Drainage mills in the Fens, John Sell Cottman

The Regency poisoning of Mary Biggadike

Mary Biggadike was born May 1801 and baptised in the parish church, of Whaplode, a village in Lincolnshire, by the somewhat forthright vicar, Samuel Oliver.

In early 1818 she found herself pregnant and so, doing the right thing, James Cawthorn, a labourer of Whaplode walked her up the aisle her in August of that year. In due course, she gave birth to a daughter, Marian, who tragically survived for only a few months.

Two years later the couple had another child, a son, James, but by this time their marriage was well and truly ‘on the rocks’ and in March 1821, James clearly needed to find a way of extricating himself from the marriage as he had found a new love.

James found his means of escaping the relationship – but it was to come at the highest price of all, for in August 1821, he found himself indicted for the wilful murder of his wife on 23rd March 1821.

The indictment was that he

wilfully, feloniously, and of malice aforethought, did secretly mix and mingle with milk, flour and sugar, a certain deadly poison, viz. one drachm of arsenic, which he knowing it to be poison, did give to his wife of the 19th March 1821, intending that she should drink it.

He was also charged with assaulting Mary on the day of her death by strangling her.

Mr Franklin representing James wanted him to be charged on only one count, which eventually the prosecution agreed to and it was the charge of poisoning that they proceeded with. The first witness, John Smith who lived close by and knew the family well, he confirmed that he had seen Mary on Monday 19th and she appeared fit and well. He then saw her on Thursday 22nd, when she appeared extremely unwell, her face was swollen and her eyes black and bulging. His wife who also saw her said she thought that Mary had been beaten. At six o’clock the next day he heard that she had died in great agony.

Mary’s mother lived a mere 200 yards from her daughter and when called to give evidence, she said that the young couple had not been getting along well for six months prior to her daughter’s death.  She also confirmed that she saw her daughter every day from Sunday 18th March to Thursday 22nd March and that her daughter had been taken ill on the Monday. Mary’s sister Elizabeth had called upon her on Tuesday and at which time Mary was very sick and complaining of stomach pains.

Mary was convinced she was dying and told Mrs Smith that when her husband returned on the Monday he told her that he felt unwell and asked her to make him some ‘thickened milk’ and having eaten part of it, he asked her to go to the public-house and fetch him a pint of ale, leaving him alone in the house. On her return, he said he had eaten enough and that she should finish the remainder, which she did, and it was then that she was taken ill.

Next to be called to give evidence was Mr Franklin, a surgeon, of Holbeach, who said that Mary had a purple hue on her face, purple spots on her body and a small wound on her leg and internally she showed signs of inflammation. Franklin attempted to carry out tests on her body but was unable to prove conclusively that she had been poisoned.

Mary Sindall was called in to lay out the deceased and she confirmed that the prisoner had followed her upstairs and taking hold of Mary’s cold hand, said ‘Bless you! I little thought your death so nigh’.

Robert Collins, the constable of Whaplode, received James into his custody to take him to Lincoln Castle on the Coroner’s warrant, but just before setting out from Whaplode, James, who up to this point had remained calm, asked to hold his son before they left, at which point he broke down in tears at leaving his only child and as if he knew he would never be returning.

Landscape with a Stagecoach c1840. Metropolitan Museum
Landscape with a Stagecoach c1840. Metropolitan Museum

The carriage took them on to Spalding and when they arrived at the White Lion, James asked permission to write a letter. This letter was to the love of his life, Charlotte Tomlinson, a girl from the same village.  James asked the constable to deliver the letter to her, but instead, Collins kept it as evidence. James continually declared himself innocent of the crime and said in court that he was forced to write the letter, which was vehemently denied by the constable.

The letter was produced in court.

March 26th, 1821

Dear Charlotte – I for the love of you a desolate death must go through. I hope you will have a good Christian heart in you for to come up this afternoon, my dear, and let me bid you adieu. Love don’t feel yourself unhappy, I pay the debt for you. Come up today, love, for I am sure to be put to death. O! Charlotte, what must I go through.

James Cawthorn

It took the jury just minutes to find James guilty of murder and Mr Justice Park pronounced the sentence of death. He confirmed that James was to be executed on Thursday at midday and his body was to be delivered for dissection.  James remained unmoved.

The night before his sentence was to be carried out he made a full confession saying that he could not suffer enough for what he had done. He acknowledged that her murder was carried out by putting poison in the milk.  Having been used to church music, at his request, a psalm was sung at the preaching of the condemned sermon, and he took a part in the melody.

Mary was buried March 26th, 1821 at Whaplode church, aged just 20. Samuel Oliver, who baptised and married her, now buried her, with a note in the register (as he frequently did!) stating that she was

murdered by her husband in the night in a most deliberate manner! The inquest continued for three days!

The love of his life, Charlotte Tomlinson went on to marry in Whaplode, three years later.  The child James went on to have three children of his own who were baptised at Spalding – John, Elizabeth and Mary Ann Biggadike Cawthorn.

UPDATE

Following questions raised by one of our lovely readers I did some more digging and have just discovered this letter which James sent to Charlotte two days after the previous one above, which, it could be argued raises some doubt as to his guilt.

Featured Image

Drainage mills in the Fens, John Sell Cottman. Yale Center for British Art. Paul Mellon Collection.

Hay Harvest at Stamford, Lincolnshire Nathan Fielding (1747–c.1814)

How George III’s Golden Jubilee, 1809, was celebrated in Lincolnshire

Following on from our previous post, the heroine of our new book, A Georgian Heroine, was a Mrs Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, and one of the many fascinating things she achieved in her life was that she virtually single-handedly and anonymously instigated the national celebrations for the Golden Jubilee of King George III which took place on 25th October 1809, the beginning of his 50th year on the throne. This was something which she was immensely proud of, but for which until now, she has remained largely unknown for. To find out more about this achievement you will need to read our book. The event was celebrated across the country and with this in mind, we thought we would take a look at how some parts of just one county celebrated –  Lincolnshire.

These examples are just a few that were typical of events held throughout Lincolnshire, with the exception of one town; according to a local newspaper

the good people of Gainsboro’, owing to the pressure of business forgot’!

Boston Church c.1821. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
Boston Church c.1821. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

In Boston, the bells were rung in the morning of the Jubilee itself and the vessels in the harbour displayed their colours and throughout the day fired their guns in succession. Twenty pounds worth of flour was given by a gentleman to the poor; a handsome subscription was also raised and distributed in ale. All ranks of people partook of the festivities throughout the day. A sumptuous dinner at the Town Hall was numerously attended, and the evening concluded with the largest bonfire ever witnessed in the town.

Folkingham held a ball and supper at the Greyhound Inn with dancing commencing at seven o’clock; Gentleman – ten shillings and 6 pence, Ladies – ten shillings.

Mr Booth regaled a few small tenants and his poor neighbours with beef and ale and their children with cake and tea at Hull bridge.

In the village of Little Ponton, near Grantham, Mrs Dorothy Pennyman regaled the whole of her tenantry with a handsome dinner in the true style of English hospitality; she also sent a plentiful supply of meat and beer to all the poor of the parish.

Louth by William Radclyffe. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
Louth by William Radclyffe. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

According to the Stamford Mercury of October 27th, 1809:

In Louth, an elegant transparency was exhibited at West-gate house, the seat of John Simpson Esq to commemorate the jubilee. In the centre of the piece is the figure of Justice, most correctly and classically painted: she seems to be pronouncing the words of the wise man, “by Justice King’s reign” – a fiery sword extended, denotes the entire destruction of his Majesty’s naval enemies; whilst where rich and poor at under the protection of wise and equal laws. The regalia in front of the transparency are evidently guarded by the sword of the Goddess, and the whole has a majestic and appropriate effect.

Market Deeping raised enough funds from the more opulent inhabitants in order that a donation of a pound of meat and a shilling loaf was delivered to every man in the parish who chose to accept it; and the like quantity of meat and bread and a pint of ale to every woman and child; and such a quantity of ale was allotted for free distribution in the evening, that two barrels remained over and above what could be consumed. A very pleasant and respectable ball took place at the New Inn, about 60 persons present; and the lodge of Odd Fellows in the town and the Post-office were illuminated.

The villagers of Pinchbeck, near Spalding, dined together at the Bull Inn owned by Mr Richard Sharman and regaled 50 poor people at the Bell, with roast beef and plum-pudding. The very musical peal of bells also gladdened the whole village throughout the day.

George III (1738-1820) by Edward Bird, c.1810-1815
George III (1738-1820) by Edward Bird, c.1810-1815; Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives.

The Jubilee was observed at Spalding with the demonstrations of loyalty for which that town was on all occasion truly conspicuous – a liberal contribution, amounting to £120 having been made two or three days before, the jubilee commenced with the early distribution of meat, a twelve-penny loaf, and a shilling, to every poor family in the town; by which upwards of 700 families were richly enabled to partake of the festivities of the day. At eleven o’clock the Yeomanry Cavalry, the principal inhabitants and the benefit societies of the town, preceded by bands of music, marched to the church where a sermon was preached by the Rev. Dr Johnson. God Save the King, with additions for the occasion, was sung by the congregation. After the service at church, the troop of cavalry fired a feu de joie in the marketplace. The cavalry then dined at the George Inn, where every delicacy of the season was provided. In the evening, there was a bonfire in the marketplace, with the firing of cannons, squibs and crackers. One gentleman (Mr Dawson, surgeon) prepared a small balloon for the occasion which went off in very good style.

Stamford c1819. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
Stamford c1819. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

A subscription of £130 was raised in the six parishes of Stamford which enabled the committee appointed for its distribution to give one shilling to every poor person (man, woman or child) who chose to accept it.

Featured Image:

Hay Harvest at Stamford by Nathan Fielding (Peterborough Museums)