after the child since she was ‘a few months old, and looked on her as her own’. She added that when she had been given the care of her she was in a very bad state. The mother immediately denied this and the paper reported the exchange that then took place.
Mr Chance asked the little girl: “Who ill treats you?” She ‘turned and pointed to a woman who had come with her mother’, and “Who would you sooner go with?” added the magistrate.
The small girl grabbed her stepmother . “Which is your mother?” Mr Chance asked. “this one” the girl replied. “Don’t you want want to go with the party who states she is your mother?” “No sir”.
So that was that for the magistrate, he told the mother he had no power to order the girl to go with her and if she wished to take things further she would have to apply to a ‘judge in chambers’. As the pair left the distraught mother made a grab for her estranged daughter, but without success.
I’m not sure a court would deal so casually with this sort of case today. The social services would probably be involved and the family courts as well. It is a very sad story for all involved, especially the twins who presumably now knew they had a sibling but were parted from them.
[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, August 11, 1875]