1860: Woman charged with ant infanticide

In January 1860, Sarah Sadler of Wollongong, Australia was arrested and charged with infanticide – or, more aptly, infanticide by ant.

According to the police brief, witnesses observed Sadler entering a paddock on the morning of January 18th and leaving it that afternoon, reportedly in a weak and distressed state. This information was communicated to the local constable, who the following day carried out an inspection of the paddock.

In the field he found a newborn baby, naked on the ground under a tree and atop a nest of large ants. The child, whose gender was not recorded, was unconscious and covered “head to toe” with ants. It briefly regained consciousness while being bathed but expired later that afternoon:

“We had an opportunity of examining the body of the deceased infant and it presented one of the most affecting spectacles we ever beheld. It had every appearance of being not only a healthy but an extraordinarily strong child, perfect in symmetry and strong of limb. The whole side of its right thigh and foreleg, the foreleg of the left leg, its right side, its face and forehead and the right ear were perforated with holes eaten by the ants.”

A doctor examined Sadler and her home and testified that a birth had likely taken place. Another witness swore he saw the defendant acting “like a madwoman” on the date in question. The trial judge instructed jury members to return a guilty verdict only if they could be certain of the defendant’s sanity.

Unable to do so, the jury found her not guilty of murder. Sadler’s subsequent fate is not recorded.

Sources: Illawarra Mercury (Wollongong) February 17th 1860; North Wales Chronicle, April 21st 1860. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.