The report from the Tivy-side Advertiser, July 15th 1870, of the trial of Evan and Hannah Jacob, the parents of Sarah Jacob.
TRIAL OF THE PARENTS OF THE WELSH FASTING GIRL FOR MANSLAUGHTER.
These Assizes were opened in Carmarthen on Tuesday evening last, before the Hon. Sir James Hannen, Knight. There were but few cases entered for hearing, and the whole interest and excitement of the assize naturally centred in the trial of Evan and Hannah Jacob, the parents of the Welsh Fasting Girl. The following brief recapitulation of the facts of this remarkable case may perhaps be not uninteresting to our readers.
Little Sarah was one of nine children, and a daughter of Evan and Hannah Jacob. Her father was a small farmer, and lived on a farm known as Lletherneaudd, a mile or so from Pencader Station, on the Carmarthen and Cardigan Railway. She was a very healthy child, and of remarkably prepossessing appearance, with large dark eyes, dark hair, plump and pinky cheeks, and lips as red as vermillion. As far back as 1867 it became rumoured that she lived without food for lengthened periods. And yet she thrived; looked plump and well, and was lively and happy, By-and-by it was boldly stated that vigilance committees had been appointed to test her powers of abstinence, and that the child had been proved to possess the wonderful faculty of existing without food; and when, in the early part of last year, it was fearlessly asserted that for two years no food whatever had passed her lips, the credulous stopped to inquire, and went forth to see the living wonder. They found little Sarah at her father's house, where they had placed her in a bed, and dressed her up fantastically with trinkets and with trappings, and about her plump white neck a victorine with a wreath for a change, with books and flowers strewn about the coverlet. She talked prettily, read earnestly with a musical voice, and composed poetry with marvellous taste, which she recited to wondering and admiring visitors, to whom it was boldly propounded by the parents that the girl - still a fine, plump, handsome child - had not tasted food for two years, and even went into hysterical fits whenever food was mentioned in her presence. Yet her eyes were bright and sparkling, her pulse healthy and regular, her lips as red as ever, her cheeks wore a pinky hue which women ambitious of perfect facial beauty might envy, and her hair - of which there was a rich profusion - was garnished with ribbons and blossoms, that gave to the melancholy-looking head lying on the white pillow an attractive appearance that won upon the sympathies of her visitors, and these same visitors meekly placing their offerings upon the child's breast, wonderingly departed, profoundly impressed with the belief that the nineteenth century had furnished a miracle in. little Sarah Jacob, the " Welsh Fasting Girl."
But when, in addition to all this, it was known that a committee of medical men and others had seriously held counsel together, and that four skilled nurses from Guy's Hospital, London, had actually been sent down from the metropolis by scientific men there, with instructions to watch the luckless child, to see whether or not she could violate the laws of nature, and live without food for fourteen days, excitement grew apace, and even those who doubted held their peace till the test was over - save one or two, who raised the hand of warning, and bade the watchers beware.
So these four skilled nurses watched the girl closely. Night and day did they keep up their fatal vigils. The watching commenced at four o'clock in the afternoon of the 9th of December last. Day by day, and hour by hour, the child grew weaker and weaker, and yet not a morsel of food, nor a drop of stimulant! The watchers remained remorselessly at their post; and medical men came in and out of the dying girl's chamber, and spoke calmly and analytically of her "altered appearance," and of the "heightened pulse," and of the "flushed face," and of the "peculiar appearance " of the little creature's eyes. She was spoken to on the 14th by one of the medical men, but "she did not complain." Not likely, with life ebbing away, as the natural result of a five-days' fast. Not likely, with the physical powers prostrate from starvation, and the dreaminess of delirium rapidly setting in. She "did not complain," and they forgot she was starving. She "did not complain," and they knew not that she was dying. Well, on Thursday, the 16th of December, the parents were spoken to. "Your daughter will die if she takes no food, say the medical advisers; and still no food was forthcoming. Parents, nurses, medical men, relatives - all seemed influenced by the fatal fascination of superstition, or of sordid cupidity, or of clumsy scientific research; and the little creature's vitality ebbed away, slowly, but surely, with life and plenty within easy reach, and no one with heart enough to give to the prostrate victim that nourishment which would have saved her from death. But it was too late now. They spoke to the little sufferer at ten o'clock on Friday morning, and "received no answer." The parents came in, and friends of the family gathered around, and the nurses hovered about the little low bed, and all of them watched the convulsive throes and the delirious moanings of the child they had killed between them. Yes, she died at 3 o'clock in the afternoon of Friday, the 17th of December - just seven days within one hour of the time when the fatal watch commenced. Of course there was an inquest and a post-mortem examination, which clearly exposed the cheat, for the child was shown to have taken plenty of food up to the advent of the skilled nurses from Guy's. And the jury brought in a verdict of manslaughter against the parents; and the medical men were afterwards proceeded against, and discharged from blame; and Government instituted an official inquiry, and the Crown prosecuted, and the parents were eventually committed to take their trial for manslaughter at these assizes.
His Lordship attended Divine service at Saint Peter's Church on Wednesday morning at quarter to ten o'clock, and took his seat on the bench immediately on its conclusion.
The Grand Jury having been sworn, and the usual formalities gone through:
His Lordship proceeded to address the Grand Jury, directing their particular attention to the case of Evan and Hannah Jacob, who were charged with the manslaughter of their daughter, Sarah. His Lordship in a most lucid manner dwelt upon the facts of the case, pointing out the law bearing- upon the matter; and concluded as follows: - "He need scarcely remind the jury that the offence with which the prisoners stood charged was that of neglecting a duty which had a direct connection with life, and which neglect resulted immediately in death. It was the duty of all parents to supply food to their children of tender age, and this was the duty of the prisoners. They neglected their duty, and the death of one of their children was the result. There was no question whatever about the means of the prisoners to supply food, and it was clear that, up to the time the watching commenced, the child was in good health, having, indeed, all the appearance of a child enjoying excellent health. He should scarcely think it could be denied that the girl had been fed to the time that the watch commenced ; and the question would naturally arise - ' By whom had she been fed ?' Both the father and mother had waited upon her, making her bed, and were continually about her person; and she appeared to have for some time slept in the same room with them. Assuming, then, that she had been fed, it would be for the jury to consider whether the parents were in any way cognizant of the feeding. If they thought they were, then,whether the parents themselves fed her. If they thought they were not, then whether anybody else fed her, and whether the parents knew anything about it. If they came to the conclusion that she had been fed previous to the commencement of the watching from which she died, then they would say whether the prisoners, by refusing to give her food during the watch, and thereby causing her death, had neglected a duty which the law laid down as paramount in reference to the relations of parents with children. If they were of opinion that there had been this neglect, then the jury would have to say to what extent there had been criminality." The learned judge then dismissed the grand jury to their duties.
THE FASTING GIRL CASE.
The grand jury returned a true bill against Evan Jacob and his wife for manslaughter. They are both charged in the indictment with having " killed and slain one Sarah Jacob," and the male prisoner further stands committed under the coroner's inquisition for the manslaughter of the said Sarah Jacob, on the 17th December last.
Mr. Giffard and Mr. Coleridge appear for the prosecution, instructed by Messrs. Wontner and Sons on behalf of the Crown; and Mr. Bowen with Mr. W H. Michael, instructed by Mr. C. Bishop, of Llandilo, for the defence.
The case would have commenced on Wednesday - the other business of the assize having terminated at 2 o'clock - but for the inability of Mr. Giffard to be in town before the evening; and it was eventually decided to commence the case on Thursday morning at 10 o'clock. Public feeling had again commenced to be excited in reference to the matter, and when the grand jury announced that they had found a true bill against the prisoners, there was an unmistakeable manifestation indicative of satisfaction at the result.
The Court opened on Thursday morning at 10 o'clock. Considerable anxiety was manifested to hear this extraordinary trial, and at ten o'clock the court was thronged, and every seat in the ladies' gallery was occupied. Both the prisoners, immediately on their names being called by the clerk of assize, at once surrendered to their bail, and took their places in the dock. The mother was attired in deep mourning, and appeared pale and careworn; the father exhibited traces of anxiety on his countenance, such as might be expected in a person placed in his situation. We learn that the parents have been reduced to the extremest poverty.
The Clerk of Arraigns read the indictment, which was interpreted to the parents into Welsh, who immediately on being asked to plead, replied "Not guiltv."
The jury were thereupon sworn, and the trial commenced.
Mr. Giffard proceeded to open the case at great length, after which the Rev. Bran Jones, vicar of Llanfihangel; Rev. W. Thomas, Unitarian minister; Dr. Pearson Hughes, Llandovery; Dr. Fowler, London; Mr. T. E. Davies, solicitor, Cardigan ; the Nurses; Mr. John Hughes, surgeon, Carmarthen; Messrs. Thomas and Phillips, surgeons, Newcastle, were examined; but their evidence did not materially differ from that given at the magisterial inquiry at Llandyssul.
This concluded the case for the prosecution.
Mr. Michael, on the part of the female prisoner, submitted that the indictment against Mrs. Jacob could not be sustained, as there was no duty en the part of the mother to supply food to the child while the father was living.
Mr. Giffard said it was not a question of duty to supply food, but wilful refusal to exercise that duty.
His Lordship ruled that there waa evidence to go to the jury in support of the indictment against the female prisoner.
The female prisoner scarcely held up her head during the whole of the day, but continued leaning down on the front of the dock, and shed tears copiously. When the little shawl, the embroidered nightdress, and the wreath which the deceased child wore were produced for identification, she cast a furtive glance at them over the top of the dock, then, burying her face in her handkerchief, she became visibly affected, and cried bitterly.