Tag Archives: Death

Mother-in-Law Murderer – Unlucky Friday 13th

Friday 13 June 1794 proved an unfortunate day for both mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Both ultimately paid with their lives. One suffered a slow, agonising death. The other’s head was subsequently placed in a noose. Mary and Ann Scalberd are names long since forgotten, but in the summer of 1794 they must have been the talk of Batley and Dewsbury, if not Yorkshire.

The unusual name “Scalberd” has a number of spelling variations in the records, including Scalbird, Scalbirt and Scalbert. But, to avoid confusion, I will stick with “Scalberd”.

On 6 April 1760 Benjamin Scalberd, from Batley, married Mary Milnes at Dewsbury Parish Church. It appears clothier Benjamin and Mary had four children – John baptised on 16 January 1761, Mary on 21 March 1762 and Moses on 7 October 1764; there is also a burial for a second daughter, Sarah, on 4 May 1772, but I have not traced her baptism. All these events took place at Batley Parish Church. The same church hosted the marriage on 22 January 1787 of their son Moses to Nancy Oldroyd, daughter of Joseph Oldroyd. Like his father, Moses worked as a clothier.

Seven years later his wife faced accusations of murdering his mother.

Batley Parish Church – by Jane Roberts

Coroner Richard Linnecar heard evidence of the circumstances surrounding Mary’s death at the Batley Carr inquest on 21 June 1794. Witnesses included Mary’s son John and unmarried daughter Mary, along with Sarah Newsham, two surgeons and two employees of a third surgeon. Although none of the witnesses actually saw the incident, the dying woman told several of them what occurred.

Witnesses stated Mary Scalberd was very well on the morning of 13 June. That afternoon Ann, known to the family as Nance, begged Mary to come to her house to look after her children whilst she went out on an errand. Batley parish church records show the baptism of one child to Moses and Ann, a daughter Sally, born on 23 May 1793. However the statements imply the couple had at least one other child.

When Ann returned from her outing she insisted Mary eat some warm milk and sops she had prepared for the children. Initially Mary refused, saying the children needed it more. Ann continued to press her until eventually Mary gave in. When she reached the bottom of the pot containing the concoction she noticed a gritty substance. Challenged by Mary as to what it was, Ann claimed perhaps some lime had fallen into the container. One witness, John, stated his mother told him when she accused Ann of poisoning her, Ann left the room without uttering a word.

Within half an hour of having the milk Mary was taken ill. Her daughter, who lived in Batley Carr, and confusingly also called Mary, told the inquest she saw her mother later that afternoon by which time her now swollen body was wracked by violent bouts of sickness and diarrhoea. Her mother accused Ann of poisoning her. Mary stayed with her throughout these final agonising days, during which her mother suffered “the utmost misery and pain”.

The horror of her decline is unimaginable, both for Mary and those witnessing the scene. No indoor flushing toilets, plentiful clean water and disinfectants. Instead sparsely furnished, basic houses with few rooms and comforts, possibly not even a bed per person. And all the time unremitting episodes of vomiting and diarrhoea, with no treatment other than possibly pain relief.

Other visitors to the sickbed included Sarah Newsham, a married woman from Batley Carr. According to her, the rapidly declining Mary “constantly said that Nance Scalberd had poisoned her and if she died at that time she ought to be hanged”.

Son John Scalberd, residing in the Chapel Fold area of Batley, gave similar evidence. He saw his seriously ill mother on 15 June and her condition, combined with her allegations, caused him so much concern he immediately sent for a Dewsbury surgeon, George Swinton. The circumstances and her symptoms, including the uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhoea, led the experienced doctor to suspect ingestion of arsenic.

Arsenic was cheap and readily available during this period. Used around the house for vermin control, it was also popular with those owning sheep as a sheep scab treatment. In the 18th century this involved applying hand washes containing lime, mercury, nicotine, turpentine or arsenic. As a poison, it resulted in an excruciating death over a number of days. The symptoms included fluid accumulation, nausea, constant vomiting, diarrhoea which was often blood-streaked, excessive thirst, a feeling of pressure and swelling in the stomach, intense pain and distressingly, up until the end stages, the victim remained lucid. However many of these symptoms could equally apply to common illnesses such as English cholera, dysentery and diarrhoea. This, combined with the lack of a definitive test and rudimentary medical expertise about poisoning, resulted in only a small number of trials and convictions in this period.

The doctor was unable to do anything to save Mary. She endured agonising suffering for six days, before she finally died on 19 June. However, his suspicions meant he referred the case. Another eminent local surgeon was sent for, Benjamin Sykes of Gomersal. Both he and Dr Swinton opened up Mary for the inquest on 21 June. They concluded her death was the result of arsenic.

Collection: Wellcome Images Library reference no.: Science Museum A600213 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

The final two inquest witnesses worked in the shop of Dewsbury surgeon Robert Rockley Batty. They claimed that on, or just before 13 June, Ann Scalberd attempted to buy a penny-worth of white mercury (the name by which arsenic was known in Yorkshire) from the surgeon’s assistant, Henry Hudson. She claimed she wanted it for sheep. Hudson explained that they never sold it. His evidence was backed up by Peter Cannings, a book-keeper for the surgeon. Was this the errand Ann did whilst her mother-in-law looked after the children? To buy the poison with which to commit murder.

Mary was buried the day after the inquest, on 22 June, at Batley Parish Church. As a result of the inquest Ann Scalberd was committed to York Castle, charged with the wilful murder of Mary Scalberd. She would appear at the York Summer Assizes at the beginning of August. They took place in front of Sir Giles Rooke and Sir Soulden Lawrence.

Ann’s trial contained a very curious incident, subsequently cited in case law. During examination of one of the first witnesses a juror, Thomas Davison, fell down in a fit. The trial was halted and the juror carried off to a public house to recover. He failed to return and eventually another juror, accompanied by a bailiff, were dispatched to enquire as to his health. The juror duly reported back. Mr Davison would not be well enough to continue. Justice Lawrence discharged the jury and ordered the swearing in of another. This comprised the initial 11 well jurors plus another. The trial continued.

In the face of overwhelming evidence, including that Ann visited several shops attempting to procure the poison, the jury had no hesitation in delivering a guilty verdict to an impassive Ann. She was sentenced to death.

A second trial twist then occurred. Ann “pleaded the belly”. In other words she declared she was pregnant, knowing this could be a chance to evade the death penalty. The authorities would not execute a pregnant woman, as this would take an innocent life. If a woman was deemed “quick with child”, that is the foetus could be felt to move which was deemed the point when the unborn child had a soul, the execution would be delayed till after birth. Inevitably this meant it would not take place at all, the sentence probably commuted to imprisonment.

In order to establish the validity of this, a jury of matrons was convened. It comprised 12 older women, pulled together from those within the court room, with experience of pregnancy. They adjourned to a private room to conduct the examination.

Ann’s last-minute ploy failed. The women reported back – Ann was not pregnant.  She would face the death penalty. One newspaper, the “Leeds Intelligencer” stated she now confessed her guilt. However the motive for murder remains shrouded in mystery.

Between 1735-1799, 703 death sentences were passed at York Assizes, resulting in 217 executions. Ann’s execution took place on 12 August 1794 at Tyburn, south of the city and the Knavesmire area which now forms part of York racecourse. This is the spot where highwayman Dick Turpin met the same fate in 1739. Ann was one of only three people hung there in 1794, and her execution is a rare occurrence of a woman receiving the death penalty. Her body was given to surgeons for dissection. Her husband Moses died within months and was buried on 7 December 1794 at Batley.

Site of York Gallows – Jeremy Howat. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

This is my final post about Batley in my March focus on local history.

Sources:  

  • The National Archives, Northern & North-Eastern Assize Papers, Reference ASSI 45/38/2/84B-84C – Ann Scalbird (Depositions) – Thanks to Carole Steers
  • Batley All Saints Parish Registers
  • Dewsbury All Saints Parish Registers
  • Newspapers via the British Newspaper Archive, FindMyPast – Bury & Norwich Post 6 August 1794, Derby Mercury 14 & 21 August 1794, Kentish Weekly Post & Canterbury Journal 17 August 1794 and Leeds Intelligencer 30 June & 18 August 1794
  • Poisoned Lives – Katherine Watson
  • Capital Punishment UK – http://www.capitalpunishmentuk.org/
  • British Executions – http://www.britishexecutions.co.uk/
  • The New and Complete Newgate Calendar: Or Villany Displayed in All its Branches, Vol 6
  • Cases in Crown Law, Vol 2 (1815)
  • A Short History of Sheep Scab – J D Bezuidenhout
  • Wellcome Images, Library reference no.: Science Museum A600213, Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
  • Wikimedia Commons – site of York Gallows by Jeremy Howat
Advertisements

The Fateful Effects of Intemperance: Knife Crime & Premature Death

In “Attempted Murder in Halton” I wrote about the nasty confrontation which occured in 1842 between my 4x great grandfather Francis Hill and his eldest son William. This resulted in the detention of Francis, accused of stabbing his son in so serious a manner as to endanger his life.

I was reminded once more of Francis whilst doing my Cause of Death Pedigree Charts. He died on 5 April 1857 in Leeds Infirmary.  

Described as a farmer, his death certificate states he died as a result of “Disease of the Brain”. I think farmer was used in its loosest terms. The 1847 Tithe Map of Temple Newsam shows Francis renting a cottage and garden in Halton from Joseph Asquith. The cottage was the equivalent of 1 perch and the garden 15 perches. A perch equates to 1/160th of an acre. The cottage and garden were not adjacent and the area was surrounded by mainly grassland with some patches of cultivated land. So he did have a little land to cultivate, but not a farm. And I can’t see things changing at the time of his death.

Starting off as a butcher, essentially throughout most of his adult life Francis worked as a general labourer. He, and some relations, seemed to have set up together as hay dealers in the 1820s, but this petered out. Other sources at the time of his death described him as labourer, and putting it together with all other documented sources for his occupation I’m inclined to question the death certificate information.  

The death certificate also inaccurately gives his age at death as 71. Wrong – he was 67 years old. 

Francis’ funeral took place at St Mary’s, Whitkirk on 7 April.  

Whitkirk Parish Church

 I did wonder about his cause of death and why it occurred in Leeds Infirmary. Also his death was registered by the Coroner, Mr Blackburn. So what had happened?  

Further investigations left me stunned. 

With hindsight the drunken argument with his son 15 years earlier provided a clue. Things though hadn’t always been so bleak for Francis. When I first started researching him I felt optimistic that he and his wife Grace Pennington (in early documents her family name appears as Penitent) would have a fairly good life. They married by licence at St Mary’s Whitkirk on 25 September 1811. This, I hoped, was an indication of a more comfortably off background, where life wouldn’t be quite such a struggle. 

Initially they settled in Francis’ home parish of Sherburn in Elmet. This is where their first two children were baptised, Mary (1812) and William (1814). And it is where William was buried in 1815.  

By the time their next child was born the family were back in Halton, from where the Pennington family hailed. This baby was also named William. He of the 1842 stabbing incident. And his baptism was not without controversy either.  

The parish register entry at St Mary’s Whitkirk, records William’s baptism on 14 July 1816. However his surname is down as Pennington, and the entry states he was the illegitimate son of Grace. This was an extremely serious error. If left uncorrected the stigma could have significant consequences in terms of the family’s perception amongst their neighbours as well as for William’s future inheritance rights. At a time before general registration and birth certificates, the entry in the parish register was crucial providing legal proof of the antecedents of an individual, so the error could have grave implications. It came to light weeks later and the register does contain a corrigendum, a reflection of the legal importance of baptism entries. 

It is not clear exactly how the error was discovered, but the correction does contain hints and it is clear that Francis took swift action to put the record straight. The fact that the couple’s marriage took place within the parish and appeared in the marriage register would have simplified a resolution of matters. 

A note in the parish register states that on 1 September 1816, when William was brought to church having being privately baptised on 14 July, the original entry was discovered to be erroneous, Grace being lawfully married. It points out that the correct entry should read that William was the son of Francis and Grace Hill of Halton and that Francis worked as a butcher. Both the vicar and Francis signed the amendment. Perhaps the private nature of the baptism is a clue – William may have been ill at birth and the baptism rushed, possibly not in church, without Francis’ attendance.  

Francis and Grace had four further children: Joseph (1821), John (1822), Francis (1824) and Sarah (1827).

Back to events in April 1857 and his cause of death. One headline in the 11 April edition of the “Leeds Times” summed it up: “Frightful Death Of An Intemperate Man”. On the same day the “Leeds Intelligencer” reported under the banner “Deaths from Drunkenness” 

The multiple use of the word “death” shows this wasn’t an isolated incident. Alcohol-related deaths featured regularly in the Victorian newspapers. The 1830 Beerhouse Act (amended 1834 and 1840) was designed to curb the consumption of gin and steer working people towards the lesser evil of beer drinking. The Temperance Movement of the time supported the change. They were primarily an anti-spirit movement in the early 19th century, who regarded beer as more wholesome alternative.  

However the Acts led to the rapid expansion of beer drinking establishments. Drunkenness from beer drinking was added to that from gin drinking, and the Temperance Movement switched to being one of teetotalism. Newspapers were filled with tales and warnings of the evil of intemperance, its effects and impact on the moral, social and industrial fabric of Victorian society. 

 Francis’ life, and death, should be seen in the context of this background.

At midnight on Thursday 2 April, Francis was discovered in a state of helpless intoxication, lying in mud, on York Road. He was taken to the police station and from there to Leeds Infirmary. He died in the hospital on Sunday 5 April, just over two days after his prone body was stumbled upon. 

The inquest took place on 6 April. It appears from the unnamed witness that Francis was a regular and well-known drinker in the area – the number of Halton beerhouses, inns and taverns would have provided ample opportunity for socialising of an evening. York Road was less than a mile north of where Francis lived. How long he lay in the dark, wet, unlit road before his discovery is not mentioned in the reports. Neither is the person who found him named, but presumably the fact that he was taken to the police station and not to his home may indicate it was not a friend searching for Francis.  

In accordance with the evidence presented by Mr R.G. Hardwick, house surgeon to the Infirmary, the inquest jury returned a verdict of “Died from disease of the brain; but whether it was induced by lying in the wet, or some other cause, there was no evidence to show”. 

Once again the family were centre-stage for the wrong reasons. The events surrounding Francis’ death would have been the topic for much tittle-tattle in the local community, only adding to the family’s anguish. Maybe older residents remembered the earlier incident of 1842, and all this too was dredged up by Halton gossips, much to the embarrassment of the family. Perhaps the mental afflictions of Grace’s aunt were also poured out by these same scandalmongers. 

Francis’ widow Grace died in 1873. In the years after Francis’ death she features regularly in the Whitkirk parish charities’ records, receiving money from four separate parish charities. And in the 1871 census, age 80, she still worked as a herb gatherer, an indication of the tough financial circumstances of her old age. But her life wasn’t always thus. I will return to another twist in her story at a later date. And that twist may also shed further light on the 1842 stabbing.

Sources:

  • Illustration of Whitkirk Parish Church by J.A. Symington from Morkill & Platt’s “Records of the Parish of Whitkirk” 1892. Copyright expired and in the public domain
  • Death Certificate for Francis Hill
  • Whitkirk Parish Records – parish register & charities’ records
  • Leeds Times” & “Leeds Intelligencer” – 11 April 1857 -FindMyPast newspapers
  • Tracks in Time, the Leeds Tithe Map Project: http://www.tracksintime.wyjs.org.uk

Cancer, Colic, Chest Complaints & Constipation: Causes of Death

Following my Birthplace Pedigree post, I’m turning my attention to a more macabre topic: a Cause of Death Pedigree.

Victorian Headstones – Photo by Jane Roberts

This is based on evidence provided in death certificates, so is time limited to after the introduction of General Registration in July 1837. Burial entries in parish registers have provided a cause of death for some of my ancestors prior to this date. However, given the small numbers this applies to and the fact these are normally reserved for “unusual” deaths, for the purposes of this exercise I decided against including them.

As it is based on the General Registration period it goes beyond the popular five generation format for my English lines. For my Irish ones I’ve had much less success. The other tweak is I’ve started with my grandparents as, thankfully, my parents are still alive. Something I didn’t think would be possible this time last year when my dad was living under the shadow of a terminal cancer diagnosis and given a matter of weeks to low months to live. That turned out to be a misdiagnosis, only discovered 12 months later…..but that’s a whole new story.

I’ve also gone beyond a simple cause of death. I’ve included ancillary conditions listed on the death certificate. I’ve also included an age and year of death to see if the length of my ancestor’s lives improved in line with medical and public health advances. Where I have no proof of birth date I have accepted the age of death given on the certificate, although for some I do have doubts. If I know the age is definitely wrong on the death certificate, through other documentary evidence such as a birth certificate or baptism entry, I have amended it to reflect my ancestor’s correct age at death.

I’ve created separate charts reflecting the lines of all my grandparents. Those charts containing Irish ancestry are significantly shorter than the ones for my English branches.

The first, for my paternal grandmother, is one such example. This is very limited in terms of cause of death information. As yet I’ve to trace death certificates for three of my four Irish 2x great grandparents.

Cause of Death Pedigree grandma Hill 2

Chart 1: Paternal Grandmother Cause of Death Pedigree

The next charts (2a and 2b) reflect the causes of death in my paternal grandfather’s line. His is a mix of English and Irish ancestry. Because of the size I’ve split this one in half. The cross-over point is my 3x great grandparents, who feature in both parts. Hopefully this makes things easier to read than a 17th century document!

Cause of Death Pedigree grandad Hill 3a

Chart 2a: Paternal Grandfather Cause of Death Pedigree

Cause of Death Pedigree grandad Hill 3b

Chart 2b: Paternal Grandfather Cause of Death Pedigree

The next set of charts are for my maternal grandmother, a purely English line. Again, given the size, I’ve split this into two parts. My 3x great grandparents are the cross-over point featuring at the end of  3a and the start of 3b:

Cause of Death Pedigree nana Callaghan 1a

Chart 3a: Maternal Grandmother Cause of Death Pedigree

Cause of Death Pedigree nana Callaghan 1b

Chart 3b: Maternal Grandmother Cause of Death Pedigree

The final pedigree chart is another Irish one, my maternal grandfather’s ancestors.

Cause of Death Pedigree grandpa Callaghan 1

Chart 4: Maternal Grandfather Cause of Death Pedigree

One feature I was pleased, and surprised, to see is the relative longevity of both my maternal and paternal lines. I’m hoping that holds true, given my impending surgery. The average age of death for mum’s line is 71 and dad’s 66, far higher than I anticipated before doing this analysis. It illustrates yet again childhood was the most dangerous period. By their very nature direct line ancestors survived till adulthood – and mine seemingly fared well in the longevity stakes.

The range of death causes, particularly on dad’s side, also struck me. Looking at his line the most common death cause appears to be general old age. And sticking with this branch, in terms of diseases traditionally associated with Victorian England, phthisis (TB) struck a couple of ancestors, and that was it despite living in increasingly urban areas of Yorkshire.

Of note is the ovariotomy resulting in the death of my 3x great grandmother in 1881, a procedure with a lamentable success rate in this era. In fact, controversially during this period, an ovariotomy could be performed to remove normal ovaries, not just for treating diseases such as cysts and tumours.  This practice started in 1872 and it became the fashionable treatment for menstrual madness, pre-menstrual syndrome, neurasthenia and “all cases of insanity“. The practice of removing normal ovaries was supported by distinguished gynaecologists and psychiatrists, becoming one of the great medical scandals of the 19th century.

Turning to mum’s side, other than general old age, chest problems feature prominently. Some are occupational, but others are definitely not. These range from bronchitis and pneumonia to long term conditions such as asthma. There are also a number of possible stroke-related deaths. The diabetes-related death of my great grandfather has health repercussions in the family today. And once again there are very few of those historic infectious diseases particularly associated with the 19th century. There is a single case of typhus.

A few other quick points, not rocket science but amply illustrated in this “cause of death” sample:

  • the imperfection of diagnosis in the 19th century. Not a shock, given my 21st family example. But it’s interesting to see concrete demonstrations back then. One of my ancestors has a death certificate which actually states “1 day ill, cause not known“.  Another certificate stated “cramps“;
  • linked to these diagnostic limitations, perhaps some of these cases of old age, general debility and natural decay, as well as prostate gland enlargement, masked other illnesses such as cancer. Cancer started appearing in death causes for my family in the early 20th century, particularly on my paternal line;
  • illnesses manageable or treatable today, such as bronchitis, asthma and diabetes, were fatal back then. Some other conditions are curable. One of my ancestors died of an obstruction in the bowels from costivenes (a word for constipation). Again an imperfect diagnosis, possibly cancer, but potentially eminently treatable in the 21st century; and
  • despite the passage of time and medical advances, my oldest ancestor in this sample died in 1852 age 96. So luck plays a part.

I’ve found this exercise particularly worthwhile and informative on a number of levels. Apart from the causes of death and ages, it has highlighted there are three English death certificates on my maternal line I need to track down. So a genealogical help, encouraging a critical review of information and information gaps. Also, looking to the future, there are definite identifiable illness susceptibilities which feature in the descendants of these ancestors today. So potentially a medical help.