Executed at Newgate, 18th of January, 1803, for the Murder of his Wife and Child, by drowning them in the Paddington Canal; with a Curious Account of Galvanic Experiments on his Body
THE unfortunate George Foster, whose conviction, as stated by the Lord Chief Baron in charging the jury, was most entirely upon circumstantial evidence, was put upon his trial, on the horrid charge above-mentioned, at the Old Bailey, January 14, 1803.
The first witness was Jane Hobart, the mother of the deceased, who stated, that she lived in Old Boswell-court, and that for some time back, the deceased and her infant lived with her, but that she generally went on the Saturday nights to stay with the prisoner, who was her husband; that she left the witness for that purpose a little before four o’clock, on the evening of Saturday the 4th of December, taking her infant child with her; and that she never heard of her from that time until she was found drowned in the Paddington canal. The prisoner had four children by her daughter -- the one above alluded to, another was dead, and two were in the workhouse at Barnet.
Joseph Bradfield, at whose house the prisoner lodged, in North-row, Grosvenor-square, saw the deceased with him on the Saturday night of the 4th of December, and they went out together about ten o’clock on the Sunday morning. The prisoner returned by himself between eight and nine o’clock at night, which did not appear remarkable, as the deceased was not in the habit of sleeping there, except on the Saturday nights. This witness did not consider them to be on very good terms, arising, as he believed, from the deceased’s wishing to live with the prisoner: she used to call at his lodgings once or twice in the week, besides the Saturdays, on which nights she always waited to get some money from him. On the Sunday following, the prisoner and another person went with the witness to see his mother at Highgate, and on their return, the prisoner asked if his wife had been at his lodgings; but which, on his cross-examination, he admitted might arise from his being surprised at her not coming as usual.
Margaret Bradfield, wife of the last witness, corroborated his testimony, with the addition, that on the Wednesday she saw the child which had been found in the Paddington canal, and which she was positive was the same that the deceased had taken out with her on the Sunday morning.
Eleanor Winter, who kept what was usually called the Spotted Dog, but which is now called the Westbourne Green tavern, between two and three miles from Paddington, along the canal, swore that she perfectly recollected the prisoner coming to her house on the morning of the 5th of December, with a woman and a child with him: they staid at her house, where they had some beefsteaks, beer, and two glasses of brandy, till near one o’clock. -- While they were there, she observed the woman to be crying, and heard her say, she had been three times there to meet a man who owed her husband some money, and that she would come no more. This witness had seen the body of the woman that was found in the canal, and she was certain of its being the same woman, who was with the prisoner at her house, on the above morning.
John Goff, waiter at the Mitre tavern, about two miles further on the canal, related, that the prisoner, with a woman and child, came to their house some time about two o’clock on Sunday the 5th of December: they had two quarterns of rum, two pints of porter, and went away about half past four. The Mitre is situated on the opposite side of the canal to the towing path; and when the prisoner and the woman went away, they turned towards London on that side of the canal, though there was no path-way, and it would take them at least a quarter of an hour to get to the first swing-bridge to cross over; there was a way to pass through a Mr. Fillingham’s grounds, which would lead them to the Harrow-road, and which he believed to be much nearer than the side of the canal: but then persons going that way got over the hedge, and he perceived from the kitchen window where he was standing, the prisoner and the woman go beyond that spot. They had no clock in the house, but he had no doubt as to the time, from its being very near dark when they went away. On being questioned by one of the jury, he said, that besides thc place to which he alluded for passing through Mr. Fiilingham’s ground, there was a gate about one hundred yards farther on, and to svhicb the prisoner and woman had not got over when he lost sight of them.
Hannah Patience, the landlady of the Mitre tavern, recollected seeing the prisoner there on Sunday, Dec. 5, with a woman and child: they had been there a good while before she saw them. She served them with a quartern of rum, and they had a pint of beer after it. They left the Mitre about half past four, as far as she could judge from the closing of the evening, for they had no clock. She also recollected Sarah Daniels coming to buy a candle to take to her master: they were then gone, and as they were going out, the woman threw her gown over the child, saying, ‘This is the last time I shall come here.’ In a minute or two the prisoner came back to look for the child’s shoe, which could not be found, and then followed the woman. This witness took no particular notice of them, but thought she had seen them at her house two or three times before.
Sarah Daniels, aged nine years, was examined by the court as to her knowledge of the sanctity and solemnity of an oath, and being satisfied with her answers, she was sworn, and said, that she met a man following a woman with a child, walking by the canal, as she was going from Mr. Filiingham’s to the Mitre; and, from the circumstance of its being near their time of drinking tea, she was sure that it could not want much of five o’clock.
Charles Weild, a shopmate of the prisoner, stated, that he met him a little after six o’clock, in Oxford-street, on the evening of Sunday the 5th of December, and that they went together to the Horse Grenadier public-house, where they continued till after eight.
John Atkins, a boatman employed on the canal, said, about eight o’clock, on the morning of Monday, he found a child’s body, under the bow of the boat, at the distance of a mile from the Mitre; that in consequence of some directions which he received from Sir Richard Ford, he dragged the canal for three days, on the last of which close under the window of the Mitre, he pulled up the woman’s body, entangled in a loose bush. He had before then felt something heavy against the drag, at near 200 yards towards London from the house, but he could not ascertain whether that was the body or not.
Sir Richard Ford produced the examination which the prisoner signed at Bow-street office, after being questioned as to its being the truth, and cautioned as to the consequences it might produce. The account which the prisoner then gave was as follows:
‘My wife and child came to me on Saturday se’nnight, about eight o’clock in the evening, and slept at my lodgings that night. The next morning, about nine or ten o’clock, I went out with them, and walked to the New Cut at Paddington; we went to the Mitre tavern, and had some rum, some porter, and some bread and cheese. Before that we had stopped at a publichouse near the first bridge, where we had some beefsteaks and some porter; after which she desired me to walk further on by the cut, so I went with her. I left her directly I came out of the Mitre tavern, which was about three o’clock, and made the best of my way to Whetstone, in order to go to Barnet, to see two of my children, who are in the workhouse there. I went by the bye lanes, and was about an hour and a half walking from the Mitre to Whetstone. When I got there, I found it so dark that I would not go on to Barnet, but came home that night. I have not seen my wife nor child since; I have not enquired after them, but I meant to have done so to-morrow evening, at Mrs. Hobart’s. -- I came home from Whetstone that evening between seven and eight o’clock; I saw no person in going to Whetstone; nor did I stop any where, at any publichouse, or elsewhere, except the Green Dragon, at Highgate, where I had a glass of rum. My wife had a black gown on, and a black bonnet; the child had a straw bonnet, and white bedgown. My wife was a little in liquor.
(Signed) ‘GEORGE FOSTER.
‘Witness, Richard Ford,
December 27, 1802.’
‘Prisoner says, before he left the Mitre Tavern, on the said Sunday his wife asked the mistress of the inn whether she could have a bed there that night, which the prisoner afterwards repeated; that she asked half a crown for one, which the prisoner and his wife thought too much, and the latter said she would go home to her mother.’
The latter part of this was positively contradicted by the landlady, not a single word about a bed having passed between her and the deceased.
W. Garner, a shopmate of the prisoner, called upon him at the Brown Bear, in Bow-street, after he was taken into custody; to whom the prisoner said, he was as innocent of the charge as the child unborn; and that if any one would come forward to say, or swear, that he was at such a place on that night, he should be cleared immediately. The witness understood him to refer to the Green Dragon, at Highgate.
James Bushwell, a coachmaker, declared, that the prisoner was one of the most diligent men he had ever employed; and, from his having so very good an opinion of him, on hearing he was in custody, he went himself to see if he could render him any service; that upon his making that offer, the prisoner replied, that if it was not too much trouble, he would thank him to go to the Green Dragon, at Highgate, and enquire if a man was not there on the Sunday evening, who had a glass of rum, and asked after Mrs. Young: with which he complied; but, as the rules of evidence would not admit of Mr. Bushwell’s giving the answer, Elizabeth Southall, who keeps the Green Dragon, was called, who said she perfectly recollected such a circumstance, but she could not exactly say what Sunday it was; and, besides, the man who did so enquire, had a woman with an infant in her arms with him, and to whom the man turned round and said, That is Bradfield’s mother.
The prisoner made no other defence than contradicting some parts of the evidence of the waitcr at the Mitre.
George Hodgson, Esq., coroner of the county, and before whom an inquest on these bodies had been taken, said there was not the least mark of violence upon either the woman or the child; of course, the report of the latter’s arm being broken was false.
From being acquainted with the place, he was examined particularly as to the way through Mr. Fillingham’s grounds and which he affirmed to be far the nearest way to town. He could not undertake to say what the actual distance from the Mitre to Whetstone was, but he was sure it could not be less, even through the lanes and over the fields, than seven or eight miles, and about the same distance from Whetstone to town.
Four witnesses were called to the prisoner’s character, who all agreed in his being an industrious and humane man.
The Chief Baron, in summing up to the jury, said, that this was a case which almost entirely depended upon circumstances, but in some cases that might be best evidence, as it was certainly the most difficult, if not impossible, to fabricate; they, however, would deliberately judge how far they brought the charge home to the prisoner, so as not to leave a doubt on their minds before they pronounced him guilty. His lordship noticed some inconsistencies in the written paper which the prisoner had signed, observing, that in one part of the story the prisoner was contradicted by several witnesses; and that it was scarcely to be presumed that the prisoner could walk such a distance (from the Mitre to Whetstone) in so short a time. There were other traits of the story which were also extremely dubious. The learned judge then went through the whole of the evidence, remarking thereon as he proceeded; and the jury, after some consultation, pronounced a verdict of guilty.
This was no sooner done, than the Recorder proceeded to pass sentence upon the prisoner; which was, that he be hanged by the neck, next Monday morning, until he be dead, and that then his body be delivered to be anatomized, according to the law in that case made and provided.
This unfortunate malefactor was executed pursuant to his sentence, January 18, 1803. At three minutes after eight he appeared on the platform before the debtor’s door in the Old Bailey, and after passing a short time in prayer with Dr. Ford, the ordinary of Newgate, the cap was pulled over his eyes, when the stage falling from under him, he was launched into eternity.
When he ascended the platform his air was dejected in the extreme; and the sorrow manifested in his countenance depicted the inward workings of a heart conscious of the heinous crime be had committed, and the justness of his sentence.
From the time of his condemnation to the moment of his dissolution, he had scarcely taken the smallest nourishment; which, operating with a tortured conscience, had so enfeebled him, that he was obliged to be supported from the prison to the gallows, being wholly incapable of ascending the staircase with out assistance. Previous to his decease, he fully confessed his having perpetrated the horrible crime for which he suffered: confessed that he had unhappily conceived a most inveterate hatred for his wife, that nothing could conquer, and determined to rid himself and the world of a being he loathed: acknowledged also, that he had taken her twice before to the Paddington canal, with the wicked intent of drowning her, but that his resolution had failed him, and she had returned unhurt; and even at the awful moment of his confession, and the assurance of his approaching dissolution, he seemed to regret more the loss of his infant, than the destruction of the woman he had sworn to cherish and protect. He was questioned, as far as decency would permit, if jealousy had worked him to the horrid act; but be made no reply, except saying, that ‘he ought to die'; and dropped into a settled and fixed melancholy, which accompanied him to his last moments. He was a decent looking young man, and wore a brown great coat, buttoned over a red waistcoat, the same in which be was tried.
He died very easy; and, after hanging the usual time, his body was cut down and conveyed to a house not far distant, where it was subjected to the galvanic process by Professor Aldini, under the inspection of Mr Keate, Mr Carpue and several other professional gentlemen. M. Aldini, who is the nephew of the discoverer of this most interesting science, showed the eminent and superior powers of galvanism to be far beyond any other stimulant in nature. On the first application of the process to the face, the jaws of the deceased criminal began to quiver, and the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and one eye was actually opened. In the subsequent part of the process the right hand was raised and clenched, and the legs and thighs were set in motion. Mr Pass, the beadle of the Surgeons' Company, who was officially present during this experiment, was so alarmed that he died of fright soon after his return home.
Some of the uninformed bystanders thought that the wretched man was on the eve of being restored to life. This, however, was impossible, as several of his friends, who were under the scaffold, had violently pulled his legs, in order to put a more speedy termination to his sufferings. The experiment, in fact, was of a better use and tendency. Its object was to show the excitability of the human frame when this animal electricity was duly applied. In cases of drowning or suffocation it promised to be of the utmost use, by reviving the action of the lungs, and thereby rekindling the expiring spark of vitality. In cases of apoplexy, or disorders of the head, it offered also most encouraging prospects for the benefit of mankind.
The professor, we understand, had made use of galvanism also in several cases of insanity, and with complete success. It was the opinion of the first medical men that this discovery, if rightly managed and duly prosecuted, could not fail to be of great, and perhaps as yet unforeseen, utility.
NOTE:-- An experiment was made on a convict named Patrick Redmond, who was hanged for a street robbery, on the 24th of February, 1767, in order to bring him to life. It appeared that the sufferer had hung twenty-eight minutes when the mob rescued the body and carried it to an appointed place, where a surgeon was in attendance to try the experiment bronchotomy, which is an incision in the windpipe, and which in less than six hours produced the desired effect. A collection was made for the poor fellow, and interest made to obtain his pardon, for it will be remembered that the law says the condemned shall hang until he be dead; consequently men who, like Redmond, recovered, were liable to be again hanged up until they were dead.