8. Esther Lack

8. Esther Lack

Update: 2022-07-255


Lucy Worsley investigates the crimes of 19th century women in the UK, North America and beyond from a contemporary, feminist perspective.

Here, Lucy tells the story of the murderess Esther Lack and asks whether she was a cold-blooded child killer, or a loving mother driven to despair by poverty and ill health.

In the early hours of the morning at the 22nd of August 1865 John Lack, a nightwatchman at a warehouse on the south bank of the River Thames, walked the short distance back to his home, three tiny, overcrowded rooms in a squalid alley called Skin Market Place, and discovered a scene of unimaginable horror.

His wife Esther had taken his razor and cut the throats of their three youngest children, Christopher aged ten, Eliza aged six and baby Esther who was just two.

Lucy visits London’s South Bank with historian Rosalind Crone to get a sense of Esther’s life and the desperate circumstances that led her to kill her own children. She had given birth to 12 children over 20 years and six of them, including a set of triplets, died in infancy. Friends and family described her as a decent woman and a loving mother, but she was nearly blind, and was suffering from fits and infections.

To gain a contemporary perspective on the Esther Lack case, Lucy talks to Dr Gwen Adshead, a forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist who has a particular interest in mothers who harm or kill their children.

Lucy asks what might have been Esther’s state of mind when she committed this horrendous crime. Are mothers who kill their children usually mentally ill? What modern understanding of neonatal mental health can we bring to this case?

And is there a link between poverty and harm to children that remains to this day?

Producer: Jane Greenwood
Readers: Clare Corbett and Jonathan Keeble
Sound Design: Chris Maclean

A StoryHunter production for BBC Radio 4
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8. Esther Lack

8. Esther Lack

BBC Radio 4