Illustration: Bartlett Murdering his Mother-in-law
At the Gloucester Assizes on Thursday the 6th of April 1837, Charles Samuel Bartlett was indicted for the wilful murder of Mary Lewis, his mother-in-law, on the 10th of September, in the previous year, at Stapleton, near Bristol.
The case had excited an unusual degree of interest, and the court was much crowded. On his being called upon to plead to the indictment, the prisoner said, With the word of God upon my heart and lips, I can firmly and truly say 'Not Guilty.' This assertion, however, was satisfactorily and by indisputable evidence disproved. The circumstances which were detailed by a great number of witnesses were these:-- The prisoner was a young man of decent parentage and education, but of a somewhat dissipated disposition; and he had followed a wandering life as a member of a strolling company of players, called Ingleby's Company, frequenting fairs, race-courses, and other such places of entertainment. In the month of August 1836, he visited Monmouth with his troop; and having become acquainted with the daughter of a shoemaker named Lewis, he was married to her. He received 45l. as her wedding portion, and a promise of a further amount upon the death of her father; and after a short sojourn with his wife's friends, he proceeded to join his party. On the 5th of September, hearing that her daughter and son-in-law were at Bristol, Mrs. Lewis went to see them, and she visited them there repeatedly, the prisoner being engaged in the usual manner in attending the fair. On the 9th of September, Bartlett was seen in the possession of a horse-pistol; and he sent a boy to purchase powder and percussion caps, and the boy saw him roll up a piece of lead in the form of a bullet. Previously to this he and his mother-in-law had had some difference; but on Saturday, the 10th of September, they quitted his lodgings together, and were seen walking on the Stapleton-road. They entered the Mason's Arms, and partook of some refreshment; and while there Bartlett borrowed a knife from the landlady, saying that he wanted to cut a piece of wood. He went out to the back yard with it where the firewood was kept; and on his return to the house, he was observed to be agitated, and he strove to conceal his features. Having then paid for the liquor which they had had, he and Mrs. Lewis went away, and they were seen to turn down a place called Tebbutt's-lane, leading towards the river Frome. Soon afterwards a shot was heard; and within an hour the murdered body of Mrs. Lewis was discovered stretched on the ground. Her dress was disordered, her bonnet and shawl had been torn from her person, and one of her legs was found doubled under her, as if in the agonies of death. She was instantly conveyed to the Mason's Arms; and upon an examination of her person, she was found to have been shot through the back part of her head, the ball having passed through her bonnet. Bartlett went to the Mason's Arms to see the body; and on being introduced to the room where it lay, he exclaimed, with affected surprise, "Good God! it is my mother-in-law! "Suspicion had already attached to him, and he was now taken into custody; and upon his lodgings being searched, a pistol was found which had been recently discharged, together with a piece of wood newly cut into the form of a ramrod. The evidence extended into the most minute particulars in reference to the transaction; and the chain of proof which was procured, appeared to leave no possible doubt on the guilt of the prisoner.
The defence which was set up was, that Bartlett had left his mother-in-law immediately on his quitting the Mason's Arms, and that the pistol which had been found at his lodgings was one which be had been in the habit of discharging at the fairs, in order to attract attention to his employer's booth.
The trial lasted during the whole of two days, and then a verdict of "Guilty" was returned. Upon the unhappy man being called up for judgment, he threw himself into a theatrical attitude, and delivered a set speech of some length, which was distinguished by great force and vehemence both of style and manner, and produced an extremely strong and painful sensation throughout the court. He stated in substance that he should meet his death with firmness and resignation, protesting his innocence even in his dying moments, and calling upon God to visit with his awful retribution the murderer of his mother-in-law. Sentence of death was then passed, and the prisoner was removed from the bar.
On Saturday, the 15th of April, the sentence of the law was carried into effect upon the wretched criminal. He had been visited by the clergymen of the jail, but they could not succeed in making any impression on him; and although in his demeanour he was serious and respectful, he remained firm and prompt in his denial of the existence of any circumstances from which an inference of his guilt or even guilty knowledge could be drawn.
Throughout the whole of the preparations for his execution he maintained his characteristic steadiness; and he walked from his cell to the platform without any appearance of wavering, except that his face became fearfully pale. He held a bible in his hand, and bowed respectfully to the various officers presiding over this final operation of the law. When arrived on the drop he gazed on the assembled multitude, and looked as if he desired to address them. The executioner motioned for silence; and perfect stillness prevailing, he spoke in a calm and impressive manner as follows:--
"Englishmen and Fellow-countrymen -- I have a few words to say to you, and they shall be but very few. Yet let me entreat you, one and all, that the few words that I shall utter may strike deep into your hearts. Bear them in your mind, not only now while you are witnessing this sad scene, but take them to your homes -- take them and repeat them to your children and friends. I implore you, as a dying man, one for whom the instrument of death is even now prepared; and these words are, that you may loose yourselves from the love of this dying world, and its vain pleasures. Think less of it, and more of your God. Do this; repent! repent! for be assured that without deep and true repentance, without turning to your heavenly Father, you will never attain or can hold the slightest hope of ever reaching those bowers of bliss and that land of peace to which I trust I am now fast advancing. -- I will say a few more words. All good Christians and repentant men that behold my disgrace here, shall -- at least I trust they will -- behold my glory hereafter; and my last words are -- I am an injured man!" The cap was then drawn over his face, and in a few moments the drop fell from under his feet, and he ceased to exist. As an instance of the cool determination of this wretched man, we may mention, that on being locked up on Friday night, he inquired if there was a phrenologist in the town, and on being answered in the affirmative, he expressed a wish that his head might be delivered to him, and that his trunk, for the good of society, might be sent to the Infirmary.