The Summercourt Baby Case revisited

I first came across the mystery surrounding the death of a newborn baby in Summercourt in the marvellous book researched and written by Leicia Stokes and Dianne Darch entitled “Summercourt Through The Years”. Sadly, now out of print, but well worth getting hold of if you can.

In the section of the book dealing with various reports taken from the West Briton and Royal Cornwall Gazette newspapers, there is a piece entitled “The Summercourt Baby Case August 20th 1903”

The article reads -

A Coroner's inquiry was held at Summercourt yesterday respecting the death of a newly-born child whose body was found in a garden in a village on Monday. Medical evidence showed the child had a separate existence, and the coroner said if the jury believed the evidence, they would probably bring in a verdict of wilful murder against Alice Mary Buscombe age 20 a domestic servant. The inquest was adjourned for the attendance of Alice Buscombe.

Mr E.L. Carlyon resumed the inquest on Tuesday at Summercourt, on a newly born child found there on August 17th by Mrs Emmaline Hawkey in the garden of her neighbour Mrs Buscombe. It was covered with a sack, ashes and other refuse. Mrs Buscombe was away at St Columb at the time, her daughter Alice Mary Buscombe age 20 years, being left at home. When the mother returned Mrs Hawkey reported the discovery, and Mrs Buscombe went into the garden and when she returned her daughter Alice was missing and she remained out all night. Dr Mackay said the child undoubtedly had a separate existence.

In his opinion it was suffocated by something having been placed over it's mouth and nose. The sack would probably have caused the suffocation. The girl admitted she had had a child. The coroner cautioned her, and asked her if she wished to give evidence, but she declined to make a statement.

Mr Carlyon in summing up, advised the jury that if they thought Alice M. Buscombe was the mother, and that it had had a separate existence, that it's death was due to suffocation, and that she had placed it in the garden, then the only verdict they could return was one of murder.

After half an hours deliberation the jury found her guilty and on the coroners warrant committed for trial at the Assizes. Superintendent Bassett directed the arrest of the accused who was taken to St Columb where the girl will remain in the hospital of St Columb workhouse under police supervision.

The next entry is entitled “Accused Committed September 10th” and is as follows -

Alice Mary Buscombe, a single woman age 20 years of Summercourt was brought up before Messers, W.H.L. Shadwell and T.H.Vyvyan at St Columb on Tuesday charged with the wilful murder of her infant child.

Superintendent Bassett conducted the prosecution. The prisoner who was undefended, is an intelligent looking girl, and was respectably attired in deep black. Throughout the proceedings she sat with downcast head and broke into sobs when her mother was giving evidence.

The accused who did not question any of the witnesses and had nothing to say in answer to the charge was committed to take her trial in November

And that is where the reporting on the case seems to end! The authors of the book were unable to find any further reports about the case.

I was most intrigued by the case and by the fact that no reports exist relating to what happened to Alice after this committal proceeding.

Certainly the death of the baby (a baby boy) was recorded in the General Register Office (GRO) register under the reference

September quarter 1903

St Columb district volume 5c page 53

Buscombe, male age 0


I decided to look firstly into where exactly in Summercourt the alleged murder took place.

My first thoughts – based purely on the layout of the village at the time – was that this must have been on New Row. But I thought it wise to check the records before making assumptions.

I started by trying to locate the lady who found the body – Emmaline Hawkey – who, I figured, may have lived in the same house in the 1901 census (I knew the Buscombes were not in Summercourt in 1901 having already found them elsewhere).

RG13 piece 2208 folio 57 page 10 covers Trewin(n)ion Farm and has the entry for the following people -

HAWKEY William


HAWKEY Maurice T

I then checked the 1911 census for the same people and found Emalyn Hawkey still at Trewinnion 1911 census reference is RG14PN13739 RG78PN812 RD294 SD3 ED5 SN134)

So, based on this evidence – and the fact that no other suitable Hawkey can be found in the parish – it seems likely that Trewinnion was the actual location of these events. I need to speak with the current farmers there to see if there is a likelihood of a farm labourers cottage or similar next to the farm itself, as the Hawkeys were the farmers there in 1901 and 1911 and in fact earlier than that too. There are also farm labourers listed at Trewinnion Farm as different households, reinforcing the idea that the Buscombes lived adjacent to the Hawkeys in 1903.

In 1901, Alice's father was a farm manager St Wenn, so it is not inconceivable that he came to work at Trewinnion – especially when you consider that old Mr Hawkey was blind (as per the 1901 census entry). It is also interesting to note that Mrs Buscombe was originally from St Enoder parish (Emma Alma Parkyn, daughter of William and Alice of Barton baptised St Enoder 18 August 1861).

Alice and her family

So what can we discover about Alice and her family?

Well, we know from the reports that she was 20 years old at the time of the events – which means she was born around 1883.

Her baptism was in St Dennis parish church on the 18th of January 1883 where she is listed as the daughter of John and Alma (details from the St Dennis parish register of baptisms).

By 1886, the family were living in St Enoder parish at Chingweal as is demonstrated by the baptism of Charles Henry Buscombe and Beatrice Mildred Buscombe (St Enoder parish records).

Another baptism takes place for a child of John and Alma – Thomas Perkin Buscomb on the 18th December 1887, and another for a Clifton Edwin Buscombe on 23 August 1891.

On the 1901 census, we can see that, although living in St Enoder for periods of time during this time, John and Emma Alma also resided in other parishes - based on children born in other parishes. I suspect the nature of John's work as a farm manager meant frequent movement to fill vacancies.See reference RG13 piece 2206 folio 99 page 3 which gives the names -

BUSCOMBE, Emma Alma    
BUSCOMBE, Clifton Eusim  
BUSCOMBE, Jeffry    
BUSCOMBE, Harry    
BUSCOMBE, Lucinder 
BUSCOMBE, Maurice 

Alice herself is not with the family on the 1901 census. She was employed as a servant by the Trerise family at Trugo, St Columb Major. This can be seen under the reference RG13 piece 2206 folio 81 page 6.

TRERISE, Edward   
TRERISE, Annie   
TRERISE, Alice H    
TRERISE, Wilfred J   
TRERISE, Edward T   
TRERISE, Charlotte A   
TRERISE, James C    
TRERISE, Wesley P   
JENKIN, William    
BUSCOMBE, Alice M    
EDYVEAN, Henrietta    
CHARITY, James    
CHARITY, Ada    


Although nothing can be found about what the Assizes decided about Alice, she does seem to have been reprieved in some way because, on the 1911 census, she is back living with her parents and siblings in Foxhole (see reference  RG14PN13798 RG78PN816 RD295 SD4 ED7 SN108)

BUSCOMBE, John    
BUSCOMBE, Alma    
BUSCOMBE, Alice Mary   
BUSCOMBE, Charles Henry    
BUSCOMBE, Clifton Edwin  
BUSCOMBE, Harry Veroe    
BUSCOMBE, Fanny Lucinda
BUSCOMBE, Maurice  
BUSCOMBE, William Albert 

We know she was not executed for her alleged crime because she does not appear in the Encyclopaedia of 20th Century Executions.

I can only speculate why she was freed. Perhaps she was found to have committed the killing under duress or whilst her mind was unbalanced?

Interestingly, there is a recorded marriage for an Alice M Buscombe to a Samuel T Webber in the December quarter 1914 (St Austell district 5c 242). Sadly, it looks as though Samuel died in 1923 at the age of 32 (Deaths March quarter 1923 St Austell 5c 137) and Alice remarried afterwards -

Alice M Webber to a William H Bray September quarter 1925 St Austell 5c 212

I cannot find any record of children born to either marriage - perhaps as a result of physical or mental trauma?

I am more than happy to listen to anyone's views on the case or if anyone discovers more information.

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