Margaret Louisa Jenkins
An incident on Meadow Street
In the South Wales Daily Post on the 2nd March, 1896 the article above was posted. I found it whilst checking out the wonderful new Welsh National Library newspaper site. It offers a small window into the life of the Dearman family in Bridgend and throws up a few interesting questions.
First of all why did they have a ferret at all and secondly how did the incident come to be reported in the local newspaper? And last of all where were the other children? For by 1896 there were more than three children in the Dearman household. And indeed what happened to the baby?
Secondly, how did the incident come to be reported in the local newspaper? Where did they seek medical advice - a doctor or a hospital? If it was a hospital, then maybe the paper’s reporters regularly checked out what had been going on in Emergency. Maybe the doctor reported it - but why? And if he did his name is not mentioned - just “medical examination”. A small mystery because surely the Dearmans themselves would not have reported it to the local press. It’s hardly a good look for the family is it?
The first question - why did they have a ferret? - is the most easily answered. Ferreting (or rabbiting) was a popular pastime in the nineteenth century amongst the working classes. Basically the the ferret was sent down the entrance of the warren to chase the rabbits out and the people at the entrance, aided by their dogs caught the rabbits as they came out. Sometimes the entrance was netted, which would have helped the process I guess. I have given a link (below left) to a contemporary account of the whole operation if you would like to know more. The Dearmans lived near the edge of Bridgend, with easy access to the countryside, so no doubt the men would go off at the weekend hunting rabbits with their ferrets in order to boost the family’s diet. An interesting aside is the following quotation: “During Victorian times, ferrets used to cost 3s 6d, which was the same price as a little kitten. This would have come to a substantial amount of money in those days, so I'm surprised to read about poachers having ferrets. Makes you wonder how they could afford to get them!” True, but then maybe the outlay was worth it for the extra food it brought in. I wonder how much a dog cost?
I should say, that apparently ferrets were also kept to keep down rats - but I get the impression that this was mostly on farms - I think the ferreting explanation is more likely.
An initiative of the National Library of Wales - fully searchable digital images of newspapers.
One of several sites created by ferret enthusiasts. Lots of information about the historical use of ferrets. It includes a chapter from a book about poaching written by Richard Jefferies (1849-1887). It’s a description of a day out hunting rabbits with ferrets.
And where were the other children? Initially I carelessly didn’t look at the date and so assumed the first three children. Then I realised that the article appeared in 1896 by which time there were six children, all still living, if my records are correct. Certainly more than three anyway. So then, again without checking the article carefully, I thought that the older children would be at school. But then when I looked again I realised that this incident occurred at night, so where were they? I suppose they could have been in another room and therefore not involved and the comment that “she went out for a short time, leaving here three children (one a baby of eighteen months) asleep in a bedroom” is marginally incorrect. Maybe the children had been at their grandparents around the corner and Margaret was going to pick them up. She was pregnant at the time with the next child, so maybe her parents were giving her a rst. I’m sure we can all dream up various different scenarios. Nowadays, of course, we would view leaving children alone at home as a major abrogation of responsibility but times have changed. Children were given much more independence in those times. And they were supposedly asleep. Poor Margaret.
And finally, a rather horrible thought. I think the poor child who was bitten was Sydney Alban, who, according to FreeBMD was born in the September quarter of 1894. This child died in June 1896 - three months after the incident. I do so hope he didn’t die as a result of the ferret incident. How could you live with yourself if this is indeed what happened. Poor Margaret indeed.