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

 

A Trusty Maid; Geroge H Hay; Hospitalfield Arts

Murder at Kippax Hall

Granville William Wheeler Medhurst was born c.1765 at Kippax, the son of Thomas Medhurst, Esquire. In 1787 he married Sarah Jennings at St Mary’s in Lewisham, Kent. The new Mrs Medhurst was described as a dutiful wife and tender mother, and one of the most amiable of women. Living at the stately Kippax Hall a few miles from Pontefract in West Yorkshire, life seemed good; Mr Medhurst was reported to have £7,000 per annum. It was later reported that eight children were born to the couple, and that five of these were living on the fatal night of 3rd/4th May 1800.

Pontefract Castle; Alexander Keirincx; Pontefract Museum

Under the veneer of their gilded life, there was a problem. Although it seems to have been kept largely from the servants for some time, Medhurst was becoming deranged and anxious. He was convinced people were coming to take him away and that his loving wife was plotting to poison him. Mrs Sarah Medhurst was certainly fully aware of the condition of her husband, even to the extent of contemplating taking the children and leaving him for some time. If only she had…

During the early spring of 1800 the servants too had become aware of the state of mind of their master. He had appeared in turn sullen, deranged, anxious and withdrawn. On the evening of Saturday 3rd May 1800 Medhurst entreated his servants to retire early for the night. Some, like the cook and nursery maid, slept at Kippax Hall, others had their own home in the nearby village. Thomas Spinke was one who slept in the village, and he recounted how his master said he wished his family to go to bed early and wanted the house to be quiet. The house was to be far from quiet however.

The cook, Ann Dickinson, protested about retiring early; she had not finished her duties and a small fire still burnt in the kitchen hearth. Along with the nursery-maid Ann Tyson she slept in the children’s nursery which had a connecting door to Mrs and Mrs Medhurst’s rooms. There was a bit of a fuss and the children began to cry; Mr Medhurst said he could smell burning, that he was to be poisoned, and peered from the windows convinced there was someone at the gates who was coming for him. His wife decided to sleep with her daughters in the nursery as Medhurst proposed to sleep with a drawn sword and two pistols under his pillow and the women locked the connecting door.

All was quiet for a time and then they were disturbed by Mr Medhurst demanding the door be opened or he would shoot his way through it. Still fully dressed and with his sword in one hand and a pistol in the other, he entered the nursery and demanded the nursery-maid confess to him, waving his sword above her head and finally rapping her skull with the hilt. His wife cried, “My dear, don’t kill your servant, kill me, if you take any one’s life, take mine”. Medhurst gave his wife a knife with which to protect herself and promised not to hurt her. Tenderly he touched his wife and said “you won’t hurt me”, to which she replied “no, let us go to bed”. The cook saw her master unload his pistols and then everyone retired, the trusting lady of the house bidding her servants, “God bless you” as she left them to go with her husband.

A Trusty Maid; George H. Hay; Hospitalfield Arts

Thomas Spinke returned to Kippax Hall around half past six o’clock the following morning and was in the stable when the two eldest Medhurst children came to find him, crying and asking him to come to the house. Creeping upstairs into the Medhurst’s bedroom he saw his mistress lying on the bed, her feet hanging down. Spinke knew not if she was dead or alive but watched as the master of the house appeared from behind a curtain, still fully dressed and carrying in his hand a drawn sword, ‘bloody, fresh, and wet’. Driving Spinke from the room, Medhurst locked the door.

Thomas Spinke took the children away from the house, with their father crying out to them from an upper window. The eldest boy shouted back, “you villain, you have killed my mama, and if I had a pistol I would shoot you through the head’”. Medhurst replied “you are mistaken, I have not hurt your mama”.

A constable was sent for as well as the Pontefract volunteers, but with the master of the house armed, dangerous and roaming the upper floor there was a stand-off which lasted some time before one of the volunteers, a brave man, managed to find a way in (there were two doors to the Medhurst’s bedroom suite, and only one had been locked) creep up behind Medhurst and disarm him.

An inquest was taken at the hall on the body of Mrs Medhurst, and a charge of wilful murder was laid against her husband, Granville William Wheeler Medhurst. Sarah Medhurst was buried at Kippax on the 6th May 1800.

York Castle showing the gaol buildings and courthouse to the left. English Heritage
York Castle showing the gaol buildings and courthouse to the left. English Heritage

When the case came to trial, Medhurst’s defence was insanity and this was corroborated by experts and witnesses. He was therefore acquitted of murder but ordered to be confined in the gaol at York Castle. There he remained until the 26th November 1802 when he was given over to the care of Dr Thomas Monro of Brook House, upper Clapton (a man accused of ‘wanting in humanity’ towards his patients) and a committee established to manage his estate at Kippax during until his son was of age. It was this committee who petitioned to have Wheeler removed from Brook House to a ‘House for the reception of Lunatics’ in Middle Mall, Hammersmith. A warrant for his removal was provided in the summer of 1816.

Brook House © The Trustees of the British Museum
Brook House © The Trustees of the British Museum

Granville William Wheeler Medhurst lived to 77 years of age and, when he died in 1840, was confined in Moorcroft House at Hillingdon near Uxbridge in Middlesex, a lunatic asylum which was run by Dr James Stillwell until his death the year before. In his old age he had suffered from rheumatism and was allowed to take supervised trips to the seaside for so that the air and sea bathing might prove beneficial. He was buried in the churchyard of St John the Baptist in Hillingdon, and his fortune devolved to his grandson, Francis Hastings Medhurst.

But there is yet one more twist to this tale. When Medhurst died, his grandson was in prison, convicted of the manslaughter of a schoolfellow, Joseph Alsop. On 9th March 1839, at Dr Frederick Sturmer’s school, the Rectory House Academy at Hayes, young Medhurst had accused another pupil, Dalison, of breaking the glass of his watch. When Alsop leapt to Dalison’s defence a scuffle ensued which ended with young Medhurst taking a clasp-knife from his pocket, opening it and stabbing Alsop in his stomach. Although not instantly fatal, within just a few days Alsop was dead.

Francis Hastings Medhurst was accused, as his grandfather had been before him, of wilful murder and taken to Newgate. The charge was transmuted to one of manslaughter for which he was found guilty and sentenced to three years imprisonment in a house of correction.

Sources:

Hereford Journal, 14th May 1800

Hampshire Chronicle, 19th May 1800

Leeds Intelligencer, 4th August 1800

The Annual Register of World Events: A Review of the Year, vol. 82, 1841

The Newgate Calendar

Findmypast criminal records

Header image:

Photograph of Kippax Park House, Lost Heritage

The Village Wedding, Thomas Falcon Marshall

A complicated case of 18th century bigamy

Earlier this week we took a look at bigamy cases heard at the Old Bailey and next we have the case of Maria Edkins, one of the 5 who was found guilty of bigamy.

In the September of 1794, a young Welshwoman was convicted of bigamy. She went by a bewildering variety of names, and could be a Mary, a Maria or an Anne Maria, and might have originally borne the surname Jones although she could also have been a widowed Mrs Wettenhall or Whittenhall when her adventures began. Born around 1768, she had a dark complexion, dark brown hair and hazel eyes; she stood 5ft 3”.

In 1789 Maria (we’ll go with that name) was lodging with a Mrs Gibblet (you really couldn’t make this up!), posing as a widow with £20/year to live on, and using Maria Jones as her name. She was visited by a young music master named George Edkins of Hungerford Market, and a marriage swiftly followed.

11 Aug 1789 - Maria Jones George Adkins

The wedding took place in St James the Less Thorndike in Westminster on the 11th August 1789, after banns, in the presence of two witnesses, Samuel Bride and Jane Wilson. The marriage register does not record if Maria married as a spinster or not, and unless she reduced her age when she was subsequently charged with bigamy, she was only around eighteen or nineteen years of age. Almost four years later Mrs Maria Edkins was involved in a fracas when she was assaulted by a woman named Dorothy Booth who had tried to steal from her, and George was named as her husband in the records relating to that.

Around the same time as this assault, Maria reputedly met a man named William Jonathan Slark whilst walking in the street. An attachment followed, together with a marriage. Both parties gave a different version of the events leading up to the wedding: Maria said Slark was most insistent on marrying her, and got her drunk on the morning of the wedding and Slark countered with the information that Maria had threatened to remove into a convent if he did not make her his wife.

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library
Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

And so, at St James in Clerkenwell, the banns were read and another wedding took place, this time on the 6th April 1794, with the bride named as a spinster on the banns. If this was indeed Maria, she married under the name of Ann Maria Wettenhall, and the marriage was witnessed by John Garth and W[illia]m Chaplen or Chapel, the clerk and sexton of the church.

William Slark 1794

William Slark’s father was an eminent city merchant, and was horrified to find his son had married (Maria was described as a woman of ‘easy virtue’ at her trial). As we had differing accounts of the contraction of the marriage, we now have two different versions of the events leading up to the trial.

Either, William Slark’s father turned detective, investigated his new daughter-in-law’s former life and discovered the first marriage, or Slark set the whole thing up, and the Ann Maria Wettenhall who married William Slark was not the Mary Jones who had married George Edkins five years earlier. For Maria insisted that William Slark wanted to be released from his hasty marriage to marry a lady of fortune with £5,000, and he had advertised for a woman named Wilson, and then persuaded a woman to pretend to be the Jane Wilson who had witnessed Edkin’s marriage and to identify Maria Wettenhall/Slark as the bride from 1789. If Maria could be proved a bigamist, his marriage would be no marriage and he could freely marry his heiress.

Maria stoutly denied ever having married George Edkins: she said she had married a Mr Wettenhall (or Whittenhall) in Paris, and her first husband had been dead for between twelve and eighteen months when she met Slark. Unfortunately for Mary, witnesses were brought to disprove her testimony. Jane Wilson, now Jane Moore (she had married John Moore at St James Clerkenwell in May 1794, six weeks after William and Maria Slark’s marriage) took the stand (and denied conspiring with Slark for a cut of the £5,000 fortune of the unnamed young lady Maria said he wished to marry), Mrs Gibblet appeared and swore that Maria Slark was the young Mary Jones who had lodged with her and said that the new Mr and Mrs Edkins, together with Jane, had returned to her house after their wedding. Finally Edward Parry, a schoolmaster living in Down Street, Piccadilly, had been appointed to give Mary Jones away at her marriage to Edkins but she had been late and he had left the church before times, but he too swore that it was the same woman who stood in the dock charged with bigamy.

With all the evidence against her, Maria was found guilty of bigamy and sentenced to six months imprisonment in Newgate and fined a shilling. We should probably hold our hands up here and say we’ve developed a bit of a soft spot for Maria through our research into her life; while she was, on the balance of evidence, guilty as charged, she was certainly ‘a trier’.

A slightly later image of Newgate by George Shepherd
A slightly later image of Newgate by George Shepherd

 

Branded for Bigamy

Proceedings of the Old Bailey always make for interesting reading, so here are some statistics about the crime of bigamy.

Did you know that between 1750 and 1800 there were over one hundred cases for bigamy, of which 86 cases were against males, 55 of whom were found guilty, 31 not guilty or case dismissed? Interestingly, of the 55 men who were found guilty their sentences were as follows:

15 Branded

30 Sentenced to various periods in prison

7 were transported

2 were fined

and one had no sentence recorded.

There were 19 cases against women who had allegedly married a second time twice whilst still married to their first husband, we had no idea is was such a common occurrence.

However, looking at these 19 cases we have only found 5 that were found guilty, if not found guilty then their case was simply dismissed. Those who were found guilty were given the following punishment –

Sarah Baker (branded)

Catherine Martin (prison),

Jane Allen (branded),

Maria Edkins (sent to House of Correction)

and Lucy Ahier (prison).

So with that we thought we would take a quick look at one of the five women that were found guilty – Jane Allen.

This case took place on 29th June 1785 with William Garrow, who had only been called the the Bar just over a year before, acting for the defendant.

Mezzotint of Sir William Garrow, 1810, held in the Harvard Law Library
Mezzotint of Sir William Garrow, 1810, held in the Harvard Law Library

On the 1st December 1782 Robert Allen, a butcher, married Jane Watson at Wapping church, Tower Hamlets, nothing exciting or unusual about that you would think, a perfectly normal marriage.

Jane Watson first marriage 1782 - bigamy

The problem arose when only two years later Jane, at St. Martin’s in the Fields, Middlesex, on the 1st September 1784, claimed to be a spinster when she married for a second time, her second husband being one Charles Burton. The problem with her second marriage being that her husband Robert Allen was still very much alive, thereby making her a bigamist.

Jane Watson 2nd marriage 1784

The court heard that Jane had lived with Robert as his legal spouse and Robert produced witnesses who were able to corroborate this.

Jane’s defense was that during the time she was married to Robert that he treated her in a most brutal manner, and forced her to submit to prostitution to maintain him before he abandoned her. Unfortunately the court found Jane guilty of bigamy and her sentence was to be branded.

Anyone convicted of a crime and sentenced to branding would be branded on the thumb with the letter ‘M’ to denote a ‘malefactor’ or ‘evil-doer‘, also,  slightly confusingly, ‘M’ for murder, ‘T’ for theft, ‘F for felon. Branding took place in the courtroom at the end of the sessions in front of spectators with a hot iron. It is alleged that sometimes criminals convicted of petty theft, or who were able to bribe the goaler, had the branding iron applied when it was cold.

Normal practice was that the gaoler raised the person’s hand and showed it to the judge to denote that the mark had been made.  It became the rule that before a prisoner was tried he was required to raise his hand so that it could be seen whether he bore the brand mark and was therefore a previous offender.

Being nervous and cross examined by Mr Garrow, 1807.
Being nervous and cross examined by Mr Garrow, 1807 (British Museum)

Sources used:

Old Bailey Online

London Lives April 1793

London Lives  October 1793 – September 1794

London Lives June 1785