Welcome back to the second instalment of the story of Joseph Paul’s life. We left Joseph last week having been cleared of attempting to murder his first wife, but of course, her death did mean that he still had five young children to care for, so what was to be done?
Well, Joseph wasted absolutely no time at all, returning to London and a mere one month after his wife’s death and having decided that his children needed a replacement for their mother, he married wife number two, Harriott Amick, daughter of David and Elizabeth Amick, at All Soul’s Church, St Marylebone on 17 August 1835. Joseph described himself as a widower from near Norwich, so, was this his place of birth or simply somewhere he had been living? the former would appear the most likely answer to that one.
This marriage began badly, as only a few weeks after the happy couple had exchanged their vows, Joseph took out the following notice in the Hertford Mercury, 8 September 1835
Any person or persons who may trust or furnish my wife, Mrs Paul, late Harriet Amick, of 11 Nassau Street, Middlesex Hospital, with any goods or money, will do so at his, her, or their person as I will not hold myself liable in any respect to pay for, or repay the same, or be responsible for any engagement she may enter into with any person or person whatever. Also beware of receiving by, or through her hands, any draft, cheque, or note bearing my signature, and purporting to be issued by me, as if the same be not a forgery, yet payment thereof is stopped at my bankers.
Aug 31, 1835 J Paul
Whatever disagreement had occurred between them, they quickly put it behind them, left London and headed north, settling in north Suffolk, where they remained for a few years. They presented their two children for baptism at Blundeston and Flixton, Suffolk, only a few miles from Great Yarmouth – Charles Joseph (1836-1882) who became a fishmonger and Louis (1839-1845), who died in childhood.
On 28 May 1839, about four years into their marriage, Harriott suddenly died, aged just thirty and was buried in the parish church. Joseph took their son Louis to be baptised two weeks later, so it would be reasonable to assume she died in childbirth, but given the allegations surrounding the death of his first wife, combined with the notice in the newspaper, it does raise some unanswered questions.
Whatever was going on in his private life, which would have been quite a lot, given that he now had, not five, but seven children to raise alone, presumably with his eldest daughter to help, Joseph was still busy painting, sales of his work presumably bringing in enough to support this large family, and according to the Norfolk Chronicle, 1840, Joseph was, a successful animal artist:
Mr Paul, an artist residing in our town, has painted four bullocks in a very superior style and most excellent likenesses; having seen the animals alive, and since the pleasure of having seen one of the animals repeatedly when grazing… Mr Paul has done him justice.
Animal artist? How very strange, most paintings attributed to Joseph are of landscapes, hardly an animal in sight in any of them!
By the time the 1841 census[i] came around Joseph, describing himself simply as a painter, had taken wife number three, Mary, some fifteen years his junior, and was living on North Road, Great Yarmouth along with five of his now seven children – Eliza now aged fourteen, Napoleon, aged ten, Caroline, aged seven, Charles Joseph, aged four and the youngest, Louis, aged two. So far there is no sign of this third marriage, so whether they were legally married or co-habiting remains a mystery, but either way, they regarded themselves as married, as will become clear later on.
Pauline Emma was recorded simply as Emma[ii] and was living with Joseph’s godmother, Mrs Elizabeth Meek, widow of the late James Meek at St Mary in the Marsh, Norfolk, in 1841, aged ten. The census did not give any indication as to whether she was simply visiting Elizabeth on the day of the census or whether she was being raised by her, but with so many children to support it seems likely that Joseph’s godmother was helping out, Joseph’s eldest son seems to have been missed from the return altogether.
It was the same year that a Mr Paul painted ‘The Hopton Hunt’, a painting which has subsequently been attributed by Bonham’s auctioneers, to a John Paul (c1830-1890), now this couldn’t have been Joseph as he painted landscapes didn’t he? perhaps his son John Louis, no, that would have been impossible as the painting is clearly dated 1841, and his son wasn’t born until 1846. The only other artist who was painting at that time was Sir John Dean Paul (1775-1852), an amateur artist, but the style was completely different to his). If it was painted by Joseph Paul then it would fit with him consistently maintaining that he painted animals.
In October of 1843, Joseph’s third wife, legal or otherwise, Mary,[iii] aged a mere twenty-four, died and was buried at the parish church, Ludham, Norfolk.
Just when you would have thought that life couldn’t get much worse for Joseph following the death of three wives in relatively quick succession, on 19 April 1844, he found himself being accused of attempting to poison Elizabeth Meek, who, in court was said to be his mother, whereas in fact, she was his godmother, her maid, Elizabeth Webb, and William Mundy, her manservant.
In court, Elizabeth Webb stated that Joseph Paul, an artist, had arrived at his mother’s home, Lower Close, St Mary in the Marsh, Norwich, about two o’clock and that he went into the parlour to see Elizabeth Meek, whilst she was eating dinner.
He went through the kitchen and into the backyard. Elizabeth Webb, her servant, said that she heard Joseph walk through the passage, go to the safe door, which was near the pantry. She heard the safe door open and then close and heard footsteps walking away, but from the kitchen window, she could not see who opened it.
She asserted that soon after this, Joseph returned to the kitchen and strangely asked her if she had ever had influenza, but didn’t wait for her to reply and simply left. Elizabeth Webb continued with her statement, saying that she went to the safe and saw some meat there which hadn’t been there earlier, she knew this as she had cleaned it out earlier that day and assumed that Joseph must have left it there. She noted that the meat looked strange, there was something white between the fat and the lean, slightly darker than the white of the fat.
She went on to say that later she saw Joseph walking in the garden with Mrs Meek and saw something on the side of his trouser pocket, like a white powder. She thought it best to mention it to Mr Mundy, who told her she should tell Mrs Meek, which she duly did. Her friend, a Mr Elmer arrived, and Mrs Meek said she should tell him what she had found. Mr Elmer took away some of the white powder, returning the following morning to take away the whole piece of meat for examination by Mr Phillipps, the local surgeon, who confirmed that the white powder was arsenic.
Needless to say, suspicion instantly fell upon Joseph and he was arrested. Curiously, upon his arrest, he was found to have two sheets of paper in his pocket upon which was written his defence, so he was obviously expecting to be arrested. His defence being that it was the servants’ word against his. After only ten minutes, somehow, inexplicably, the jury found him NOT GUILTY and he was acquitted.[iv]
His defence counsel also stated that in all likelihood, Joseph was the illegitimate son of Mrs Meek and as such was unable to benefit from her death, so there would have been nothing to be gained by killing her.
Despite being found not guilty, almost immediately after this, questions were being raised about the death of his third wife, Mary,[v] who had died October 1843, so much so that her body was exhumed in May 1844. Had he poisoned her too?
No, apparently not. The inquest concluded she had died of natural causes with specific reference being made to problems with her lungs, but as the saying goes, ‘there’s no smoke without fire’.
Bizarrely though, Elizabeth Meek[vi] died at her home on 29 August 1844, aged eighty-two, only four months after the alleged poisoning case. Needless to say, an inquest was held. The verdict was that she too had died by the ‘Visitation of God’, not due to any suspicious circumstances.
It seems a little more than simply coincidence that all women who came into Joseph’s orbit were to unexpectedly die, but of course, without any proof to the contrary, he remained a free man.
As if life hadn’t proved challenging enough, only a few weeks after being accused of these poisonings, Joseph found himself back in court. Joseph accused Mr Richard Webb, a butcher of Catton, near Norwich, of assaulting him with a stick on his left arm and right thigh. Webb was planning to plead guilty, but his attorney advised him to plead mitigating circumstances.
Joseph’s account of events being, that as he was walking along Pitt Street in Norwich minding his own business, Webb spotted him, jumped out of his cart and began calling him names and that he then struck him violently with a stick, one blow clearly aimed at his head. Joseph grabbed the stick and retaliated, beating Webb. Joseph claimed that his retaliation was all done in self-defence.
Mr Webb’s wife, Maria who was sitting in their cart, saw the whole thing and verbally abused Joseph. Joseph said he had never had a quarrel with Webb and didn’t know what it was all about. On being cross-examined Joseph explained that there was a young lady who lived with Mr Webb, ‘a pretty lass and an interesting girl certainly’ whom he was in the habit of speaking to, and whom he could not manage to avoid.
Joseph believed that Mr Webb had got an exceedingly ridiculous, absurd and unfounded notion into his head about this girl and had been working himself into a state about Joseph speaking to her.
Naturally, Joseph denied any improper intentions towards the girl. Her father, Mr Robert Puncher, had lately been over at Catton, and in Joseph’s view, had her father thought there was anything improper in Joseph speaking to the girl, that it was his duty, as her parent, to come and speak to him about it and he would have taken notice of a parent’s feelings.
The girls’ father was not present when Webb assaulted Joseph, nor was the girl herself, but Joseph had been speaking to her in the street earlier. The case continued with implications growing of improper conduct on Joseph’s part towards the girl and that was Webb’s sole reason for assaulting him.
When cross-examined, Joseph admitted that he had repeatedly been in the habit of talking to Miss Puncher, had lent her a book and had given her one note and offered her another. He said that he had been told she was only fourteen years old, but he believed her to be older. Mrs Webb had apparently, previously told Joseph not to speak to the girl, but for some unexplained reason, Joseph did not believe she was exactly the person to preach morality. Was Joseph actually on the hunt for another wife, one who would be young, healthy and able to care for his brood?
The defence for Mr Webb asked Joseph if he thought it was acceptable for him to be pursuing such a young girl, especially when he had children of his own who were older than her? Mr Puncher was then called to give evidence regarding the age of his daughter –
she would be fifteen years old on the 28th of this month.
The note which had been mentioned was then produced and read out in court
Dear Miss Puncher
Your kindness and friendship have afforded me too much happiness to be lightly parted with, and could I hope for its continuance no change of circumstances shall ever alter my respect for you.
Mrs Webb much wanted to have read me a stormy lecture, but I thought the least said on my part the better. I am not adept in falsity nor in concealing my real feelings, though I would suffer anything rather than you should have the least discomfort on my account. I trust that for your sake you will shift all the blame on me, as I am beyond the reach of any annoyance; and as to what the world may say I care not one iota.
I know full well that the majority of mankind have a malicious pleasure in destroying the happiness of others, and there are few things that I delight in more than to defeat them. There is much I could say but dare not till I have seen or heard from you. May I hope that you will reply to this! If but a line and say when and where I may meet you without fear on your own account. Believe me, neither time nor difficulty shall alter my feelings, on which, as I last week observed, there shall be no variableness nor shadow of turning. Difficulties may arise, but time must and will overcome all.
Yours ever faithfully
The magistrate, having heard the whole case said that he much regretted that Webb had not been able to beat Joseph more soundly and that he should leave Norwich and not return. They felt that there was little doubt that Joseph’s intention was the destruction of the child. Webb was fined one farthing for assault and Joseph was required to pay the costs. Joseph asked if he could explain the note, but the magistrate said he’d heard enough already, and that Joseph was a disgrace.
Although for anonymity, the newspapers merely recorded the child as Miss Puncher, however, the 1841 census confirmed that she must have been Miss Hannah Puncher[vii] who was living at the home of Richard and Maria Webb, she was recorded by the enumerator as being aged twelve at that time, so her father was telling the truth about her age when the incident occurred, and by 1851[viii] Hannah was back living with her father, aged 22, so again the age was consistent and her age also confirmed in the baptism register.
At this trial, the death of Mrs Meek was raised again. Apparently, before her death she had been at Joseph’s house at Catton but had died shortly after the visit. There were reports from her neighbours about the cause of her death, reporting that she had partially eaten a patty at Joseph’s house and the uneaten part she had thrown to her chickens, which died shortly after eating it.
Mrs Meek made a will, written in 1843[ix], in which she left the bulk of her estate including stocks and shares, in trust until aged twenty-one, to Joseph’s eldest son Joseph Meek Paul, who had lived with her and her second husband, James Meek[x] for many years. Joseph senior described as a portrait painter, and his first five children were also named as beneficiaries.
When James Meek had died back in 1835 he left the ‘portrait painter’, Joseph Paul, two hundred pounds and to Joseph’s son, Joseph Meek Paul, he left other parts of his estate at Cratfield, Norfolk, in trust until he came of age.
The most confusing part of the attempted poisoning case, apart from his acquittal, of course, was that Elizabeth Meek was not his mother, but his godmother as she confirmed in her will. There is no evidence of Elizabeth and James having had any children of their own, but clearly, there was a great fondness for Joseph Paul and his children, perhaps Elizabeth regarded him as a surrogate son and, despite what was said in court, Joseph Paul was to benefit from her death.
The reason for being so specific about references to the type of artist Joseph was being described as, being that many works of art today attributed to him are landscapes and yet there appears to be no indication of him having ever painted landscapes, in fact in December 1843, the Norfolk Chronicle, highly commended his style of animal painting:
The party was also highly pleased with a very faithful portrait of this handsome animal, painted by Mr Joseph Paul, of Catton, who promises to take a very high standing in the Landseer style of animal painting.
To summarise this chapter of his life:- wife number two died suddenly, as did wife number three, who was subsequently exhumed. He’d been accused of attempting to poison his godmother who also died suddenly following this an finally, he got thrown out of Norfolk for inappropriate conduct towards a young girl.
For the final part of this story click on this link.
[i] Class: HO107; Piece: 789; Book: 12; Civil Parish: St Mary in The Marsh; County: Norfolk; Enumeration District: 10; Folio: 6; Page: 4; Line: 20; GSU roll: 438870
[iii] Norfolk Record Office; Norwich, Norfolk, England; Norfolk Church of England Registers; Reference: BT ANF 1843_h-l
[iv] England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892
[vi] Norfolk Record Office; Norwich, Norfolk, England; Norfolk Church of England Registers; Reference: BT ANW 1844_n-p
[vii] 1841 Census. Class: HO107; Piece: 783; Book: 3; Civil Parish: Catton; County: Norfolk; Enumeration District: 2; Folio: 9; Page: 12; Line: 18; GSU roll: 438866
[viii] Class: HO107; Piece: 1816; Folio: 461; Page: 28; GSU roll: 207469
[ix] Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 2014
[x]Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1847
Landscape with a Cottage. Joseph Paul (1804–1887). Norfolk Museums Service