Crime: Murder bastard child
Date Of Execution: 13 Apr 1805
Execution Place: Presteigne
Mary Morgan was a young servant in the early 19th century in Presteigne, Radnorshire, Wales, convicted and hanged for killing her newborn child. While Morgan was from Glasbury, her story has been associated with Presteigne since her execution in 1805. She was employed as an undercook at Maesllwch Castle, the seat of Walter Wilkins Esq, the Member of Parliament for the county of Radnorshire.
Morgan was working in the kitchens in the early hours of a Sunday in September 1804 when she became unwell. She later went to her room in the servant's quarters of the castle. Early that evening the cook went to her room and accused Morgan of having given birth to a baby, which at first she strongly denied. Later, according to the evidence given by the cook, Morgan "owned that she had delivered herself of a child which was in the underbed cut open, amongst the feathers with the head nearly divided from the body supposed by a penknife which was found by the witness under the pillows of the same bed".
The inquest on the baby was held at Glasbury two days later, and the Coroner's Jury found that: Mary Morgan, late of the Parish of Glazebury, a single woman on the 23rd day of September being big with child, afterward alone and secretly from her body did bring forth alive a female child, which by the laws and customs of this Kingdom was a bastard. Mary Morgan... moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil afterwards on the same day, feloniously, wilfully and of her malice aforethought did make an assault with a certain penknife made of iron and steel of the value of sixpence... and gave the child one mortal wound of the length of three inches and the depth of one inch. The child instantly died. Morgan was too ill to travel to Presteigne, where the Assizes were held, until 6 October. The trial eventually began in April 1805 before Mr Justice Hardinge, concluding on 11 April, when the jury found her guilty of murdering her child.
On 13 April she was hanged, and was buried in what was then unconsecrated ground near the church later that same afternoon. Her public execution attracted large crowds, who watched as she was taken by cart from the gaol to the execution at Gallows Lane.
For some time after the execution, it was claimed the father of the murdered child was Walter Wilkins the Younger, the son of the Member of Parliament and High Sheriff for the county and the "young squire" of Maesllwch Castle. Wilkins was a member of the grand jury which found Morgan had a case to answer. Although this theory is broadly discredited today, it has been key in cementing the popular characterisation of Mary Morgan as the helpless victim of an unscrupulous aristocrat. The father is now generally agreed to have been one of her fellow servants at the castle.
Since her execution, there has been a concerted effort to redeem Morgan's reputation. Her case became a causes célèbre for feminists who have presented her trial as a miscarriage of justice and suggested the Judge and jury were misogynistic, although it has never been disputed that the murder happened and there is no reason to believe the verdict or punishment could have been different.
Lionel Fanthorpe, P.A.Fanthorpe, The World's Most Mysterious Murders, Dundurn Press Ltd., 2003 ISBN 1550024396. Chapter 10. Roy Plamer, "The Folklore of Radnorshire" Logaston Press, 2001, ISBN 9781873827178 Pages 151-54