Sussex Express
March 27th 1852
Sussex Spring Assizes, Crown Court, March 19th 1852
Before Baron Parks
The Chiddingly Murder Case

When we went to press on Friday afternoon, evidence was being given against Sarah Ann French, charged with the murder of her husband at Chiddingly on the 2nd Dec.

Mary Bennett, wife of Henry Bennett, Labourer, Chiddingly deposed – I have seen the bonnet now produced by Inspector Dawes. I made it, and can tell it by the sewing. I am certain it is the same. I have seen prisoner wear it with a trimming different from the one I put on it. I saw the prisoner on Monday, the 5th of January, in front of my house, which is situated on the road going to Hellingly bridge. We spoke to each other, and she said she must make haste as she did not want her old man to know she was gone out. Hannah Russell and Kitty Funnell was with her. They went towards the broad. I saw her again about five o’clock in the same road, going towards home. She again said she did not want her old chap to know she had been out. She had a derry dress, I think it was a kind of drab. The shawl she wore is like the one she has now on. On the Tuesday morning I saw her again, she was dressed the same as the day before, she was alone. She told me she was going to her sisters. I saw the prisoner again on the 7th January at my own house. She wanted to know if my mother-in-law could let her have a few poppy heads to foment her husband’s face. I said I did not know her husband had been ill. Prisoner replied, “Oh yes he’s been very poorly”. Wm. Funnell was present, and asked if French was up. She said no. I saw her again in the evening of the same day at her own house. I asked how her husband was. She said he was better, and had eaten a basin of milk, and kept that down. I was going to the chapel. I came back about nine. I saw prisoner at the bedroom window, with her arms on the ledge. On Wednesday, the 28th, I saw the prisoner in Gate House Road. She was then living at Muggeridge’s cottage. She asked me if I knew what had happened the night before. I said, I did. She replied, “All I’m afraid of, Mrs Bennett, is they’ll find some poison in him. She said they had taken her up to the Gun, (to the inquest), but Mrs Crowhurst could not swear she was the woman. She said she did not know Mrs Crowhurst and had not been in her shop. I said, “Dear me, Mrs French, what shall you say if they do find poison?” She replied, they’ll take me and hang me because Mrs, Crowhurst swears I am the woman that bought poison, because they find poison in the man. She said, I never bought any poison in my life, if they were the last words I had to speak.

Cross-examined – I asked Mrs French a great many questions before she said what I have stated. In answer to one of my questions, she said, she had nothing to reflect upon if sh edied directly. I had heard that her husband’s body was about to be taken up. She said that neither she nor her husband had ever bought any poison. I know James Hickman. I saw a person I took to be him in French’s cottage, on the evening of Wednesday, when French died.

Re-examined – There was a light in the house, whoever the man was he had his arm on the mantle-piece.

Edward Dawes, Inspector of police – I obtained the bonnet and ribbon which had been produced at prisoner’s cottage, on the 31st January. I found them in the bedroom, between the bed and the floor. There was no bedstead.

Ann Elizabeth Muggridge deposed – I live at West Street, Hellingly. Prisoner came to reside in an adjoining cottage. I had the key of the cottage, which I gave to Inspector Dawes on the evening of the day the prisoner was apprehended.

W. P. Keli – I am clerk to the magistrates. On the 19th Feb, I went with Henry Blackman, Esq., to the gaol. The magistrate said, I understand you want a magistrate. She said yes. At my suggestion he cautioned her in the usual way, and she then made the following statement. Handed in.

Cross-examined – I did not know the prisoner was suffering at that time from paralysis.

Re-examined – Her mind was not at all affected.

The statement was then read. It stated that the young man had admitted to her that he had on two occasions administered poison to deceased, that when the constable, Lower, came to take her into custody. Hickman was with her, but hid himself in a closet until the constable had taken her away, and then made his escape. That on Christmas eve when the deceased left the supper table, for a time, he put some arsenic on the plate; and that on the Tuesday night before deceased died, he put some more into some gruel which she had made for him; and that, on one occasion, when she complained of her husband stopping out late, Hickman said he would give him some poison which would make him stop out later still. It also stated that she had seen him with a packet of poison in his possession; which had on one occasion let fall. He had promised to marry her if she would say nothing about it.

James Hickman – I am a labourer, 20 years of age. I have known the prisoner. I used to court her sister Jane, that was the reason I went to her house. I remember being at the house one day when French was away, about a month before Christmas. She asked me to sit on her knee. I said I would not. She asked why? I said, “Because you are married.” She said, “Would you if I was not married?” I replied “Yes.” She has told me she loved me. She gave me a ring to keep, in remembrance of her, about a week before Christmas. The ring produced by Superintendent Flannagan is the same. She has sat on my knee once or twice before Christmas; she came and placed herself there. She told me that her husband had something the matter with his inside, and that it would kill him; she said so ever so many times. The first time was about six weeks before Christmas. She asked me not long before Christmas if I would have her, if her husband was dead. I said, I did not know; I did not care much about it. I said there did not seem to be much likelihood of death in him. She replied, if I knew as much as she did I should think there was. She never asked me to have connection with her while her husband was alive. I never did have. On the Saturday before Christmas I was at French’s when he came in with some shop things. He laid a parcel on the table which he said was arsenic for the mice; he told her to take it and put it away where no one could get it. She took it away. I don’t know where she bought shop goods. I was at deceased’s house on Christmas eve; French was there; the prisoner, and her little boy; they were at supper; French was eating onion pie; there was cheese and bread and butter on the table. No one but French eat of the onion pie. I had a cup of tea there; No one asked me to have any onion pie. I had had my supper. Prisoner and the little boy had bread and cheese. Mrs French offered me the tea. Mrs French put the supper things away. Deceased went out for about half an hour. Prisoner said, he does not seem very well to night. French and I had planned to go out to the Dicker; we were going down to the public house. I had been acquainted with French about twelve months. Prisoner said, she did not suppose he would go to the Dicker. He did not go. I was at French’s again on Christmas – day in the evening. I saw Mrs French; did not see deceased. I passed the house on the morning of the 26th, and saw Mrs French looking out of the window. I passed between two and three in the afternoon; Mrs French was by the gate. She asked me in. She said, her husband was bad in bed, but he was a little better; she said, he had something the matter with his insides. I next saw French and Mrs French at Zoar Chapel on the 28th. I walked about two miles with them. French said, he had got a bad cold. I saw him on the Sunday before he died. I was at deceased’s house on Tuesday night, the night before he died. I was there about an hour and a half. She said he was very ill, and she did not expect he would live long. She sent for 8d worth of brandy for him from the Gun. I gave the brandy to Mrs French. She put some in warm water and took it upstairs to French. I heard him bring it up again. When she came down, she said she might as well have thrown the money away. She stated that she thought she had heard something break in his inside. She also said he had been very dry and drank pretty near a kettle full of water. She said she expected to find him dead every time she went up. She stated she wanted him to have a doctor, but he said a doctor would do no good. She said she had been for her sister, but she could not come till the Friday following. I am quite sure I was not there the night French died. I was there the day following (Thursday). I went at seven in the evening. I saw the prisoner, her little boy, and Thomas French (deceased’s brother). I saw James Brook and Jane Piper there also. I asked if French was dead? She said, “Yes; he died a quarter before twelve last night.” She said they lay laughing and talking to one another till just before he died, when he looked at her and smiled and then went off. She said he told her he should get up again. I saw her again on Friday night. Jane Piper was there. I called in the evening after the inquest. Jane Piper was still there. Mrs French said she had been up to the Gun nearly the whole day. She said the doctor had been and opened him. She said there was a gut tied with a knot, and that was the cause of death. I was there several times from the 10th to the 18th. I was in the house all the Sunday night after the funeral had taken place. Jane Piper was there all night too. Prisoner told me she would like to be married directly. I said it would be better to wait for a twelve month. She replied, that if it were put off too long I would never marry her. She went to bed, and told me to come to her, and I went and had connection with her; that was the first time. The boy was in his little bed. I left between five and six in the morning. I staid at her request, because she invited me to stop. Her sister was in the same bed with us, she slept on the other side. Prisoner left that cottage seven or eight days after; I assisted her to remove her goods down to Muggeridge’s, West Street, Hellingly. I saw her down at Muggeridge’s. I asked her if she was not sorry her husband was gone? She said, “No, I think it wrong to wish him back again.” After she got to Muggeridge’s, she told me she had heard I went with some-one else; and said, if I did, she would. She kissed me and said, I was to stay all night. I did stop. On the Tuesday night when Mr Lower, parish constable, came to the door and asked if Mrs French lived there, she took hold of me and put me in the pantry. That was before Mr Lower was admitted. I went there at her request. I heard what passed between Lower and prisoner. He told her he wanted her to go to the Gun with him. She said, “I suppose it’s about this here start what’s about.” Lower said, “Yes, it is.” She then said, “I am quite innocent.” She went away with Mr Lower. I left the pantry a quarter of an hour after they were gone. I went home. I had heard of people talk about French being taken up again. Prisoner said, “They may if they like, if there is any poison in him he has taken it himself.” I don’t know of his ever having any, and she answered, “I am sure you don’t”. I remember Manson, Carter, coming to me at my master’s. In consequence of what he said I got up. He told me Mrs French wanted me to write her a letter. I went towards her house, when I found her in the house. I remained with her all that night. She said that she was rather nervous. She told me that Mrs Crowhurst said she could swear to a person going to buy poison. She also said she thought it very likely, if anything was found in him she would have to suffer for it. I did not see her again until she was in custody. Mrs French never asked me what I did with the poison. I never said I had put some arsenic in the deceased’s onion pie on Christmas-eve. One of them left the room on Christmas-eve during supper. I think it was French.

By the Judge – He had had some pie before he went out. He did not leave his plate with some pie on it when he went out. There was not anything on his plate when he went out.

By Mr Johnson – I remember the night when the constable called me up. Mrs French never asked me that night if I had put anything in the onion pie, she never asked me so at any time. I did not say that night that I put poison in the gruel she was making on the Tuesday night before deceased’s death.

By the Court—I did not put any poison in.

By Mr Johnson – I never said I put poison in while she was upstairs. I never said they would never find it because deceased vomited so much – they would not find anything in him and that when he was dead I would marry her. I never said anything of that kind. I never had any poison in Mrs French’s house. I never dropped a paper out of my pocket containing poison at any time. Mrs French never asked me about a parcel I had dropped out of my pocket containing arsenic. I never told her that arsenic was very useful at times. I never put any in my pocket at any time. I never said when she complained of her husband staying out that I would give him some poison that would make him stop out later. She never said to me; I am sure, if that she thought I meant it she would never let me enter the house again.

The court then adjourned, - the jury being placed in custody of an officer, in order to keep them together.


Transcribed by Carol Harrison

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