THE extraordinary interest taken by the public in this very peculiar and affecting case is at least an honourable proof that, however lax may be the practice of virtue, the principle still continues to be our national character. A more striking evidence of this can hardly be adduced than the spontaneous movement excited by the prosecution, condemnation, and execution of Eliza Kenning, in whose lamentable fate all classes and descriptions of person seemed to be animated by common feeling.
The reflection that all institutions of man are liable to abuse operates as a standing lesson to make us watchful over the forms of law and the proceedings of Courts, that what was established by the integrity and wisdom of our ancestors might not be injured by our folly or perverted by our remissness. Men should be aware of that blind confidence which induces them to rely upon the intrinsic excellence of legal institutions and the solemnity of judicial proceedings; for experience shows that, though they may be secure from corruption, they are still liable to erroneous administration.
'Better,' says the legal maxim, 'that ten guilty escape, than that one innocent person should suffer;' and, as jurors are the great arbitrators of life and death, they cannot hesitate too long before they consign a fellow-creature to a premature grave. But, where guilt is only presumptive, they should not only reflect well upon the motives of human action, and the prejudice of prosecutors, but give the accused the whole benefit of every possible doubt.
As the case of this unfortunate young woman is pregnant with instruction, both in a legal and individual point of view, we have used every diligence in preparing an unbiassed statement of facts, free from error and misrepresentation.
Elizabeth Fenning was born in the island of Dominica in the West Indies, on the 10th of June, 1793. Her father, William Fenning, was a native of Suffolk, and belonged to the first battalion of the 15th regiment of infantry. Het mother was a native of Cork, in Ireland: her parents were respectable, and she was married to Fenning in 1787, in her native town, where the regiment had been quartered. In 1790 they sailed from the Cove of Cork for the island of Barbadoes, and from thence to Dominica, where the subject of this narrative was born. Both her parents were Protestants, and she was baptized by a minister of the same religion.
In 1796 or 1797 the regiment came home, having suffered great mortality, and were quartered in Dublin. In 1802 Fenning solicited and obtained his discharge, with a certificate of his good character, which it appears he merited, as he rose to the rank of a non-commissioned officer. He then came to London, and entered the service of his brother, a potato-dealer in Red Lion Street, Holborn, with whom he continued for three years, and afterwards lived as servant in a potato-warehouse in Red Lion Passage, where his correct conduct gave satisfaction to three successive proprietors. His wife, for five years, worked for one upholsterer -- a sufficient proof of her good conduct. They had ten children, all of whom died young except Eliza, who was the darling of her parents, who, being industrious themselves, did not rear their daughter up in idleness. From the age of fourteen she lived in servitude, and, in the latter end of January, 1815, was hired as cook in the family of a Mr. Orlibar Turner, at No.68, Chancery Lane, where she had not been above seven weeks when circumstances unhappily arose which led to the poor creature's being charged with an attempt to poison Turner's family.
The facts of the case will be best explained by the following report of the trial, taken in short-hand by Mr. Sibly, short-hand writer to the corporation of London, which differs materially from the 'Sessions' Paper' report.
Eliza Fenning was indicted at the Old Bailey, April the 11th, 1815, for that she, on the 21st of March, feloniously and unlawfully, did administer to, and caused to be administered to, Orlibar Turner, Robert Gregson Turner, and Charlotte Turner, his wife, certain deadly poison, (to wit, arsenic,) with intent the said persons to kill and murder.
The case was stated by Mr. Gurney; after which --
Mrs. Charlotte Turner deposed -- I am the wife of Mr. Robert Gregson Turner, who is a law-stationer in Chancery Lane, in partnership with his father, Mr. Orlibar Turner, who lives at Lambeth. About seven weeks before the accident the prisoner came into my service as cook; and about three weeks after I had occasion to reprove her, for I observed her, one night, go into the young men's room partly undressed. It was very indecent of her to go into the young men's room thus undressed. There were two young men, about seventeen or eighteen years old. I reproved her severely next morning for her conduct: the excuse was, that she was going to fetch the candle. I threatened to discharge her, and gave her warning to quit; but she showed contrition; I forgave her for it, and retained her. That passed over. For the remaining month I observed that she failed in the respect that she before paid me, and appeared extremely sullen. About a fortnight before the transaction she requested me to let her make some yeast dumplings, professing herself to be a capital hand. That request was frequently repeated. On Monday, the 20th of March, she came up into the dining-room, and said the brewer had brought some yeast.
I had given so orders to the brewer to bring any yeast: I told her I did not wish to trouble the man; that was not the way I had them made; I generally had the dough from the baker's, which saved the cook a great deal of trouble, and was also considered the best Having this yeast, I said it was of no consequence; as the man had brought a little, the next day she might make some. On Tuesday morning, I, as usual, went into the kitchen. I told her she might make some; but, before she made the dumplings, to make a beef-steak pie for dinner for the young men. As she would have to leave the kitchen to get the steaks, I did not wish her to do so after the dumplings were made. I told her I should wish the dough to be mixed with milk and water. She said she would do them as I desired her: this was about half past eleven. She carried the pie to the baker's before kneading the dough commenced I told her I wished her not to leave the dough that she might carry the pie to the baker's.
I suppose she carried the pie to the baker's near twelve. I gave her directions about making the dough. I said, I suppose there was no occasion for me stopping. She said, Oh no, she knew very well how to do it; and then I went up stairs. In not more than half an hour I went again into the kitchen: I then found the dough made, and set before the fire to rise. We have one more servant, a house-maid, Sarah Peer. I had given Sarah orders to go into the bed-room, to repair a counterpane, at the time the dough was made. During the time the dough was made I am certain there could be nobody in the kitchen but the prisoner: I suppose this might be half past twelve. We dine at three -- the young men at two. In the interval between half past twelve and three I was in the kitchen two or three times, until the dough was made into dumplings. The dough remained in a pan before the fire, for the purpose of rising; but I observed the dough never did rise. I took off the cloth, to look at it: my observation was, that it did not rise, and it was in a very singular position, in which position it remained until it was divided into dumplings. It was not put into the pan, as 1 have observed dough: its shape was singular; it retained the shape till the last; it remained heavy all the time, not rising at all. I am confident it never was meddled with after it was put there. The dumplings were divided, to put into the pot, about twenty minutes before twelve. I was not in the kitchen at the time, but I was in it about half an hour before that time.
By a Juror.---I did not remark to her the singular appearance of the dough. I told her it had never risen: the prisoner said it would rise before she wanted it. There were six dumplings brought upon the table about three o'clock, when sat down to dinner. I observed to the other servant that they were black and heavy instead of being white and light. My husband, Robert Gregson Turner, and his father, Orlibar Turner, sat down to dinner with me: I helped them to some dumplings, and took a small piece myself. I found myself affected in a few minutes after I had eaten. I did not eat a quarter of a dumpling. I felt myself very faint -- an excruciating pain, an extreme violent pain, which increased every minute: it came so bad, I was obliged to leave the table -- I went up stairs. I ate, beside the dumpling, a piece of rump steak, cooked by Eliza. When I was up stairs I perceived my sickness increased, and I observed my head was swollen extremely. I retched very violently: I was half an hour alone, and wondered they did not come to my assistance -- I found my husband and father very ill -- both of them. I was very ill from half past three until about nine: the violence abated, but did not cease. My head was swollen, and my tongue and chest were swollen. We called in a gentleman who was near, and afterwards Mr. Marshall, the surgeon. We applied for the nearest assistance we could get.
Cross-examined by Mr. Alley.-- This happened about six weeks after the girl came to live with me. I had no other cause of complaint except that. I forgave her. I do not think it was that day the coals had been delivered: the girl is here who received them: it could not be that day. She had no occasion to receive the coals.*[see note 1] I have heard the prisoner herself was taken very ill.
Orlibar Turner deposed--I believe I am the father of Robert Gregson Turner. On Tuesday, the 21st day of March, I was at my son's house in Chancery Lane: I dined there. The dinner consisted of yeast dumplings, beef-steaks, and potatoes. After some time Mrs. Turner left the room indisposed. At the time she left the room I did not know she was ill. Some time after my son left the room, and went down stairs. I followed him very shortly. I had gone into my parlour below: I came into the passage. I met my son in the passage, at the foot of the stairs: he told me that he had been very sick, and had brought up his dinner. I found his eyes exceedingly swollen -- very much indeed. I said I thought it very extraordinary. I was taken ill myself in less than three minutes afterwards. The effect was so violent, I had hardly time to go into my back yard before my dinner came up. I felt considerable heat across my stomach and chest, and pain: I never experienced any vomiting before like it, for violence; it was terrible indeed. It was not more than a quarter of an hour when my apprentice, Roger Gadsden, was very ill, in a similar way to myself. My son was also sick. While we were sick I was repeatedly in the parlour and the back yard. My son was up and down stairs at intervals; Gadsden, I believe, was in the kitchen below. The prisoner gave not the smallest assistance. We were all together alarmed: it was discovered that she did not appear concerned at our situation; our appearance was most distressing -- more so than ever I witnessed in my life. I did not observe the prisoner eat any of the dumplings.*[see note 2] I had a suspicion of arsenic: I made a search the next morning.
By the Court.--I suspected it was poison. I observed, the next morning, in the pan in which the dumplings had been mixed, the leavings of the dumplings: they stuck round the pan. I put some water into the pan, and stirred it up with a spoon, with a view so form a liquid of the whole. Upon the pan being set down for a moment or two, or half a minute, and taking it up slowly, and in a slanting direction, I discovered a white powder at the bottom of it. I showed it to several persons in the house: I kept it in my custody until Mr. Marshall came; no person had access to it. Arsenic bad been kept in a drawer in the office, fronting the fire-place, in two wrappers, tied up very tight, the words 'Arsenic, deadly poison,' written upon it. I believe the prisoner can both read and write.
Mrs. Turner was here asked is that so?' and she replied Yes, she can read and write very well.'
Orlibar Turner resumed -- The drawer always remained open; any person might have access to it. It was the prisoner's duty to light the fire: she might resort to that drawer for loose paper that was kept in it; she might resort to it to light a fire. I had seen the parcel of arsenic there on the 7th of March; not since that time. Before the 21st of March I heard of its being missed about a fortnight.. I made observation on the appearance of the knives and forks which I ate the dumplings with: I have two of them in my pocket now to show; they have been in my custody ever since. I saw them with the blackness upon them the next day: it appeared upon them then; there is some little rust upon them now. The next day I spoke to the prisoner about these yeast dumplings: I asked her how she came to introduce ingredients that had been so prejudicial to us. She replied it was not in the dumplings, but in the milk that Sarah Peer brought in. I had several discourses with her that day upon this subject, during the whole of which she persisted it was in the milk, as before described. That milk had been used for the sauce only; the prisoner made the dumplings with the refuse of the milk that had been left for breakfast. The prisoner did not tell me what use had been made of the milk that had been fetched by Sarah Peer. I asked her if any person but herself had mingled, or had any thing to do with, the dumplings. She expressly said 'No.'
Cross-examined by Mr. Alley.-- In the conversation I had with the prisoner I did not tell her that, two months before, I had missed the poison. I do not know if she clerks keep the door of the office locked when they are not there.
Roger Gadsden sworn -- I am an apprentice to Mr. Turner. I remember seeing, in a drawer in the office; a paper, with 'Arsenic, deadly poison,' written upon it. The last day I saw it was on the 7th of March: I missed it in a day or two after; I mentioned in the office that I missed it. On Tuesday, the 21st of March, between three and four, I went into the kitchen: I had dined at two in the kitchen. I observed a plate: in it was a dumpling and a half. I took a knife and fork up, and was going to cut it, to eat of it. The prisoner exclaimed, 'Gadsden, do not eat of that; it is cold and heavy; it will do you no good!' I ate a piece about as big as a walnut, or bigger. There was a small quantity of sauce in the boat: I took a bit of bread, and sopped it in it, and ate that. This might be twenty minutes after three. I went into the office: Mr. Robert Turner came into the office about ten minutes after, and said he was very ill. They were all up stairs in the parlour:-- not the least alarm of any body being ill then. About ten minutes after that I was taken ill, but not so ill as to vomit. I was sent off for Mr. Turner's mother. I was very sick going and coming -- I thought I should die. The prisoner had made yeast dumplings for supper the night before: I and the other maid, and herself, partook of them: they were quite different from these dumplings in point of colour and weight, and very good. When the poison was missed I made no inquiry about it of the prisoner.
Cross-examined by Mr. Alley.--We don't keep the door of the office locked when we are out of it. The prisoner made the fire. No person could go into the office until I did. Any person might go in and out in the day. At night it was locked. Paper was kept in the drawer where the poison had been. If the prisoner went to that drawer I should not watch her, to see what she did there.
Margaret Turner sworn -- I was sent for. When I arrived I found my husband, son, and daughter, extremely ill. The prisoner, very soon after I was there, was ill, and vomiting. I exclaimed to her, 'Oh, these devilish dumplings!' supposing they had done the mischief. She said, 'Not the dumplings, but the milk, madam.' I asked her 'What milk?' She said 'The halfpenny-worth of milk that Sally had fetched, to make the sauce.' She said my daughter made the sauce. I said 'That cannot be; it could not be the sauce.' She said 'Yes; Gadsden ate a very little bit of dumpling, not bigger than a nut; but licked up three parts of a boat of sauce with a bit of bread.'
Mrs. Turner, jun. being called, said--'The sauce was made with the milk brought by Sarah Poer. I mixed it, and left it for her to make.'
Robert Gregson Turner sworn.-- I partook of the dumplings at dinner; I ate none of the sauce whatever. Soon after dinner I was taken ill: I first felt an inclination to be sick; I then felt a strong heat across my chest. I was extremely sick: I was exactly as my father and wife were, except stronger symptoms. I had eaten a dumpling and a half. I suffered more than any person. I should presume that the symptoms were such as would be produced by poison:-- all taken in the same way, and pretty near the same time.
Sarah Peer sworn.-- I have been servant to Mrs. Turner near eleven months. I recollect the warning given to the prisoner some time after she came. After that I heard her say she should not like Mr. or Mrs. Robert Turner any more. On the 21st of March I went for some milk after two o'clock, after I had dined with the prisoner on beefsteak pie. I had no concern whatever in making the dough for the dumplings, or in making the sauce. I was not in the kitchen when the dough was made: I never meddled with it, or put any thing to it; I never was in the kitchen until I went up to make the beds, a quarter after eleven, until I came down again. I had permission to go out that afternoon, directly after I took up the dumplings. I went out directly. I came home at nine o'clock exactly. I ate none of the dumplings myself. In eating the beefsteak pie, I ate some of the crust. I was not at all ill. I had eaten some dumplings she had made the night before: I never tasted any better. They were all made out of the same flour. I had no difference with my mistress at any time.
The coals were not delivered on that day. It is not true that I was set to watch the coals coming in. As the dumplings were taken out of the pot. I went out. The prisoner and I were on good terms by times: our last quarrel was two or three days before. She had taken something out of my drawer for a duster: I said I did not like to lead that life without she altered her temper. About a week or a week and a half before we had another quarrel: I don't know what it was about. It was the habit of the house for the servants to take it turn about to go out of a Sunday. On Tuesday I visited my sister at Hackney: I had been to my sister's about a month before that: it was my turn to go out before this Tuesday. The prisoner lived seventeen weeks in my master's house. Never went to visit my sister but on a Sunday, except on that day I went very seldom into the office where the young men were. I knew the waste paper was kept in the office; but my mistress always kept it up stairs in the dining-room for my use. I did not know there was waste paper in the office; I never touched any there. I did not know it for certainty: there might be waste paper there, but I never touched it. Did not know there was poison kept there. I never went to the drawer in the office, nor never knew there was poison kept there to kill rats and mice.
Mr. Orlibar Turner re-examined.-- This poison was kept to destroy mice, and for no other purpose. It had not been used before for a year and a half.
William Thiselton sworn.-- I am an officer of Hatton Garden office. I took the prisoner into custody on the 23rd of March, the day before Good Friday. She said she had made a beef-steak pie of the flour she had made the dumplings with; that she and her fellow-servants, and one of the apprentices, had dined off the pie. She said she thought it was in the yeast; she saw a red settlement in the yeast after she had used it.
The brewer's man was then called. He deposed that the yeast was the same as bakers use. He gave the yeast to the house-maid, not to the prisoner.
John Marshall sworn.--I am a surgeon. On the evening of the 21st of March I was sent for to Mr. Turner's family; I got there about a quarter before nine o'clock. All the symptoms attending the family were produced by arsenic; I have no doubt of it by the symptoms. The prisoner was also ill, by the same, I have no doubt. Mr. Orlibar Turner showed me a dish the next morning: I examined it; I washed it with a tea-kettle of warm water; I first stirred it, and then let it subside; I decanted it off; I found half a tea-spoonful of white powder; I washed it the second time; 1 decidedly found it to be arsenic. Arsenic cut with a knife will produce the appearance of blackness on the knife; I have no doubt of it. There was not a grain of arsenic in the yeast: I examined the flour-tub; there was no arsenic there.
The case for the prosecution closed here, and the poor girl made the following defence:--
I am truly innocent of the whole charge: I am innocent; indeed am; I liked my place, I was very comfortable.
Gadsden behaved improperly to me; my mistress came and saw me undressed: she said she did not like it; I said, "Ma'am, it is Gadsden that has taken liberty with me." The next morning I said "I hope you don't think any thing of what passed last night." She was in a great passion, and said she would not put up with it; I was to go away directly. I did not look upon Mrs. Turner as my mistress, but upon the old lady. In the evening the old lady came to town; I said, "I am going away to-night" Mrs. Turner said "Do not think any more about it; I don't" She asked Mrs. Robert Turner if she was willing for me to go. She said "No, she thought no more about it."
'As to my master saying I did not assist him, I was too ill. I had no concern with that drawer at all; when I wanted a piece of paper I always asked for it."
The prisoner called five witnesses, who gave her an excellent character for integrity, sobriety, cheerfulness, and humanity. One of these was proceeding to state an accidental conversation he had with the prisoner two days after she had ordered the yeast, wherein she declared herself happy and contented with her situation, and pleased with her master and mistress; but the recorder stopped him, saying it was not evidence.
Whilst the trial was proceeding, William Fenning, the father of the prisoner, went to a public house, and got a person (for he was too agitated himself) to write on a slip of paper, that on the 21st of March he went to Mr. Turner's, his daughter having sent for him in the morning, and that Sarah Peer told him Eliza Had gone of a message for her mistress, whilst, at the same time, she was in agonies below stairs from the effect of having eaten of the dumplings. He then went home, and thought no more about it.
When this note was written, it was handed to Mr. Alley, who, standing upon tip-toe, showed it to the recorder, who leaned over and looked at it.
No further notice was taken of this paper, either by the recorder or Mr. Alley; and, soon afterwards, upon the prisoner requesting the apprentice to be brought forward, Gadsden went up into the witnesses' box; whereon the prisoner energetically exclaimed, No, my lord, it's not that apprentice boy -- it's not the younger apprentice that I want -- it's Thomas King that I want -- the elder apprentice, who knows that I never went to the drawer in my life; for when I asked for paper he always gave it me; and if he was here he dare not deny the truth to my face, and I wish him to be sent for.'
The recorder said You should have had him here before.'
The prisoner replied, 'My lord, I desired him to be brought, and I wish him to be sent for now.'
The recorder said 'No, it's too late now -- I cannot hear you.'
The recorder then asked Roger Gadsden 'Who lit the fire in the office?' He replied 'The prisoner; and my fellow-apprentice have seen her go to that drawer many times.'
William Fenning, the prisoner's father, greatly agitated, stepped up into the witnesses' box, and said, 'I am the father of the unfortunate girl, my lord: if you won't hear her, I hope you will hear me.'
He was then proceeding to relate, amongst other circumstances, his having been denied access to his daughter, in the manner mentioned in the note delivered to Mr. Alley, and shown to the recorder; and to state that his daughter, when he was denied, was lying in great agony below stairs, from the effects of the poisoned dumplings.
The recorder would not suffer the prisoner's father to go on -- he put his hand out, and motioned him to leave the witnesses' box -- he told him he could not hear him -- it was too late -- he must go down.'
Finding that the recorder would not hear him, and being ordered down, the father left the witnesses' box.
The recorder proceeded to sum up the evidence, and charge the jury. Before the summing up, Mr. Alley, the prisoner's counsel, left the Court.
The recorder, in summing up the evidence, made remarks as he went on, and dwelt particularly on the prisoner's declaration to Sarah Peer, that she should not like Mr. and Mrs. Turner any more -- on her repeatedly requesting her mistress to let her make yeast dumplings; particularly her telling her mistress, when she complained they did not rise, that they 'would rise time enough;' and on her telling Gadsden not to eat of the dumplings that had come down stairs –t hat they were cold and heavy, and would do him no good.
The recorder observed that, vellum and parchment being very valuable, arsenic was kept to preserve these valuable things from the vermin called rats and mice; and that it was evident that the prisoner at the bar could not be ignorant of the poison, because it was written on 'Arsenic, deadly poison;' and as this girl had an education. and could read and write, she could not be ignorant of the poison.
The recorder concluded his charge in the following words, or words to the like effect:--
Gentlemen, you have now heard the evidence on this trial, and the case lies in a very narrow compass. There are but two questions for your consideration; and these are, the fact of poison having been administered, in all, to four persons, and by what hand such poison was given. That these persons were poisoned appears certain from the evidence of Mrs. Charlotte Turner, Orlibar Turner, Roger Gadsden the apprentice, and Robert Turner; for each of these persons ate of the dumplings, and were all more or less affected; that is, they were every one poisoned. That the poison was in the dough of which these dumplings were composed has been fully proved, I think, by the testimony of the surgeon who examined the remains of the dough left in the dish in which the dumplings had been mixed and divided; and he deposes that the powder which had subsided at the bottom of the dish was arsenic. That the arsenic was not in the flour, I think appears plain from the circumstance that the crust of a pie had been made that very morning with some of the flour of which the dumplings were made, and that the persons who dined off the pie felt no inconvenience whatever: that it was not in the yeast, nor in the milk, has been proved; neither could it be in the sauce, for two of the persons who were ill never touched a particle of the sauce, and yet were violently affected with retching and sickness. From all these circumstances it must follow that the poisonous ingredient was in the dough alone; for, besides that the persons who partook of the dumplings at dinner were all more or less affected from what they had eaten, it was observed, by one of the witnesses, that the dough retained the same shape it had when first put into the dish to rise; and that it appeared dark and was heavy, and in fact never did rise. The other question for your consideration is, by what hand the poison was administered? and, although we have nothing before us but circumstantial evidence, yet it often happens that circumstances are more conclusive than the moat positive testimony.
The prisoner, when taxed with poisoning the dumplings, threw the blame first on the milk, next on the yeast, and then on the sauce; but it has been proved, most satisfactorily, that none of these contained it, and that it was in the dumplings alone, which no person but the prisoner had made. Gentlemen, if poison had been given even to a dog, one would suppose that common humanity would have prompted us to assist it in its agonies: here is the case of a master and mistress being both poisoned, and no assistance was offered. Gentlemen, I have now stated all the facts as they have arisen, and I leave the case in your hands, being fully persuaded that, whatever your verdict may be, you will conscientiously discharge your duty both to your God and to your country.'
After the charge, the jury in a few minutes brought in a verdict of Guilty, and the miserable girl was carried from the bar convulsed with agony, and uttering frightful screams.
The recorder passed sentence of death upon her.
In the foregoing trial there is no proof that the prisoner took the arsenic out of the drawer, or that she had ever seen it there; it was not seen with her, neither was there any indication of her having had it, when she and her box were searched after the fatal accident. There was no proof that arsenic was in the dumplings; and, what is more, in all probability, it was not arsenic that caused the sickness in Turner's family. A moment's reflection must lead to this opinion. Gadsden ate only the size of a walnut of fly dumpling. and was ill in a way similar to old Mr. Turner; Mrs. Robert Turner did not eat a quarter of a dumpling, and was first and continued longest indisposed; while Robert Gregson Turner ate a dumpling and a half,*[see note 3] and does not appear to have been more ill than his wife, who did not eat more than one-fifth of that quantity. Arsenic does not operate in this way; one grain will not have the effect of five.
Mr. Marshall swore that he found next morning, in the dish in which the dumplings were made, half a tea-spoonful of arsenic. If the arsenic had been mixed in the dough, no doubt it would have been equally diffused throughout the whole mass, for, though it had not been done so with the kneading, it has that property in itself. Now every one in the habit of going into a kitchen knows that the dough which adheres to a dish wherein dumplings had been made is very small, and if collected, would certainly not exceed the size of a walnut, or one-eighth of a dumpling. lf, therefore. there was in that quantity half a tea-spoonful of arsenic, which it has been ascertained would weigh fifty grains, then would have been in the four dumplings and a half, eaten by the five persons, a quantity of arsenic weighing one thousand eight hundred grains. Now as five grains of arsenic would destroy any human being who swallowed it, the quantity in Mrs. Turner's quarter of a dumpling was equal to the death of ten persons; that in her husband's dumpling and a half would have killed one hundred and twenty; and in that eaten by the five persons would have destroyed three hundred and sixty people!!
It is probable, therefore, that arsenic was not in the dumplings; and, if the illness of the family arose from having swallowed arsenic, it must have been shaken upon the dumplings after they were made, and this supposition accounts for the large quantity found in the dish out of which the dumplings were taken. But, after all, may not the deleterious ingredient have been some other mineral less fatal in its effects than arsenic, though capable of exciting similar symptoms? and might not this have been introduced by some mischievous or malignant person who might have gone into the kitchen while Eliza was absent?
It is true, indeed, that Mr. Marshall, the apothecary, swore positively that it was arsenic he found in the dish; but he was evidently a man of little science, for his evidence was in part untrue; and, coming from a medical man, though erroneous, might have had a fatal influence on the decision of a jury. He swore that arsenic being cut with a knife would blacken the knife; and, as this is not the case, it is not very unreasonable to suppose that he was also mistaken in respect to the powder which he found in the dish.
Of all the criminal cases which can come before a jury, that of poisoning is the easiest accomplished, the hardest to guard against, and the most detestable, and most difficult of proof. There can be ne punishment too severe for such an enormity. When it is committed in a family, every individual of that family is seized with horror of the crime –- anger and abhorrence of whoever is accused -- and a proportionate dread of being each suspected and sacrificed. Until some individual is apprehended, suspicion attaches upon all the inmates, and the master, mistress, and servants, are equally objects of arrest and imprisonment; but the moment any one of these is committed, the united detestation of the others collects upon that individual; and facts which, otherwise, would be proofs of innocence, are then arrested to their disadvantage, and are brought in as corroborating evidence of guilt. A jury ought, therefore, with generous manliness, to stand upon the forlorn hope of the accused, and not for a single moment to forget that every one of those who deposed against the prisoner at the bar came that morning from one house, had conferred together upon the evidence they were to give, and were knit together by the ties of blood, the interest of family character, and the bonds of domestic dependency and servitude. They ought to recollect that all the deponents partake of the same prejudices, horror, and alarm for themselves, and have an absolute interest in the conviction and execution of the unfortunate accused, as they are thereby secured from future suspicion of the horrid crime. Proper weight is to be given to the testimony of consistent witnesses, substantiating the whole of their presumptive evidence by some one act of evil in itself; but an intelligent juror will not permit inconsistency, improbability, and outrageous impossibility, to pass on him for evidence, merely because they are sworn to in his presence. It is worthy of remark that the whole of the witnesses against Eliza Fenning were in Court, listening to each ether. during the unfortunate girl's trial.
We make no apology for the length of this case, because it is one of vital importance to every individual, since it may possibly fall to the lot of any person, in whatever walk of life, to become accidentally an object of suspicion, and to be charged with an offence of the greatest enormity on mere surmise. The discussion, therefore, of a subject so momentous, and which comes home to the bosom of every man, cannot surely be reprehended as useless or uncalled for.
Few cases ever excited greater interest than that of Eliza Fenning; and as some men -- through inadvertency, to say no worse of it -- maligned her character, we are happy in bring able to state that her religious principles were correct, and her professions sincere: through life she was distinguished by a superiority of intellect, and a propriety of deportment, which could hardly be reconciled with the depravity of which she was accused. Her person was short of stature, but of the most perfect symmetry; while her countenance evinced a heart at ease, and a mind at once intellectual and lively. She had been, before the fatal transaction, betrothed to a young man, to whom she appears to have been sincerely attached -- a circumstance which must have added to her sufferings.
After the unfortunate girl's conviction she was induced to apply to the fountain of mercy for remission of the sentence of death, and sent a petition to the prince regent. She next addressed the lord chancellor, to whom she mentioned the remarkable fact that Mrs. Turner swore at one time that she (Eliza) carried the pie to the baker's about twelve o'clock, while in an another place she states that the dough was divided into dumplings twenty minutes before twelve. She also sent a letter to Lord Sidmouth, and another to her late master, requesting him to sign a petition in her favour, with which he refused to comply.
Several gentlemen now interested themselves in the fate of the poor girl, and Mr. Montagu, of Lincoln's Inn, waited on the recorder, offering to produce evidence of a member of Mr. Turner's family, who was insane, having declared that he would poison the family; but the recorder assured him that the production of such evidence would be wholly useless.
The night before her execution a meeting of gentlemen took place in Mr. Newman's apartments, in Newgate, at which Mr. Gibson, of the house of Corbyn and Co. chymists, No.300, Holborn, stated that Robert Gregson Turner, in the month of September or October, called at their house in a wild and deranged state, requesting to be put under restraint, otherwise he declared he should destroy himself and wife. Mr. Gibson also stated that it was well known in the family that Robert Turner was occasionally subject to such violent and strange conduct.
With this information Mr. Gibson, accompanied by a clerk from the secretary of state's office, waited on the recorder, requesting that the unfortunate girl might he respited, to admit of investigation: in twelve hours after, Eliza Fenning was executed!
From the moment the poor girl was first charged with the poisoning, however or by whomsoever questioned, she never faltered in her denial of the crime, and rather courted than shunned an investigation of her case. So many circumstances, which had developed themselves subsequently to the trial, had been communicated to the secretary of state by the gentlemen who interested themselves in her favour (among whom were some of great respectability), that a reprieve was confidently expected to the last: and the order for her execution, four months after her conviction, was received with very great surprise,
On Tuesday morning, the 24th, she took her last farewell of her father, who, by the firmness of his manner, exemplified the courage he wished his child to sustain upon the scaffold: but with her mother the parting scene was heartrending.
On the fatal morning, the 26th July, 1815, she slept till four o'clock, when she arose, and, after carefully washing herself, and spending some time in prayer, she dressed herself neatly in a white muslin gown and cap. About eight o'clock she walked steadily to the spot where criminals are bound; and, whilst the executioner tied her hands -- even whilst he wound the halter round her waist -- she stood erect and unmoved, with astonishing fortitude. At this moment a gentleman who had greatly interested himself in her behalf adjured her, in the name of that God in whose presence she was about to appear, if she knew any thing of the crime for which she was about to suffer, to make it known; when she replied, distinctly and clearly, Before God, then, I die innocent!' The question was again put by the Rev. Mr. Vazie, as well as by the Ordinary, and finally by Oldfield, who suffered with her, and to each she repeated 'I am innocent.' These were her last words; and she died, without a struggle, at the age of twenty-one.
Her miserable parents, on application for her body, were not prepared to pay the executioner's fees of fourteen shillings and sixpence: they, however, borrowed the money, and were then permitted to remove it. On Monday, the 31st, the corpse was interred in the burial-ground of St. George the Martyr, near Brunswick Square, in the presence of an immense concourse of spectators.
Thousands of people, deeming the poor girl innocent, vented all their indignation on her prosecutors: vast numbers assembled before Turner's door, in Chancery Lane, hooting and hissing, inflamed by all sorts of exaggerations. This state of things continued for several days, notwithstanding the active interference of the police to avert the public anger. Davis, a turnkey in Newgate, made an affidavit that Eliza Fenning's father conjured his daughter, when she came out on the scaffold, to declare that she was innocent. This affidavit was printed, and industriously circulated; but old Fenning, after his daughter's funeral, replied to it in a counter affidavit, which, with Davis's explanation, showed that the assertion was utterly false. The public sympathized with the unhappy parents of Eliza Fenning, and a subscription was entered into for their benefit.
*Note 1: It is a serious and confirmed fact that the coals were delivered on that day, and received by Eliza Fenning; consequently both Mrs. Turner and Sarah Peer were mistaken in their evidence. After the poor girl's condemnation this was found to be the case, on application to the coal-merchant and the men who delivered the coals.
*Note 2: How could he, when he did not go into the kitchen, or she come out of it?
*Note 3 There were but six dumplings in all; and if Robert Turner and his wife ate one and three-fourths, and there remained, when the liquorish Gadsden went down to the kitchen, only a dumpling and a half, then Eliza and the old man must have eaten two dumplings and three-quarters between them, which clearly demonstrates that Eliza Fenning ate nearly as much as any one in the house,--Would she have done this had she put poison in them?