Sunday, September 19, 2010

New info on an old death

On August 20, 1880, Miss Mary Ann Faulkner, a white woman formerly of Ottawa, Canada, died at the office of Dr. Thomas J. Cream during the commission of an illegal abortion. Mary Ann was a prostitute, and had probably learned about Cream during her time in Canada, where Cream had originally practiced.

Cream, a Glasgow-born physician, and Mrs. Mackey, a Black nurse, were arrested in the death. Cream managed to beat the rap by saying he'd only been trying to save Mary Ann from the damage the nurse had done. The jury of 12 men believed him.

Cream had emigrated to Canada with his parents as a small child. Though he was set up to inherit his father's lumber mill, he instead chose to become a physician. The first abortion attributed to him was in April of 1876, shortly after his graduation from medical school. The woman was Flora Elizabeth Brooks, who evidently had been pregnant by Cream. An angry mob stormed the hotel where Flora had taken ill after the abortion, and to escape the wrath of the mob and the girl's family, Cream married her. The next day he left for Edinburgh, Scotland, whence he sent his bride some abortifacients, and settled down to study midwifery (obstetrics). Flora died, reportedly from consumption, shortly thereafter. Cream then returned to Canada, and faced another scandal when a young woman, Kate Gardener, was found dead of an overdose of chloroform -- a substance Cream had studied for his doctor thesis. Cream tried to claim that Kate had committed suicide with chloroform because he'd refused to perform an abortion on her, but scratches on her face indicated that she had struggled with whoever had administered the fatal dose. After an unsavory career in North America, and a murder conviction for killing the husband of his wealthy mistress, Cream eventually returned to the UK, was hanged on November 16, 1892 for poisoning prostitutes and trying to blackmail men with threats of accusing them of the killings.

I have no information on overall maternal mortality, or abortion mortality, in the 19th century. I imagine it can't be too much different from maternal and abortion mortality at the very beginning of the 20th Century.

Note, please, that with overall public health issues such as doctors not using proper aseptic techniques, lack of access to blood transfusions and antibiotics, and overall poor health to begin with, there was likely little difference between the performance of a legal abortion and illegal practice, and the aftercare for either type of abortion was probably equally unlikely to do the woman much, if any, good.

For more on this era, see Abortion Deaths in the 19th Century.

For more on pre-legalization abortion, see The Bad Old Days of Abortion


  • Homicide in Chicago Interactive

  • Thomas Cream on Find-a-Grave

  • Thomas Neil Cream on Wikipedia
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