North Street Tragedy
by Jim McIllmurry
On Monday the 25th April 1904 a young married couple, Patrick and Sarah Anne McCann from North Street awoke after another night of broken sleep. Their 10 mohth baby Arthur was a delicate child and seldom slept.
Sarah Anne was new to motherhood, she lacked experience and asked a local woman for help and advice. She recommended Sarah Anne go to the chemist and buy a half-penny worth of Laudanum and give it to him with a few drops of warm water.
She did this and the child slept for three hours. When he woke, she gave him some milk and he fell asleep again.
(Laudanum contains approximately 10% powdered opium. Laudanum contains almost all of the opium alkaloids, including morphine and codeine. Laudanum was historically used to treat a variety of ailments, but its principal use was as an analgesic and cough suppressant. Until the early 20th century, laudanum was sold without a prescription and was a constituent of many patent medicines).
At 6pm Patrick arrived home from work and before getting his dinner, he went in to see his son. He found the child wasn’t breathing and ran to the home of Doctor Samuel Agnew. When Doctor Agnew arrived, he pronounced the child dead.
Sarah Anne told the doctor what she had been advised to give him, the doctor said this was the cause of his death. Another nine month old baby had died in the town recently after being administered Laudanum.
Two days later an inquest was held in North Street National School. Mr. W. Atkinson coroner for the area recorded it as a tragic accidental death. He was aware that many people gave Laudanum to infants to help them sleep and asked if the local press would issue an immediate warning to the general public never to administer Laudanum to children stating no doctor or chemist would knowingly administer that drug to infants.
Baby Arthur McCann was buried in the Dougher cemetery. The marker for his grave has since perished.
Our thanks to Jim for his kindness in giving us permission to publish these stories here.