Monday, 6 August 2018

The Twelve Day Death of Eliza Lewis

Often I find stories of such dark tragedy in the course of research that I feel they have to be told. This one is perhaps one of the most bizarre I have come across and involved two Charlotte Street women.

First we have to go back to 1863 when a house was found ablaze in the morning:
The arsonist was found to be a girl called Elizabeth Tregall and she was brought before the court on the Saturday:
Elizabeth would spend the next two nights in a cell at the police station on St Mary Street. She was back in court on the Monday:
So they let her off an arson charge but she got three months hard labour for vagrancy, probably in  Cardiff Gaol. 
However the original Police Court records of this case paint a different picture. Elizabeth Tregall only looked 15 years old because she was emaciated and malnourished. She was actually in her early twenties. PC Surcombe states:
"She has no employment, she said her husband was at sea" 
Also Sergeant Glass states:
"I have known prisoner 5 or 6 months. She is married but her husband has left her and she has been on the town (i.e. prostituting). She has no home and nowhere to sleep. I see her wonder round the streets every night."
While in Cardiff Gaol Eliza would have undoubtedly met Adeliade Paine, Annie Yarwood and Mary Murphy, all experienced brothel keepers from Charlotte Street and Whitmore Lane who were also there at this time. Also there was Sue Walker, in for smashing the windows of her old brothel on Charlotte Street and Catherine Mitchell, a prostitute in for stopping men and using foul language.  
So if Elizabeth wasn't familiar with prostitution in Cardiff before gaol, assuming that she spoke to her fellow inmates she certainly would have known about it by the time she left. 
Cut to a year later and an Elizabeth Lewis (bear with me on the name) is up for soliciting on Bute Street:
"Three sailors were coming up. Prisoner caught hold of one between the legs and behaved in a very disorderly way."
Then next year our Elizabeth resurfaces as Eliza on Charlotte Street in April 1865:
It reads:
"At 12:30 on Sat night saw prisoner drunk in Charlotte St. She was hollering and shouting- she is a prostitute. 7 days Hard Labour"
So Eliza was back in gaol. She was picked up again the next month:

"Last night at one o'clock saw defendant in Nelson Street drunk and behaving in a very riotous manner using obscene language. She is a prostitute. Cautioned."

Things then came to a dramatic conclusion in February 1866 and is evidence of the name change:
The other newspaper report gives more information but not the alias:
See my other blog post on the Glamorganshire Canal for more background on how common this was. This lock on the junction canal still exists today.

The body they had pulled from the canal was badly decomposed and so Elizabeth Lewis/Tregall was pronounced dead at the inquest and a death certificate was issued for her.

The thing is the body wasn't her and so for twelve days Eliza Lewis was walking dead on the streets of Cardiff.  I don't know how she felt about this, I assume someone told her she was dead but she probably didn't give a shit, there are no reports to say that she objected.

Ten days later the lock gates on the junction canal were not shutting properly. The workman overseeing the lock used his grappling hooks to remove the blockage. He pulled up the mutilated corpse of a baby girl. The sixth month old was wearing clothes from Cardiff Workhouse:
This led to enquiries being made at the workhouse and soon enough the mistake was realised.

It wasn't Eliza after all but Mary Wheelan who had taken her daughter Catherine out of the workhouse on Sunday to go to chapel. Mary had possibly slit her baby's throat before she hugged her daughter and jumped into the canal. I think the doctor is sparing the dead mother here in his sudden change of mind about the cut- is it not doubtful that two huge lock gates could make a clean cut from ear to ear of a six month old baby?

Mary Wheelan herself had probably worked as a prostitute on Charlotte Street as she was assaulted there by a bully in June 1865, two months before she gave birth to Catherine in the workhouse. 

Of course it is possible she fell in by accident, the Junction Canal ran under Bute Street, but it seems probable this was a suicide. 
Why she committed suicide and murdered her child we will never know but desperation, despair and depression must have lain at the root of the cause. Interestingly it seems that the deaths of Mary and Catherine were not registered officially, even though Eliza's incorrect death was. Surely this is the result of some bureaucratic oversight after the inquest. 

As for Eliza Lewis being dead did not stop her:
That is from the July after she was recorded as dead in February. 
In November of the same year Eliza was stripping clothes lines along Bute Street:
Eliza was sentenced to a year in gaol for this offence. 

There the trail goes cold for Eliza. I can't be sure when she died or if she remarried as the name Elizabeth Lewis is so common, she certainly did not carry on as Elizabeth Tregall. 

References
Fire: Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian 29th May 1863 p.8.
Saturday Court and Monday court are the same reference.
Police Court is Glamorgan Record Office PSCBO/1/39 Elizabeth Tregall 23rd May 1863. The other women in Cardiff gaol are also from this record in May and June 1863. I can find no record of any Tregall living in Cardiff in this time, or any marriage between a Tregall and an Elizabeth either, though it is highly likely they are from Cornwall.
Catching hold of sailors is PSCBO/1/42 Elizabeth Lewis 4th June 1864
Prostitution charges PSCBO/1/44 Eliza Lewis 24th April and 17th May 1865.
Inquest on Eliza Lewis MM 10 February 1866 p.8. and Cardiff Times 9 February 1866 p.5. Death Certificate is March quarter 1866 Cardiff 11a 164.
Mary Wheelan inquest Cardiff Times 23 February 1866 p.5. Her daughter is Catherine Wheelan see birth Cardiff Sept Quart 11a 259.
Mary Wheelan on Charlotte Street is Cardiff Times 9 June 1865 p.7. and PSCBO/1/45 Thomas Davies 7th June 1865. Strangely Thomas Davies alias Clark was sentenced to a year imprisonment at the New Year Assizes in 1866 for theft of meat from Bute Street- he could be the bully that Eliza Tregall was supposedly bereaving when it was thought she had committed suicide.
Eliza tea can theft: CT 20 July 1866 p.8.
Eliza clothes theft: CT 2 November 1866 p.6. and trial CT 12 January 1867 p.8

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