The Arsenic Poisoner

Elizabeth Hinchcliff, aged 14, stood before the court at the Old Bailey, on September 19th, 1810, indicted, that, on August 16th, 1810 she administered a deadly poison, arsenic, with the intent of murdering her employer, Ann Parker, two children in her employer’s care, Christopher John Stanley and Samuel Smith.

The Old Bailey. Microcosm of London.
The Old Bailey. Microcosm of London.

Ann Parker was a spinster living a quiet life at 14, Tavistock Row, in the heart of Covent Garden, she also ran a school and a shop which sold perfumes and medicines.

A Perspective View of Covent Garden. Courtesy of Yale Center British Art
A Perspective View of Covent Garden. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

According to Ann Parker, Elizabeth had been telling her for a couple of months that the lower part of the house was overrun with rats, so Elizabeth sent her off to Mr Midgley in the Strand to fetch some poison to deal with the situation.

Cries of London: buy a trap, a rat trap, buy my trap. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
Cries of London: buy a trap, a rat trap, buy my trap. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

When Elizabeth returned Ann put the poison in the back locker of a large writing desk but did not lock it and sent Elizabeth off to make tea for her and the school children. Elizabeth returned with the tea and was then sent to buy some mortar to put over the rat-holes after the poison had been administered. Ann then prepared food for the children, poured her cup of tea which was left to cool during this time. When she finally came to drink it, it tasted normal whilst in her mouth, but as soon as she removed the cup she felt a sort of heat in her throat and exclaimed ‘there is pepper in this tea’.

 Taking an emetic. Courtesy of Wellcome Library
Taking an emetic. Courtesy of Wellcome Library

The children continued taking their tea as Ann became more unwell, with pain in her stomach, back and thighs. During this time two of the children were also taken ill. There was no sign of Elizabeth, Ann assumed she was still out buying the mortar and initially thought that Elizabeth had added pepper to the tea as a trick, but she checked that the poison had not been opened, just to be sure and convinced herself that it hadn’t. Elizabeth returned and was confronted by Ann and denied having tampered with the tea. Ann quickly put on her hat and pelisse and rushed to the chemist to ask how the poison had been packaged to make sure it had not been tampered with and en route she was violently sick. She was worried that both she and the children would die before she could get to the chemist.

Mr Midgley, the chemist was summoned to appear before the court to give his account of the packaging:

I am a chemist and druggist in the Strand. On the 16th of August, I received a note from Mrs Parker, the prisoner brought it; she says, I will be obliged to you to favour me with some more poison to kill the rats, as I am overrun. Upon which I put up a parcel of two ounces of arsenic. The prisoner requested to have more than the usual quantity, as they were dreadfully overrun. I put up two ounces in one parcel, that was all that she had; it was marked on the outside, poison, on the outer paper, and the inside paper, arsenic, poison.

He was asked how the package was tied and if it had been altered:

The knot was twisted when it was returned by Mrs Parker; it was tied in my usual way, a double knot, not twisted. When I arrived at Mrs Parker’s, the child Stanley was very sick. I tasted the tea, it had a strong metallic taste, I boiled some arsenic in the same herbs, which I bought of Mr Butler, the appearance of the tea is not altered by the infusion of arsenic.

Elizabeth was immediately found GUILTY of attempted murder and sentenced to death. It was asked that the court should show her mercy because of her age and her parents being honest people. The jury did take account of her age and her sentence was changed to transportation.

Elizabeth left England on May 9th, 1812 on board the convict ship, The Minstrel, which, accompanied by another convict ship, The Indefatigable, sailed via Rio de Janeiro to New South Wales, arriving almost four months later. We have no idea what her life would have been like on board, but certainly not an easy one, certainly according to ship records there were deaths during that passage.

A convict ship entering Sydney harbour. National Library of Australia.
A convict ship entering Sydney harbour. National Library of Australia.

The following year, on July 24th, 1813 Elizabeth was issued with a Ticket of Leave, but for some unknown reason, it was subsequently withdrawn, until it was reissued on January 6th, 1820.

Whatever the reason, Elizabeth remained in Australia and she obviously did find happiness though, as in April 1824 she received permission to marry fellow convict, George Greenhill, a young man, slightly younger than her.

South view of Sydney, New South Wales, 1819, taken from the Surry Hills [picture] / J.L. pinxt. Courtesy of National Library of Australia
South view of Sydney, New South Wales, 1819, taken from the Surry Hills / J.L. pinxt. Courtesy of National Library of Australia
George too had demonstrated good behaviour and had been appointed to the post of a police constable. He was described in the records as being five feet eight inches, with light brown hair and blue eyes. Sadly, we have no physical description of Elizabeth.  George had arrived onboard the Hadlow, having been sentenced to death for burglary, commuted to transportation, in 1818.

Liverpool, New South Wales [picture] / I. Lycett delt. et execute. Courtesy of National Library of Australia
Liverpool, New South Wales I. Lycett delt. et execute. Courtesy of National Library of Australia
The couple married at the recently opened St Luke’s church, Liverpool, on the outskirts of Sydney. The only other sighting of the couple was on the 1828 census when George’s occupation was that of a labourer and in 1829, George was issued with a Ticket of Leave, then in 1836, he was given a conditional discharge. Elizabeth remained in Australia with George until her death at aged 50, in 1846.

No record of the couple having had any children remains, so we can only assume that there were none. Shortly after her death George, who had become an upstanding member of the community, remarried and lived out his days in Sydney.

Sources used

Old Bailey Online

Convict registers for Australia

Featured Image

A woman suffering the pain of colic. Etching after G Cruikshank. Courtesy of the Wellcome Library

 

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8 thoughts on “The Arsenic Poisoner

      1. I’d have to go back and check my dissertation – I don’t think I picked up on her transportation. I followed up a few others – but I did not take many further as my parameters only defined Old Bailey trials. I have a post on Eliza Fenning,tried at the Old Bailey in 1815.

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