Murder, mercury, mental illness: infanticide in nineteenth-century Ireland

Ir J Med Sci. 2007 Sep;176(3):149-52. doi: 10.1007/s11845-007-0045-7. Epub 2007 Jun 23.


Background: Infanticide has been described in almost every human society.

Aims: To present a case of infanticide from nineteenth-century Ireland and explore related diagnostic, therapeutic and judicial issues.

Methods: This paper uses original archival material from the Central Mental Hospital, Dublin to present a case of infanticide and inform an exploration of related issues.

Results: In 1892, 'Dora', a thirty-four year old servant from Dublin, was found guilty of the murder of her eight-month old child and sentenced to indefinite detention at the Central Mental Hospital, Ireland's only inpatient forensic psychiatry facility. The subsequent experiences of Dora ("a case of melancholia") illustrate many of the diagnostic, therapeutic and judicial issues surrounding infanticide in nineteenth-century Ireland.

Conclusions: There were strong links between social circumstances and infanticide in nineteenth-century Ireland, compounded by myriad diagnostic and therapeutic challenges associated with forensic psychiatric committal and lengthy detention in poorly-therapeutic facilities .

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Forensic Psychiatry
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infanticide / history*
  • Infanticide / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Infanticide / psychology
  • Ireland
  • Mental Disorders / history