Sussex Express
Saturday February 7th 1852, Page 8
Supposed Murder by Poison at Chiddingly

The adjourned inquest on the body of Wm French was opened on Monday last, at the Six Bells, before F. H. Gell Esq. and the following jury; -- The Rev. J. H. Vidal, Mr Robert Reeve, Mr John Cane, Mr Edward Cane, Mr George Guy, Mr Silas Guy, Mr James White, Mr Richard White, Mr Henry Hide, Mr Jas Noakes, Mr Christopher Cotterban, Mr Walter Funnell and Mr Wm Foster.

The Coroner intimated that the stomach of the deceased, in accordance with the recommendation of the jury, had been analysed, and he had received two important communications relating thereto, which had induced him, after consulting a magistrate to summon Professor Taylor, who had made the analysis, before them. From his evidence they would learn the nature of the communications alluded to.

The prisoner, on being brought into the room, did not seem much affected, but as the evidence proceeded, and the indications of guilt began to accumulate, there was an evident change in her countenance, and it was apparent she was undergoing severe mental suffering. She kept her eyes fixed on the floor, and scarcely raised them even when asking questions of the witnesses. When the inquest adjourned at four o’clock, her physical energy was so far prostrated that she had to be supported out of the room.

Tabitha Pelling, who was examined at the last investigation, was first called. She deposed – I am quite sure it was Tuesday morning when I heard the window opening at the deceased’s house. The prisoner left the house in which she had resided a week ago tomorrow. I saw Hickman leave the house on Tuesday evening. I did not see him on Wednesday.

By a juror – I heard deceased retch on Wednesday morning. After his death I saw his sister present. I should know the prisoner’s bonnet, I think, if I saw it (produced). I believe that to be the bonnet. The Coroner – You could not swear to it? – No. The Coroner – This is not the witness. Another witness will depose to facts with which I understood this witness was acquainted.

Mary Funnell (also examined on previous Thursday) was re-sworn. She deposed – I am sure it was on the Tuesday morning before the death of the deceased that I saw the prisoner near the Gate House, and it was then that that she told me she was going to see her sister named Deering, who lives on the Dicker. I did not see any person following her. When she left me, I did not look in which direction she went. She went down the road. I saw her again between three and four o’clock the same day. On Thursday night after the death of Wm French, between six and seven o'clock, I saw James Hickman in the prisoner'’ house. I said "Jim, are you come here again, then?” He replied, “Yes I am come to see ‘em again”. That was his only reply. I did not see deceased’s sister (Mrs Deering) there until the day after the funeral.

Coroner – Had you any conversation at any time with the prisoner as to deceased’s sickness?

Witness – Mrs French said, on Christmas-eve, she thought it was the onion pie which made him sick.

By a juror – She did not say who made the pie? – No.

By the Coroner – I was not at Stream Farm House that night. I saw deceased frequently before Christmas-eve, and he seemed as well as usual. I also saw him the first day after Christmas; he then complained of being sick and poorly. He did not complain of rupture.

By a juror – Mrs French did not say that she and the child had partaken of the onion pie. I did not see James Hickman about during the time deceased was ill.

The Coroner (to prisoner) – You are at liberty to put any questions you like. Prisoner never looked up or made any reply.

The Coroner – There is a little discrepancy between the evidence of Elizabeth Seal and Hannah Russell which I should like to have explained.

Mrs Seal deposed – The conversation alluded to in my former evidence was begun by the prisoner herself. The remark made by the prisoner that she “had been that way once too often” (meaning as she explained to the church) was not in reply to any remark of mine. The other remark which she made, -- that if she could not get what she wanted at Hailsham she would go on to Horsebridge, was a voluntary statement; when she stated that she had been that way once too often, we both laughed.

By prisoner – I don’t recollect asking you first if you had been that road before. I will not swear to it.

Prisoner – The little girl Russell stated that Mrs Seal commenced the conversation first.

Foreman – The little girl might be mistaken. By a juror – My impression at the time was that she made the remark of having gone that too often in joke.

Coroner – Now Mr Flannagan – I propose to call William Funnell. Wm Funnell deposed – I am a labourer in this neighbourhood, and have known deceased for seven years; we worked in the same barn for Mr Robert Reeves. We had been working together for about a month when he died; I was at Mr Reeves on Christmas-eve. Up to Christmas-day we were thrashing in the barn. He was up to that time in a good state of health; but I understood he was taken ill on Christmas-eve. He went home apparently in good health. He told me on the day before Christmas, while we were in the barn together, he was going to have a rarity for supper. He said it was an onion pie. The day after Christmas-day was a holiday; but on Saturday morning he came to the barn as usual. He appeared very ill. He vomited over the soil board into the yard. I told him he had better go home as he was not fit for work. He did not do any work, but went home as I had advised, immediately. I saw him no more that day. On Sunday, I saw him “toddling “ out in his garden; it was towards noon. I did not speak to him. I was not near enough to see his countenance. On Monday morning the 29th, about seven o’clock, I saw him again, when he came to his work; he appeared to have recovered. In the course of the day, he told me that he thought the onion pie had made him ill. He did his work as usual on that day and the whole of the week afterwards. He seemed in his usual state of health. He also came to his work, on Monday the 5th January, in the morning, at the usual time and remained all day. He seemed unwell and complained of pain in his inside. He left work about five. I never saw him in the barn afterwards. As I was going to work next morning, I called on deceased at his house for him to go with me; It was my usual custom. His wife put her head out of the window, and said he had been very ill all night, and could not come to work that day. My wife was called up to go to deceased’s house on Wednesday night. On her return she called me and wished me to get up and see deceased. She told me he was dead; I went upstairs into his room, and found him dead. I saw his wife and Mrs Pelling in his house. Mrs French did not make any remark to me; and I made none to her. I know James Hickman; he was not present at that time, I never heard deceased say that he was ruptured.

By a juror – Did not hear him say that his wife and child had not partaken of the onion pie. He said he had “interrupted” his inside with the onion pie.

By the Foreman – The last morning I saw deceased I told him that poor John Cane was dead, when he said, “I should not care if I was the next to go, if I was fitted for it”. About Christmas he told me that young Hickman was always at his house, and he had spoken to his (Hickman’s) father about it. He appeared to be uneasy in his mind, but did not say why he was so. He was a very quiet man, and not given to much talking.

By a juror – When deceased complained to me on Saturday, he did not complain of thirst. He only remained in the barn a few minutes.

By Prisoner – Are you sure my husband never said anything to you about the rupture? – No.

Prisoner – He has told me several times that he mentioned it to you. It is very strange.

By the Coroner – I had known that he had had a rupture ever since last summer, but he never mentioned it to me himself.

Harriett, wife of Wm Boniface, shepherd, deposed – I live at Bourship Cottage, nr Hellingly. I know the prisoner by sight. On the first Tuesday after the New Year, between ten and twelve, I saw the prisoner pass along the turnpike on the way from Horsebridge. I was hanging out clothes in a field at the time. I spoke to her. When she came opposite to me she said, “How do you do?”. I replied, “How do you do, but I don’t know you.” She said “not know me?” I said, “I think you were a Piper, and lived at the Gate House.” She replied, “Yes” I said, “Have you been at the Gate House now?” She said, “No, I have been to Horsebridge; my husband is so ill.” I asked, “What was the matter with him?”. She said, “I don’t hardly know, but he was taken dreadfully sick about eight o’clock last evening; and kept on vomiting until two or three o’clock in the morning. I think he will die.” I said, “Oh, dear, what a bad job; I hope not. Your child was very ill and was restored to you again, and perhaps your husband may.” She answered, “I’ve been thinking about the same think as I came along.” She said she was then going for her sister, as she was quite afraid to be alone. We had other conversation , but not about her husband. I believe she had the same gown on she now wears, and a plaided shawl. I can’t tell whether the one she now wears is the same, but I think the pattern is too large. I noticed she had a cap trimmed with blue ribbons. The cap produced is like it, but I can’t swear it is the same. I can’t recollect what sort of bonnet she had. When she left me she appeared to go in the direction of her sister’s house. Mr Crowhurst’s shop at Horsebridge, is not half a mile from my house, along the turnpike road.

By the prisoner – I did not hear you say that you came by the Broad; you might have said so. I don’t recollect your saying your husband wished you to get your sister; you might have said it.

Prisoner – Don’t you recollect me telling you I wanted my husband to have the doctor? – No, I think not. I should have recollected that. Prisoner – I might have made the remark to my sister; I did make it to some-one, and I thought it was you. Perhaps it was my sister I made the remark to.

Mary Bennett, wife of Henry Bennett, Labourer, Chiddingly, deposed – I have seen the bonnet now produced by Inspector Dawes. I made the bonnet about ten months ago for Mrs French. I have no doubt it is the same. It is sewed in several places with red cotton (pointed out to the jury). I have every reason to think the ribbon (blue with yellow stripe) is the one I have seen her wear at various times since. I did not put the ribbon on; I trimmed it with crape. The last time I saw the bonnet, Mrs French was starting off to go to Horsebridge. It was the Monday before the death of her husband. Mrs Russell’s little girl was with her. I spoke to Mrs French; I said, “You are going this time ing,” She said, “Yes I am going out as far as the Dicker; I am going round by Horsebridge with Mrs Seal for company.” And also “I must make haste back; I don’t want my old man to know I have been out.” I saw another girl, named Funnell, overtake her, and they went down the road together. I saw the prisoner return the same morning, and spoke to her; we had no particular conversation; little Russell was with her. I saw prisoner again on Tuesday, when she said she was going to the Dicker to see her sister; she was then alone. On Wednesday morning prisoner came into my house to enquire if my mother-in-law could let her have a few poppy heads; she wanted them to forment her hubby’s face. I said, “I did not know your husband was ill.” She replied, “Yes he’s very poorly.” My brother, John Funnell, said “Don’t he get up?” She said, “No, he tried to get up, but fainted away.” On Wednesday last, as I was going along Gate-House Road, between nine and ten o’clock, the prisoner overtook me, and told me she had been to the Gun over night, and that Mrs Crowhurst would not say she was the same woman she saw in her shop. She accompanied me as far as my mother-in-law’s house. She told me she was going as far as the Dicker to her mother, and then to Mrs Pelling’s, to change her dress. I told her I would not change it if I were her, as it was very dirty. She said, as we went along, she had nothing to reflect upon as to giving her husband anything, but she was afraid they would find something in him. I said, “If they do, what shall you do, Mrs French?” She said, “If they find anything they will take and hang me, because they have found the poison in the man.” That was all that passed, and I bid her good-morning.

Prisoner – I said they would find nothing in him, unless he had bought it himself.

Witness – Yes, you did say so. Prisoner – I said I would have nothing to reflect upon about that, if I died directly.

Witness – Yes, you said also.

Prisoner – I told you I never knew Mrs Crowhurst, and had never seen her.

Witness – Yes. By Superintendent Flannagan – I know Jas. Hickman. About six o’clock on the evening of Wednesday (the same night deceased died) I saw a young man in prisoner’s house, as I stood talking to prisoner at the gate. That young man I believed to be James Hickman. He was apparently looking at us. Mrs French told me her husband was better. I am satisfied in my own mind it was Hickman I saw, but I will not swear it was him. There was a fire in the room, which made it very light. Prisoner said, deceased had had a basin of milk that night and it was the only thing he could keep down; and that he was a great deal better.

By the prisoner – I know it was on the Wednesday night, because I had been to Halesgreen meeting. I should not have recollected the night if I hadn’t been to the meeting.

By the Coroner – Mrs French wore the same dress on Tuesday that she had on Monday.

By a juror – Never heard any quarrel, nor have I heard deceased complain of any misconduct on the part of his wife. I never heard him complain of Hickman. He used frequently to come to our house, and I have walked with him to meeting on various occasions. Mrs French never accompanied me to meeting.

Henry Holman, surgeon, deposed – On the 10th January I attended an inquest held on the body of Wm French, deceased, before the burial. On examining the body externally, it presented no appearance of rupture. There was a little blackness about the groin, but not more than is usually seen. Decomposition appeared to be advancing rapidly. I then stated that without further examination, I could not speak to the immediate cause of death. There was nothing externally, nor anything I had heard of the symptoms as raised by witness, to induce me to think the deceased died other than a natural death. A post mortem examination was made the same day, and on that post mortem I stated the cause of death to be mortification arising from intus ausceptie. Deceased had hernia, but rather in an incipient state. I did not consider that to be the immediate cause of death. My assistant opened the stomach in my presence, but my attention was not particularly directed to it, as I considered I had discovered a sufficient cause of death; I did not examine the stomach minutely after that. I discovered a quantity of fluid resembling gruel in the stomach. I made another post mortem examination on the 29th January. I found the whole of the intestines in a state of decomposition, in some places presenting a gangrenous appearance. The stomach contained nothing. The mucous coat was somewhat reddened; the chest and lungs were perfectly sound. There was congestion of the vessels of the brain, but in other respects the brain was healthy. At the request of the jury I took the stomach and intestines to Professor Taylor for analysation. The analysation commenced on Friday last in my presence.

Alfred Swain Taylor deposed – I am a doctor of medicine and professor of medical jurisprudence and chemistry, in Guy’s hospital. On Friday, the 30th, I received from Mr Henry Holman the stomach and intestines of an adult. I examined the stomach in his presence, by cutting through the whole length of it. It had been partially opened before, and the contents had entirely drained away. The outside of the stomach presented no particular appearance, but the inside was reddened in patches, as from inflammation; the coats on the stomach were firm and on the whole well preserved. No appearance of ulceration or other disease in the stomach. In the upper part, and in what is called the small curvature, were a number of small patches of a yellow colour, which I examined by a magnifying glass, and immediately considered them to be sulpherate of arsenic, or orpiment (yellow arsenic). The portion of the stomach thus coloured yellow was measured, and the yellow patches covered an area of nine square inches. At the end of the stomach, where it joins the intestines, there were three other patches, of a bright yellow colour. The intestines were then examined generally on the outside. They did not on the external part present any particular mark of inflammation. In a few places they were dark coloured, from putrefaction. On Saturday, Jan 31st, I made a more minute examination of the bowels, and I re-examined the inside. The whole of the large and small intestines (being about thirty feet in length) were laid open by the scissors from one end to the other. In a few places putrefaction had commenced, but not so as to affect the judgement of the general living condition of the colour of the intestines. The intestines or the membrane of the small intestines near the stomach was of a deep red colour, from inflammation, and the folds of the membranes inside were also reddened. The upper part of the small membranes ( which are altogether 25 feet long) contained a quantity of mucus, mixed with blood. (It was proved to be blood by direct analysis). The fluid was of a starchy or gruelly consistency. A large portion of the bloody contents was mixed with water, but there was no appearance of mineral matter in the sediment. It merely coloured the water with the colour of blood. The large intestine, on being opened, I found to be inflamed on the inside of lining membrane. They contained a quantity of ………… matter mixed with blood and mucus. No solid substance of any kind could be perceived. Looking at the intestines from the inside, there was no appearance of gangrene nor any sign of obstruction of the bowel. In a few places the coats of the intestines were dark coloured, apparently from putrification, but still contained considerable firmness. From the fullness of the upper and lower bowels I consider there was no obstruction to the passage of alimentary matter during life. The faeces had passed, as usual, into the large intestine, and they were of liquid consistency in which they would be found in the body of a person who had been recently purged. The rectum or lower bowel was empty. I analysed in Mr Holman’s presence the portion of the stomach I first described as being stained of a yellow colour and found it to contain arsenic, beyond all doubt. The arsenic was firmly embedded in the coats of the stomach, and not lying loosely in the form of a powder on them. From its appearance I believe it had been taken in the state of powder and become fixed in the lining membrane of the stomach since death. A separate analysis was now made of the coats of the stomach which were not stained yellow, and did not present any external appearance of arsenic. The result was that they contained arsenic, which was proved by experiment. I then examined a third portion which was very much inflamed but presenting no yellow stains. I washed it thoroughly for some time to remove everything that adhered to it outside and inside. It still preserved its redness. I believe the redness to be caused by inflammation during life. It was analysed and found to contain arsenic, not withstanding the washing to which it had been submitted. This proved that arsenic had been absorbed into the coats of the stomach. The whole quantity of arsenic procured form the stomach amounted to two grains. Only two-thirds of the stomach were analysed. I infer as every part yielded arsenic, that the whole stomach would contain at least three grains. Had it been less, I could not have obtained all the results I did. I next examined the intestines very minutely. I examined the contents separately from the coats. I removed the contents of the large intestines (which are about five feet in length), from the lower, middle and upper portions; and, on a separate analysis of each being made, I found arsenic mixed with the faecal matter, and the blood contained in it. I then examined the substance of the coats of the large intestines, also, in three situations, and found arsenic in each case. I then examined the small intestines, which were more deeply tinged with blood than the large ones. This bloody fluid was removed in three different situations, over a space of 20 feet, between the beginning of the large intestines and the stomach; in each case the bloody fluid contained arsenic in pretty equal quantities. In fact, arsenic was found over the full extent of 30 feet. The coat of the small intestines were then separately examined in four different situations over the same space and in each case arsenic was found. I then analysed a part of the small intestines, which had been thoroughly washed in water, and still found arsenic in the coats. I examined altogether about seven feet of the large and small intestines, and separated about two grains of arsenic. As all parts of the bowels from the stomach to the rectum contained arsenic in pretty equal quantities, and with one fourth of the whole examined, there could not have been less than eight grains of arsenic in the contents and substance of the bowels. This would make altogether eleven grains of arsenic – eight for the bowels, three for the stomach. No less than 17 distinct analyses were made in this case, three of the stomach; five of the small intestines, in different places; three of the contents of the small intestines; three of the large intestines in different places; and three of the contents of the large intestines, so that the result was that arsenic was found throughout the whole of the stomach and bowels. The conclusions I have come to are-

1st- From the appearance presented by the interior of the stomach and bowels, from the fact that arsenic existed in the substances of the stomach and bowels, and also in the contents of the intestines throughout their length, it is my opinion deceased died from the effects of arsenic.

2nd – The presence of blood in a large part of the intestines which blood contaib=ned arsenic, and the inflamed state of the lining membrane of the intestines are conditions which arise from the action of arsenic during life, and they had in this case reached to a degree sufficient to account for deceased’s death.

3rdly – There was no other apparent cause of death in the stomach or bowels. The inius susceptio may have arisen from arsenic or natural causes, such as violent purging or severe pain amounting to spasm. All these might produce this state of the intestines. I do not think that was the cause of death. (Professor Taylor explained to the jury the manner of making his analysis, and exhibited a piece of copper and copper “gauge”, coated with arsenic,) The inquest was then adjourned for an hour.

At five o’clock the inquest was resumed.

Geo Dawes deposed – I am an Inspector of Police. On Saturday, the 31st, I went to the cottage inhabited by the prisoner. She was not at home (being in custody). Mrs Muggridge, who resides in the other part of the house, gave me the key, and I went into the house. I found between the bed and the floor the bonnet now produced; it was quite flat. There was no bedstead. I also found two cap fronts and two pieces of ribbon (blue with white stripes). The prisoner – Where did you find my bonnet? Witness repeated the evidence given above.

Prisoner – That is strange, as I left it on the shelf.

Mr Dawes – Mrs Muggridge and another person were present.

By the Coroner – The bonnet is the same as was produced to Mrs Bennett; I also showed it to Mrs Crowhurst and her servant.

Henry Hickman deposed – I am a labourer at Chiddingly, I have a son named James Hickman. He is a labourer. I had a conversation with the deceased on the Sunday week before he died. I met him coming from Chapel, at Ardingly; he was alone; it was towards one’clock. He overtook me and I said, “Well, Mr French, how be you.” He replied, “Not very well.” I asked him who that was before us? He said, “It is my wife and your Jim.” He said then I wish you would tell him to keep away from my house. I asked if ever he saw any underhand dealings between my son and his wife. He said “No”. I said, he tells me, you asked him to come and read a book to the little boy who was ill. He said “I did.” I asked him why he did not tell him to keep away if he did not like it. He said the reason why he did not tell him to do so was, if he spoke to his wife she would say he was jealous of her, and he thought that she would make away with herself. Nothing more passed on that subject. The following Sunday I saw deceased going to Chapel with his wife arm-in-arm. His wife and my son had been at chapel when we saw them. I told my son what Mr French had said, when he replied, if Mr French had told him he did not want him to come he would not have gone. I have frequently told him not to go there. He said, French had asked him to go and read to his little boy who was ill.

James Hickman (who had been in custody, was next sworn, after being cautioned that he need not reply to any question by which he might incriminate himself. He is about 18 years of age, but scarcely looks as old as that). He deposed – I have known Mrs French about twelvemonth. I have been in the habit of going to deceased’s house with Mrs French’s sister, Jane Piper. I was courting her. I have been at the house without Jane Piper. I went to see Mrs French; her husband was sometimes at home, but not always. Mrs French has told me she was very fond of me.

Coroner – Was there any improper familiarity between you and Mrs French?

Witness did not appear to understand the question.

Coroner – Was there any improper connection? – No.

Coroner – Had you no improper connection at any time before deceased’s death? Witness did not reply.

A Juror – He does not understand the question.

Mr Flannagan – Oh yes he does.

The question was repeated and the witness replied in the negative.

Coroner – Did she ever make free with you?

Witness – She has several times …… me. She told me she loved me, and asked if I would have to do with her.

Coroner – What did you say to that? Witness – I told her I would not while her husband was living. Coroner – What reply did she make to you?

Witness – She asked me if I would marry her if her husband was dead, and I said yes.

A Juror – What, and courting her sister at the same time?

Witness – Her sister had got another sweetheart then.

Coroner – Did it never occur to you, then, after hearing such language from her, when her husband was dead, that he had not come to his death fairly?

Witness – No, Sir; she told me he had something the matter with his inside, and could not live long.

By the Coroner – She has asked me several times if I would have to do with her if her husband was dead? Of late I have said “Yes”. She told me she had £100 coming to her. She did not say from what quarter. On Christmas-eve I believe they had bread and butter and onion pie. I did not see any one but “the man” eat of it. She did not ask me to take any, nor did I see her take any herself.

Mr Vidal – Did the child ask for any? – Not that I recollect.

By the Coroner – The table was cleared before I left. I am quite sure that neither Mrs French or the boy took any of the pie. She has once or twice sat upon my knee, during her husband’s lifetime, but her husband was not present, nor the little boy. It was not then when she asked me if I would marry her. About six weeks before Christmas she invited me to come to see her, as her husband would not be at home. I went the same evening. I found her husband in when I got there, but he went out to the shop, which is upwards of a mile off. Nothing improper took place between us at that time. We sat talking, and that was all. I waited till he came home; he found us together, but did not say anything. She never pulled me about improperly. She has said she loved me, - more than once. At one time she gave me a ring. The silver ring produced is the one. She gave it me about a month before Christmas. She told me I was to keep it in remembrance of her. Since her husband’s death she has said, if ever we were married, she would make me buy the ring. I have not heard anything said about his eating the onion pie. On the Tuesday morning, the day before he died, someone told me deceased was ill. I went on Tuesday evening to his house, but did not see him. I saw Mrs French and her little boy. When I went in I asked where he was? And she said, “Upstairs, ill”. I had seen both of them together the Sunday before, returning from Chapel. I joined them and went in their company for more than a mile, until I turned off to go to my master’s house. I did not see them again until Tuesday evening. I did not then remain more than an hour. She did not on that occasion say anything about marrying me, or that she loved me. On the night he died I heard him retching violently, as though vomiting. He vomited twice. I told her I thought he could not live long. I had not seen him. She went upstairs. I talked to her about sending for a doctor, and she said that he had told her it would be no good. I went for some brandy that night, to the Gun. She said he desired it. I gave the brandy to her, she poured it into a cup with warm water. I did not see her put any thing else in it. There was a kettle of water on the fire. I saw her take some warm up to him. She said she took it up because he was so dry. She also said he had drunk a great deal that evening.

Mr Vidal – When you said you thought he could not live long, what did she say?

Witness – She said she thought so too. I was not at the deceased’s house on Wednesday; I went on Thursday morning about half-past six. I had heard that he was dead. I found Mrs French, her sister Jane, and James Brook there. There was nothing particular passed. I next saw Mrs French on Saturday evening before her husband was buried, at her house. Her sister was present. An inquest had been held on his body on the same day. I again went to the house on Sunday evening, and saw her and her sister; I left them there. I again saw her and her sister on Monday. I went to see her during the latter part of the week at the house she had removed to, belonging to William Muggridge, in Hellingly; her boy was with her. She then told me she loved me, and asked me, if I had her, whether I could not love the boy. I stopped with her all evening up to nine o’clock. We were downstairs; nothing improper took place between us. I went to see her again last Tuesday, in the evening, at the same house; her little boy was with her; nothing improper took place.

By a Juror – I did not stop long.

By the Coroner – She again told me she loved me. Her bed was in the kitchen at the other house.

By a Juror – Nothing was said about the rumour about her husband’s death.

By the Coroner – I have had improper connection with her since her husband’s death – the same week he died and since then. Before her husband’s death she told me not to answer any questions which might be put to me; nor to say anything about our being married. She did not say anything about sticking to it. Her husband’s death surprised me, and it appeared singular. It did not strike me he had died unfairly. Not long before Christmas she told me her husband was very bad and she did not think he could live; she said nothing about a rupture. At that time he appeared to be in good health.

By a Juror – When I heard him retch so much, she told me she thought something had burst in his inside. That was the reason I thought he must die. She told me he had drank very near a gallon kettle full of water. The first criminal connection took place about a week after the deceased’s death.

By the Prisoner – I heard you say that you wanted to fetch a doctor and he would not let you.

By a Juror – I helped Mrs French move her furniture from one house to another.

By the Prisoner – You told me he wanted brandy, and you sent me for it.

By the Coroner – I think the onion pie had been cut the night I went in.

Prisoner – Yes, we had all been eating of it; both me and the boy.

Coroner – Who were eating?

Witness – They were all at supper. By the Foreman – She did not offer me any of the pie. I did not think it unkind. She offered me bread and cheese. I had some and she had some too.

By the Coroner – I saw her eat some bread and cheese. I will not swear positively that a part of the onion pie was gone when I went in.

By the Prisoner – I did not see you eat any of the onion pie.

By the Coroner – I never heard her say anything about arsenic.

By the Prisoner – I saw your husband bring some arsenic home before Christmas. He placed the paper on the table, and said it was arsenic, to kill mice with.

By a Juror – Mrs French took the arsenic up. (Mr Noakes, one of the jury said, in answer to a question, he had sold deceased some arsenic about that time. There might be half an ounce.)

Superintendent Flannagan produced a register of the marriage of the deceased with the prisoner.

Samuel Deering, brick maker, deposed – I am the brother-in-law of Mrs French. She is commonly called Sarah. I don’t know that she had a second name. I was present at her marriage to the late Wm French. It took place in the parish church of Hellingly about seven years ago.

Naomi Crowhurst gave further evidence, she deposed - I got the arsenic from the shop which I sold to Mrs French. The quantity I gave her was small; as much as we generally sell for 2d.

By Mr M’Crae – There might be two teaspoonfuls. It was a fine white powder. I cannot swear to the bonnet (produced) or the ribbon.

By the Foreman – I can’t swear to the day. It was at the beginning of the week, from nine to twelve in the forenoon.

Prisoner – She is quite wrong about the person; I never bought any arsenic in my life.

Harriet Wilmshurst (servant to last witness) was examined as the to the bonnet. She said she could not swear to the bonnet. The ribbon resembled that which was worn by the prisoner on the day she bought the arsenic. I thought the bonnet was brown. (It is a sort of rusty black). I am certain the prisoner is the woman who came into my master’s shop.

Mr Flannagan – That is the whole of the evidence I have to produce. I can proceed no further.

The Coroner then gave the prisoner the usual caution, and asked if she wished to make a statement.

Prisoner said – I am not guilty; I am quite innocent, and if it was the last word I had to speak, it was the least in my thoughts. I never bought any arsenic in my life. It is the truth and no other but the truth.

The Coroner then summed up the evidence, remarking on the principal facts, after which the jury consulted for about a quarter of an hour and then returned a verdict of “WILFUL MURDER against SARAH FRENCH otherwise known as SARAH ANN FRENCH.”

The Coroner then issued his warrant, committing her for trial at the next assize.

The whole of the evidence in the above painful case was the result of the indefatigable exertions of Superintendent Flannagan assisted by Inspector Dawes and Mr Lower, parish constable.

Captain Mackay was present during the whole of the investigation.

The prisoner was conveyed to Lewes the same night. On arriving at the station-house she had a succession of hysterical fits which lasted for several hours. Medical assistance was procured and a sleeping draught administered, which had the desired effect. On waking during the afternoon the fits returned with as much violence as before, and she was at last removed to the county gaol (at two o’clock) in a state of insensibility. On Wednesday she was much better, and had no return of the fits.

Lewes Prison - Courtesy Carol Harrison

Lewes Prison


Transcribed by Carol Harrison

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