12th May 1845
Reference Numbert18450512-1180
VerdictNot Guilty > non compos mentis

Related Material

ActionsCite this text | Print-friendly version | Report an error
Navigation< Previous text (trial account) | Next text (trial account) >

1180. MARTHA BRIXEY was indicted for the wilful murder of Robert Barry Ffinch.

MESRSS. BODKIN and WILDE conducted the Prosecution.

JOHN DRAKE FFINCH I am a solicitor, and live at Greenwich—I had an infant named Robert Barry Ffinch born on the 21st of Aug.—on Sunday morning, the 4th of May, while in my dining-room with my wife and Mr. Traill, as near as possible at a quarter before ten, the prisoner entered the room in a very excited state, and said, addressing me, as I was facing the door, "Oh, sir, what have I done! what have I done! will you forgive me?" repeating that also—I said, "What?" and immediately rote, as we all did—she said, "Oh, sir, I am a murderer! I hare murdered the baby, I have cut the baby's throat!"—I instantly ran from the room, proceeded to the nursery, and on going into the back nursery, the sleeping nursery, I saw my child in the cot with his head very nearly off—there was one of the ordinary table-knives lying across the child, covered with blood, and I saw, my child was dead—I left the room, and on the landing met Mr. Traill—I called his attention to what had happened, and went down stairs—shortly after I saw the prisoner in what is called my room—she there again addressed me, "Oh, sir, will you forgive me? what have I done! what will become of me?"—I replied, thrusting her from me, as she was going to take hold of me, "You wretch, you have murdered my poor child, who never could have injured you, and you will be hung for it, that is what will become of you," and I thrust her from me—she then went down on her knees and prayed to God to forgive her—a police-officer was sent for, and I gave her in charge—one of her fellow-servants brought her bonnet and shawl down, which she put on—I desired the policeman to take her away—she said, "Oh, Sir, let me stop to change my boots"—I said there was no occasion for that, but the boots were brought down by the servant—she changed

them and went away—her conduct in the family has been kind to a degree, to the children, and in every respect.

Cross-examined by MR. CLARKSON. Q. I believe you particularly observed that? A. I did, her general conduct was harmless and inoffensive, attentive to her duties and to her mistress—I never heard of a fault—I believe she is about eighteen years old—I knew from Mrs. Ffinch that she was undergoing a course of medicine for some derangement to which some young women are subject.

Q. Did you notice a change, and that she had become dull and apparently restless within a fortnight or three weeks of this transaction? A. I had noticed that she was dull, certainly, and remarked it to Mrs. Ffinch, and she was looking unwell—Mrs. Ffinch had applied to the medical man for the usual remedies for her, and that gentleman is in attendance—her mother had been sent for shortly before in consequence of something, and it had been suggested that she should leave—she at first suggested it herself, and afterwards prayed she might be allowed to stay, as I understood from my wife—the servants had had mourning provided on the death of my father—I heard the prisoner's mother in the boate on Thursday evening, the 1st of May—I have observed the prisoner on her knees at family prayer, but on no other occasion—I do not know of her complaining of her head—I had seen her in the nursery on the morning in question, with the child in her arms about a quarter before nine o'clock—the deceased was not entrusted to her—the upper nurse had the entire charge of the infant, but that morning I saw it in the prisoner's arms—there was not any vindictiveness on her part towards Mrs. Ffinch or the child—she was always treated with kindness, and I believe up to this time was disposed in every way to do what was right towards us—I really think she was fully sensible of the kindness she received.

Q. I mean long after she was aware she was about to leave, and Mrs. Ffinch had engaged another person? A. Yes, I think so—when I saw her with the child at a quarter to Dine o'clock she appeared fondling it as a fond woman would do—she bad it in her arms while the nurse got breakfast for the children—I believe her mother is a laundress.

COURT. Q. How long had the prisoner been with you? A. Three years on the 31st of next Aug.—the children were very fond of her—I have seen them about her, she was reading to them, and amusing them in every way.

JAMES TRAILL, ESQ . I am a Magistrate of the Southwark police-court. I happened to be at Mr. Ffinch's house on this Sunday morning—I was in the room with Mr. and Mrs. Ffinch when the prisoner entered, and after Mr. Ffinch went up stairs, I followed him, but met him coming out of the inner nursery door—I went forward to the side of the cot, and immediately perceived the child must be dead—it was a sight too horrible for the mother to see, and I went down to prevent her coming up—I afterwards saw the prisoner in Mr. Ffinch's room—I took hold of her hands, and was anxious to have her put in charge of a constable immediately, not knowing what she might do to herself and others—she addressed me by name, and said, "What will become of me! what will be done to me! do you think God will forgive me if I ask pardon, and if I repent?"—she repeatedly used the expression, "I am a murderer! I am a murderer!"—that was when she first came down stairs—I do not recollect her saying anything else but to the same import, repeatedly expressing what would becalled distress of mind,

from her manner in repeating those expressions, "Oh, what will be done to me! what have I done! what shall I do?"—once or twice she said so to me, addressing me by name—the first time she spoke to me, I think I said, "Poor, miserable wretch!" but did not express any opinion—a policeman came soon after, aud I put her into his hands.

Cross-examined. Q. Her expressions denoted distress of mind; did her actions and manner exhibit great distress? A. Oh, greatly so—I should say on her first appearance in the room, notwithstanding her expression, "Iam a murderer!" my opinion was she had had an accident, and the child had dropped from the window or something, or that it might be the conduct of a person who had merely witnessed such a thing—I heard her say, "What have I done! how could I do it?" and I think her saying "How could I do it?" was what induced me to think it was not a wilful act, but some great carelessness.

Q. Was her general manner and language that of a person who had become conscious of her act after it was done? A. That is a question I hardly dare answer—I had seen her ever since she was in the service—she knew me perfectly—I always observed her to be a very respectable servant—I have seen her with the children, but I thought her a dispirited girl from the very beginning of her being there—that was merely from her countenance—I had no further opportunity of observing.

JOHN SUTTON . I am a surgeon, and live at Greenwich. I am great uncle to the deceased, by marriage—on Sunday, about a quarter past ten, in consequence of what had happened, I went to Mr. Ffinch's house, proceeded to the nursery, and saw the infant in the cot, with its head nearly severed off—it appeared as if the knife had struck the vertebrae, and slipped to the cartilage, leaving only the integument—it was quite guillotined—the wound was sufficient to cause death—the prisoner was never under my care.

SARAH MAY . I am upper nurse in Mr. Ffinch's family—I have been there two years on the 8th of June—I came after the prisoner. On Sunday morning, the 8th of May, I attended to the infant as usual, and placed it asleep in the cot, about half-past nine o'clock—the prisoner had nursed it before that, while I did something else in the nursery—she did not often have it in the morning—she had it at other times in the day, and always appeared to treat that and the other children with great kindness—after I placed the child asleep in the cot, the prisoner assisted me in making a bed in that room, and, while doing so, she asked me if I thought Mrs. Ffinch would forgive her, and allow her to stop there—I said, "Martha, Mrs. Ffinch will not let you stop, and you had better be quiet, it will be much better for you to be quiet"—she said nothing, but stood for a moment, as if she was in a study, biting her nails—I had occasion immediately after to go down stairs—she had then left off biting her nails, and was doing the back nursery, when I went away—that is the room the infant was in, and the bed which we were making—three elder children were in the other nursery, and the door between them wide open—I went down into the back yard, and there I heard a screaming in the house—I had not seen the prisoner after leaving her up stairs—she was the only person left there when I came down, and had the care of the children there—while she was in the service I considered her of a very kind disposition—the children were very fond of her—there had been a death in the family, and we were all put into mourning, about a month, or rather more, before this—Mrs. Ffinch went to Dover about three weeks before—the prisoner had the same

mourning given her as the other servants—she complained of one of the dresses not fitting her, and had it altered many times—she was then not satisfied with it—I did not see anything the matter with it myself—it fitted her very nicely indeed—I noticed about the time the mourning was given that she did not look so well, and was rather low in spirits at times, but I did notice anything else—after Mrs. Ffinch went to Dover, she ripped the body off the skirt of the dress, and said she would burn it—I said, "No, Martha, you never intend to burn it?"—she said, "Yes"—she took the whalebone out, and ripped the body right up, and out the body into the middle of the flame, poked it in with the poker, and quite destroyed the body, but did not destroy the skirt—I said I would inform Mrs. Ffinch, for she was a wicked girl to do so—Mrs. Ffinch returned on the 25th of April—I told her the next day—I was present when Mrs. Ffinch told her she was very sorry to hear the account I had given about her; she certainly could not put up with it; it was very wrong, and she certainly must leave her; that she must be in a great passion to do such a thing, and if she did such things she must leave her service—her mother was sent for in consequence of this—she came on Thursday, the 1st of May—Mrs. Ffinch then promised to overlook this, and she was to stay—Mrs. Ffinch told her mother and her, that if she ever heard anything more about the dress, or its going to the dressmaker to be altered again, she should leave her service.

Q. Did the prisoner appear to you at that time to have a great desire to remain in the service? A. No, she did not—she then seemed to have a wish to leave, to be a housemaid—the next day (Friday, the 2nd of May) the prisoner was sent out to fetch the children from school—I did not see her take the dress out with her, but she was gone a long time, and when she came back Mrs. Ffinch inquired the cause of her staying—she came in with the drew in her hand, and said she had been to the dressmaker's again—Mrs. Ffinch said, "You remember, Martha, what I said to you last night, that if I heard anything more about the dress you must leave, and now you must leave"—the prisoner began to cry, and said she was very sorry, and she hoped she should not leave—she asked her mistress to allow her to stop several times, and next day, Saturday, she again asked to be allowed to stay—I have heard her say many times she should never be happy again if she went away—Mrs. Ffinch told her on the Saturday that she had been to Deptford to see for a young woman to come and take her place in the nursery—the prisoner said she was very sorry indeed, she hoped Mrs. Ffinch would forgive her, and let her stop.

Q. Did the prisoner say anything more on that Saturday? A. I did not notice—she appeared very comfortable indeed all the Saturday afternoon, and more cheerful; indeed I heard her singing a song in the afternoon—on the Sunday morning, at breakfast-time, she said, did I know when mistress was going about the young woman—I said, "I believe tomorrow, Martha"—she said she did not like another one to come in her place, and she would not go—she had been for some weeks before taking medicine—she complained of her head about a month before Mrs. Ffinch went to Dover—she said she had a very curious aching pain in her head—she had been taking medicine for some weeks before this Sunday, and said her head was better—I had not heard her complain of her head for some time—she was very much liked in the family, and treated with great kindness—I do not remember any conversation with her on the Saturday night before this—but I noticed her being very sleepy—she sat down and went to sleep after the children went to bed—on that Saturday (I think

some time in the morning) I was in the nursery with her, and some of the children were there—she said "I need not make myself so unhappy as I do, anybody would think I have committed a murder, but I have not done so"—I said, "Martha, don't talk in that way, I hope you will never be guilty of such a crime as that"—she made answer, "Did you ever know of a woman being hung? I never heard of a woman being hung"—I answered, "Why, Martha, if they commit murder they are hung as well as men are hung"—she said she would rather be hung than transported or put into a madhouse—that was all that passed then—I said nothing to introduce this conversation, she began it herself—she was continually talking about leaving, she was very sorry she was going to leave—the idea of leaving was always on her mind after Mrs. Ffinch was firm and told her she should leave—it seemed to be uppermost in her thoughts—from that time it was her constant talk—she did not say anything about Georgians, the next youngest child.

Cross-examined. Q. She had herself expresed a wish to leave some time before this happened? A. Yes, and to go as housemaid—she said Greenwich did not agree with her, and her health was bad—she told her mistress so—that was full a fortnight or three weeks before this—the dress, in my judgment, fitted her very well indeed—she said it did not fit her, and she would not wear it—she wished the dress at the very devil—after that she went out and bought some stuff of the same kind, and made another body to it—the family were very kind indeed to her—she wanted for nothing, either money or anything else—I afterwards found she had been to the pawnbroker's and pawned the dress she had made the new body to—on her return from fetching the children from school she came in with the dress in her hand, and on seeing it, Mrs. Ffinch told her she must leave—from that time she appeared in a state of melancholy and wretchedness.

COURT. Q. You said she appeared more cheerful and comfortable? A. In the afternoon she did.

MR. CLARKSON. Q. But you had observed for a week or a month before her general habit had changed, and from being cheerful and happy she became dull and low-spirited? A. Yes, constantly talking of leaving to be a housemaid—I had said nothing to her about murder, hanging, or transportation—she introduced that conversation—she always appeared very fond of the children, and they very fond of her.

ELIZABETH MIDDLEDITCH . I am housemaid to Mr. Ffinch, and have been so two years. On the Sunday morning I opened the door to Mr. Traill, about twenty minutes to ten o'clock, then returned to the kitchen, and saw Sarah May, the nurse, with the little girl—I left the kitchen for a short time—on my return I saw the prisoner—she went into the pantry—I followed her there, and saw her take a large knife out of the box—she held it in her hand—I asked her what she was going to do with. it—she said she was going to cut a pencil for Miss Mary—I told her I thought the small one would do better—she said she would take the large one too, as that would do to cut the bread and butter in the afternoon—she was feeling the blade of the large knife—she went up stairs with both knives in her hand—a short time after this I heard screams, and went np into the hall, saw the prisoner there, and heard Mr. Ffinch, in a very excited state, say, "Oh, my dear baby, my dear baby!"—I saw the prisoner there, and said, "Martha, what on earth is the matter with the baby?"—she said, "Good God, I have cut the dear baby's throat!"—I had noticed

that the prisoner of late seemed very low-spirited—I went into the nursery about a quarter after nine on that Sunday morning—the prisoner was then washing up the breakfast things—she said, "Oh, Eliza, I wish I was you?"—I said, "Why do you wish to be me?"—she said, because I was going to stop—I told her if she was a good girl, and behaved well, she would soon get another place; that her master and mistress bad always been very good friends to her, and very kind, and they always would while she conducted herself well—she then appeared very comfortable—I always found her kind and very good-natured.

CAROLINE MATILDA PRIEST . I was cook in Mr. Ffinch's family, and had been so four months up to this time. On the Sunday morning I remember the nursery-maid coming into the kitchen—she was shortly after followed by the prisoner—I did not see the prisoner go into the pantry—I saw her come out with the knife in her hand, feeling the blade with the fingers and thumb of her left hand.

JOHN BURTON . I am a surgeon, and live at Greenwich. I attend the prosecutor's family—I was desired to send the prisoner some medicine on the 31st of March, which I did—she had admitted me that day at the house, but I did not see her to put any professional questions to her—Mrs. Ffinch mentioned to me that there bad been irregularities, or rather a suspension of the constitutional functions for some months—the medicine I gave her was intended to counteract that.

Cross-examined. Q. Have you had occasion to attend young women who have been subject to these temporary suspensions of the actions of nature? A. Frequently—it is calculated very much to derange the general constitution, and generally speaking, as it lasts, long or short, so the general constitution is jeopardised—it assumes a variety of shapes, in some instances, apparently, as if labouring under dropsy—the disease will occasionally fly to the head—the patient in such case is subject first to dull chronic pains in the head and brain, attended by restlessness of manner, moroseness, and dulness of appearance, subject to occasional fits of irritability and great excitement—these symptoms occasionally present themselves suddenly, in violent fits of passion, for instance—I have known instances in which the functions of the mind have been very seriously affected—there are many instances on record in which it has produced thorough derangement, when the remedies have not produced relief—I saw very little of her while taking the medicine—I merely asked her how she was—she told me she was better, but I have been consulted by Mrs. Ffinch constantly about her, and had suggested that she should be sent away, because she had exhibited violence of temper, in tearing and burning her dress—I thought such an act of violence unfitted her to be among young children—that was my reason for the advice.

Q. Is that one of the acts of violence exhibited under such circumstances, likely to have arisen remotely from the disease under which she was labouring? A. I so considered it—it was an act of caution on my part—she had taken medicine I believe up to the very day of this melancholy aifair.

Q. We have heard the waywardness, or inconsistency of design; first thinking Greenwich did not agree with her, and she should leave, then being quite melancholy at the idea of leaving, and agree to stay: are these symptoms such as you would naturally expect to find in a person labouring under this complaint? A. They are just the symptoms I should expect to find.

MR. BODKIN. Q. Had you any reason whatever, down to the time of the occurrence, to suspect her soundness of mind, or that she was labouring under any affection of the mind? A. From nothing I had heard or seen.

COURT. Q. From anything you have heard now, do you think the mind was deranged at all? A. It is a very difficult question to answer.

JOHN BOOTH (policeman.) I was at the station-house on the 4th of May, when the prisoner was brought there—she asked me if I thought God would forgive her what she had done, if she prayed to him—I asked her if she had any words with the servants, or quarrelled with Mr. and Mrs. Ffinch—she replied that she had not, for there never was a kinder master or mistress than Mr. and Mrs. Ffinch—in the course of her walks for exercise in the garden, she several times asked if I thought she would be hung, or if I thought she would be sent across the water in chains—she made several sudden stops, and said, "Let me get out of this place, I cannot stop here"—she also asked me if I thought Mr. Ffinch would forgive her in a week's time—she asked if I thought she would have to wear the prison dress in Newgate, or be allowed to wear her own clothes, and if I thought they would treat her harshly—she said if they treated her harshly she did not know what she should do, for she had always been treated so very kindly.

ELIZABETH GARRETT . I had charge of the prisoner at the station. on Monday morning, the 5th of May, about three o'clock, she wrote this letter—I supplied her with pen, ink, and paper—(read)—"Dear May,—Pray send me another gown and collar, and a pair of gloves; and may God Almighty forgive me for the great wickedness I have done. I would pray for it earnestly. I remain, your sincere friend,—MARTHA BRIXEY."

NOT GUILTY, being insane at the time.

Before Edward Bullock, Esq.

View as XML