Изображения страниц
[ocr errors]


ance for £13,000 and to assign the policy to him. He had, to the amount of £11,500, bills in the hands of a bill-discounter, and every one of them bore the forged acceptance of his mother. His brother died and the amount of the insurance on his life was applied for, but the insurance office declined to pay it. Palmer was being pressed with demands from his creditors; he had for some months been acquainted with Cook in betting transactions, and induced him to assign two horses as security for an advance of money which would more than cover the sum instantly required. The person who made the advance sent it in the shape of some warrants and a cheque made payable to Cook's order. To this cheque Palmer forged Cook's endorsement, and it went to enable him to take up a forged bill, and so to escape detection.

The intimacy between Palmer and Cook continued, and it was necessary to prevent discovery of the forgery. But in addition to this, it appeared that Cook had won a considerable sum of money, amounting to above £2000, at Shrewsbury, and £700 or £800 at Worcester races, and the latter sum he was known to have had in his possession when he was with Palmer and another person at Shrewsbury, and afterwards with Palmer at the Talbot Hotel at Rugeley, nearly opposite Palmer's house. Cook had been suddenly taken ill at Shrewsbury, after swallowing some brandy and water which Palmer had urged him to drink. At Rugeley the same symptoms were repeated, and Palmer was sent for, soon after he had parted with him for the night. After everything that Palmer had administered the patient was violently sick, and though other practitioners were called in they seem to have had no suspicion of anything wrong, though one of them could not agree with Palmer that Cook was suffering from a bilious attack, and that it was that which caused the vomiting. All this time Palmer was acting in the most cold-blooded, indifferent, and composed manner; but he was really administering antimony in broth, coffee, and other liquids. This did not prove fatal, and he afterwards prescribed strychnine in pills as a remedy. There were several witnesses of Cook's sufferings, and an

[ocr errors]


elderly medical man gave a certificate of death from apoplexy. While this gentleman had given Cook medicine the effects of the antimony had been to some extent obviated; but neither he nor other people seem to have understood the convulsions and rigid contraction of the muscles of the chest and neck, caused by strychnine. Palmer might have evaded serious inquiry but for the fact that the stepfather of the murdered man went at once to Rugeley, and there made some keen observations, and acted with remarkable promptitude. Palmer continued to preserve a cool and unconcerned demeanour even during the ensuing post-mortem examination, for he had counted on there being no probability of detecting the presence of strychnine. But if strychnine left little or no trace, the symptoms which had been seen and noted by competent judges at two examinations, as well as by those present before the death, could, it was believed, have been caused only by the administration of that poison, and the traces of antimony were in themselves sufficient to prove that the first symptoms which had been observed were attributable to the broth and other liquids administered by Palmer. With all his coolness he was tying the noose for himself. He induced the postmaster at Rugeley to open a letter from the chemist to whom the contents of the stomach of the murdered man had been sent for analysis. He had previously endeavoured to bribe the post-boy, who was to convey the sealed jars in which they were deposited, either to upset the fly or to contrive somehow to break the jars and spill the contents; and he sent a present of game to the coroner, along with a letter, suggesting that an experienced physician had certified to the death, which was obviously from natural We will not dwell on the particulars of the trial or of the details of the evidence in this dreadful case, which lasted several days, the medical witnesses being numerous, as they consisted of the most famous analysts and physiologists of the day. The suspicions. that gathered round this deliberate poisoner were terrible. The bodies of his wife and his brother were exhumed. There was no doubt that they, too, had been murdered, and a


verdict was brought in accordingly. Society | the name of the supposed transferrer, and

stood aghast. There was no telling how many of his acquaintances he had destroyed. The poison itself, too, was deadly; its effects were new and strange. Its operation had been but little known. It was thought that it might be used and leave no actual trace. The very name strychnine became a word of fear. Few people could be found who would have respited or reprieved William Palmer, though he went to the scaffold declaring that he was not guilty, and that he himself was a murdered man. While he was on his trial, the person who had discounted a bill purporting to have been accepted by the prisoner's mother brought an action against her to recover the money. The defence was that the acceptance was a forgery, and Palmer was brought from prison to give evidence. When asked who wrote the name "Sarah Palmer" upon the bill, he answered, "Ann Palmer." "Your wife?" was the next inquiry. "Yes." "Now dead?" "Yes." "Did you see her do it?" "Yes." He had caused his wife to forge his mother's signature, and had afterwards poisoned her for the sake of realizing the large sum for which he had not long before insured her life.

It was the Palmer case which drew immediate attention to the necessity for a law regulating the sale of poisons. Lord Campbell, who had been the judge at the trial, inquired whether the government intended legislating on the subject, and was told that a bill was in course of preparation by the home secretary.

The Redpath frauds were also illustrative of the reckless criminality which appeared to prevail among a certain class of men who had entered on a career of extravagance, and were anxious only to maintain a position in the world of fashion.

Redpath was the name of the official who had the care of the stock-register books of the Great Northern Railway Company. To support his assumption of being a person of considerable means, with a town residence in Chester Terrace and a villa at Weybridge, he altered the sums standing in the names of the stockholders to much larger amounts, and sold the fictitious stock on the market, forged

passed the sum to the account of the supposed transferee in the register, either attesting it himself or causing it to be attested by a young man, who, it appeared, was not aware of the fraud. Of course such transactions were certain to be discovered, but it was not till the directors began to notice an extraordinary disproportion between the amount paid for dividends and the rateable capital stock that a committee of investigation was appointed, and the fraud was detected. The amount appropriated reached about a quarter of a million sterling. Redpath fled to Paris, but afterwards returned to London, and was arrested.

It may easily be understood that the public excitement was very great when crimes against person and property were so frequent, and their details were so rapidly and completely made known, by means of cheap newspapers, which circulated amongst a number of people who had previously been accustomed to learn only the occurrences of the week instead of the events of each day. It happened, too, as it usually does happen, that many strange stories and some really extraordinary circumstances kept the popular imagination in a feverish condition. "The Waterloo Bridge mystery," as it was called, happened at a date a little later, in 1857, and it will perhaps be worth while to glance at it as an illustration of the peculiar kind of stimulus which seemed to be constantly presented to an already overheated fancy for a combination of the horrible and the grotesque.

A little after daybreak on the 9th of September, 1857, two boys rowing up the river saw a carpet-bag tied round with a cord on one of the abutments of Waterloo Bridge. From the bag a cord hung down into the water, and from this it was to be inferred that it had been lowered from above. The boys rowed off with their prize, and though the bag was locked, contrived to force or cut it open, when, to their dismay, they found that it contained the mutilated remains of a human body hacked and sawn into twenty pieces, and packed with a quantity of clothing soaked with


blood, and pierced with cuts which appeared to. have been made with a sharp-pointed knife or dagger. The lads hastened to be rid of their dreadful burden, and communicated with the police. The bag with its contents was removed to Bow Street police station, where a more complete examination was made. The head and the viscera were wanting, and there was no mark on the clothing which could lead to identification.

Subjected to the acute scientific examination of Professor Taylor, the eminent physiologist and anatomist, the remains, which had been partly boiled and salted, were pronounced to be those of an adult male, about 5 feet 9 inches high, and probably of dark complexion. There was no evidence of any peculiarity, no mark of disease or of violent injury inflicted during life except (and the exception was significant) one stab between the third and fourth ribs on the left side,-such a stab as would probably penetrate the heart, and presenting the character of a wound inflicted before or soon after death. The blood which stained the clothes, it was said, must have flowed from a body while still alive. The body had become rigid before the clothes were removed, and the clothes themselves were probably those belonging to the man whose remains were under examination, and who must have been subjected to great violence while alive. Public opinion was divided, popular speculation was active, and often extravagant. Weak-nerved and timid people felt a thrill of terror. It was remembered that there had been more than one undiscovered assassination, that rewards had been offered for still undetected murders, that more than one person had mysteriously disappeared. On the other hand there were matter-of-fact sceptical people, who, till the examination refuted it, held to the assumption that the remains were those of some animal. Then a very general opinion gained ground that it was a disgusting practical joke, a hoax perpetrated by medical students who had placed in the bag the portions of a subject from the anatomical theatre of one of the hospitals. This was refuted also. Professor Taylor emphatically declared that the body had not been dissected or used


for the purpose of anatomy, that the parts useful to the anatomist had been roughly severed and destroyed, that the corpse had been hacked and sawn to pieces within eighteen or twentyfour hours after death, and by some one ignorant of the anatomical relation of the parts. This was the deduction from all the appearances, and it left the mystery unsolved. It has never since been explained, and though a reward of £300 was offered by the government for the discovery of the supposed murderer, no information was ever obtained. Many people who weighed the probabilities of the case came to the conclusion that the "Waterloo Mystery" was associated with an act of vengeance or of precaution perpetrated by the agent or agents of some foreign secret society, who had assassinated either a political spy, or one of their own number whom they had suspected of treachery.

In relation to serious criminal offences we may here glance for a moment at the change which had been made in the punishment of convicts sentenced to heavy penalties. We have already seen that the old system of transportation practically came to an end with the growth and development of our colonies. The free and honest colonists would no longer submit to be invaded by successive detachments of convicts, the worst of whom had to be sent to perpetuate the hideous depravity of Norfolk Island, while a large number became servants and labourers requiring martial law to keep them in subjection, and only a few obtained that ticketof-leave which left them at liberty to work successfully and to accumulate property, or to lead lives which at last would reinstate their children in the ranks of respectability." It could not be denied that the frequent deportation of convicts, and their release under necessary restrictions, which kept them in servitude where there was at the same time a native population ignorant of morals, and debased even from savagery by the vices which they had learned from the worse than savage white man, who came direct from the jail or the hulks, was a crying evil. To this contamination the Aus

tralian farmers and townspeople would no longer submit, and to its injustice the Cape Colonists, as we have already seen, offered an armed resistance.

Practically the transportation system was at an end. Many of the convicts themselves liked New South Wales well enough. The idle ruffians, who were little better, nay, were much worse than brutes, could take alternate spells of low debauchery and the corporal punishment that would never be inflicted even on a beast in a truly moral community. Criminals in England who fancied they could turn over a new leaf if they had a chance, deplored that they could not be sent to "a new world." A lingering notion for some time prevailed that to Western Australia, where there was no such rooted objection, some might still be sent, but they would have been too few to delay a complete revision of the methods of dealing with our worst criminals. Those who were retained in prison or sent to the hulks because their sentence was for less than ten years, had become brutalized and degraded under the existing system. The hulks were a remnant of barbarism. They were a national disgrace and must be abolished, unless we meant by punishment to perpetuate and indelibly to brand, instead of to efface the mark of lowest evil. The bill, introduced into the House of Lords in 1853 by Lord Chancellor Cranworth, had proposed to retain the punishment of transportation only for convicts who had been sentenced to long terms of punishment:-receivers of stolen goods, housebreakers, burglars, cattle-stealers, and those guilty of violent assaults, attempts to do grievous bodily harm, or the perpetrators of outrages of an atrocious character. Those whose punishment was to last only seven years were to be kept in penal servitude, and were, in case of good conduct, to receive a remission of their punishment under the ticket-of-leave system. This bill had been found inadequate to provide for the altered conditions by which transportation was virtually abolished, and in the first session of parliament in 1857 Sir George Grey proposed changes which were to lengthen the terms of sentences of penal servitude to an equal duration with those of the periods of transportation

for which they were substituted-to give the judges a discretionary power to pass sentences of intermediate severity between those of ordinary imprisonment and the minimum of transportation-to allow prisoners sentenced to penal servitude to be removed to certain colonies-and to continue the practice of mitigating sentences as a reward for good conduct in prison, but to restrict the range of their remission within much narrower limits, while rendering the discharges, generally speaking, unconditional.

These new regulations had the effect of abolishing transportation, while retaining the power to send criminals to any penal settlement in the colonies; and it was time that some such change should be made as that which was effected by limiting the operation of the ticket of leave. It was only in Ireland that the real meaning of such a conditional and partial remission of the sentence was properly understood and acted upon. Sir Walter Crofton, who was the chairman of the board of prison directors for Ireland, understood the principle and successfully adopted it. If a man there was discharged from custody because his conduct had led to the belief that he was worthy to be intrusted with a certain degree of liberty, he was still under the observation of the police. He had been through a term of hard labour, during which he might hope by industry and good conduct to obtain a remission of some part of his term, and eventually to receive some small gratuities or rewards. Conditional freedom was granted when the prisoner had passed through a certain amount of discipline and gave some evidences of a desire to amend. But the ticket of leave did not include absolute freedom. The holders of those tickets were not only known to the police, but were required to report themselves periodically, and were liable at any time to be sent back to penal servitude if they lapsed into crime or were seen to be resuming their former habits and companionships. This worked well in enabling the ticket-of-leave men to obtain employment without concealing their condition. It became known that to have obtained this conditional liberty they must have displayed



But we can scarcely change this subject without taking into account another complication connected with the punishment of crime. While statesmen were puzzled, and the public were alarmed at the problem presented by the questions of transportation and penal servitude, a feeling of compassion not unmixed with indignation against the authorities was aroused in consequence of some revelations of the manner in which prisoners were punished-or, as many people said, cruelly tortured-in some of the jails to which culprits were committed for long terms of imprisonment. It was in 1855 that the governor of Birmingham borough jail was tried at the Warwick assizes for cruelties perpetrated on a youth named Edward Andrews, who was "done to death," or in other words was so persecuted and oppressed that he committed suicide in the prison in April, 1853. The chaplain gave the poor boy a good character so far as it went. He said "he appeared to be of a mild disposition." He (the chaplain) went into the lad's cell and found him crying as a person cries who is in much pain. The word murder was used frequently. He was strapped to the wall in such a way that his limbs were compressed, and one of the straps was a tight collar round his neck. The chaplain could not get his finger within the collar. The punishment was for not accomplishing an amount of labour on a crank, which he was too weak to turn for any length of time as it was overweighted for punishment. He was continually under punishment, drenched with water for "shamming," placed in the straitwaistcoat, strangled with the collar, hung up by the hands to hooks or nails. Inhuman cruelty turned dislike into spite, and suspicion into diabolical persecution. The details were sickening. The governor, who had been a lieutenant in the army, was found guilty; the surgeon of the jail was implicated in an assault on another prisoner; but both he and the governor were acquitted on that particular count, though they were convicted of omitting to make entries in the jail books as ordered by act of parliament. The governor was sentenced to three months' imprisonment. There is no need to dwell on the details of the trial.

an energetic determination, not only to work, but to retrieve their character; and employers of labour were satisfied to recognize in the system a reformatory influence which was found to be on the whole successful and encouraging. In England, however, the ticket of leave was quite a different thing. Since that time an attempt has been made to modify its operation here, so that it may be assimilated to what it had then become in Ireland under the direction of Sir Walter Crofton; but either the working of the plan is impossible in London or other large towns in England, or it has for some other reason failed. All that we have at present attained is the burden of a ticket-of-leave part of the population, who too often drift downward into the class of "habitual criminals," and who, under any circumstances, do not find it easy to obtain honest employment. They are expected to report themselves, it is true, and are theoretically under police surveillance; but it is to be feared that they are seldom regarded with anything but suspicion and dismay. Neither the prison authorities nor the police look upon them frankly as probably reformed characters, and therefore the public and employers of labour suspect them, and refuse to give them the only opportunity by which they can complete the achievement of a new character. This is partly the result of the condition of things in 1857 before Sir George Grey introduced his amendments of the working of the system. The ticket of leave then meant (in England) little less than the complete discharge of a number of prisoners who had for a certain time given assiduous attention to their prison tasks, and had contrived to persuade the chaplain and the authorities that they were reformed characters. Of course there were some among them who had determined to begin afresh with a new chance; but there were, it was feared, many more who took up their old trade under new advantages. Amidst reports of crime, and alarms caused by many acts of lawlessness and outrage, a new terror was ever present, in the thought that a number of hardened and abandoned ruffians had been let loose from prison to prey on society under the license of a ticket of leave.


« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »