When a housemaid at Wollongong's Queens Hotel inspected the wooden chest of her roommate in 1877, she made the grim discovery of a dead newborn baby inside.
The infant, as it emerged during a coroner's inquest, was the son of Isabella Rowland, a maid who delivered him on the evening of July 4 before concealing his existence.
The court heard that, on the night in question, Rowland had retired to bed early, followed several hours later by housemaid Delia Kiernan, who immediately noticed bloodstains on the floorboards.
"When I saw the state of the room, I asked her what was the matter with her; she replied, 'Oh, nothing'," Kiernan said.
"I later went to her box . . . Upon lifting a dress I saw the head of a child. I cannot say whether it was alive or dead, I just put my hand on its head, which felt cold."
Kiernan informed her employer, Andrew Lysaght and the police were called.
On being asked Rowland at first denied it, saying, ''Oh no, I have no idea of it".
Rowland was taken to Wollongong Gaol and charged with having caused the death of her male infant.
During the inquest, Dr Lyons explained in great detail the post-mortem examination of the child, which was published, in full, in the Illawarra Mercury, such was the morbid fascination of the period.
Dr Lyons outlined the process of removing the scalp and brains. He also tested the lungs by floating them in water to determine if the child had breathed air. On this occasion, the test proved inconclusive. The baby also had an effusion of blood upon the brain, suggesting a fall of some kind.
Dr Lyons said it appeared Rowland gave birth either in a standing or kneeling position and that the child's head "must have violently struck some hard surface, most probably the boards of the floor".
After an hour's deliberation, the jury found there was not sufficient evidence to show that the child ever breathed, but that if it did, it had died in the act of delivery.
Rowland was committed to trial, charged with concealing the birth of her child. At the November 1877 hearing, it emerged Rowland had admitted the pregnancy to her aunt, together with her intention to leave Wollongong before the child was born.
Mr Lysaght and his wife were so busy at the hotel, however, she agreed to stay on longer than intended. Good character references were provided by upstanding members of the community, prompting the judge to recommend that the jury find her guilty, so that he might deal with her "leniently".
"The fact she had previously been of unblemished character and was a modest and well conducted girl would certainly cause her to hide her shame from all others," he said.
She was found guilty and sentenced to a week in Wollongong Gaol.
For genealogists, the National Library of Australia provides free access in its reading rooms to Ancestry (Library Edition), FindMyPast UK - Australia and Ireland editions, Origins Network and WorldVitalRecords.
Picture: The Queens Hotel was in Market Street facing Market Square. It is now the Queens Flats. Picture courtesy of the collections of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society.