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Sudden death of Birmingham’s smallest person in 1884

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

The nineteenth century was a period for such forms of entertainment for disabled people being exhibited at traveling fairs and circuses.

Warning: No offence is intended - the historic terminology used in 1884 for someone of a restricted growth, this article contains graphic content.

Lily Evans alias the “Lilliputian wonder” and the smallest person in the world, died suddenly in Birmingham on Tuesday 19 August 1884, the death being attributed to the excessive fatigue of its numerous performances extending it is over 15 hours a day. The child who is 2 months old was only 9 inches in length and weighed but 10 ounces the body being quite perfect.

The parents who had previously had several healthy children "let “ the “Lilliputian” for 30 shillings a week to a showman of monstrosities ,who exhibited the child on the corner of Albert Street, Dale End, Birmingham.

The exhibition s commenced at 9:00 o'clock in the morning and continued till midnight. The mite being shown to the audiences several times an hour by Madame Baker, the celebrated * Phrenologist, and wife of the show man Mr Baker who would challenge the world to find so diminutive Midget and forfeit £100 if beaten.

The child was born prematurely, and, according to the mother, the diminutiveness was owing to her having been frightened by a monkey, which was capering on an organ, shortly before the birth.

On Saturday the small child though apparently ill, went through it's performances until 12:00 o'clock at night. The next morning the tiny creature became worse and medical assistance which proved of no avail was resorted to. The coroner has decided to hold an inquest today 20 Aug 1884 on the little corpse.

Performing a young baby to death shocking revelations

The mother Emma Evans, wife of a William Evans living at Ashted Place, Francis Street, Birmingham, said for the past 2 or 3 weeks she had let the child to Mr Baker, a showman, who exhibited Lily in a room on the corner of Albert Street, Dale End, Birmingham ,for which she received 30 shillings a week.

Many people came to see the child, but she could not say how much the showman earned. After being exhibited for many hours a day the child was seized with a convulsive fit, and medical assistance was called in, but death took place the following day whilst being taken out for a drive to Acocks Green, Birmingham in order to get better as it was to commence a tour at Nottingham with the showman the next day.

Mr Weeks the Deputy Coroner said to the child’s mother “ Is it not a fact that you were drunk when the child was being exhibited last Thursday afternoon ?

No; Some woman said that I was drunk. People have said all sorts of things about me ,but I never “gets” drunk.”

In reply to further questions the mother Emma Evans admitted that the infant had been kept awake for exhibition purposes.

The case caused considerable interest owing to the fact that the deceased has been exhibited in a penny show for some time past as the “ The Wonderful Midget. The mother of the child said Lily was born on 2 July and was exceedingly small.

The Deputy Coroner ( D.C ) said “I believe you have been exhibiting the child at N0:1 Dale End ?

Mother : “No, a showman named Baker has.

D. C said “ Is he here ?

No”. said the mother.

D.C said “Is this what appeared on the handbills - The Wonderful Midget, every person from her Majesty the Queen to her lowest subject , should pay a visit to this wonderful being?" (Laughter)

D.C – “And does it conclude with a challenge to the United Kingdom to produce a child as small as the deceased ”( Laughter ).

Mother –“Yes

D.C –“This is a challenge to the world and your baby has beaten them all?

Mother –“Yes” (more laughter)

D.C –“It is the smallest?

Mother “Yes.”

D.C -“When did Mr Baker first have the child?

Mother- “A fortnight yesterday.”

D.C –“How much a week were you paid?

Mother – “30 Shillings a week and food. I had to buy the child clothing.”

D.C –“And did her Majesty accept the invitation?” (Laughter )

Mother – “I don’t know.” ( more laughter ) .

Mrs Maria Whitfield, a woman who was employed by the show man as a dressmaker and attendant upon the child, said she had to make a new dress’s of silk, satin, of different colours every day for the baby. The mother of the child had been drinking very freely whilst her daughter was performing, as she received a lot of money from Mr Baker for letting him show the child.

The Deputy Coroner - “Was she drunk nearly the whole of the time? Reply, “Yes, she was.

D.C “How did the child look ? Reply, “Like a regular show baby, it was exhibited every 5 minutes during the day, except when it had had rest at dinner time and tea time, when it was suckled by the mother when sober ;when the mother was drunk the child was fed on scalded biscuits.

The Deputy Coroner- “But was she not nearly always drunk? Yes” (sensation ).

Mr Darlington, Surgeon, testified to the death in ensuing from convulsions, accelerated by being exhibited and aggravated by the mother but spasmodically giving it food. The child was not in a fit state to be exhibited when he saw it.

The mother, recalled, said, in answer to the deputy coroner that she intended to bury the body , because she was now told that it was “too far gone”. She spoke to the show man about it, who said she could get £20 for the body. She should have sold it if she thought she was allowed to do so, but did not understand the law.

The Deputy Coroner said the case was the most extraordinary one, the mother not satisfied with killing the child was anxious to make money out of the dead body. The woman’s conduct had been most brutal but the coroner’s officers would see that the body was not made a traffic of for the profit of the mother.

Lily died from convulsions brought about by neglect of the mother, and accelerated by being exhibited, and that she deserved censure for her cruel conduct.

The mother, being recalled, received a severe censure, the deputy coroner stating that she had narrowly escaped being committed for trial for manslaughter and added she might yet be prosecuted by the police.

Funeral of the Birmingham of the smallest person at Warstone Lane Cemetery.

The funeral of the infant Lily Evans, known as “The Birmingham Midget” and the "Lilliputian Wonder" took place at Warstone Cemetery, on Sunday, and it was a productive and peculiar scene. After the inquest it was elicited that the mother had been trying to dispose of the body of her child to a show showman and the deputy coroner having reprimanded her for entertaining such an idea, exacted a promise from her that she would allow the body to be buried. Since the inquest the house of the parents in Francis street, Ashted, has been sieged by sightseers anxious to get a glimpse of the body, and in many instances the permission has been given.

The undertaker was is entrusted with making the coffin exhibited the curiosity, in his shop window on Friday. So great was the crowd outside the undertaker’s window the exhibition proved a nuisance, and the coffin was removed in the evening to the child’s home.

The coffin was 13 inches long 6 inches wide and 4 1/2 inches in depth, and was embellished with enamelled furniture . The inscription was as follows : -

Lily Evans, the smallest person, died August 18, 1884, aged six weeks.”

The precise age of the infant with 6 weeks and 4 days. On the Sunday morning, when the funeral coach drove up to the house, a large crowd assembled outside and hisses and groans were given when the mother made her appearance, by this time the coffin had been screwed down and lay on the sideboard in the sitting room, awaiting the arrival off the coach.

The coroner's officer attended the funeral, and in order to dispel all suspicion that the body had been surreptitiously disposed of, the undertaker removed the lid from that coffin before starting the carriage, and revealed the tiny corpse within.

For nearly half an hour the funeral cortege could not getaway, owing to the pressure of the enormous crowd which filled the street and adjoining thoroughfares. The mother of the Lilliputian who was censured by the deputy coroner for performing to death her child, was hissed and yelled at, and would probably have been lynched but for the efficient staff of police who kept guard and prevented any serious disturbance. During the funeral march, however, nearly 3 miles, the mother was hissed by hundreds of persons who followed the funeral procession.

A large crowd followed the funeral for a considerable distance. On reaching the Cemetery there was another peculiar scene, news off the arrival of the small child quickly spread, and the carriage was surrounded, the curiosity to see the coffin being as great as it was manifested by the assembly outside the parents’ house.

Upon the arrival at Warstone Lane Cemetery the undertaker stepped out with the Lilliputian coffin and placed it under his coat to conceal it from view, the crowd could not stifle their merriment. The undertaker then took the coffin to the church, an ordinary service then took place.

Lily’s body was buried with the coroner’s chief officer being present, and the undertaker opening the lid of the coffin just before the funeral.

The mourners drove away, amidst from jeers from the crowd.

Lily / Lilly Evans is buried in Warstone Lane cemetery. This is a public grave with a several interments. Lily’s birth and death was registered as Lily Evans, but her burial record she is listed as Lilly. * someone who claims to be able to read your character from the shape of your skull. History remembers the celebrated, the Friends of Key Hill cemetery & Warstone Lane cemetery remember all. Compiled and researched by J. Fielding 2006.

Image: M. Beauchamp.

Lily Evan's memorial plaque: J. Q. Cemeteries Project.

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