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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The murderer who painted Voltaire, an 18th century crime

Theodoré Gardelle, an enamel painter and limner, was born in 1721 in Geneva, Switzerland into a family of goldsmiths, jewellers and miniaturists. He received a good education which included the study of anatomy. Theodoré, against the initial wishes of his father, decided to become a painter, and as such he criss-crossed between Paris and Geneva from the age of sixteen years. In Geneva, around 1754 or 1755, he became known to the celebrated Voltaire and painted his picture, later enamelling it upon a copper snuff-box.

Around the age of 30 years he fell in love with a Mademoiselle Dupin who lived with his maternal aunt in the neighbouring house and who had previously been in the care of a hospital (probably a form of orphanage) from a young age. Theodoré took his love to Paris but his friends refused to consent to their marrying. An account of his life written after his death says that he met and married a woman at Paris whose name was Nouel and by whom he had two children. Had Theodoré then abandoned Mlle Dupin, or is this the same woman under a different name? Either way, Dupin or Nouel, he actually married neither, as made clear in several sources, simply living with the mother of his children without the legality of a marriage. Theodoré does not seem to have found the success he hoped for in Paris, even though he went there with a recommendation from Voltaire, and began to think of travelling further afield in search of work. The Duc de Choiseul, the French Foreign Minister, suggested London. There are rumours that he wished Theodoré to spy for him

Portrait of Voltaire by Theodoré Gardelle, c.1754/5 © The Trustees of the British Museum
Portrait of Voltaire by Theodoré Gardelle, c.1754/5
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Seeking work, Theodoré travelled to Brussels and possibly also to Holland, although he glosses over that in the account of his life he later wrote and perhaps for good reason. Did he travel through Holland simply on a journey to England, or did he stay for a period of time in the country? We’ll come back to Theodoré’s possible stay in the Netherlands at the end of this article, with some information which will prove crucial to this narrative.

In April 1760 he set sail from Helvoetsluys in the Netherlands for Harwich, landing there on the 1st May. In the summer of 1760 he journeyed to London (although he neither spoke nor understood much English) and lodged for three months at the house of Mrs Ann King (described as a ‘merry gentlewoman’ and a ‘gay showy woman, of a doubtful character, who dressed fashionably and was chiefly visited by gentlemen’) in Leicester Fields (now known as Leicester Square), almost opposite Frederick, Prince of Wales’s apartments, before moving to lodgings in Knightsbridge for a few months. That coming to an end, he made the fateful decision to return to Mrs King’s, where he took the second floor of the house.

A View of Leicester Square, London c.1753 by Thomas Bowles. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
A View of Leicester Square, London c.1753 by Thomas Bowles.
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Mrs Ann King had been born in Durham and had received but a poor education. She had been a virtuous woman, brought up by a ‘sober, honest mother’ who had become blind in her old age and whom Mrs King had looked after, until a journey to London. There she had made the acquaintance of some ‘ladies of the town’ and of a nobleman who kept her for five years. Together with a small annuity from the nobleman, and a frequent gratuity from a surgeon who ‘often had favours from her’, she lived comfortably, opening up her house to gentleman lodgers and affecting to be called Madam King.

She was to meet a terrible end. On the morning of the 19th February 1761 Theodoré murdered Mrs Ann King in her own home, before gruesomely cutting up her body in an attempt to dispose of it and cover up his crime. Although he eventually admitted his guilt, he tried to present it as an event which was not premeditated.

Portrait of Theodoré Gardelle © The Trustees of the British Museum
Portrait of Theodoré Gardelle
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Theodoré had sent the servant, Ann (Nanny) Windsor, who had only been employed a fortnight, out of the house on an errand, to deliver a letter and buy him some snuff from Mr Peter Fribourg, a fellow Swiss who kept a snuff-shop in the Haymarket. As the maid was worried that there would be no-one to hear the front door if a visitor called while she was out, Theodoré offered to sit in the parlour. Mrs King’s bedroom suite was on the same floor, with a door adjoining the parlour. No-one but Theodoré and Mrs King were in the house; the other lodger, Mr Wright who occupied the first floor together with his servant, Thomas Pelsey who had the use of the garret, had left for a few days. Theodoré subsequently claimed that Mrs King had begun to abuse him, possibly about a picture he had painted of her which she had not found flattering. He denied he had entered her bedroom with any intention of forcing himself on her. Mrs King struck his breast, Theodoré claimed, and, calling her a ‘var impertinante Woman’ he pushed her, whereupon her foot tangled in her bedroom carpet and she fell, striking her head against her bedpost. Blood was pouring from the wound and from her mouth and, frightened that the unfortunate lady would prosecute him for attempted murder, Theodoré took the decision to commit actual murder. Grabbing an ivory comb with a sharp taper point designed for composing curls in the hair, he stabbed Mrs King in her neck (although at his trial he claimed it had not punctured her skin and her death was due to her fall). Pulling Mrs King’s prone body onto the bedsheets, so that they rather than the floor should soak up the blood, Theodoré then fell into a faint before coming to when he heard the maid return. Locking Mrs King’s door behind him he claimed that he trembled so much that he struck his head several times against the wainscot, a calamity with which he would explain the marks and bruises which were subsequently noticed on his face (Ann Windsor recalled that he had a little bump over his eye and a black eye-patch on, neither of which had been present as she left the house).

Shortly afterwards he managed to dismiss the maid; she thought that her mistress had behaved indiscreetly with Theodoré and was ashamed to face her and accepted her dismissal from Theodoré. With one problem out of the way another presented itself; Mr Wright’s servant Thomas came back to take up his lodgings on the evening of the murder. Theodoré said that Mrs King had gone away on a visit to Bristol or to Bath, and began to plan how to dispose of the body. Various people came and went from the house, including a prostitute engaged by Theodoré’s friends to ‘cheer him up’ and who stayed for a few days, sleeping in Theodoré’s room (the lady in question, Sarah Walker, claimed to be merely a servant looking for a lodging and engaged as Mrs King was away). He took a small box to his friend Monsieur Perronneau, saying it contained colours of great value (necessary to his painting) and asked him to look after it. The box was later found to contain a glove, a gold watch and chain, bracelets and ear-rings.

It was on the Tuesday following the murder that Thomas noticed an unpleasant smell. Theodoré said that somebody had put a bone in the fire. Dreadfully, he was probably telling the truth! On the Thursday Thomas went with a newly-hired charwoman, Mrs Pritchard (who didn’t live in), to examine a tub filled with blankets, sheets and a bed curtain in the back wash-house, which had been soaking there for some days. Thomas now suspected foul play and took his concerns to his master, Mr Wright.

Theodoré had been engaged in disposing of poor Mrs King’s body, cutting it into pieces.

A gruesome depiction of the crime from the Tyburn Chronicle, 1768
A gruesome depiction of the crime from the Tyburn Chronicle, 1768

It was Saturday 28th February when Theodoré Gardelle was taken into custody, suspected of the murder of Mrs Ann King although, at that point, her body had not been found. Sir John Fielding (the ‘Blind Beak’) sent men into the house on Leicester Fields to search for her. They found blood in Mrs King’s bedroom and a bloody shirt in Theodoré’s room, together with a blood stained shift. The ‘necessary’ was found to contain the bowels of a human body and the ‘cockloft’ (a small loft under the ridge of a roof) a breast, part of a body and bones. In the garret fireplace were the remains of burnt human bones. Theodoré later claimed that, in the ten days between the murder and his discovery, he had not fled as he feared an innocent person might then be accused of the crime and suffer for it.

On his arrival at the New Prison in Clerkenwell, Theodoré attempted to take his own life with an overdose of opium. When this failed to have the desired result he tried swallowing several halfpennies, which only had the effect of making him ill. When he was subsequently admitted to Newgate on 2nd March, he was chained to the floor and watched constantly to prevent any further attempts. He wrote from Newgate to his mistress in Paris, the mother of his two children who were then aged around four and one year old, advising her to return to Geneva and throw herself on the mercy of his family lest the children should be taken upon a charitable foundation and brought up as Roman Catholics in Paris (Theodoré was a Calvinist or a Presbyterian). He also wrote to his mother and sisters in Geneva, insisting that his crime was accidental and not performed with any intent and commending his children to their care.

View of Geneva, with an Artist Sketching by Stadler; The National Trust for Scotland, Brodick Castle, Garden & Country Park; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/view-of-geneva-with-an-artist-sketching-195874
View of Geneva, with an Artist Sketching by Stadler; The National Trust for Scotland, Brodick Castle, Garden & Country Park

The trial took place at the Old Bailey on the 1st April. As Theodoré was a foreigner, he asked that half the jury also be foreigners and an interpreter was employed. The verdict was that Theodoré Gardelle was guilty of murder, and the sentence was death, to be carried out as soon as possible and his body to be dissected and anatomized, although it was instead hung in chains on Hounslow Heath. Theodoré’s execution took place on the 4th April 1761, in the Haymarket and facing Panton Street.

So, do we believe Theodoré’s account? Or do we suspect that he entered Mrs King’s bedroom with the intent of enjoying her favours, by force if necessary? And that Mrs King, rather than striking him in his breast, instead thumped him in his eye in her attempt to fight him off before he murdered her? The author of The Life of Theodore Gardelle, published shortly after his death, certainly through this was the case, and that Theodoré feared Mrs King would accuse him of rape. A gentleman who had travelled to England from the Netherlands also thought along the same lines.

A gentleman just arrived from Holland, says, that some years ago Gardelle (who was executed last Saturday in the Haymarket) lodged with a German woman named Verbest, near the market place in the Hague; that they were very great together, and used often to ride out in a chaise, but that all of a sudden she was found missing, upon which Gardelle gave out that she was gone to Francfort [sic], and that he himself was to sell her effects and follow after. Accordingly he soon converted every thing into ready money, and went off, tho’ not without some shrewd suspicions from the neighbours, who apprehended foul play. These suspicions, however, subsided; but about a twelvemonth ago, a Dutch peasant cleaning out a muddy well just in the skirts of the town, the body of a woman was found there, which coming to the ears of the neighbourhood where Mrs Verbest lived, with some other particular circumstances attending, makes it but too probable that Mrs King was not the only person murdered by him.

 

Header image:

Leicester Square, London, British School, National Trust Collections

 

Sources:

Newgate Ordinary’s Account, 4th April 1761

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1st April 1761

The Annual register, or, A View of the history, politicks, and literature, of the year 1761, published London 1762

The Life of Theodore Gardelle, Limner and Enameller, 1761

The Tyburn Chronicle: Or, The Villainy Display’d In All Its Branches, volume 4, 1768

Derby Mercury, 10th April 1761

The Ipswich Journal, 11th April 1761

 

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

The Old Bailey. Microcosm of London.

Eliza Fenning: innocent but proven guilty

We are delighted to welcome our guest, Naomi Clifford, host of the blog Glimpses of life, love and death in the Georgian era to recount the tragic tale of Eliza Fenning, so have your tissues handy, you’ll need them!

Eliza Fenning

In the afternoon of 11 April 1815 two men came into the Pitt’s Head public house opposite the Old Bailey and seated themselves at a table. Their clothes marked them out as working men but they were clean and neat. One of them, an old man, was trying to write on a scrap of paper, but was so distressed, his hand shaking so much, that he could not manage it. His friend tried to take over, but he too could not form the letters. Eventually, the old man appealed to a stranger to help. “I want to tell the court that my daughter Eliza told me she was happy in her situation,” he said.

This simple and innocuous statement was crucial to his daughter’s fate, he said. The stranger obliged and the men left the pub and crossed over to the Old Bailey where Eliza Fenning was on trial for her life, accused of attempting to murder her employer and members of his family by putting arsenic in their dinner.

William Fenning, Eliza’s 63-year-old father, was deluded: his daughter’s short road through life had already been mapped, its course decided by a combination of personal animosity, class prejudice, conspiracy and official incompetence.

Eliza, aged 20, worked as a cook for Orlibar Turner, a law stationer living at 68 Chancery Lane, London with his wife Margaret, son Robert and daughter-in-law Charlotte. Turner also employed a maid, Sarah Peer, and two apprentices. Eliza was generally well thought-of; she was lively, amusing, amiable and hard-working. However, a few weeks before the poisoning Charlotte had threatened her with dismissal for going, inappropriately dressed, into the apprentices’ room to borrow a candle. Eliza had been upset by this and had declared to Sarah Peer that she no longer liked her mistress but seemed to put the incident behind her. In reality, it was Charlotte and Sarah who disliked Eliza.

Eliza liked cooking and wanted to show off her skill at making dumplings but Charlotte put her off. However, on 21 March, on her own initiative, Eliza asked the brewer to deliver some yeast. At this, Charlotte relented and agreed that Eliza could serve the family steak, potatoes and dumplings for dinner, and that she should also make a steak pie for the apprentices. Eliza got busy. She made the pie and prepared the dumplings. The apprentices ate at 2pm and the family at 3 so she set the dumplings by the fire to rise while she took the pie to be cooked at the bakers. When she returned she could see that the dumplings were not a success. They had failed to rise.

She must have taken remedial measures, which also failed because when she brought six dumplings to the table they were small, black and heavy. Nevertheless, the Turners ate them, as did Eliza herself. The effects were immediate. Charlotte was soon in excruciating pain and vomiting. Her husband and father-in-law – and Eliza – were also stricken. One of the apprentices, Roger Gadsden, who had picked at the dumplings in the kitchen, and later claimed in court that Eliza warned him not to do so, was also ill. Henry Ogilvy, a surgeon, was sent for, and soon there was another, John Marshall, in attendance.

Eliza asked her fellow servant Sarah Peer, who had not eaten any dumplings, to fetch her father who worked for his brother, a potato dealer, in Red Lion Street, Holborn. Sarah did not tell Mr Fenning it was urgent and said nothing about the sickness in the house, and her message slipped his mind until he was back at home. Between 9 and 10 that evening, he turned up at the Turners’ house in Chancery Lane and knocked. Now Sarah told him a barefaced lie. On the orders of her mistress, she said that Eliza was out on an errand. He went away entirely unaware that five people inside the house, including his daughter, had been poisoned. The family recovered. Whatever they had eaten had been insufficient to kill them.

Orlibar Turner seems to have immediately suspected the dumplings. Once he had recovered sufficiently he showed Mr Marshall the remains of the basin they had been prepared in. Marshall added water, stirred and decanted it and examined the sediment. He found half a teaspoon of white powder, which tarnished a knife. “I decidedly found it to be arsenic,” he later told the court. He did not detect arsenic in the remains of the yeast or in the flour.

Eliza Fenning

Eliza was the only suspect, as she had made the dumplings and, still suffering the effects of the poisoning, she was taken before a magistrate and sent to Clerkenwell Prison. When her parents were finally made aware of her plight, they raised £5 for her defence. Two guineas went to Mr Alley, a defence attorney, and the remainder to a jobbing solicitor who drew up the brief. This was the sum total of her legal resources: against her were ranged the Turners and their armoury of legal contacts, favours and knowledge. The prosecution was riddled with conflict of interest: their personal friend and solicitor worked as the clerk to the magistrate who had committed Eliza.

The case came to trial at the Old Bailey on 11th April 1815 and was heard by the Recorder, John Silvester.The case against Eliza was entirely circumstantial and focused on her general behaviour and attitude, and her potential access to the poison. Simmering with resentment at her dressing-down by Charlotte, she had stolen the arsenic and planned her murderous attack.

John Silvester c.1815
John Silvester c.1815

Orlibar Turner kept two wrappers of arsenic, tied up tight and labelled “Arsenick, Deadly Poison”, in an unlocked drawer in the office where the apprentices worked. It was used on the mice and rats who liked to eat the vellum and parchment. Two weeks before the poisoning, he noticed that it was missing. The drawer also contained scraps of paper, which the servants used for lighting the fire. During the trial, Roger Gadsden, one of the apprentices, said he had seen Eliza take paper from the drawer where the arsenic was kept. The implication was that she had seen it there and stolen it. In court Eliza said that when she needed paper for the fire she asked for it and pleaded for Thomas King, the other apprentice, to come to court to back her up. He was denied to her. Mr Ogilvy, who would have told the court that she herself had been very ill, was not called.

Eliza’s defence was feeble, to say the least. Her defence attorney Mr Alley barely spoke and was not even in court to hear the Recorder’s summing up. One of the jurymen was deaf. She was permitted to speak in her defence, but not for long. “I am truly innocent of the whole charge. I am innocent; indeed I am! I liked my place. I was very comfortable,” she said. She called five character witnesses.

William Fenning’s desperate attempt to submit sworn evidence of his daughter’s happiness with the Turners was in vain. The court would not accept his statement.

The guilty verdict and the death sentence, both predictable, were nevertheless a terrible shock, and not only to Eliza and her family. Many of the great and the good immediately started petitions: to the Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth; to the Prince Regent. Letters were written to The Times (but not published).

Basil Montagu, a prominent Quaker, uncovered evidence that Robert Turner had had a previous episode of mental instability, appearing “wild” and “deranged”, threatening to kill his wife and himself. He sent his evidence to Silvester, who dismissed it as “wholly useless.”

An anonymous chemist decided to recreate elements of the crime himself. He made dumplings with arsenic – it had no effect on whether they rose or not. He asked his cook to make dumplings and then secretly contaminated them when she was not looking; no one noticed any change in their consistency. He even tried to convince the Turners, whose support was Eliza’s best hope of reprieve, by visiting them at home but, just as he was making headway with Orlibar Turner, John Silvester, the Recorder, entered the house and, backed by Robert Turner, convinced him not to sign the petition in support of Eliza.

The efforts of Eliza’s middle-class supporters failed. John Silvester’s hold over the case prevailed and Eliza’s execution was scheduled. She protested her innocence to the last. “The parting scene with her mother was heart-rending. They were separated from each other in a state of dreadful agony,” wrote William Hone.2

On the morning of 26 July 1815, Eliza rose at 4 am, washed and gave a lock of her hair to each of her attendants. She prayed until 7 and dressed.

“I wish to leave the world – it is all vanity and vexation of spirit. But it is a cruel thing to die innocently; yet I freely forgive every one, and die in charity with all the world, but cannot forget my injured innocence.”

She looked through the window at the other prisoners, who had been locked in their cells but who had climbed up to the windows to see her. “Good bye! good bye! to all of you,” she cried.

Dressed in white muslin gown and a muslin cap and pale lilac boots laced in front, with her arms bound, she mounted the scaffold. Before she dropped, her last words were “I am innocent!” She was followed by two others: a child rapist and a homosexual.

Amongst the 50,000-strong crowd was the writer and journalist William Hone, defender of press freedom and friend of the oppressed.

William Hone by William Patten
William Hone by William Patten

“I got into an immense crowd that carried me along with them against my will; at length, I found myself under the gallows where Eliza Fenning was to be hanged. I had the greatest horror of witnessing an execution, and of this particular execution, a young girl of whose guilt I had grave doubts. But I could not help myself; I was closely wedged in; she was brought out. I saw nothing but I heard all. I heard her protesting her innocence – I heard the prayer – I could hear no more. I stopped my ears, and knew nothing else till I found myself in the dispersing crowd, and far from that dreadful spot.”

Eliza’s parents were charged 14 shillings and sixpence for her body. They had to borrow the money. Her only possession, a Bible, was bequeathed to her mother. On 31 April she was buried at St George the Martyr, near Brunswick Square. There were a hundred mourners but many others tried to get in.

Fenning’s case continued to trouble and intrigue lawyers and scientists. Did arsenic really blacken knives? Was Marshall’s evidence true and believable? How much had collusion between the judge, the prosecutor and the witnesses been responsible for the guilty verdict and the failure of appeals for remission?

To the crowds of poor and angry Londoners, who knew that a defenceless working woman had been judicially murdered, these things were irrelevant. A thousand angry people gathered outside the Turners’ house. Some were arrested for behaving in a “riotous and tumultuous manner”. Police from Bow Street were stationed outside for days.

Commissioned by John Watkins, William Hone, who had reluctantly witnessed Eliza’s death, started gathering evidence. The Sessions Report of the trial was flawed; large sections were missing. The Important Results of an Elaborate Investigation into the Mysterious Case of Elizabeth Fenning proved Eliza’s innocence and detailed the efforts that the establishment had taken to ensure that she was executed. Silvester’s extraordinary intervention with Orlibar Turner, Basil Montagu’s doomed investigation into Robert Turner’s mental ill-health were detailed.

Hone’s publication itself became the story as Silvester, and the legal establishment tried to defend their conduct. Silvester had a reputation as a hanging judge and was biased against female defendants. There were rumours that he solicited sexual favours in return for mercy.

The Observer took the lead and its lies were repeated in newspapers across the country. The Fennings were said to be Roman Catholics, to be Irish, to have shown Eliza’s body in return for money; her father, they said, had urged her to protest her innocence only to preserve his own reputation. These allegations were printed up as handbills and pushed through letterboxes and pasted up in shop windows. John Marshall and Henry Ogilvy claimed that Eliza had refused medical treatment because she knew her plan had failed. “She would much rather die than live, as life was as no consequence to her” they said.

Even if you accept that many trials at this time were ramshackle affairs, the injustice of Eliza’s execution was a brutal shock but not a surprise. For middle-class families at a time of political change, with ideas of equality wafting across Europe, Eliza represented their greatest fear: the resentful servant with revenge on her mind.

Postscript

Orlibar Turner was declared bankrupt in 1825 (Sussex Advertiser, 7 February 1825).

In 1828, John Gordon Smith, the University of London’s first Professor of Medical Jurisprudence, noted a claim in the Morning Journal that a son of Orlibar Turner had died in Ipswich workhouse confessing that he had put arsenic in the dumplings. I can find no evidence of this but Robert Greyson Turner was certainly living in Ipswich in 1820 (his wife Charlotte was from Suffolk) – he and his brother are listed in The Poll for Members of Parliament for the Borough of Ipswich.

On 21 June 1829, The Examiner noted that William Fenning, Eliza’s heart-broken father, was still living in London. “The unfortunate girl was his favourite child.” A William Fenning died in Holborn in 1842. If this is “our” William Fenning, he would have been 91.

Endnotes

Fans of the BBC’s Garrow’s Law will recall Silvester as the somewhat fictionalized “baddie”. He was sometimes known as “Black Jack”.

The Important Results of an Elaborate Investigation into the Mysterious Case of Elizabeth Fenning.

Recommended

The Old Bailey online

Ben Wilson, The Laughter of Triumph. London, Faber and Faber, 2005 http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Laughter-Triumph-William-Fight/dp/0571224709

William Hone, The Important Results of an Elaborate Investigation into the Mysterious Case of Elizabeth Fenning , London 1815

The Poll for the Members of Parliament of Ipswich

 

Header image: An Old Bailey trial in the early 19th century. From Rudolph Ackermann, The Microcosm of London (London, [1808-1810]) British Library C.194.b.305-307

The Old Bailey. Microcosm of London.

A sordid tale of bigamy and attempted murder in Georgian London

On the 19th October 1739 Philip Blake, around 30 years of age and by trade a gardener, married Sarah Perkins at St Saviour’s Church in Southwark. The marriage lasted little more than two or three years before the couple parted, with Sarah accusing her husband of behaving badly towards her.

Many years later, on the 17th July 1762, Blake married again, notwithstanding his first wife still being alive. His wife by this second bigamous marriage was a widow, Phillis Ewen or Ewens of Brompton, Kensington, and the couple married in the church there.  Phillis, like Sarah before her, was ill used by her husband. She was eventually approached by a gentlewoman, a stranger to Phillis but someone who knew the history of her husband and knew how he treated his wife. This stranger gave Phillis the shocking news that she was no wife at all, that a first Mrs Blake was still living in Southwark. Phillis enlisted a friend, a Mr Nicholas Osbourn or Osborne, a gentleman and a neighbour of hers, to establish the truth of the matter. Osbourn straight away examined the parish registers of St. Saviour’s in Southwark on behalf of Phillis and, on finding out that everything the stranger had told her was true, Phillis brought a case against her supposed husband for bigamy.

www.ancestryimages.com
Two images of Southwark via http://www.ancestryimages.com

The case was heard at London’s Old Bailey on the 24th February 1768. Philip Blake’s defence, that he did not know Sarah Perkins and that he was not the person that had married her was not believed and a guilty sentence was passed down by the judge. The punishment for bigamy was to be branded in the hand with a hot iron, and that sentence was duly carried out, marking Philip Blake as a bigamist to the end of his days.

Phillis Ewen went back to her home to rebuild her life. She lived on Brompton Lane, opposite the Bell public house in Kensington (probably the Bell and Horns which stood on the corner of Brompton Road and Brompton Lane) and kept a small market garden which was no doubt where Philip Blake, a gardener, had worked. Blake’s adult son, possibly from his marriage with Sarah Perkins, had lived with the couple and still lived with Phillis even after the departure of his father from the former marital home.

Late in April 1768 Phillis received a message from Blake; he begged that she would come to see him at his lodgings by Nibe’s pound near Oxford Road for he feared he was near death. Since the bigamy trial and being branded in his hand he had suffered a fall in which he had hurt his leg. The leg had turned black and bad. Blake pleaded with Phillis to allow him to return to her home, repenting of his previous life but Phillis would not be swayed. Blake then ominously told her that if she did not consent to take him back it would be the ‘utter ruin’ of them both.

A few days later, on the 2nd May 1768 and between 9 and 10 o’clock in the evening, a woman who lodged in Phillis Ewen’s Brompton Lane home went upstairs and opened a sash window to let in the cool evening air. She saw someone running across the garden and went to tell Phillis. It was Blake’s son, running to meet his father who was hidden amongst some gooseberry bushes at the end of the garden. Blake tried to gain entrance to the house, saying he had come to fetch some of his clothes which had been left at his former home. Phillis, perhaps feeling sorry for the state he was reduced to, let him in and he sat down and began to bemoan his fate. Phillis, by banishing him from her home and away from her garden, had deprived him of the means of making a living and for this he blamed her.

Phillis had had enough. She went to open the door to turn him out but, with her hand still on the door handle, heard the woman who lodged with her, scream and cry out, “Mr Blake, what are you going to do?” Phillis turned and saw Blake pulling a pistol from his pocket. A scuffle ensued in which Phillis, assisted by Blake’s son, struggled with her former husband, trying to take hold of the pistol. Blake fell down in the passage way, in the dark; Phillis was now truly afraid and begging him to spare her life, promising to do anything if he would.

Blake told Phillis, if she wanted to live, to come with him to the door to the garden where he would tell her what he wanted her to do. About three yards from the door he clasped his left arm around Phillis’ head, pulled her towards him and, holding the pistol in his right hand, shot her in the neck, intending to murder her. Phillis fell back into the arms of her female companion and Blake’s son while Blake himself ran away into an arbour from where a further gunshot was heard.

Elizabeth Freeman, another woman who had an apartment in the house, heard the cry of “murder” from downstairs. She ran to the scene of the commotion to find Phillis Ewen’s hair and cap on fire (from the charge contained in the pistol), blood running down her neck, convinced that she was dying and that the bullet was still lodged inside her. But Phillis had been lucky, the lead bullet had entered the back of her neck on the left-hand side and passed straight through; after the wounds had been dressed and stitched she was left with a scar on either side of her neck but no other lasting injury.

When men went to look for Blake in the arbour, thinking he had killed himself, they found no sign of his body. He was eventually found between four and five o’clock the next morning, in a stable, having slit his throat with his small gardener’s budding knife but still alive. He was carried to a hospital where his throat was stitched and, once he had recovered, he was taken to the New Prison at Clerkenwell to await his trial for the attempted murder of Phillis Ewen. When she heard that Blake was to be released from prison the woman who had witnessed the shooting, whose name is not mentioned in any of the reports on the trial, was in such a great terror that she left London, going into Essex rather than stand as a witness and face Blake once more. Phillis Ewen, however, was made of sterner stuff.

Phyllis - New Prison

On the 6th July 1768, Blake found himself for the second time that year in the dock of the Old Bailey. In his defence he said that he had asked Phillis, when she went to his lodgings, for some plants from the garden and for the return of some of his things left at her house; she, he claimed, refused to allow either. Blake also said he had made over three houses to Phillis, the Kensington one she lived in, another at Knightsbridge and one further at Hyde Park Corner; Phillis countered with the fact that these were her houses before she had married Blake and not his. A silver punch ladle was also a bone of contention; Blake said it was his, Phillis said it was bought with her own money.

Blake said he had taken the pistol with him to the Brompton Lane house because, if Phillis would not let him return, he intended to commit suicide. Finding Phillis inflexible he claimed he had pulled her towards him, not to kill her but, to buss or kiss her and claimed, that when Phillis pulled her head away, that the pistol went off accidentally.

After his defence, the record of his trial and conviction for bigamy just months earlier was read, and the verdict was passed down.

Guilty.

The sentence was Death.

He was held at Newgate until he was taken to the gallows at Tyburn on Wednesday 27th July 1768. Reports described him as a grave looking and elderly man, around 60 years of age. He was penitent, repented of his crimes and sins and reportedly admitted at his end to one further bigamous marriage.

Last Wednesday morning, Philip Blake, for shooting Phillis Ewen, was executed at Tyburn . . . Blake, the unfortunate convict, executed as above, for shooting at one of his wives, has left three widows behind him, he having acknowledged to a person who attended him, that he had been married to so many.

The Oxford Journal of 30th July 1768 reported that:

Yesterday Philip Blake was executed at Tyburn, for shooting in the neck Phillis Ewen, to whom he had been married, but was convicted of Bigamy for the same some time ago. He was an elderly man, by trade a Gardener. After he had shot Phillis Ewen, he cut his own throat, but the wound was sowed [sic] up, and he lived to suffer as above, at which time he had three wives living.

Phillis Ewen bore the scars of her assault for a further eleven years before dying, in 1779, at Purser’s Cross near Fulham. Her trip down the aisle with Philip Blake was to be her last; she took no further husband.

Sources:

http://www.oldbaileyonline.org

http://www.londonlives.org

Westminster Journal and London Political Miscellany, 2nd July 1768

Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 8th July 1768

Westminster Journal and London Political Miscellany, 30th July 1768