Paternal child-murder and insanity in Victorian London, Manchester and Liverpool

Year of award: 2015


  • Dr Jessica Butler    

    University of Liverpool

Project summary

My goals are to ascertain the reasons why fathers killed their children in Victorian England. I will look at the factors which contributed to a successful insanity plea and the extent to which the insanity plea in cases of infanticide was determined by gender. I will also examine the extent to which the crime of infanticide itself was gendered. I will look at the role of the medical establishment in court when an insanity plea was successful, as well as the role of the media and public opinion. 

I intend to carry out my research in London, Liverpool and Manchester. I will begin by looking at local assize court records for cases of child murder and infanticide committed by men, then look up these cases in local and national newspapers. I will explore medical treatises on both infanticide and insanity in Victorian England to track the change in medical opinion concerning these issues to see if they are reflected in the outcome of insanity pleas from fathers who killed their children.