Criminal Historian

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Category: trials (page 1 of 4)

Plagium: how stealing a child in Victorian Scotland was punished

from the Morning Chronicle, 3 August 1855

In 1855, the Morning Chronicle in London published a list of capital punishments in Scotland (see above). The English media often covered Scottish affairs in a similar way to how it would publish stories about mainland Europe – highlighting its difference and ‘foreignness’ rather than claiming common ground with it.

So here, the list of Scottish capital crimes included several ones specific to Scottish law, with the speechmarks round them emphasising their ‘un-English’ nature. So we have hamesucken – a felony relating to a premediated assault, whereby a person was attacked in his own home – for example, and notour adultery.

Notour adultery, as opposed to the other offence of simple adultery, was, according to Henry Tebbs’ Essay on the Scripture Doctrines of Adultery and Divorce and on the Criminal Character and Punishment of Adultery (1821) , ‘the conduct of open and incorrigible adulterers, unreformed by the censures of the church, where they keep company publicly together, and procreate issue’ – in other words, adultery that resulted in the birth of children.

Stouthrief, also mentioned in the article, was a form of theft committed by force – so where a person was threatened with violence, or had violence committed against him, during a housebreaking.

Whereas hamesucken was where assault was the primary motive for a housebreaking, stouthrief suggested that the assault was incidental, or a secondary motivation, to the actual theft.

Furtum grave was an aggravated theft, deriving from the Latin ‘furtum’ (theft), where the amount of goods stolen might be particularly high.

The lack of understanding about Scots law was clear in the inclusion of ‘flagium’ as an offence; this was actually plagium, which was again a form of theft, but this time the theft of a person!

Detail from ‘French peasants finding their stolen child’ by P Calderon (Illustrated London News, 15 October 1859)

Akin to modern-day abduction, it commonly involved children, such as a case in 1844, when Helen Wade was charged with plagium at Glasgow when she ‘did, wickedly and feloniously, steal and theftuously carry away’ three-year-old Catherine Hamilton.

Catherine, an illegitimate child, had been living with her mother (although possibly another relative), hand-loom weaver Betty Hamilton, renting rooms with Helen Fleming on the Main Street of Camlachie; she was snatched from that road on 5 April 1844.

The next day, Helen Wade inquired for a ticket to board a ship to Liverpool. Viewed with suspicion by the ticket agent, she was asked about the child with her, and ‘declared that the child was her own, and told a false story about its father’.

They were still given a ticket, though, and it was only in Liverpool that Catherine Hamilton was retrieved and returned to her mother in Scotland.

Helen Wade was found guilty of plagium, but it was noted that in several previous cases of its type, the death sentence had been commuted to transportation for life.

Helen’s case was considered not as serious as others, and this, plus the rarity of convictions for plagium by the 1840s, meant that this defendant was ‘lucky’ enough to receive seven years’ transportation instead (case reported in Archibald Broun, Reports of Cases before the High Court and Circuit Courts of Justiciary in Scotland during the years 1844 and 1845, vol 2 (T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1846)).

The types of capital offence listed by the Morning Chronicle show the continuing importance placed on property by the law. Although this article tried to make Scots criminal law sound alien, it actually reflected concerns both in Scotland and the rest of Britain, about looking after one’s goods, one’s livelihoods – and one’s relatives, too.

 

NB: Sir George Mackenzie’s 1699 book, The Laws and Customs of Scotland in Matters Criminal, is a fascinating read if you’re interested in criminal offences in Scotland, and available for free on Google Books.

Corset Crime Week, Day 4: How Mrs Dove is alive, thanks to a corset

In the second of this week’s stories involving a corset proving itself to be the superhero of the early 20th century, by preventing crime, a story from 1900 involved the undergarment’s key role in preventing a case of a work grievance becoming a murder case.

A Kent tailor had a grievance against his employer, a Mr Dove, of Faversham. This was Charles Dove, a 31 year old tailor, who lived with his wife Minnie, and their young children – Frederick, Gertrude and Grace – in the centre of Faversham. [1]

One morning in late September, he took his revenge – not by shooting Mr Dove, but instead, his wife, firing his revolver at her as she walked from the yard of her house into its hall. The bullet would have hit her heart (the tailor obviously being a good shot), if it had not been for the steel of her corset, which stopped the bullet still.

The tailor was arrested shortly after, and charged with attempted murder. He appeared at the Kent Assizes under his full name of Thomas Downs Collins, and he was described as a 20-year-old ‘working tailor, in the employ of Mr Dove, with prisoner at 14 East Street, Faversham.’

The court heard that he had gone to Sheerness on 23 September, where he bought the gun from gunsmith Joseph Barber. He showed it to Dove, saying he had ‘brought it to show Johnson [another of Dove’s employees], and intended to take it home.’ He and Charles then had breakfast together on the 24th.

The men had then started work; during the morning, Charles Dove had come into the tailors’ workshop and given out the day’s instructions, but did not see Collins. Others reported that Collins had later become a bit anxious; Johnson started to get concerned, thinking Collins had gone ‘queer’; Collins muttered something that could either have been “the pistol’s driving me mad” or “Dove’s driving me mad.”

When Johnson asked Collins if he was alright, his colleague retorted: “If you move I’ll shoot you,” and took the revolver from his pocket. Johnson, thinking he was just being silly, said, “Now, then, Tom.”

Collins then went to grab Johnson, who pushed him and ran through the door, bumping into Mr Dove. He told him what had happened, but then, they heard a pistol fire, and a scream. Minnie Dove had been shot, but had luckily been fully dressed, and armoured with her sturdy corset.

The two men had known each other for years; Collins had been apprenticed to Dove for five years, the apprenticeship having finished some five months before. The week before, it seems that Dove had given him ten day’s notice to leave, because he had interfered in Johnson’s work. This dismissal was presumably all the motive Collins needed to try and kill his employer’s wife.

Actually, he thought he HAD killed Minnie. He had even gone home at 10am, and when his sister Helen had spied him with pistol still in hand, he turned to her and shouted:

“Keep quiet, Nell. I won’t hurt you. I have shot Mrs Dove stone dead: thank God. I am going to swing for it. It was Mr Dove I wanted.”

He wasn’t at home for long, for the police soon found him. Although he tried to point his pistol at a hapless police constable, he was disarmed, and again stated that it was Charles Dove he had wanted to kill, not his wife.

Despite these clear admissions that he intended to murder someone, he had not actually done so. The jury at his trial found him guilty of intent to grievous bodily harm, but not to murder. He received just three years in prison.

Sources: South Wales Echo, 24 September 1900; Kent & Sussex Courier, 7 December 1900

  1. The 1901 census records the Doves as living at 14 East Street, Faversham. The 1911 census for Faversham shows the Doves still living in the town, but now at 2 Queen’s Parade. Gertrude was now 17 and helping her father, a master tailor; her sister Grace, 16, was a dressmaker’s apprentice.

 

 

How Emily, 13, got away from the Whitechapel kidnapper

One 13-year-old girl faced a double ordeal in 1885, after first being abducted, and taken across the Channel against her will – and then facing a cross-examination by her kidnapper when the case reached the Old Bailey.

Christina Fischer, known to her family as Emily, was born on 15 March 1872 in Germany. Her family had emigrated, like many other German residents, to London, where they settled at 59 Greenfield Street, off the Commercial Road in Whitechapel. Emily’s father, William, worked as a printer. The family spoke little English, and so it was understandable that many of their friends and acquaintances in the capital were other German immigrants.

One man they got to know sometime in 1883 was Julius Hahn, then aged 27, and working as a baker. On 24 October 1885, he had come to the Fischer house about 8am, with two of his own children. William Fischer’s wife, Mary, was at home and took the children upstairs.

Julius told William that he intended to travel back to Germany that day, after visiting the West End (different accounts state either that his wife was ill in hospital there, or that she had recently died there), and asked if he could leave his children there until he returned from his trip west. That was all fine, and so Julius left, returning some three hours later. He said his goodbyes, then, and went off with his children.

But shortly before his return, William had sent his daughter Emily out for a newspaper. She had returned with it, then went out again prior to Julius leaving the house. That was the last the Fischers saw of her for three days.

After she failed to return, later on that Saturday, William started to make inquiries as to her whereabouts, asking at the Blackwall Docks, where he thought Julius might have headed. He had clearly linked Emily’s absence with Julius’s departure soon after. There were no clues as to where she was, and after two sleepless nights, and two days searching, William finally went to the Thames Police Court in Stepney to obtain a warrant for Julius’s arrest.

**

So where was Emily during this weekend? As her father had suspected, she was with Julius Hahn. She had gone out the second time to meet a friend, and as she was coming back, she bumped into Hahn with his two children. “Will you come with me to carry the baby?” he asked, claiming that he could not manage the two of them on his own. Emily agreed, and carried the baby to the docks, some ten minutes’ away. Hahn then asked if Emily would come with him to his ship – “You cannot get out of this gate – you must go by a little boat on board.”

Emily went downstairs on the boat to put the baby to bed, when she realised the boat had started. Running back on deck, Hahn told her that she would now have to go with him to Rotterdam. She burst into tears, but his response, she said, was to threaten her, saying “if you tell anyone, you will see what I will give you”. Emily ran back below deck; Hahn followed her and told her he wanted a kiss. She would not let him. He tried to put his hand up her clothes; Emily, with great presence of mind, threatened to tell the captain.

Emily shouted out to a woman on board, and she reported matters to the steward. But it was too late for Emily to get back to the docks, and she ended up on board all the way to Rotterdam, arriving there on Sunday morning. Hahn then tried again, asking Emily to travel on with her to Bingen – she refused, thrust the baby back at him, ran away from the ship and leapt on board another that was travelling back to England. She reached London again the next day.

**

When Hahn was tried for abduction at the Old Bailey, he was allowed to cross-examine the 13-year-old girl he had tried to kiss. He tried to tell her that she had agreed to go with him if he paid her 20 shillings; suggested that she had wanted him to touch her, and that she had wanted to go to Bingen with him as another passenger had said it was nicer than England. She insisted that it was Hahn who had said Bingen was nicer than England, as part of a concerted effort to make her go with him.

The criminal register entry for Julius Hahn’s offence, from Ancestry

Hahn also cross-examined Mr and Mrs Fischer, suggesting that they had consented to him taking their daughter to Germany. They both indignantly denied that. But then another German man, again examined by Hahn, said that Hahn had claimed to him that Emily was his servant, employed to look after the children. Emily had gone to him saying she needed a ticket to return to England on the next boat, but said he had not seen her cry, or Hahn behave badly towards her.

Hahn also got this man, Theodore Peters, to say that Emily had never mentioned to him being touched in an indecent manner by Hahn. It would have taken some courage for a young girl to tell a male stranger that another man had been behaving indecently towards her.

Towards the end of the trial, Emily was re-examined, and asked again about the details of Hahn’s attempts to grope her. She said, clearly and calmly, that it was bedtime, and she was in the ladies’ cabin, lying down with Hahn’s five-month-old child. Hahn had come in and, despite Emily being with his own daughter, tried to put his hand up this girl’s clothes.

Hahn’s last words were “I did not touch her with any intention”, but despite his aggressive, insistent cross-examining of the young witness, and attempts to portray her and her parents as liars, Emily kept her cool. Julius Hahn was found guilty of taking Emily Fischer away without her parents’ consent – but not guilty on a charge of indecent assault.

This was a fair verdict; although Emily clearly stated that Julius had tried to put his hands up her clothes, and to kiss her, she never said he had succeeded; there had been an attempt, but not a successful one. He had certainly abducted her, though, and it was only due to her presence of mind and intelligence that she was able to see her home again.

Sources: Old Bailey Online (t18851214-84, 14 December 1885, Morning Post, 14 November 1885; South Wales Daily News, 16 December 1885, Criminal Registers on Ancestry.co.uk

The lamplighter’s wife: a dark tale from Edwardian London

A hysterical woman yawning, c.1890, by Albert Londe (Wellcome Images, used under Creative Commons)

A hysterical woman yawning, c.1890, by Albert Londe (Wellcome Images, used under Creative Commons)

It was just after 8pm on 8 July 1907 – a Monday night in north London. Lamplighter Harry Mitchell, aged 33, had just left his home in Stoke Newington to light his lamps for the night. He lived in a top floor flat in what were somewhat euphemistically called artisan’s dwellings at 34 Garnham Street, with his wife, Clarissa Maria, and three children – a six-month-old girl, 18-month-old boy, and a seven year old girl.

Left behind, Clarissa was seen to open the front window at the top of the building – and to onlookers’ horror, push through her seven-year-old daughter, Clarissa Alice, who fell and became impaled on the spikes of railings that separated the building from the pavement. Mrs Mitchell then looked through the window to check that her daughter had fallen, before rushing back into the front room.

George Tilley, a mill foreman, was walking down the street when he saw the first child impaled on the railings. He ran over and gently lifted her off, before a movement above made him raise his eyes. To his horror, he saw the middle child, known as Frederick, only 18 months old, clinging onto the sill of the second floor window. As he watched, this child too fell ‘with a thud’ into the space between the railings and the flats, lying there clearly severely injured.

Jessie Abrahams, a local woman who was also passing by at the time, said there was a gap of around two or three minutes between the two children falling out of the window. She had also seen Clarissa Mitchell ‘very deliberately’ open the window wider, before throwing herself out – as though tumbling through space, it was later said. Her body was impaled on the railing spikes with such force that several men were needed to lift her off the railing.

The three Mitchells were carried by shocked onlookers to the nearest dispensary, on the High Road, where much to everyone’s amazement, Frederick was found to be still alive, although critically injured, and was immediately rushed to the Metropolitan Hospital. It was initially believed that both the mother and elder daughter were dead – but a more thorough investigation found signs of life in both, and they were taken to the German Hospital in Dalston. Although both were conscious, they were said to be in a ‘very critical’ condition.

The Mitchell family’s neighbours, hearing the shouts and thuds, and learning what had happened, were obviously concerned about the fate of the younger daughter. They broke into the flat, and there found the baby sleeping peacefully in bed.

What had caused this woman to take such an awful course of action? Mr and Mrs Mitchell were said to be highly respected residents of their local community, members of the Salvation Army, and hard working.

However, the 30-year-old Mrs Mitchell, who worked as a servant, but who when not at work was confined to a small flat with three small children to look after, had been said to have been ‘low spirited for some time’. This was another way of saying that she suffered from depression.

On her husband leaving for work one summer’s evening, she had decided she could take life no more, and had tried to take her children with her on a journey to a better world. Her only comment on being lifted from the railings was that her head hurt; her oldest child, however, told onlookers:

“Mother threw me out. I clutched the curtains, but they broke.”

The following day, it was reported that Mrs Mitchell had spent a restless night in the German Hospital, and had been screaming ‘almost continuously’. The little girl impaled on the railing had been far quieter, despite having been impaled through her groin; but her brother was in a far worse state.

It took a month for the woman to be charged with wounding her children – she was also charged with attempting suicide. The time lapse was due, simply, to her injuries; she was in hospital for weeks following the event. At the North London Police Court, she was committed to the Central Criminal Court for trial; she had only spoken once, asking, “Can I see my children?”

The Asylum for Criminal Lunatics, Broadmoor. (Wellcome Images, used under Creative Commons) Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

The Asylum for Criminal Lunatics, Broadmoor.
(Wellcome Images, used under Creative Commons)

But her children were, a month later, still in hospital, and she was not permitted to see them. A doctor called to give his opinion remarked that he thought she was insane, and so the gaol doctor was asked to keep her under observation. Clarissa Mitchell duly appeared at the Central Criminal Court on 10 September 1907.

Here, new light was shed on Clarissa’s past. Harry Fullarton, the assistant medical officer at Holloway Prison, where she was held pending her trial, gave evidence that she was mentally ill, and had been for some time – ‘she is quite unfit to understand the present proceedings or instruct solicitor or counsel’.

He said that he had found out that she had previously been detained as a lunatic between August 1901 and March 1903, before being released in the belief that she was ‘cured’. At the time of her incarceration, she was already married and was caring for baby Clarissa; on being released, she returned to her husband and quickly had two more children.

To modern eyes, it seems highly possible that Clarissa was suffering from post-natal depression that may have turned into psychosis; the timing of her two severe bouts of mental illness both came when she had very young children in her care.

It was found that Clarissa Mitchell was insane and unfit to either plead or to take her trial on a charge of wounding. She was ordered to be detained at His Majesty’s pleasure.

And what of the family she tried to destroy? The baby, sadly – the one child Clarissa had not tried to kill – may have died; but the two she had thrown from the window both survived. The 1911 census shows Clarissa Alice, now 11, and Harry Frederick William Mitchell, now aged five, living with their father at 100 Rendlesham Road in Clapton.

Harry Mitchell, aged 37, was still working as a lamplighter for the Gas Light and Coke Company; in the census return, he had recorded the fact that he had been married for 12 years, and had had four children, of whom, one had died (I have not been able to ascertain whether this was the sleeping baby of 1907, or a child who had died prior to this).

Another hand had scrawled a red line through the details of his marriage, denying Clarissa her existence as the lamplighter’s wife, and thus, albeit unknowingly, denying her existence, too, as her children’s mother.

*

Sources: Belfast Weekly News, 11 July 1907; Portsmouth Evening News, 9 July 1907, Wells Journal, 11 July 1907, London Daily News, 9 August 1907, Diss Express, 16 August 1907, Old Bailey Online (ref t19070910-21). Birth of Clarissa Alice Mitchell, Edmonton, Mar 1900 (vol 3a 374); 1911 census on Ancestry.

Clarissa Maria Mitchell died in 1941, aged 65 (FreeBMDs, Windsor district, Dec 1941, vol 2c, page 869 – the location suggests that she may have died in Broadmoor, which was in Crowthorne and thus came under the Windsor district for registration purposes); Clarissa Alice, unlike her mother, never married; she died, a spinster, in her 80s (source: Civil Registration Death Index, on Ancestry).

 

 

 

The condemned miner with a Jesus complex

From press coverage of Dunn's speech at the Durham Assizes

From press coverage of Dunn’s speech at the Durham Assizes

John Thomas Dunn, a 52 year old miner, was not looking forward to the new year. He knew that once 1927 turned into 1928, his days were literally numbered, for on Friday 7 January, he would die.

It was the peak of the Roaring Twenties; flappers were frenetically dancing the Charleston, and the bright young things were enjoying life. Many were enjoying the glamour of the movies, watching the silent film stars pout and preen on cinema screens – perhaps with a bit of awareness that, for some, their careers would not last much longer, for The Jazz Singer, a ‘talkie‘ had been released in October 1927, and once sound arrived for good, those whose voices were deemed unattractive would have to find other careers.

But this was all a world away for Dunn. He was an unemployed  miner in the north-east, living at Sacriston in Co Durham. Sacriston had been home to a colliery since 1838; by the end of the 19th century, it had employed 600 local men. In 1903, it had seen a mining disaster, when water flooded the mine, killing two men.

Dunn, who had previously worked at this colliery, had married Ada Elizabeth Stokes in her hometown of Gateshead back in 1903, and the couple had had several children over the next two decades. Ada was eight years her husband’s junior, having only been around 20 years old when she married.

On 25 September 1927, though, Dunn had raised the alarm, shouting that his 44-year-old wife had committed suicide. However, during a subsequent trial, it was argued that he had actually strangled Mrs Dunn and then hanged up her body up with a rope to make it look like she had killed herself.

It was widely known that the Dunns had not been happily married, and, in fact, a week before her death, Ada Dunn had left her husband and returned home to her mother in Gateshead. But at his trial, which took place at the Durham Assizes, damning evidence came from two of the Dunns’ children.

Richard Dunn, aged 11, stated that when he had gone to bed on the night of the death, he heard his parents quarrelling, a stool overturning, and then a choking noise. The couple’s married daughter, Ada Walsh, then stated that John had tried to strangle her mother some years earlier.

When he was found guilty, on 15 November, Dunn had lost his usual self-control (it was noted that he had spent the trial watching what was going on with ‘keen attentiveness’, and often making notes that he would then pass to his counsel). He shouted out, passionately, making an emotional and sometimes manic speech, that started with his former chequered career in the army:

“I did not intend to go only to protect my country, but to protect my family. I was discharged under a false colour; I went back again, and said I had never been in. That was the courage of a man. I left the army twice with a character. It is easy for a man to get a bad name; it is easy for a dog never to carry a name of goodness once its name is bad.

“I have carried the burden of my children. I had a little girl blind. No one could have done more for her, and I thank God today through hard work and toil she can see. If she was standing beside me now she would give me a kiss of joy. I do not say I had a deceitful wife all through my life. She carried, like me, a weakness. It is a pity we ever met. She was led by other women, and she found that her friends were her enemies. Many times I suffered weakness, and when I went to the doctor with my suffering, I never told him the thing I was suffering from. I said to him, ‘For God’s sake, do not put down heart complaint, or else I will be done for work.'”

He then started talking of God, in an increasingly disjointed way, before ending:

“My children, I appeal for you today. When Christ was crucified He looked up and said, ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.’ I forgive my children because they know not. God help them; God help me.”

The death sentence was then passed against him. A woman in the gallery immediately fainted and had to be carried out; one of Dunn’s sons, a little boy, ran out of the court into the street outside, shouting, “My father is to be hanged!” A policeman had to run after him and bring him back to the court.

gordon_hewart_1st_viscount_hewart

Lord Hewart, the Lord Chief Justice

Dunn had appealed his conviction, before the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Hewart, asking to call further evidence, but this appeal was dismissed at the Court of Appeal on 12 December. He had been trying to claim a defence of insanity; however, Lord Hewart, in giving judgement, pointed out that the original defence had been that no murder had been committed, and that Mrs Dunn had killed herself – so how could Dunn now be claiming insanity as a defence?

One newspaper stated that the execution was originally set for 29 December; however, another stated that it would ‘probably take place in the first week of January’, and this, in the event, is what happened.

On the evening of Thursday 5 January, members of the Dunn family arrived at Durham Gaol to visit their condemned relative. Somewhat surprisingly, they found him upbeat – in fact, one later said, he was ‘the most cheerful member of the party’.

He was still declaring his innocence, using the common excuse that his memory of the night his wife died was ‘blank’ – he had no memory, apparently, of anything that had happened prior to cutting his wife’s body down from behind his kitchen door.

“I would prefer death to a living tomb,” he commented, hating the idea of a long sentence in jail; his family commented that he “betrayed not the slightest concern as to his fate”.

Instead, he told them about a ‘curious experience’ he had had during his time in the condemned cell.

“A thrush fell through the window, and I found it had a broken wing. I tended it and healed the wing. The bird stayed in the cell for about a week, then one morning it flew away, leaving me feeling very lonely.”

Dunn was soon to feel lonely again, as his relatives were told to leave. They were not allowed to shake his hand as they left, and so left feeling somewhat aggrieved. Dunn, though, simply sat in his cell after their departure, writing letters.

A press headline regarding Dunn's 'wounded bird' story

A press headline regarding Dunn’s ‘wounded bird’ story

On the morning of Friday 6 January, he woke early, and had a light breakfast. He then ‘walked firmly to the scaffold’, which had been built only a few paces from his cell. A small crowd had gathered outside the prison, and keenly read the official notice of his execution when it was put up; executioner Pierpoint had done an efficient job.

There one particularly interesting point about this particular case. Dunn was a working-class man, unemployed, and poor; when he first appeared on remand in court charged with wilful murder, he had to ask for legal assistance, and was granted it under the terms of the Poor Persons Act. A local firm of solicitors, Ferens, Burrell, Carpenter and Swinburne, offered to take on the case. He was certainly keenly interested in how the trial progressed, and wanted to contribute to his solicitors’ work; yet how aware was he really as to the danger he was in, and did Mr Ferens, who represented him, employ the right defence at the original trial?

For Dunn’s passionate speech after conviction  – and his tale about the wounded bird – could also be read as the rambling speeches of an insane man. The press clearly saw his trial speech as an unusual occurrence, but focused in on his forgiveness of his children for giving evidence against him. Yet by comparing himself to Jesus in such a rambling way, by talking about parts of his former life that did not present himself in a good light, or that were not relevant, his speech departed from being simply about forgiving others, and went into stranger territory.

It seems not only that insanity should have been used as his initial defence, but that it might have succeeded. Instead, whether on his solicitor’s advice, or because he insisted on it, John Dunn continued to maintain that his wife had killed herself – and once the jury had decided otherwise, Dunn had, in effect, tied that noose around his neck himself.

Sources:

Western Daily Press, 16 November 1927

Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, 13 December 1927

Durham Chronicle, 16 December 1927

Fife Free Press, 7 January 1928

 

 

 

The evidence of Annie McCann

A Glasgow slum, from the special collections of Glasgow University, accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

A Glasgow slum, from the special collections of Glasgow University, accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

The Farrells had only lived upstairs for the past few months – only a wee while, since the beginning of 1905, I’d say, so I did nae really know them well; but they made their presence clear by their noise and their arguments. She? She liked a wee dram – well, more than that, for she was a drinker all right. But if I were married to him, I’d need a drink too. And he was no saint, neither, for he had a drink or too on occasion, and when he’d had a drink, he liked to use his fists. At least she wasn’t like that.

I talked to Mary Ann Winters after what happened. She’s just 13, one of the lasses from the courts off Cowgate. On the night it happened, she said she was playing with Mary Gorman in Hall’s Court, and heard quarrelling coming from the window of the Farrells’ tenement. To be honest, we all heard it; it was a regular thing at the weekend for the Farrells to fight. But then Mary Ann said she heard Annie shout, “Police!” and “Murder!” – and then she moaned, as if someone was in pain.

Did she try and find out what was going on? No, of course she didn’t. That’s life round here – there are fights, shouts for the police… When the men get paid on a Friday eve, they go and buy whisky, get drunk, pick fights. It doesn’t matter who they’re with – workmates, relatives, wives, strangers – they’ll pick a fight with them.

He, Tom, was a labourer for the Edinburgh Corporation Electric Lighting Department. Grand name he had – Thomas Anderson Farrell, the Anderson after his ma. He wasn’t old; the papers said he was 28, but I think he could have been a few years older. His wife, Annie, was a MacAdam before she wed.

Blackfriars Street today

Blackfriars Street today

We all lived at 36 Blackfriars Street, in the Old Town – living above each other, so we could hear our neighbours going about their daily business, and saw a lot of them, passing each other on the stairs. The Farrells were at the bottom – just one room, they had; that, and the coal cellar. It was just them, though, for even thought they had been married several years, they had no children.

The morning after the murder, Tom came knocking on the door. I answered it, and all he said was, “Annie’s gone”. He asked me to come into his house and see her; I did so, but never knew he meant she was dead. Well, not until I saw her, lying there on the bed, cold. She was covered in bruises; different sizes, but they were everywhere.

I told Tom to call the police, but he refused to. I must have raised my voice, for others from our building were roused. One of my other neighbours, a man, looked in, and immediately departed for the police office – I believe he told them what we’d seen. But as soon as he had left the house, Tom ushered me out, left with me, and locked the door behind him. Then, without a word, he left up Blackfriars Street.

The High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh

The High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh

Luckily, it turned out that Annie had given a spare key to one of my other neighbours. When the police turned up, they were able to open the door with that key, and so when Tom returned, and tried to use his key, he found the door unlocked, and the police within. That gave him a fright! They took him straight into custody, and I later saw Annie’s body taken away – the poor woman was taken, rigid and blue, to the city mortuary to be cut open.

Aye, I followed the story in the papers. I knew that he would be tried at the High Court of Justiciary, but not that he would look so smart. They never used to have any money, the Farrells, once they’d spent on the drams of whisky they seemed to live on (her more than him, though, to be fair). Yet the papers said he looked smart.

But they also said that a couple of years before she died, someone – either Tom or his brother – had put a notice in the paper saying that Annie had died. She hadn’t; she was merely in hospital, poorly, but was soon released. It was a bit odd, that, putting a death notice in the papers when she was very much alive.

It was strange, too, seeing me mentioned in the trial reports. There were several of us, though, called to give evidence in court, which was terrifying, to be honest, as I had never set foot in there before – I am a law abiding woman.

The court had already heard from family. Annie’s sister, Susan Murray, said Annie – whhad been a servant before she married – was addicted to drink. I think she was trying to say that Tom married Annie for her money; when she was in service, she managed to save a fair amount, and after their marriage, Tom lived off her money for a good six months. Basically, he spent it all.

They had to move to Manchester to try and get a living, but then moved back to Edinburgh, and into Blackfriars Street at the start of this year. Susan said they lived ‘in great poverty’ here; well, it’s true, none of us have much money, but we all look out for each other here, we know each other and there are few secrets. Like Susan said, we had all seen Annie with a black eye here and there. But the Farrells didn’t have much money left for food; two days before she died, Annie had eaten nothing, and on the Saturday, all she’d had was a cup of tea and a boiled egg.

I’m not surprised that Tom’s brother Alex made his sibling out to be a saint. It’s what families tend to do, although Susan and her husband weren’t too nice about Annie. But Alex said Annie was a drunk, and Tom wasn’t. He may not have drunk as much as her, but he still drank, that’s for sure.

When I was called, I told them what I knew. The night before the murder, before the two girls had heard Annie shout for the police, I had heard her too. It was between six and seven o’clock in the evening of the seventeenth, I’d say, and I was in the house. I heard Annie cry, “Oh, Tam, don’t, and I’ll make your dinner.” I was worried about her – for, as I say, we look out for each other here – and I went down and knocked at the door. Tom answered, and was rather rude to me; he told me to go and mind my own business.

I next saw her a few hours later,  about 10 o’clock, on the stairs with a jug of beer. That was the last time I saw her – alive, at any rate.

Weir's Close, Edinburgh (from the Library of Congress)

Weir’s Close, Edinburgh (from the Library of Congress)

Several of our neighbours in the building – Elizabeth Tait, Catherine Casey, William Stafford – gave evidence about the fighting and the drinking, too, as well as Pat Tansy from Weir’s Close, and Catherine Shanley from Hall’s Court.

We said how when the Farrells fought, often on a Friday night, Annie would sometimes have to sleep away from home, to avoid him. She might knock on our doors and ask if she could share our bed for the night, but on occasion she had slept in privies, just to have a roof of some kind over her head.

It was 30 August when the trial started. He pleaded not guilty, saying Annie had died after a fall – even though the coroner had clearly said she had been beaten and kicked to death. Her spleen had been ruptured; the poor woman had died of shock.

Lord Ardwall. (c) Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation; accessed via Wikimedia Commons

Lord Ardwall. (c) Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation; accessed via Wikimedia Commons

I was still in court when the verdict was announced. There was a whole crowd of us; neighbours, family, friends, and those who didn’t know the Farrells but were just simply being nosey. The trial had lasted all day, until nine in the evening.

The judge, Lord Ardwall, said that there could be no ‘reasonable doubt’ that Annie’s injuries were inflicted by someone other than herself, and that they had caused her death. He wasn’t sure that a murderous intention could be proved, though, and so didn’t think a verdict of murder against Tom would be ‘safe’. It’s not surprising, then, that the jury reached a verdict so quickly. They found Tom guilty of culpable homicide, and Lord Ardwall sentenced him to ten years’ penal servitude.

Do I think it was the right verdict? I don’t know. But what I do know is that in ten years, Tom will still be in his 30s, he’ll have the rest of his life ahead of him, while poor Annie turns into dust. She may have liked a drink, but that was no reason to beat the poor woman to death, was it?

Annie McCann was one of the neighbours who gave evidence at the trial of Thomas Anderson Farrell at Edinburgh’s High Court. This account uses both her testimony and that of unnamed witnesses, taken from trial reports and press coverage in the Edinburgh Evening News, 31 August 1905; Hull Daily Mail, 19 June 1905; Aberdeen Journal, 19 June 1905; Edinburgh Evening News, 30 August 1905; Edinburgh Evening News, 31 August 1905; Gloucestershire Echo, 31 August 1905. However, accounts have been paraphrased.

A Tale of Two Sisters: The poisoners of Victorian Liverpool

Road to Versailles, by Camille Pissarro

Road to Versailles, by Camille Pissarro

It was a snowy morning in Lancashire, as the two women were brought out to the scaffold in the prison yard. They showed no sign of the cold, though, as they climbed up onto it, and were pinioned. Displaying a little nervousness, they stood there, eyes closed, their mouths moving silently as they repeated prayers over and over, over and over. Then their white caps were pulled over their pale faces, and, as the snow fell, their executioner pulled back a lever, and they fell to their deaths.

There they hanged, motionless, as the snow continued falling around Kirkdale Gaol, a gentle, floating snow that was at odds with the violent scene that had taken place in its midst.(1)

**

The women were not strangers, or even friends. They were sisters. Catherine Flanagan and Margaret Higgins both lived in Liverpool, but there was considerable debate about where they were originally from. In the xenophobic, anti-Irish late 19th century, it was speculated that they were both Irish born; but other sources said that they were Scottish, from Dumfries, where their relatives still lived.

Some reports, though, had Higgins admit to being from a village near Belfast, and having migrated to Liverpool with her parents and sister when she was ten. What was known was that Catherine was the elder sister, being around 55 years old; Margaret was some 14 years her junior.

Mrs Flanagan had one trait that in other circumstances would have been commended – she was rather frugal. She spent little, to the extent of being regarded as miserly, and it was said that her favourite occupation was that of acquiring money.

Late 19th century Liverpool

Late 19th century Liverpool

With savings she had accumulated when young, she opened a beer house near Liverpool’s docks – a poor area but one that would guarantee good custom from the local workers. However, she did not like rules and regulations, and soon came to the attention of the police for opening on Sundays, and for the illicit activities that took place in her tavern. After several convictions, she was forced to close her beer house down.

She then put her financial skills to better use by setting up as a money lender. She borrowed money from local loan offices, and then lent it to her hard-up neighbours, in small sums, but charging interest of fourpence in every shilling. She then started dealing with burial societies – with rather a grim result.

The most noteworthy thing about her sister Margaret was that she had had two husbands – her first was a labourer, an Orangeman from Northern Ireland. He died under suspicious circumstances, and it was rumoured that she may have murdered him. She then married again – one Thomas Higgins. He soon died, after insurance policies had been taken out on him.

Suspicions were aroused, and in a dramatic fashion, his funeral was halted by police in order for his body to be examined. At this point, Flanagan disappeared – it took a week for her to be apprehended. An inquest was duly held on Thomas Higgins’ body, starting just after Christmas in 1883. On 4 January 1884, the coroner’s jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against both sisters.

It then emerged that Flanagan had previously taken in a young lodger at her home on Skirvin Street – 18-year-old Margaret Jennings, who had also died under suspicious circumstances (2). Once the sisters had been charged with Thomas’s death, an order was submitted for Margaret’s body to be exhumed. It was believed that the women had killed both in order to get their life insurance.

Two more charges came; one that they had also poisoned Catherine’s son John, and the other, that they had also killed Margaret’s step-daughter, Mary Higgins. John, aged 22, had been buried four years earlier (3); his body was exhumed from its grave at Ford Cemetery, near Liverpool, and was found to be ‘wonderfully’ preserved. His corpse was found to be full of arsenic. John had been insured with a number of burial societies and insurance agents for a total of £71.

Madame Lafarge - another woman accused of using arsenic to kill

Madame Lafarge – another woman accused of using arsenic to kill

Mary Higgins (called Sarah in some reports) had died in November 1882, aged 12 (4),  shortly after Margaret had taken out various death insurance policies on her. Her body was exhumed towards the end of January 1884, and again found to contain arsenic. Both Sarah’s and John’s bodies were reinterred after their post-mortems; no inquests were allowed to be held as more than a year had passed since their deaths.

Faced with the evidence of the insurance policies, Catherine now turned against her sister, offering to give evidence against her, and admitting that she had used arsenic from fly-papers to poison the insured. The Crown, however, refused to let her become a witness.

The two women went on trial at the Liverpool Assizes in February 1884. Both women were charged with the wilful murder of Thomas Higgins, Margaret Jennings, and John Flanagan; Margaret was additionally charged with murdering Mary Higgins (sic). Crowds attended the trial, eager to hear the details of the two middle aged sisters’ alleged offences.

One of the witnesses was Margaret Jennings’ father Patrick, who confirmed that he and his daughter had lodged with Catherine, and had known her son John. In court, he had to describe not only John’s agonising death, over two days – which both the accused women had watched –  but his own daughter’s.

The two women murdered him by poisoning; and were sentenced to death on Saturday 16 February 1884 for doing so. Realising there was no chance of their sentences being commuted, they freely admitted their guilt. They were sent to the nearly 70-year-old Kirkdale Gaol to await their execution, and were said to have been ‘dejected’; because they were both completely illiterate, ‘the time has hung more heavily on their hands than it would have done had they been possessed of any education’.

Kept in separate cells, they had little to keep them occupied, apart from thinking about their impending deaths. They ended up asking the female warders who watched them 24 hours a day to read to them, and were said to have ‘much appreciated’ the stories.

Their own stories, however, were about to end.

**

It is 3 March, a bitterly cold Monday morning. It’s early, and barely light, but even so, a crowd has gathered in the snow in front of the gaol. They cannot see the execution itself, for hangings have been held away from the public gaze for nearly two decades now. (5) Yet there they stand, blowing on their hands, stamping their feet, to keep warm; the women are huddled into their shawls. They have their eyes gazing upwards; not to the sky, but to the spot where, shortly after 8am, a black flag will be hoisted to tell them that the murderers are dead.

Behind the gaol walls, they know that Binns, the executioner, is finalising arrangements, assisted by Samuel Heath, a man from the other side of the Pennines. They have sorted the drop – nine feet six for Flannagan, and two inches more for Higgins. Now they are waiting for the two women to walk the steps to the scaffold… they are adjusting the ropes, placing the nooses under the women’s chins…

And on the outside, as the snow continues to fall, a black flag climbs into the air, watched silently by the crowd. (6)

Report of the execution in the Illustrated Police News

Report of the execution in the Illustrated Police News

 

NOTES

  1. Press reports of the day stress the cold and snowy conditions of the morning the execution took place – see, for example, the Illustrated Police News of 8 March 1884.
  2. Death of Margaret Jennings: BMDs, Liverpool, March quarter of 1883, vol 8b, page 17.
  3. Death of John Flannigan: BMDs, Liverpool, December quarter of 1880, vol 8b page 40.
  4. Some reports said that she was 10, but BMD records state that she was 12 (BMDs for Liverpool, December quarter of 1882, vol 8b, page 30).
  5. Public executions in Britain ended in 1868 (see Capital Punishment UK).
  6. Press coverage taken from: Yorkshire Gazette, 10 November 1883, Dundee Evening Telegraph, 18 February 1884, Stamford Mercury, 8 February 1884, Dundee Courier, 22 February 1884, Cornubian and Redruth Times, 25 January 1884, Dundee Courier, 19 February 1884, Dublin Daily Express, 5 January 1884, Portsmouth Evening News, 29 December 1883, Fife Herald, 5 March 1884.

Death by Broomstick: an unusual punishment, for an unusual crime

View over Bala Lake, with woman in Welsh costume; from the National Library of Wales (used under Creative Commons)

View over Bala Lake, with woman in Welsh costume; from the National Library of Wales (used under Creative Commons)

An interesting case from 19th century Wales this week, where it could be debated whether the victim’s family got justice, and whether the defendant got away with her criminal behaviour.

It was 13 March 1888, and in the village of Llanfor, near Bala in north Wales – where the devil was said to visit the village church in the guise of a pig –  neighbours Elizabeth Evans and Ann Jones were fighting. This was not something new. 51-year-old Elizabeth was known for her anger, and she and Ann appear to have frequently rowed.

Both were married women; Elizabeth was the wife of Thomas Evans, an under-gamekeeper, and Ann was married to Evan Jones, a local joiner. Both men worked for the Price family at their Bala estate, Rhiwlas Hall. Ann and Evan had nine children; the eldest, Alice, was only 13.

The families lived next door to each other, in cottages known as Penrhos Isa. They had been in their back gardens, separated by a fence, when they started arguing. This was the result of Elizabeth, that morning, having struck one of the Jones children. Ann had heard her child shout, and rushed into the garden, furiously hurling her broomstick – used for cleaning the floors of her cottage – at her neighbour. They continued shouting at each other, until Elizabeth, infuriated, threw the broomstick back at Ann, striking her hard on the head.

Ann ‘instantly fell down dead in the garden’. A post-mortem showed that she had received a fracture at the base of her skull. The Coroner’s Inquest, held at the County Hall in Bala, under the Merionethshire coroner, heard corroboration that death would have been instantaneous.

Elizabeth was hit – metaphorically, rather than with the broomstick again – with remorse, admitting her offence immediately to the police, and saying she was ‘quite prepared to accept the consequences’. However, whether she was quite as remorseful as she claimed is debatable, seeing as she then added that ‘the deceased and her children had given her frequent annoyance’.

Elizabeth was duly charged with manslaughter. At the Merioneth Assizes in July that year, she was found guilty – of ‘throwing a broomstick with provocation’. She had been on remand for the previous four months, and so the judge determined that she had been in prison long enough. He therefore sentenced her to just one day in prison, warning her ‘of the consequences of violent anger’.

Given that the consequences appeared to be just a day in a cell for killing a woman, it’s not clear that Elizabeth learned as much as the judge intended.

 

(Sources: South Wales Echo, 15 March 1888; The Cardiff Times, 17 March 1888; Llangollen Advertiser, 27 July 1888)

Marital coercion and the wife who got away

1840s pictureAt common law, married women could avoid being convicted of certain offences simply by the fact that they were married. Coverture meant that women were, to an extent at least, legally subsumed by their husband – they lost some property rights, for example, although the extent to which this occurred in practice has been debated. But under certain circumstances, wives benefitted, as husbands could be found to be accountable for property offences committed by their wives.

There were restrictions on how far this could be taken, of course. As Garthine Walker has noted, the woman had to have been charged with a felony offence, rather than a misdemeanour, and she had to be found to have stolen by the constraint of her husband – it was not enough to have committed a theft in your husband’s absence, even if he had bullied or cajoled you, if there was no evidence of constraint.

Yet, as Peter King has argued, there was a grey area. Because of the differing, even conflicting, views of the courts and individuals about how to apply coverture in these cases, throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries, married women were more likely than single women to avoid prosecution for such offences.

Although a different type of case, one 1844 trial involving a married woman similarly hinged on whether she had acted freely, or whether her husband had forced her into committing an offence, and shows how the courts could be influenced by a woman’s marital situation, and the concept of coercion. The courts may also have been more reluctant to convict a woman of an offence where a man might have been found guilty.

24-year-old Jane Bannon was tried at the Warwick Crown Court on 7 August 1844 of trying to help her husband escape from prison. Benjamin Bannon, Jane’s husband, then aged 28 and a wool stapler, had been convicted of coining offences at the Warwickshire Assizes just over three months earlier (on 30 March), and sentenced to 14 years’ transportation. He was still in prison awaiting this sentence, and it was alleged that Jane had smuggled a lifting-jack, a spanner, a saw and a pair of scissors to him, to enable him to break out.

Details of Benjamin's offence, from Ancestry

Details of Benjamin’s offence, from Ancestry

It was proved that Jane had indeed got these implements, and taken them to her husband – but the judge told the jury that they had to decide whether she had acted as a ‘free agent’ or whether she had acted ‘under the control of her husband’. If the former, she was guilty of aiding the escape of a prisoner; if the latter, she was innocent in terms of the law.

The jury duly returned a verdict of not guilty, believing that Jane had been made to obey her husband’s instructions. The verdict met with the ‘evident satisfaction of a crowded court’, and Jane could walk free.

Details of Jane's offence, from Ancestry

Details of Jane’s offence, from Ancestry

Her husband, though, was not so lucky. He had failed to escape from prison, and he would fail to avoid his sentence. He was given training as a tailor in prison, but two years after being convicted, on 22 June 1846, he left England on the convict ship Maitland. He arrived at Port Phillip Bay, Victoria, on 9 November that year, with 298 other passengers. From Port Phillip Bay, he was taken the short journey to Williamstown – now a Melbourne suburb, but at that time a nine-year-old port, where a 30 metre stone jetty had been built by convict labour in 1838.

Both Benjamin and Jane vanish from the archives at this point; Jane was not found to have acted as a ‘free agent’ in 1844, but once her husband was on the other side of the world, she was certainly more free than he was.

 

 

References: Garthine Walker, ‘Crime and the Early Modern Household’, in Helen Berry and Elizabeth Foyster (eds), The Family in Early Modern England (CUP, 2007), p.75; Peter King, ‘Female offenders, work and lifecycle change’ in Continuity and Change, 11 (1996), pp.67-68; Shani D’Cruze and Louise A Jackson, Women, Crime and Justice in England since 1660 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); Coventry Herald, 16 August 1844; Ancestry

Criminal Love, Criminal Life

The Love Tokens website

The Convict Love Tokens website

The National Museum of Australia has the world’s largest collection of ‘love tokens’ made by convicts, dating from 1762 to 1856, and is displaying them online at http://love-tokens.nma.gov.au. The website has images of the collection of 314 tokens, organised by date, and showing biographical details of the individuals where they have been traced.

These tokens were made by convicts at around the time of sentencing, and given to their friends or relations as mementos. Many feared that they would never return from being transported, and so giving something of theirs to those left behind ensured that they would not be forgotten. Often, they were coins that were engraved by the convict, but they show the emotional ties a convict had to others, and bring these men and women to life.

Most of the tokens were bought by the National Museum of Australia from a British dealer. The identity of convicts associated with around 80 of its tokens is known; in some cases, a life story can be constructed by combining a variety of sources, as one case in particular shows.

One of the tokens on the website was inscribed by a 19 year old man named David Freeman. He engraved a coin for ‘Sarah’, marking it:

Dear Sarah, when this you see Rem[em]b[e]r me when In Some foreign Country.

And on the back, he recorded his own details:

David Freeman Born the year 1798 Banished 17th June 1818

Why did David feel that he was being ‘banished’ from his homeland, and his native London? To fid out, we go to the trial records on the Old Bailey Online. David, and his friend John Clark, had been tried at the Old Bailey on 17 June 1818, accused of pickpocketing. The charge was that on 24 May that year, at 9.30pm, they took a handkerchief from the pocket of merchant’s clerk John Baker while he was walking past St Clement’s Church on the Strand in London. Baker grabbed the men and gave them into the custody of a passing officer, William Bond.

Taking leave of loved ones prior to transportation...

Taking leave of loved ones prior to transportation…

The handkerchief was said to be worth five shillings – making it a case of grand larceny, subject to capital punishment (grand larceny was abolished in 1827, with grand and petty larceny being replaced by the offence of simple larceny). Transportation was an alternative to this for less ‘serious’ cases, though transportation for life was harsh enough (seven or ten years’ trasnsportation seem mild in comparison!). At their trial, Clark argued that he had never touched the handkerchief; Freeman’s defence was not the greatest – he argued that ‘it was thrown into my hand’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, both men – Clark, who was 27, and 19-year-old Freeman – were quickly found guilty and sentenced to transportation for life.

On 30 September 1818, David set off on the Lord Sidmouth convict ship, bound for New South Wales. He arrived there on 11 March 1819. The 1828 census recorded him as a labourer working for Captain Richard Brooks at his farm at Denham Court, Lower Minto (now a suburb of Sydney).  David may not have forgotten ‘Sarah’, but he got on with his new life in Australia, knowing that he could never see her. In 1830, he applied to get married to Mary A Morrison, two years his junior, who was a free settler. His application was approved and the couple married at St Luke’s Church in Liverpool, New South Wales, on 16 June 1830.

An extract from the Goulburn Gaol Description and Entrance Books, from Ancestry

An extract from the Goulburn Gaol Description and Entrance Books, from Ancestry

He was pardoned nearly 22 years later, on 1 January 1841, but never returned to his home. In 1870, now aged 72, he was a prisoner in Goulburn Gaol in New South Wales.  Although he was still not ‘free’, the gaol description and entrance books enable us to build a physical picture of this transported man. He was just half an inch over five feet tall; of ‘feeble’ build, grey eyes and hair, with a heart tattoo on his left arm and missing two teeth from his lower jaw. This builds a picture of a seasoned prisoner, a transported convict who, though small, had survived a long and eventful life.

But two years after this record detailing David’s looks and build were made, he died. A full half century after he engraved his Sarah a pitiful message on a coin, he died on the other side of the world – presumably having never seen her again.

There is a news item on these love tokens in the latest issue of Your Family History.

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