Wednesday, 26 May 2010


On a March day in 1909 the water-bailiff in the employ of the Exe Board of Conservators, Thomas Robert Luxon, was walking along the banks of the Exe between Turf and Powderham when he saw a dead baby in the mud about five feet from the bank. Mr Luxon fetched Police Constable Acland from Starcross who picked the child out of the Estuary. She was a little girl.

The tiny muddied corpse was carried to the doctor at Starcross, Mr John Hyde Iles, surgeon. John Iles was thirty three years old and at the beginning of his long working life in Starcross which was to last for another forty years. He was no stranger to death. After Cambridge, he had served as a volunteer in the war against the Boers and he had come to Starcross having been for some years the house surgeon at the Victoria Hospital for Children, Chelsea.

There needed to be an inquest even for so slight a person as this dead baby. It was held at the Church House, Powderham. John Iles told the Coroner and the jury that the body had probably been in the water for a couple of days. There was a mark on the left chin, caused by a fish bite. He had concluded that the child had been prematurely born and there was no evidence that she had ever had a separate existence. The baby had been stillborn.

No one had any idea whose child this might be and there seems to have been very little curiosity. The jury returned a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence.

I find it strangely moving, this inconsequential tale of the baby in the mud and the fish that bit the infant chin.

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