Ex-Classics Home Page

The Newgate Calendar - JOHN NEWTON

Executed for the Murder of his Wife.

            'Bs master of thy anger,' said the sage of Corinth; and certainly a more important advice was never given to individuals; for how much of domestic misery is attributable to the violent and brutal passions of masters of families, who exercise in their own houses the most despotic and cruel conduct. It is a melancholy truth, that too many females have their lives made miserable by the unfeeling conduct of those who had pledged themselves, in the eyes of Heaven, to 'love, cherish, and protect,' these sweeteners of life. But humanity is not to be outraged with impunity; she avenges herself on her insulters, by making their homes miserable; and that which would otherwise be the scene of gladness and affection, becomes the seat of anger and unremitted contention.

            John Newton was an opulent farmer, who resided at Severn Hall, near Bridgenorth. He had been married for several years to an amiable woman, who had brought him a smiling and youthful progeny. His unfortunate consort was in the habit of experiencing great violence from her unfeeling husband; and, if we may judge from his last act, he was a mere brute in a human form.

            On the 12th of January, 1823, a man named Edwards, a tinman at Bridgenorth, brought in his account to Mr. Newton, for whom he was in the habit of working. There was an article charged for which Mrs. Newton had received money to pay, and being called into the parlour by her husband, she did not deny the fact, but stated having disposed of the money in the purchase of something else for the use of the house. He got into a great passion, blustered, and swore that he would give her a complete threshing. Mr. Edwards, with a view of pacifying him, offered to erase the item, which was for a mere trifle, sooner than have any thing unpleasant occur about it; but he still persisted in his determination of beating his unfortunate wife, who had been all day busied in baking and brewing, and who was at the time five months gone with child.

            About eight o'clock in the evening Mr. Edwards went away: before doing so he passed through the kitchen and shook hands with Mrs. Newton, who appeared dejected, but not ill. Newton stopped him for a few minutes at the door, and as he was about to depart he turned round to bid her good night, but she had quitted the kitchen. 'Oh! she's gone to hide herself,' said the husband, 'as she knows what she has to expect.' On this Edwards remonstrated with him, and told him that, if he beat his wife, he would never speak to him again.

            The counsel of his friend had no effect on the brutal wretch; for immediately on Edwards leaving the house, he proceeded to put his threats into execution, and beat and kicked the unfortunate woman in an unmerciful manner. The children made such a dreadful outcry, that the servant-maid heard them, at four fields distance, exclaiming, 'Oh! dear, dad, do not!' This girl then hastened home, and found her mistress lying in her blood across the hearth-stone. The carter came in about the same time, and the poor woman took him by the hand, saying, 'God bless you! I take my leave of you!' Newton all this time did not attempt to send for a doctor, but kept teasing his miserable wife, by asking her, 'Who is the greater rogue, you or I?'

            The wretched woman was then carried to bed, and the carter went to fetch a doctor, who, on arriving, gave her some laudanum, and then went away, without having clearly, ascertained the extent of her injuries. This man's conduct was really very culpable, as physicians afterwards gave it as their opinion that, with proper treatment, she might have recovered.

            Newton, before he went to bed, came into his wife's room, and began to tease her anew; when the woman, who was taking care of her, very properly desired him to go to bed, and defer what he had to say until a fitter opportunity. At one o'clock the wretched woman expired; and on this being communicated to her husband he jumped out of bed, and set off for a doctor. The suddenness of his wife's death seems to have brought him to a proper feeling, for he was heard to exclaim that he would give the whole world to have her back again.

            In a few days a coroner's inquest was held on the body; and, as he dreaded inquiry, he manifested great anxiety to suppress the most material evidence. The coroner, whose name was Whitcomb, seems to have culpably entered into his views, and corruptly endeavoured to procure a verdict which would acquit Newton of the murder. But the jury were dissatisfied with the coroner's explanation; and being unjustly prevented from seeing the body. returned the following verdict:-- 'Died by bleeding; but how caused is to us unknown.' 'That is,' said the coroner, 'by the visitation of God.' 'No,' replied the jury, 'that is not what we mean;' and the verdict was recorded as given in.

            The neighbours were, however, dissatisfied with this verdict; they applied to a magistrate, and Newton was committed. His trial came on at Shrewsbury on the 22d of March, 1823, and the foregoing facts being substantiated, he was found Guilty.

            Newton, who was a robust man, about forty, seemed little affected during his trial: but when the judge proceeded to pass on him the awful sentence of the law, he appeared bewildered -- looked wildly about -- moved, as if involuntarily, up and down the dock, and once or twice attempted to turn away. When the learned judge had concluded, he remained at the bar, as if in expectation of something being done for him, and resisted the attempts to take him away. When they began to force him away, he cried out wildly; and after being carried out, it was some time before his lamentations ceased to appal the court.

            He suffered at Shrewsbury next day but one, and manifested on the platform a proper feeling of piety and resignation.

            The conduct of Whitcomb on this important occasion was so glaring a dereliction of duty, that the county determined to prosecute him; and accordingly, on the 29th of the ensuing July, he was found Guilty, at the Shrewsbury Assizes. of the following charges:--'That, disregarding the duties of his office, and seeking to pervert the course of justice for his private gain, he did, before the swearing of the jury, take a secret examination of several witnesses -- that he had an interview with Newton, whom he knew to be suspected of the murder of his wife, and corruptly agreed with him to persuade the jury that he was not the cause of his wife's death -- that, contrary to the evidence of the surgeon, he endeavoured to persuade the jury that Mrs. Newton's death proceeded from a natural cause -- that he dismissed, in furtherance of his design, thirteen of the jurors -- that he corruptly returned an erroneous verdict -- and, finally, that he neglected calling certain witnesses, whose evidence he knew was of the utmost importance; at the same time refused to let the jurors see the body of the deceased, well knowing that it exhibited great marks of violence.' These charges were fully proved, and Whitcomb was dismissed from his office, fined, and imprisoned.


Previous Next