top of page


For an assignment as part of my studies with Institute of Heraldic and Genalogical Studies I decided to look closely at the case of someone I had stumbled on a couple of years ago whilst researching a family tree. She wasn’t a direct ancestor of the customer, so I hadn’t dwelt on her for too long, but she did stay in my mind.

Anna Maria Gallant led a life which nowadays we would say was chaotic and difficult, she was born Anna Maria Bird in Great Waldingfield, Suffolk in the July quarter of 1843. Her father was a farm labourer and she had three older siblings. In 1861 at the age of 17 she married a widow, Henry Gallant, who had two young sons, Henry was twenty years older than Anna. Anna had four daughters fairly swiftly and then two sons who both tragically died before their first birthdays and Henry Gallant died the same year as their last baby in 1871. Anna was left with two stepsons who had still been at home, Joshua, 19 and George, 17 and four daughters, Harriet, 9, Elizabeth, 8, Mary Ann, 7 and Meanna, 5.

Three years later in August 1874 Anna Maria gave birth to a son who she named Walter Reuben Gallant. Father unknown.

Three years later around 1st June 1877, she gave birth to a daughter. Three weeks later Anna was in court at Bury St Edmunds before Capt. R.S. Bence for wilful murder and concealment of a birth. Two farm labourers had found Anna’s baby floating on the surface of a village pond. She was committed to the Assizes for trial. On 31st July she was sentenced to 18 months hard labour. A grand jury had thrown out an indictment for murder. She got away lightly.

Anna Maria’s statement made to A.W. Twyford, Governor is detailed and reveals that the baby girl was born alive, and throughout her statement you can pick up on the sense of shame about Anna’s situation felt by Anna’s mother, Anna already had one illegitimate child, the fear of people next door hearing the baby cry, the suffocation of the baby girl and Anna and her mother trying to pretend everything was normal to Anna’s father and brother.

The following newspaper articles tell the story.

Bury Free Press 30th June 1877

Anna's statement taken at Bury Prison where she was charged with child murder and concealement of birth

Obtained from The National Archives:

Below is the Criminal Register, County of Suffolk. Edmunds, showing Anna Maria Gallant~ No true bill for murder, guilty on indictment for concealment of birth 18 cal mo’s h.l. (18 calendar months hard labour).

Calendar of Prisoners Bury St Edmunds June/July 1877 ~ Tried on 31st July 1877 before Sir Wm Baliol Brett. Feloniously and of malice aforethought, on or about the 1st day of June 1877 did kill and murder a female child, of which she had recently delivered; and also that she did, on the day and year aforesaid, unlawfully conceal the birth of such child.

The committing magistrate was E.R.S. Bence Esq., Kentwell Hall, as confirmed in the newspaper article.

I obtained copies of the depositions from the National Archives, everything is handwritten and included is a detailed statement of events from Anna Maria Gallant, taken at Bury prison on 14th July 1877, Anna had signed at the end of her statement with an “x”. There are witness statements taken at The White Horse in Great Waldingfield on Tuesday 19th June 1877, from John Finch, a labourer, William Bailey, labourer and John Holden, a surgeon from Sudbury. Examinations taken on 23rd June 1877 before a Justice of the Peace from Christopher Chapman, superintendent of police, John Finch and William Bailey, labourers, John Holden, surgeon, Frederick Thomas Barkway, surgeon from Lavenham who examined Anna and found she had delivered a child, Sarah King, a monthly nurse, George Marsh a police constable from Lavenham, Joseph Grimwood an Inspector of Police from Melford. Reading these very human statements brings the whole situation to life.

I was interested to see a physical description of Anna, that she was 5 foot 1 inch with a fresh complexion, oval face, brown hair and eyes, and it confirmed that she had 4 children between ages 3 and 15, which my research confirmed, she appeared to be clean and in good health, that she went to school for 8 years, and her occupation was stated to be a seamstress which tied with a statement taken at her trial, although this occupation was never written on census returns.

Following the trial and prison sentence with hard labour, we can see from the prison receiving document that Anna’s sentence expired on 29th Jan 1879, I followed up Anna’s life afterwards, in the 1881 census Anna was 38 and living with her parents George and Elizabeth Bird in Row Road, Great Waldingfield, and had two of her children with her, Meanna, 15 and Walter 6. Her father died two months after this census.

Later in 1881 Anna started a relationship with the widower, Joshua Bowers as in May 1882 she gave birth to the first of four sons as follows, Peter Bowers Gallant (who died the following year)[1], Harry Bowers Gallant, George Bowers Gallant and Benjamin Bowers Gallant.

Joshua Bowers’ first wife had been Anna’s late sister, Emma Bird, and his second wife Susannah had died in 1881 in a tragedy which rocked the community, nowadays we would say that Susannah had suffered a post-partum psychosis, she had murdered three of her infant children and then committed suicide, a few months later Joshua Bowers and Anna Gallant embarking on a relationship would have caused some raised eyebrows. They never married. (I wrote about Joshua and Susanna Bowers in my blog post “Socking Tragedy in a Quiet Village” on 26th August 2021)

In the 1891 census Anna was living in Upjohn Green, Great Waldingfield, she was 48 and a “housekeeper” for Josua Bowers and they had 3 sons aged 6, 5 and 4 as well as two adult sons from Joshua’s second marriage, and Joshua’s elderly widowed father.

In the 1901 census Anna was still living with Joshua in Upjohn Green, Great Waldingfield, she was 58 and still a “housekeeper” for Joshua Bowers, their sons were now 16, 15 and 14.

Anna died in December 1902 in Great Waldingfield at the age of 59.

It is a fact that ancestors who did something extraordinary or criminal leave far more of a paper trail that reveals much about their personality and circumstances than ancestors who led honest ordinary lives. I found that all the documentation about Anna Gallant really put flesh on the bones of the story, particularly Anna’s personal testimony which I wouldn’t have seen and read if I hadn’t sent off for a copy of it from the National Archives.

Statements by witnesses also reveal a lot of interesting things about attitudes and social mores in a close-knit village community such as Great Waldingfield, where everyone would have known everyone.

I was also surprised to find that sentences generally for infanticide in the 19th Century were much more lenient than I had imagined, I had imagined it might attract a death penalty, but my research showed that in most cases there was much more understanding at that time of the social conditions, health problems and pressures that a mother might be living under.

And if you got this far I'm thrilled to say I got an "A" for this assignment, and A- and A for the other 2 assignments and I'm now two thirds of the way though qualifying.

32 views0 comments


Post: Blogs
bottom of page