Coroner blames parents for tragic death of mum and baby

Mother and daughter drowned in the mill lodge of Swainson & Birley
Mother and daughter drowned in the mill lodge of Swainson & Birley
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Local historian Keith Johnson uncovers a case of family troubles leading to a double death...

On the first Friday of November 1897 a young man called Charles Danly was in the neighbourhood of the Swainson & Birley mill lodge in Salmon Street when his attention was drawn to the mill lodge where he saw two bodies floating on the murky water.

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The gruesome find was at once reported to the police and P.C. McGuire led an operation to recover the bodies that had clearly been in the water some days.

Investigations led to the identification of Margaret Torrance, aged 22, and her year old daughter Lillian. They had been reported missing on the previous Monday evening from their home on Birley Bank where they lived with her parents.

An inquest was opened on the following Monday at the Belle Vue Inn on New Hall Lane before Mr. John Parker the coroner. Robert Torrance identified the body of his daughter, a single woman, and her child. He stated that he had not seen them since 8 o’clock on the Monday evening when they left the house. The family having sat up all night concerned as to their well being and at daybreak had gone in search of them without success. He testified that his daughter, who was a weaver, had been keeping company with Edmund Roe, a piecer, for four years.

It was reported that Roe, who was the father of the child, had been told of the drownings. His sister having informed the police that he had left town in a distraught state. Both Mr. Torrance and his other daughter, Sarah Jane, claimed that her work in the mill had left her in low spirits and tearful at times.

According to other witnesses her parents objected to Roe and the subject of her illegitimate child often caused rows and disturbances.

The situation in the Torrance household was spoken of by next door neighbour John Newton, a retired publican. He stated that on numerous occasions he had heard the parents arguing, usually whilst being in drink.

Weaver George Mason, also of Birley Bank, told the coroner he had for the last six months noticed the deceased was very quiet and downcast. He testified that a few weeks earlier she had threatened to do away with herself following a disturbance at home. He had encouraged her to leave home, but she feared for her mother’s safety if she did so. In his opinion she had been most content at the mill, but dreaded to go home. The coroner then adjourned the inquest for a week.

When they resumed the Inquest Edmund Roe was the first witness called and he spoke of keeping company with Miss Torrance for four years and being the father of Lillian. He had been with her on the Saturday before she went missing and had arranged to meet her a week later. He testified that she had never complained about her work, but had spoken often of her parents treatment of her.

Dr. Pilkington, police surgeon, deposed to examining the bodies. There were no marks of violence and the cause of death in each case was drowning. The coroner briefly summed up and the jury after a lengthy deliberation returned with a verdict that Margaret Torrance murdered her child and then took her own life while temporary insane.

At the jury’s request Mr & Mrs. Torrance were called back into the room and addressed by the coroner. He told them: “Your quarreling, fighting and drinking has led to this tragedy. You nagged at this poor girl and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves. Particularly, you Mrs. Torrance. We have heard it from every quarter.”