Who’s to Father Me?

Whilst researching workhouse history, I stumbled across this article from the 7th February, 1857 in The Westmorland Gazette and Kendal Advertiser. It’s reproduced from an article in the Hampshire Independent. It provides a fascinating (but appalling) insight into attitudes to illegitimate children at that time..     

A singular incident occurred here on Saturday evening, affording a new reading of the old dramatic afterpiece. Soon after dusk a remarkably fine infant, abandoned by its parent, was deposited in the area of the house of Mr. Keele, surgeon, of Sussex-place, in this town. Great was the consternation in the household of the medical gentlemen, and various were surmises. The cook “blessed it’s pretty little heart”, but utterly repudiated the mysterious stranger. The housemaid indulged in similar feelings, and in ecstasy pronounced it “quite a love of a baby.” Mrs Keele naturally enough pitied the baby, examined the baby at all points, but had not a spare place for it in the nursery. The little innocent was consequently sent to the poorhouse, where, being very handsome, and altogether a curiosity in its way, it was treated with much attention, and strange hints and conjectures were made as to who was the papa. A sort of jury of matrons was constituted, who, after due deliberation, reported it as their sage opinion that “its nose was much like that of another medical gentlemen, and that it had been mistakably left in the wrong area.” At the Board of Guardians, on Monday, the master reported the admission of the nameless child, and stated laughingly the conclusion at which the female jury had arrived. Mr Mackay, surgeon, said that it had been kept very clean and had been well wrapped up in good articles of clothing. The infant was duly examined by the members of the board, who poked their fun at the expense of certain absent practitioners; but they came to the unanimous conclusion that it was not at all like Mr Mackay. It was ultimately suggested that the board, at some future time, when the features were more fully developed, should make another careful examination. All agreed that the child was a fine specimen of humanity, and Mister Mackay said he would see it was well looked after. He really had his doubt, whether if it had been dropped in his area, he should not have adopted it. The master applied to know what name should be given, and the board decided upon “Augusta Sussex,” in order that, when the Papa is discovered, he may not complain of the child not having an aristocratic name. There is another child in the poorhouse, under similar circumstances called “Richard Notknown,” not half so good a hit as that made in reference to little Pillgarlick, with the expressive high-sounding name.


The term “Pillgarlick” is a variation of Pilgarlick – which comes from peeled garlic. It was often used to describe a bald person – but in this article I think it just means pitiable.

I think the town is Southampton, as there was place called Sussex Place in Southampton. I’m afraid this story doesn’t have a happy ending – according to Find My Past there was an Augusta Sussex who died in Southampton in 1857, the year of this story…  

Sussex Place was destroyed in the blitz in 1940. You can see a picture of what it used to look like here: