CELESTINA SOMNER.
7th April 1856
Reference Numbert18560407-457
VerdictGuilty > unknown
SentenceDeath

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457. CELESTINA SOMNER was indicted for the wilful murder of Celestine Christmas: she was also charged on the Coroner's Inquisition with the like offence.

MESSRS. BODKIN and CLERK conducted the Prosecution.

RACHEL MUNT . I am sixteen years old. In the month of Feb. last I lived with Mr. and Mrs. Somner, as their servant, at No. 18, Linton street, Islington—Mr. and Mrs. Somner, and myself, lived in the house, no one else—I used to sleep in the front kitchen—I recollect on a Saturday night in Feb. my mistress going out—I do not recollect what date it was—it was about 10 o'clock when she went out—I was in the back kitchen when she went out—she said that she was going to Murray-street, and she would not

be half an hour gone—she said she expected me to be abed and asleep when she came home—my master was out at this time—my mistress then went out—I did not go to bed—I sat up to make myself an apron—I remained about half an hour making my apron—my mistress returned in about half an hour—I heard her put the key in the door—she had a latch key—I was then in the front kitchen—when I heard her come to the door, I put the the candle out, and got into bed—I heard the door open—my mistress came in, came to the top of the kitchen stairs, against the parlour door, and called out, "Are you in bed, Rachel?"—I made no answer—the kitchen is down stairs—she then went up stairs to the bed room—that is higher up than the parlour, and then she came down with a different dress on; a different dress from her flounced dress—she had the flounced dress on when she went out—she was not up stairs long, about two minutes—before she went up stairs, I heard her voice in the passage—I heard her say, "Wipe your feet, and she told her that she was to go into the parlour—that was before she went up stairs—the parlour is over the kitchen—I heard some one go into the parlour when my mistress said that—after my mistress had been up stain, she came down into the kitchen in an old black dress—the dress she had had gone out in that evening was a black dress, with flounces to it, and bugles up the sleeves—the one she had on when she came into the kitchen was a plain dress—when she came into the kitchen she drew the kitchen blind down—she had no light with her—there is a lamp opposite the window, by which I could see—after my mistress had pulled down the blind, she went up stairs again, and said to the child, "Come down here," and the child came down—my mistress came down first, with a candle in her hand, and went into the cellar—she had to go through the kitchen to get to the cellar—there is a door from the kitchen out to the cellar—that door opens into the area—there are two cellars in the area—she went into the front cellar—that is immediately opposite the kitchen door, the one nearest to the kitchen door—the pavement of the street is over that cellar—the coals were kept in the other cellar, not in that one—at the time my mistress went into the cellar, the little girl was in the kitchen; she stopped at the kitchen door—I had seen that little girl once before.

COURT. Q. Had the little girl come through the kitchen as well as the prisoner? A. Yes—she did not come through until my mistress asked her what she stopped at the kitchen door for—I had not seen the little girl pass through the kitchen—my mistress asked her why she stopped at the kitchen door.

MR. CLERK. Q. Do you recollect the words that your mistress used? A. She said, "Come in, what are you afraid of?"—the little girl answered, "I am not afraid, ma'am; it is a strange place to me; I have not been here before"—she was at the kitchen door when she said that, the door leading from the house into the kitchen.

COURT. Q. Not at the door leading into the area? A. Yes, she stood at the kitchen door that leads into the area—she could not get to that without passing through the kitchen—it was at the door leading from the kitchen into the area—the stairs come into the kitchen, and then there is a door leading from the kitchen into the area—the door I am speaking of now, where this conversation took place, was the door leading into the area.

MR. CLERK. Q. What did you hear next? A. Then the child went into the cellar, and I heard her say that some one was going to cut her throat, and mistress said, "Oh! was she?" and the girl said, "Yes"—then mistress

said, "Supposing I cut it"—then the child said, "Oh! you are going to cut my throat,"and mistress said, "Hush! hush"—the little girl said that she was going to the devil, the devil would take her, she was going to hell and she said, "I am dying! I am dying"—then the candle was put out, and mistress walked about the front kitchen, and she said, "You b——I will kill you! you b——, I will kill you! I will teach you telling any more lies about me: you are a liar, and you are a thief"—at that time the child was making a groaning noise in the cellar—the groaning noise was before what my mistress said, whilst she was saying it—my mistress then came to the match box by my bedside, and lighted a candle, and she then went into the cellar again—I did not hear any noise from the child at the time my mistress went into the cellar a second time, nor afterwards—she did not remain very long in the cellar at that time—I saw her come out of the cellar, and she said, "There, you b——, you must be dead now, you must be dead now"—she then took the candle, and buttoned the cellar door up, and came into the kitchen—she shut the kitchen door leading into the area, and then took the candle into the back kitchen—she then came and drew the front kitchen blind down—that was the same blind that she had drawn down before—she drew it down when she came down the first time—she drew it up again before she came to me, when she took the candle into the back kitchen—when she pulled it down again she came and tapped me on the shoulder, and said, "Rachel"—I did not answer, and she called again, "Rachel"—I turned round as if I was in a fright, and she asked me if I had been out before the master went out, to get some soap and things—I said, "Yes, ma'am"—I had been directed that evening to go out for some soap and other things—mistress said she had been down to the cupboard two or three times to get some soap to take into her bedroom—the cupboard where the soap was kept is in the front kitchen—mistress said she had been out to her greengrocer's to get change for half a crown, to pay me my money on Sunday morning, and she asked me if there was any hot water in the boiler—I said, "Yes"—she said she wanted to wash her hands—she said, "I owe you 9d., and it is 11 o'clock, and I am going to bed"—that was 9d. she had borrowed of my wages—she then went into the back kitchen, and I heard her washing something there—she was there washing for about half an hour—she then went up stairs into the parlour, and remained there some time, walking about—afterwards she went up stairs to the bedroom—I heard my master, Mr. Somner, come home that night—I heard him say that it was 1 o'clock—that was when he came in—that was a long time after my mistress had gone up to her bedroom—he said it to mistress—he had been out from about 8 o'clock in the evening—I got up from my bed at 8 o'clock next morning—I remained in bed until that time—about half past 8 o'clock my mistress came into the kitchen—I had not got the fire lighted, and she told me I ought to have got the firt lighted before then—I was later than usual on a Sunday morning—I I was later than usual that morning—there was some beer kept in the area, close to the cellar door, between the kitchen door and the cellar door—my mistress fetched her beer from that place at dinner time, but not in the morning—she usually did so—she fetched it at dinner time—that was at 12 o'clock—in the course of the Sunday morning I went to the cellar door near the kitchen door—I was going for coals—in order to get the coals I had to pass the cellar where my mistress had been the night before with the little girl—as I went for the coals I looked into that cellar—I took a candle—it was about a quarter to 9 o'clock in the morning—I had

not to take a candle to the cellar to get the coals, but I was afraid to go without a candle—the door of the cellar where my mistress had been the night before was closed at the time I came to it—it was fastened with a button—I unbuttoned it, and opened the door, and looked into the cellar, and saw the child lying there close to the cellar door—her face and hands were covered with blood—I did not stay long in the cellar, I came out again directly, and I went and fetched the coals—I fastened the door again—about 11 o'clock that Sunday morning my sister came to see me—she is older than me—my mistress saw her come—I went to the area to see who it was, and she pushed me back and said she would go—she mid, "It is your sister, do not ask her down in the kitchen this morning, I am busy"—my sister went away then—I began to tell her as soon as I opened the door—she went away then—she came again in the afternoon, about 4 o'clock—I was at home when the policemen came—that was about 4 o'clock that afternoon—they came with my sister when she came back—my mistress bad on the same dress on Sunday morning that she had on when she came down the stairs, the plain dress—when the policemen came she had on the flounced dress—she had changed her dress before dinner, before 12 o'clock—I had seen this child a week before—it was on the Saturday night—I saw her in the passage of the house—my mistress was with her.

Cross-examined by MR. BALLANTINE. Q. After you heard all this, you remained lying in bed, did you? A. Yes—I did not get up at all—I did not fall asleep—I lay awake all night—I did not doze off at all—I am quite sure about that—I heard my master come home—my master had been kind to me—he was not very kind to his wife—I did not think of getting up and going up to my master—the expression the child used was that some one was going to cut her throat—I did not hear who she said was going to do it—I know she said some one—I think she said her mother—she said some one was going to cut her throat—I am sure she said that Rome one was going to cut her throat—those were the words she used—she said, "Some one was going to cut my throat"—not "Some one is going," but "Some one was going to cut my throat"—she said that when she was in the cellar—she called it out very loud—my mistress passed right through the kitchen where I was sleeping, close to me—I do not know whether she looked at me; I kept my eyes closed—my master used to ill treat my mistress, he beat her—she seemed very unhappy—I often used to see her crying—I had been there five months, from 15th Sept. last—I could always understand what my mistress said to me—she was not kind to me—she used to scold me.

MR. BODKIN. Q. What used she to scold you for? A. She used to say that I did not do things right—the things in the house—I have heard what my master and mistress quarrelled about when he beat her—he said that the dinner was not made right for him—I have not heard any other cause of quarrel.

EDWIN TOWNSEND (policeman, N 23). On Sunday, 17th Feb., I accompanied inspector Hutton to the house, No. 18, Linton-street, where the prisoner lived—it was about half past 4 o'clock in the afternoon when we got there—I was accompanied by the sister of the little girl who has bean examined—I do not know who opened the door—it was opened before I got there—I saw the prisoner coming up the kitchen stairs—I met her just at the top of the stairs—I advanced towards her—she said, "What do you want?"—I said, "We want to look into your cellar"—she said, "Look into my cellar? good God! what for?"—I made her no answer, but said, "I wish you to go with us"—her husband was there—he was in the parlour—

he came out of the back parlour door, just at the side of the stairs, and joined me and the prisoner—we then all four proceeded down the kitchen stain myself, the inspector, the prisoner, and her husband—I then procured a light, and proceeded to the cellar—I went to the cellar, opposite the kitchen door—it immediately faces the kitchen door—the width of the area is all that interposes between them—that is covered by the stone steps that lead to the house, and then there is a doorway on the left, leading out into the open part of the area, and to the other cellar—that doorway divides the area into two parts—there are no area steps—there is no coal plate, or the opening for coals, in the cellar immediately facing the kitchen door to which I went—I found the door of that cellar partially open—I was the first of the four that went to it—I there found the dead body of a girl, as I thought, about fourteen years of age, at the time—she was lying on her back, with the face partially to the right—I observed a large wound in the back part of the neck, and a large clot of blood on the ground underneath—upon seeing this, I said to the inspector, in the prisoner's hearing, "It is all right; the body is there"—I then got hold of the prisoner by the wrist, and said, "You must consider yourself in my custody, for causing the death of this girl"—she said, "Me! I did not do it; I know nothing of it;" and then she said, "I heard a noise outside the area railings last night, but I not tell you, dear" (addressing her husband), "as I thought it would make you timid"—the husband was standing close to us—I then took her into custody, and took her in a cab to the station, and the husband as well—the husband was afterwards taken before the Magistrate, and discharged—directly after I had conveyed them to the station, I went back to the house with the surgeon—I made a search up stairs, in the bedroom, and under the bed I found a black gown—I noticed upon it some blood, apparently as if it had been partially washed, still there were evident spots of blood—this is the dress (produced)—I noticed some bloody finger marks on the cellar door, and also on the door leading into the kitchen—I examined the bed in which the servant slept, and saw one or two small spots of blood on the upper part of the sheet, the part that turns over—this lucifer box, with bloody finger marks upon it, was handed to me by the surgeon.

REBECCA ANN DONOVAN . I am employed to search females at the station house at Robert-street, Hoxton. The prisoner was brought there on Sunday, 17th Feb., about half past 6 o'clock in the afternoon—she went with me to a room up stairs at the station—when she got up stairs she looked round the room, and said, "What am I brought here for? is it to be searched?"—I said, "Yes"—she said nothing further then—she had taken her dress off—after taking her dress off, she saw me look down at her petticoat, which I here produce, with marks of blood on it—she said, "I am subject to a bleeding at the nose, and I have used my petticoat; my husband can, tell you that, for he lent me a silk handkerchief"—she then said, "I have a coal cellar in my house without a coal plate; a girl was found there stabbed with a knife; I know nothing about it, for my house was fastened up by 10 o'clock that night."

GEORGE BECKLEY (police sergeant). I went to the house, No. 18, Linton-street street, on Sunday evening, 17th Feb., between 6 and 7 o'clock—I found a pair of stockings between the bed and the floor—I produce them—they are marked "C.C."—there is blood upon them—I looked into a cupboard in the back parlour shortly afterwards, that same evening, and found this knife there (produced)—there were no other knives with it—there appeared to be a little red round this part of the handle—it appeared like blood—the prisoner was lodged in the station at the time I found the knife.

Cross-examined. Q. You cannot say it was blood, can you? A. I would not say positively—the knife had been cleaned since; not since I found it: I found it in this state—nothing has been done to it since I found it—there is a little red round it now (pointing it out).

JOSEPH HOWE (policeman, N 124). On Monday, 18th Feb., I was in the gaoler's room at the Clerkenwell police court, after the prisoner was examined—there were two examinations, this was at the first examination—all the witnesses had been examined that day but one, that was Julia Harrington, the woman that formerly had charge of the child—the prisoner was remanded on that occasion—I heard her speak to herself—she was in the gaoler's room at the back of the court—after I had been there a few minutes, she began talking to herself about Hamlet and Richard the Third—after she had been talking some time, she put her handkerchief to her nice, and said, in a low tone, that it was her brother's child that was dead (that was said to herself), and he was dead, and when he died, she took the child to keep it, and she paid 5s. a week for it, which she paid out of her own earnings, as she taught music, and she did not wish to put the child to service, she was not big enough—she said, "I did it; it is no use telling a lie about it, for I did not know what to do for the best"—she said nothing more about the child—she was talking the whole of the time she was there, about her husband, what he was, and where she lived before they were married—she said her husband was an engraver—I do not remember anything else that she said—she then went away to the van.

Cross-examined. Q. Was she speaking to you, or muttering to herself? A. No—she was talking aloud to herself—I sat at the back of her—I do not know whether she saw me or not—she spoke about Mr. Phelps taking the part of Hamlet and Richard the Third—she said she liked to see Mr. Phelps take the part much better than she did Kean—that was the beginning—she talked about the history of Hamlet and Richard the Third—she was sitting in a chair at the time, with her hands in her lap—her head was up, the same as it would be if she was sitting anywhere else—I was in the room when it began—I was behind her—I had seen her before at the station—I I had had no conversation with her before—I was then watching her—her first words were that she should like to see Mr. Phelps take the part of Hamlet and Richard the Third—she was talking a long time about that, but I really cannot recollect the words that she mentioned—she talked about the history of Hamlet and Richard the Third—I cannot recollect what she said about it—she said she knew the history of Richard the Third, and she was talking about it for some time—I cannot recollect what she said about it—she did not appear to me to be rambling—she spoke loud enough to be heard distinctly by any one—she might have been talking for half an hour or three quarters, I cannot say exactly the time, talking in that way—she mentioned about the two children that were murdered in Richard the Third—I cannot recollect what she said about the children—all she said about Hamlet, was about Mr. Phelps taking the part of Hamlet—she mentioned the history of Hamlet, but I cannot recollect what it was—she did not say anything about murders there—I had never seen her before to my knowledge.

MR. BODKIN. Q. Did you remain with her until she was taken away in the van? A. I did—I did not say anything to her during the whole time—I had strict orders not to have any conversation with her at all—I attended her to the van when it arrived—I did not speak to her then; the driver came to the door, and called her—she then got up and went into the van—I went out with her.

GEORGE WILLIAM HENRY COWARD . I am a surgeon, in Si John's. terrace, Hoxton; I am surgeon to the police—I was called to the house, No. 18, Linton-street, on Sunday afternoon, 17th Feb.—I got there about half past 5 o'clock—I saw the dead body of a child lying in the cellar—it was lying on its back, and rather directed towards the right side—there I were three wounds on the left side of the neck, extending from the centre of the back of the neck to the trachea in front—the carotid artery was wounded in two places—the hæmorrhage from those two wounds in that artery was the cause of death—there were a number of superficial wounds in both hands, and likewise about the face—it is possible that such an instrument as this (produced) may have inflicted the wounds about the I throat and person of the child—I saw this knife at the Coroner's inquest—they were wounds by a sharp instrument—I found this match box on the chimney piece in the front kitchen of the house—there are apparently stains of blood upon it—I gave it to the policeman—this petticoat and dress were shown to me before the Coroner—I believe them to be stained with blood.

JULIA HARRINGTON . I am the wife of Thomas Harrington, and reside at No. 4, St. Peter-street, Hackney-road. I knew the deceased child, brought her up—she was born in my house, and in my presence—the prisoner is her mother—I brought her up from her birth, and always had charge of her up to 7th Feb.—her mother then took her from my house—she had written me a letter—when she took her away, she said she was taking her away to place her with her sister, in Murray-street—she said that to me by word of mouth—the child was called by the name of Celestina Christmas, her age was ten and a half years, as near as I can say—her mother paid me for her support—I had different payments—she paid me half a crown a week latterly—she has sometimes paid me as much as 6s. a week—I have never received anything from any one else for the support of the child—I know nothing of the father.

Cross-examined. Q. What was the prisoner before she married? A. I do not know—her name was Celestina Christmas, the same as the child—I the child was called after her.

CHARLES GROEBER . I live at No. 16, Murray-street, Hoxton. I am an engraver by trade—in Feb. last, on the Monday after the child's death, I saw the dead body of the child at the house, No. 18, Linton-street—I had last seen that child alive on 16th Feb., on the Saturday evening before—that was in my own house in Murray-street—it had been living at my house for ten days before that Saturday—the prisoner brought the child to my house on that occasion—I was there when she brought her—I knew the prisoner before—on Saturday, 16th Feb., I saw the prisoner at my house in the evening, near 10 o'clock—she took the little girl away with her—she said she was taking her to a place at a greengrocer woman's to be a servant—when she left the house with the girl, I followed her—she went straight home to No. 18, Linton-street, with the little girl—I saw them go into the house, and then I went home.

GUILTY . Aged 24.— DEATH .

Before Mr. Justice Cresswell.


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