“My little baby is wasting away,” Rebecca Smith, 44, told her friends in Westbury, Wiltshire. That seemed strange to them, because the baby appeared quite normal and healthy. At the same time she was asking people to help her buy arsenic at the town’s chemist shop. When the baby, one-month-old Richard, died, the police were called in.

Richard’s body was found to be riddled with arsenic, and when Rebecca appeared at Devizes Assizes in August 1849, she offered no defence to the charge of infanticide.

The jury found her guilty and recommended mercy because she was destitute and in poor health. She was sentenced to be hanged, and in the death cell she told an incredible story.

She had been married for 28 years, she said, and had given birth to 11 children. All but the first one were dead. The second child died of natural causes, and she killed the next seven. The tenth child died of natural causes, and then came Richard. From the first night of her marriage, she added, her husband, a habitual drunkard, had physically and sexually abused her.

She was hanged on Thursday, August 23rd, 1849, outside Devizes Prison, and was the last woman to be executed for the crime of infanticide.