What can possibly be told about a life of only 5 weeks?

The death of Sarah Ann Casper in the Christmastide of 1884 would shine a harsh and uncompromising light into the darkest crevices of York’s society as the pitiful story of this baby’s life unfolded.

Described as a “nice little girl” little Sarah was apparently well-developed and during her brief lifetime she was usually to be seen suckling away, clad in a bed-gown, covered with an old thick cloak and shawl in the arms of her fond mother Mary Jane.

On the first day of January in 1885 and with a jury already sworn – the coroner J.R. Wood resumed the inquiry into the death of little Sarah Ann Casper.

In his opening remarks, the coroner described ‘Little Casper’ as having had the misfortune to be the off-spring of two dissolute parents and with testimony from a neighbour who admitted under oath that she kept a house of ‘questionable repute’ – the evidence suggested that Mary Jane, an experienced prostitute with a dependence upon alcohol and a husband who refused to work – had been selling her body some 9 days after the birth of her daughter.

In the last few weeks of little Sarah Ann’s life, she was either left at home in the care of her father who regularly drank himself unconscious as her mother walked the streets turning tricks or she’d be swept up in her mother’s arms and taken from one brothel to another.

And in the midst of this sordid existence and despite the constant suckling whilst in her mother’s arms as her friends admired her ‘sweet nature’ – little Sarah Ann was starving to death…

‘A Wander Through Walmgate’

Death in a Chocolate Box