7th January 1856
Reference Numbert18560107-184
VerdictNot Guilty > non compos mentis
SentenceImprisonment > insanity

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184. SARAH ALLEN was indicted for the wilful murder of William Allen.

MESSRS. BODKIN and CLERK conducted the Prosecution.

ELIZABETH WOODLAND . In Nov. last I was lodging in the same house with the prisoner and her husband, in Poulton-terrace, Chelsea—he is a messenger of the Steam Boat Company at Chelsea—they had three children living with them—the eldest boy, William, was six years old—Edward, the second, was three years old, and the third, Arthur, eleven months—I had lived in the house with them better than two years—I recollect 15th Nov.—it was a very foggy day—the prisoner was out that afternoon—she came in about 5 o'clock—the eldest boy, Willie, came home from school before her, and he stopped in my room until she came in—she went out again with the three children some time after 5 o'clock—I dare say it was nearly half-past 5 o'clock—I said to her, "Why, Mrs. Allen, are you going out this foggy night with those children?"—she said, "Yes, I am only going on a little errand"—about a quarter to 6 o'clock her husband came home—I went to bed at 12 o'clock that night—the prisoner had not come home then—I saw nothing of any of the children that night before I went to bed—about 9 o'clock next morning I saw the prisoner—she passed me on the stairs—Mrs. Richards was with her—nothing passed between us at that time—I saw the body of the eldest child at the Inquest, on 18th Nov.

Cross-examined by MR. PARRY. Q. The prisoner was the landlady of the house where you lodged? A. Yes—I have known her two years—she was a very kind and affectionate mother, and lived on terms of great affection with her husband, who is a very sober, respectable, industrious man—for their station in life, they had a very happy home—I know that she had an opinion that her children were scrofulous—I had a book on the subject of king's evil and scrofula—this is it—(produced)—she borrowed that book from me to read—I never heard her say that she thought her husband was scrofulous—the children were very healthy clean looking children—there was not the least outward sign of scrofula—she often used to speak to me respecting the children—she used to say of Willie, the eldest boy, in particular, how very ill he was, and that he had the scurvy in his blood—as far as my observation went, that was quite incorrect—it was a mere delusion of her mind—I have frequently tried to disabuse her of that delusion by telling her that I was sure nothing ailed him—that did not appear to have the least effect upon her mind—she would say I could not

see right she was sure, that I was wrong, and she was right in her belief—she was a very sensible, intelligent woman, upon all ordinary topics—I do not know that she was a religious minded woman, nothing particular in that way—upon all ordinary topics she would discourse rationally and properly, but she would always change it to talking about the children—this book belonged to my husband's mother many years ago—that was how it came into my possession—the prisoner did not ask me to lend it to her, I offered to lend it—I do not think the delusion got into her mind by reading that book, because she was of the same opinion before.

COURT. Q. Perhaps it was upon her stating that opinion that you lent her the book? A. Yes.

JOHN MACEY . I am a blacksmith, and reside at Chelsea. On the Thursday evening in question, about 5 or 10 minutes to 5 o'clock, I was coming up Church-street, Chelsea, which leads to Cheyne-walk, and met the prisoner—it was about 120 yards from the river where I met her—I knew her well—she had the three children with her, one on each side of her, and the infant in her arms—she was going towards the water side—it was a very foggy night, and that was the remark that passed between us—she said, "It is very foggy, is it not?" and I said, "Indeed it is, ma'am"—she then passed on with the children one way, and I came on the other.

Cross-examined. Q. You know her to be a very respectable, well conducted woman?"A. Yes—from all I ever saw I believe she was a very excellent wife and mother.

JOHN JAMES GODBY . I am a waterman at the Cadogan Pier, Chelsea. About 6 o'clock on the evening of 15th Nov. I was on a barge by the side of the pier—it is one of the dummies which the people go on to get on to the pier—it is in the middle of the pier: I mean across the end of it—you go down steps from the end of the pier on to the dummy—I suppose it may be nearly 100 yards from the shore, or not so much—while I was on the dummy, I heard the cry of a child, apparently in the water—I ran off from the pier, took the life buoy and a little boat hook, and got over the rails into a boat, and proceeded to where the sound came from, and just below the Cricketer's Causeway I picked up a child—that is up the river—I suppose it was about 200 or 300 yards from the barge on which I had been standing—I picked up the child from the water—it was the young one, eleven months old—I suppose it might have been about sixteen or eighteen yards from the shore—I took it to the Magpie and Stump, and delivered it to Thomas Holmes, to take into the house—I did not see more than one child in the water.

Cross-examined. You did everything you could to rescue the child the moment you heard its screams? A. Yes.

JOSEPH REYNOLDS . I am a waterman's apprentice, and live at Chelsea—I was walking along Cheyne-walk, coming from Battersea-bridge, on this evening, about a quarter to 6 o'clock, and heard a cry of "Police!"—I was then about forty yards from the pier, on the side nearer to Battersea bridge—I immediately ran down some steps there, and got into the water as far as I could safely go—I had to catch hold of the banisters to save myself, it being so foggy I could hardly see—I went down the steps nearest but one to the pier—they are steps where boats come to—I felt a boat that was made fast to the railing of the stairs, loosed it, and got in—it was about a quarter of an hour before high water, the boat lay right athwart the river—she was lying still, it is all an eddy there—there were other boats there, but out of my reach—none of them were touching the steps, I should say they

were about three yards from the steps—when I got down the steps I heard the splashing of people in the water, and crying, and struggling—I could not see anything, it was so foggy and dark, it was impossible to do so—the crying was that of a child—I made towards the sound, and picked up the boy of three years old—he was just going down underneath my boat's bow—I got him out—I heard the noise of others going out, but did not succeed in getting out any others—I only heard one other voice at that minute, but it appeared that I heard three voices in the water before I went out—I had no sculls in my boat, but I paddled on shore with the stretchers—after giving up the child I went back again, and found the cap of the boy that was drowned—I came up to the younger child, but another man had saved it—the one I saved was, I dare say, about sixteen yards from the shore, as near as I could judge—it was floating up towards Batterseabridge, what tide there was, there was not much tide, it was nearly high water.

ROBERT SPINK . I am a cabman. On the night of 15th Nov. I was directly opposite the Cadogan-pier with my cab, about half past 5 o'clock—while I was there I heard a scream from the water—there were two screams—I should say they were the screams of two children—they seemed to be different voices, one was a much louder voice than the other—a man came by at the time, and I went with him over to the water and listened—after looking for a minute, or a minute and a half, I saw something dark floating on the water, and still heard the scream—I should say it was about five or six yards from the pier, up the river—I called out very lustily for help, for watermen, and police—I ran to some steps that lead down to the shore from Cheyne-walk, and got wet in running down—they were the steps nearest to the Cadogan-pier—there was a gate at the top of the steps, but it was fastened—I had to get over the rails near the gate—I got on to a dummy which was there—I saw a little child floating past the dummy, within about half a yard of my arm's length—I was unable to reach it, and it floated past me—I could not see more than one child in the water, but I heard the screams of the second further out in the water—when I first saw the child in the water I was looking over the wall near the Cadogan-pier, I was standing, perhaps, about eight yards away from the level of the pier, by the side of the wall which bevels out, and the child was coming, it might have been about six or eight yards from the pier—it was floating from the pier at the time.

WILLIAM CUSACK . I live with my brother, at the Magpie and Stump, Chelsea—about twenty minutes to 6 o'clock on this evening I heard cries from the river, they appeared to be cries of children—I directly crossed the road and went down the steps next but one to the pier, which are directly opposite our house—there is a gate at the top of those steps which is kept shut at night—when I arrived at the steps I found two men bringing the two children ashore—they were taken to my brother's house, and everything done to restore them—the prisoner's husband afterwards came, and went with the children to the workhouse—that was about 7 o'clock—I knew him before—I afterwards went with him from the workhouse to his house.

PHILIP PARKER . I am a horse keeper. On 18th Nov. I found the body of a boy in the river, about thirty yards above Vauxhall-bridge, on the Middlesex side—he was dead—the body was about thirty feet from the shore, the tide was running down, it appeared to have been some time in the water—I afterwards saw the body at the Inquest.

MR. PARRY to ELIZABETH WOODLAND. Q. Did the prisoner complain to you in June last that she was suffering from pains her head? A. Yes;

she would not take any medicine to remove it—she need to rub her arms and say that a white powder came out of them, and that was the disease—I could not see any powder.

JOHN COATES . I am a lighterman and boat builder, at Chelsea—I know the state the tide was in about 6 o'clock on 15th Nov.—it was nearly half an hour before high water—I know the Cadogan-pier, Chelsea, there is a wall east of the pier for about eighty feet—it is a sort of curved wall, about three feet high—there is not more than two, or three, or six feet of wall on the western side—there is a curve of about twenty feet, but no wall beyond, there are posts with chains fastened from them—there are steps leading from the roadway to the shore, and gates at the top of those steps which are closed at night—the eighty feet wall bows out, and projects into the river on each side of the pier—anything falling into the river from the outer part of the wall would fall into the current—but on each side it would be still water for it is ten feet from the shore—this plan (looking at one) correctly represents the position of the place—it would be nearly thirty feet from the shore to get into the current.

Cross-examined. Q. I suppose you are quite accurate about this? A. Yes, perfectly—I speak from experience—I am well acquainted with the river, my premises are close to the spot.

MR. BODKIN. Q. Are there gates to the pier itself? A.—they are generally closed when the boats cease running—the last up boat arrives about a quarter after 5 o'clock—but no boats were running at this time, on account of the fog, and the gates would no doubt be closed.

JOHN JAMES GODBY re-examined. I had charge of the pier—there were no boats running that day at all—the pier gates were closed all day, and fastened—I opened them to let in the persons who gave the alarm—I know that they were fastened before that.

ELIZABETH RICHARDS . I am a domestic servant I have been long acquainted with the prisoner—when this unhappy affair occurred I was out of a situation, and was living in Cirencester-place, Fitzroy-square—I had not seen her for about three weeks or a month then—she came on the evening of 15th Nov., about 7 o'clock, or a little after—I did not expect her, it was quite an unusual thing—she came alone—I lived in the first floor—she came up to my room—she appeared very desponding and distressed, and in a flood of tears, and said, "I have lost my children"—I first of all went down to her, and I did not know her; it was very foggy and dark—she said, "Mrs. Richards, don't you know me?"—I said at first I did not, and then I said, "It is Mrs. Allen, is it not?"—she said, "Yes"—I said, "I did not know you at first, come in and sit down"—she said, "I want to speak to you, I have lost my children"—I asked her to come up stairs, and then said, "Where is your husband, have you been to your husband?"—she said, "I have not seen him since the morning"—I said, "Then you must go to him directly"—she said, No, I can't go to Allen, I can't go home"—I said, "That is the place you must go to; who can you go to but your husband, he is your friend, the only friend you can go to whatever jmay have happened"—I could not prevail upon her to leave—she kept on saying, I can't go to Allen, I can't see Allen"—she remained in my room I dare say an hour, and I then went out with her and had some coffee at some place in the neighbourhood—we then came back again—I then wanted her to go, but she would not, and it was 12 o'clock before I could get her to leave—she kept on saying she could not go to Allen, and she would not go to

Allen; that was all the answer I could get from her—about 12 o'clock I prevailed upoa her to accompany me to her house—we were from 12 o'clock till 2 getting there on account of the fog—she did not give me the least account of how she had lost her children, all she said was, that she had lost them, and she would not go home to her husband—I always understood he was the best of husbands to her—when we got to her house she let herself in with a key that she had—I went into the passage, closed the door, and stood on the mat; I was rather doubtful whether she would go out again—I said to her, "Mrs. Allen, you go up stairs first, and see whether your husband is at home or not"—she said, "Very well I will, and then we will get a light"—she went up stairs, and knocked at the door twice, and Mr. Allen got off the bed where he had been lying with the little boy, and let her in—I heard him say to her, "Sarah, is it you?"—she said, "Yes, Mrs. Richards is down stairs"—he said, "It can't be you, Sarah"—she said, "Yes, it is."—I then went up—I found Mr. Allen in the room, and his brother, and sister, and the second boy—the boy was in the bed, and Mr. Allen was lying on the bed with part of his clothes on—the prisoner looked at the child and kissed it, and said, "Where did you get in?" or, "How did you, get in?"—Mr. Allen said to her, "Ah! Sarah, where is Willie, where is Willie?"—she made no answer—he said, "And where is the baby, Sarah?"—she said, "Have you got the baby?"—he said, "I have, Sarah"—she said, "Where is my baby?"—the baby was not then in the house, it was with a nurse—she said, "I will have my baby; where is my baby?" why can't I have my baby?"—that was her continual cry—Mr. Allen kept continually asking her the whole of the morning concerning Willie, but she made no answer, she only wanted her baby—I remained there the rest of the morning.

Cross-examined. Q. How long have you known her? A. Many years, the greater part of her life—I knew but little of her till after her marriage, about seven years ago—I have known her intimately since then—when she came to me on this evening she was in a flood of tears—she was in a state that I never saw her in before, she seemed so distressed, and could not speak to me, as though she had lost all self possession, and all control of herself—she was sobbing and crying wkile she spoke—I did all I could to soothe and console her, and to get her to her husband—they lived on most affectionate terms, and she was a most kind and excellent mother, and particularly fond of her children; in fact, I always considered that she was too indulgent, she indulged them to a fault—I knew of the idea of hers about scrofula, and I have tried to reason her out of it—I always considered it was a delusion, but she was so very strong upon it the last time I was with her, about three weeks before this—she told me that I would not heed her—I said, "Oh! Mrs. Allen, all children have got complaints; you are so very fond of your children"—she said, "Oh! look at it; oh, Mrs. Richards, we are all ruined! I am ruined, my husband is ruined, and my children are ruined; my family is ruined altogether!"—she was under the impression that her husband was also scrofulous—I know that her mother's youngest sister died in a lunatic asylum—her mother was not at all affected that I know of—she has only been dead about three months—I should think it is quite a year and a half since she first complained to me about her husband and her children being scrofulous, but it was not so much as the last time—she was so very strong upon it the last time, it seemed to grow, nothing could do away with it—I did all I could to do away with it—the boy Willie was a very fine child—at one time I saw an alteration in him, he was looking

thinner, but I considered he was growing, and I said so—she said, "Oh! nonsense; you don't understand it; you can see by my eyes, by my forehead, that I have the complaint."

COURT. Q. then she had the same impression that she herself was labouring under scrofula? A. Oh, yes, that she was affected—that was latterly—it was the last time I saw her—her impression was, that she was always affected; that something was in the blood, and that it was in the bones, and would never come out, and that in future it would be worse than it was—that was what she held out to me—she said, "I am quite altered, and see how my forehead is swelled out."

THOMAS DRAKE (police inspector). About half past 9 o'clock on the morning of 16th Nov., I went to the prisoner's house, and found her in the kitchen—as soon as she saw me she began to cry—I told her that I should take her into custody on the charge of having caused the death of one of her children—she made no answer, except saying, Let me have my baby"—I asked her if the eldest boy, William, went out with her on the evening previous—she made no answer, but kept repeatedly asking for her baby—the prisoner's house is about 500 yards from the Cadogan pier.

EDWARD TIPPETT . I am a surgeon, and live at Ehnterrace, Fulham. I have been in the habit of attending the prisoner and her children, for between four and five years—she has from time to time made complaints to me of their having an impure disease—she called it scrofula—it is rather more than six months ago that she first called my attention to the children—I examined them in consequence of that statement—I did not find the slightest foundation for it—I told her so, but she still continued to express the same opinion—she said she thought the children would live to suffer for some years, and eventually die of it—remember on one occasion her saying she would rather see them die than live to suffer—that was about three months before this happened—it was in the autumn, about the latter end of Aug. or Sept.—I considered this a perfect delusion, both as regarded herself and her children—I have very often endeavoured to remove the impression, but entirely failed in doing so—I advised her to go to the hospital and take a higher opinion—she frequently complained to me about herself, of a swelling of the head, and the colour of her skin—she said she had a disease of the skin, and also a disease in the bones, which would eventually kill her—she complained of a little pain in the head occasionally—I examined her—there was no foundation for the existence of any actual disease—I prescribed for her once, when she complained of pain in the head—she nad medicine to take, I cannot say that she took it—the last time I saw her, I met her in the street with the three children—I then remarked how well they were looking, particularly the eldest boy—she replied, "Oh! dear, no; they are none of them well; they are far from well"—I think that was in Aug. or Sept.—she appeared to be still labouring under the same impression.

Cross-examined. Q. Was she under the impression that her husband was scrofulous? A. I cannot remember hearing her mention it—her idea was perfectly erroneous; there was no foundation for it.

Q. Do you believe, supposing it should be proved to the satisfaction of the Jury that she threw this child into the Thames, that the delusion in her mind might have induced her to do it to prevent its having a life of suffering? A. No doubt, that is my full impression, from the expression she used.

MR. PARRY called

GEORGE ROBERTS ROWE, ESQ ., M. D. I am a member of the College of Physicians, and also a Surgeon. I am the author of a work on nervous

diseases, and have paid great attention to those matters—I have seen the prisoner, and had conversations with her—my first visit occupied perhaps half an hour—I was then quite satisfied that she laboured under a delusion which is not of unfrequent occurrence in persons of high nervous sensibility—she stated to me that her children had suffered from a scrofulous disease, that their foreheads projected, and their eyes were starting from their heads, all that I could say was futile, and of no avail, she still persisted in her delusion—I saw her about a week afterwards, and the opinion that I had formed of her case was more than corroborated—I extended the period of my visit—I was most anxious to form a correct view of her case—she still persisted in the delusion—I called her attention to a work which she had been reading, and which has been produced to-day, and I believe the reading of that book very much strengthened the morbid view she entertained—she still labours under it—these are cases of a very protracted nature—sometimes the delusion does vanish.

Cross-examined by MR. BODKIN. Q. In either of the conversitions you had with her, did she say anything about the death of her children? A. She alluded to them—she stated that she thought they were better off—she believed they had been suffering, and would ultimately have suffered much more—I think such a delusion would be very likely to lead to the commission of an act of violence like this.

JOHN ROWLAND GIBSON . I am surgeon of Newgate. I have seen the prisoner every day since she has been in the gaol—I entirely agree with what Dr. Rowe has said.

Cross-examined. Q. Is it your belief that, supposing she acted under this morbid delusion, at the time she committed the act, if she did commit it, she was incapable of distinguishing right from wrong? A. That is my impression—that is clearly my opinion.

DR. ROWE re-examined. I am also of opinion that she was incapable of distinguishing right from wrong.

NOT GUILTY, being insane .—Ordered to be detained until Her Majesty's pleasure be known .

Before Mr. Baron Martin.

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