Blaker Family of Sussex - Reminiscences


Brighton Poisoning Case.

ABOUT this time occurred the Brighton poisoning case, and it was I believe, the last occasion on which the jury of matrons was empanelled, I will relate what I recollect of it.

Miss Edmunds, a lady of a "certain age," and as far as I recollect, not of particularly pre-possessing appearance, lived, I think, in Gloucester Place, Brighton. Dr. Beard, at that time Assis-tant Physician to the Hospital, in some way became acquainted with her, and asked her, as she was an excellent draftswoman, to copy some large anatomical drawings which it was intended should hang on the walls of the Hospital Library.

It is probable that at this time Miss Edmunds developed for Dr. Beard one of those sudden attachments, not uncommonly seen in weak-minded and emotional people, and that this ren-dered her insanely jealous of Mrs. Beard, whom she wished to put out of the way without attracting suspicion to herself.

Soon after this some children, after eating some chocolate creams, purchased at the shop of Mr. Maynard in West Street, were seized with all the symptoms of arsenical poisoning; one, a little boy, died, and, on examination, arsenic was found in the body. The sweets in Maynard's shop were examined and arsenic was found in one parcel of chocolate creams, and some of these, on more minute examination, were found to have been cut in half, arsenic put in the centre, and the two halves stuck together again. It was then recollected that a lady had bought some of these creams and taken them away, and after some time had brought them back and asked to have them exchanged for something else, which was done. One afternoon just about this time, I was asked to go at once to Mr. Boys, 59, Grand Parade, where I found two or three of the servants suffering from considerable collapse, pain and vomiting. I was told that this had come on after eating some fruit, peaches I think, which had just been sent anony-mously. I was surprised at the severity of the attack, but thought the fruit was probably bad, and suspected nothing further. I had scarcely left this house on my road home, when I was asked to go to Dr. Beard's house which was only a few doors from Mr. Boy's. Here I found two or three of the servants suffering in exactly the same way as the servants at 59, and was told that the symptoms had come on after eating fruit of the same sort, also sent anonymously. My suspicions were now aroused, and on closer examination I found the fruit was covered with a white powder. I therefore collected all the vomited matted I could in earthen vessels which, together with the fruit, I put in a cupboard which I locked and sealed. I then communicated with the police who in the course of a day or two had collected sufficient evidence to justify them in arresting Miss Edmunds; she was committed for trial by the magistrates and lodged in Lewes Jail.

The feeling in the neighbourhood was so strong against her, however, that the trial was transferred from Lewes to the Old Bailey. I was subpœnaed as a witness. There was nothing remarkable in the trial; it was an ordinary trial for murder. She was found guilty, but when asked, according to the usual custom, if there was any reason why sentence of death should not be passed on her, said she was pregnant. A jury of matrons was immediately ordered to be empanelled. The doors of the Court were closed, and two policemen pro-ceeded to select the proper number of matrons from the women who were in the Court, Mr. Richard Turner, Surgeon to Lewes Jail, who, of course, knew the policemen, was sitting close to me, and a few rows in front was a rather good-looking young woman; Mr. Turner touched a policeman and suggested she should be selected, which was done, and she was made foreman, or forewoman, of the jury. When the proper number were chosen, they were marched up into the jury box, where they appeared with surprise and dismay depicted on their faces, and were sworn. They then retired and soon asked for the assistance of a surgeon. My name was mentioned, but I got off by representing to the Judge that I did not wish to act, having had to do with the case all through. Eventually a prison surgeon came. He wanted a stethoscope, for which a "Bobby" was sent, who returned with a large telescope. Altogether the whole thing, except for its serious nature, was ludicrous in the extreme. After the trial Miss Edmunds was sent back to Lewes Jail. A plea of insanity had been urged at the trial for the defence, and Dr. Lockhart Robertson, in his evidence, said the case was on the borderland between crime and insanity. Sir William Gull was sent down to Lewes to see her and make a report. Not so many years previously he had for a short time occupied the position of usher or teacher in that town in the school of Mr. Abbott, a Quaker. Miss Edmunds was eventually sent to Broadmoor as a criminal lunatic, where, I believe, she now is.

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