The Glasgow Poisoning Case, July 1857

October 3, 2008 at 8:21 am (Core Course) ()

[A couple of people in Thursdays’s core-course seminar were curious as to what happened to the accused in the Glasgow Poisoning trial, reported in the 2nd July 1857 edition of the Illustrated London News we read in class.  Intrigued myself, I dug out the 11th July edition of the ILN.  I’ve photocopied the full account and stuck it to the PG noticeboard, along with some rather nice pictures of Her Majesty enjoying herself in Manchester; but below are some excerpts, and the all important verdicts.]

The trial of Miss Madeleine Smith, of Glasgow, for the murder of Pierre Emile L’Angelier, commenced before the High Court of Justiciary at Edinburgh on Tuesday week.  Every day of the trial the court has been crowded, hundreds remaining outside unable to get admission.  The youth and sex of the accused–the nature of the charge against her, and of the motives which could alone have prompted her to the alleged murder–the extraordinary nerve with which she had borne up through the terrible ordeal,–all have roused to a high pitch the feelings not only theimmediate auditors of the trial, but of the vast audience which, through the press, has been from day to day present at the scene.

The indictment charged the administration of arsenic by the prisoner to L’Angelier on three separate occasions–namely on the 19th or 20th February last; on the 22nd or 23rd of the same month; and on teh 22nd or 23rd of March.  On the last-named date he died, having been ill soon after each supposed administration. … An account of the first three days of the trial appeared in this Journal last week–consisting of evidence of the violent illness and sudden death of L’Angelier; of the finding of arsenic in his body on a post-mortem examination, of the prisoner’s declaration in which she admitted having purchased arsenic but stated that she used it in washing, as a cosmetic; of the evidence of druggists to the fact of her having purchased arsenic for the alleged purpose of killing rats (which purchases however were made quite openly, the accused signing the register without hesitation); of the examination of Mr Minnoch–to the effect that he had made proposals of marriage to Miss Smith, which she accepted on the 12th if March; and that their marriage had been fixed for the 18th June last; and of other minor matters.

The remainder of this day [Saturday] was occupied in reading a number of letters, mostly from Miss Smith to L’Angelier–of the style and nature of which the brief epistle we gave last week is a fair specimen.  On March 13 she wrote to L’Angelier thus: “I am longing to see you, sweet love of my heart, my own sweet love–MINNIE.”  On the 16th of the same month she wrote to Mr Minnoch (to whom she was engaged to be married the following June) whom she addresses as “My dearest William,” says that his departure has made her dull and sad, and reminds him of the “sweet walk” they had had at Dunblane–“a walk that fixed the date of the day when we began our new and happy life.”  Four days later she wrote the over-fond note to L’Angelier which was found after his death in his vest pocket, and whch we gave last week.

On Monday … thirty-one witnesses were examined for the defence.  Several of these deposed to fits of violence on the part of the deceased.  He was easily depressed and as easily uplifted.  On one occasion he threatened to throw himself out of a window, and at another he spoke of jumping off the pier.  On hearing of the marriage of a lady he had been in love with he took up a large knife and threatened to stab himself.  He several times spoke of self-destruction by several means.  He stated that whilst in France he had given arsenic to horses, to give them wind for their journey; and that he had taken it himself to relieve pain.

[The paper goes on to give a detailed account of the summings up by prosecution, defence and the Lord Justice.  And the verdict? ]

The jury then retired to their room, and in a short time afterwards reappeared in court, when the foreman said, “We find the prisoner NOT GUILTY on the first count, and NOT PROVEN on the second and third counts.”

[Each of the alleged incidents of poisoning was treated by the court as a separate count.  ‘Not proven‘ is a verdict unique to Scottish courts, and unavailable to jurors in England and Wales: it is a verdict of acquittal existing between guilty and not guilty, and not as emphatic as the latter.]


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