Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0, 26 September 2022), October 1863, trial of SARAH EMILY MITCHELL (24) (t18631026-1201).

SARAH EMILY MITCHELL, Killing > murder, 26th October 1863.

1201. SARAH EMILY MITCHELL (24), was indicted for the wilful murder of Sarah Emily Adeline Chappell. She was also charged, on the Coroner's Inquisition, with the like murder.

MESSRS. CLERK and BEASLEY conducted the Prosecution.

WILLIAM CATHROW . I am a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, and reside at 42, Weymouth-street—I know the prisoner—I first attended her on 4th April last, prior to her confinement; she was confined on 30th April—I saw her on 29th April—my friend Dr. Byam attended her in her confinement as I was called out of town, but I saw her the next day; I was in the habit of attending her daily subsequent to her confinement, up to the

period of her committing this act—on the morning of Friday, 31st July, I saw her at her lodging in Marylebone-road about 12 o'clock—that was a visit in consultation with Dr. Byam by appointment—the prisoner had told me prior to that that she was not friendly with Mr. Chappell, and that she should be led to do something wrong to herself and her child if she was not on friendly terms with him—when I went there on the Friday she was lying on the sofa with her Bible in her hand—I told her I had brought Mr. Byam to see her, as she was in a nervous condition, and I had some conversation with her regarding her treatment of Mr. Chappell—our conversation and consultation altogether lasted about twenty minutes—she promised me to be calm and also to give up all annoyance to Mr. Chappell—I left after her promising me that she would give up all idea of doing anything to herself or child—she had told me three or four days before that she should be obliged to do something to herself or the child if she was not friendly with Mr. Chappell, and I tried to argue the point with her, and to convince her of the impropriety of such an act—she said she would try and think well of what I had said—I told her I was sure if she would only try and be comfortable and happy, I could get a handsome settlement made upon her—I wished her to give up all annoyance of Mr. Chappell—I alluded to her excessive and numerous acts of jealousy—she told me she was jealous of Mr. Chappell; she was jealous of one particular woman, a Welsh woman; she said that Mr. Chappell showed that Welsh woman all his kindness and affection, and neglected her—that was not a person in the house, but another woman that she told me Mr. Chappell was keeping—I believe that was the truth—Mr. Byam and I left her on the Friday about half-past 12—a little after 4 that same afternoon the prisoner's sister, Elizabeth Mitchell, came to my house in a cab—I returned with her and went up stairs to the prisoner's room—I found both the doors locked—I asked for a hammer or poker to break open the door—a poker was brought and I broke open the panel of the door, and tried to get through, but could not, and I pushed the prisoner's sister through, and she opened the other door and let me in—I then saw the prisoner lying on the floor by the side of some drawers, all over blood, with the exception of her knees and feet—I saw that she had a very long jagged wound in the throat, extending four and a half inches—the child was lying on the right side of the bed, covered wholly, with the exception of the left leg with a pillow; it was then alive—a razor was lying on the bed—when the child was stripped I found a small incised wound between the fifth and sixth rib, just under the left nipple—I dressed the wound—the child began to be sick, and vomited until its death, which took place about half-past 12 on the following Sunday, the 2d August—I afterwards made an examination of the body, at the Coroner's request—death was caused by the wound, the dagger having entered the lungs, the cavity of the thorax, escaping the heart, and going through the diaphragm—a dagger was found in my presence on the Sunday evening by one of the policemen—at the time the child was found on the bed I considered that the wound had been inflicted by the razor; but the wound through the chest and diaphragm perfectly corresponded with the width of the dagger, and the blood on the dagger was about three and a half inches up it, just corresponding with the depth from the rib to the diaphragm—I gave notice to the police directly the child was dead, on the Sunday evening—the dagger was found accidentally by the policeman; he put his elbow against the shutter and it dropped from behind it—it was in a sheath; it had been put back again into the sheath—the wound in the prisoner's throat was inflicted by the razor—I first

attended the prisoner on 4th April—from that time up to the time this act was committed, I always found her excessively nervous—on the first visit I paid her she said her husband did not behave right to her; she was always excessively jealous, and occasionally attacked with hysteria, not of a very severe character—I believe the jealousy was well-founded—I attended her after this act was committed until the day I came with her to Newgate; I do not know what day that was—it was in September—she remained at the lodgings till then—Mr. By am saw her two or three times for me after the day of consultation; he saw her for me I dare say ten times, because I was obliged to be out of town, and dressed the wound—after this act was done there was always a vacant stare about her, and there was so little apparent sorrow for the loss of her child, that made me think that her mind could not be in the proper state that it ought to be—she repeated that her jealousy was very great, and she complained greatly of her head aching and of dizziness, which is another proof of insanity—a nurse attended her all this time.

COURT. Q. What was the state of her mind at the time this act occurred? A. On the day of the consultation I thought she might be left with safety, but, in my opinion, no woman could have committed the act that she did without she was in a state of insanity—I am speaking of the act towards herself and the child, and the great cunning that she showed was another symptom of insanity.

Cross-examined by MR. SERJEANT SHEE. Q. In what respect did she show cunning. A. In throwing us off our guard the very day this occurred—I attended her from the 4th April; she was confined on the 30th—I saw her almost every day till the 30th—I only left her that day to go to a patient in Hampshire—I saw her again on my return next day—she was in a nervous, jealous condition from the first moment I saw her on the 4th April; she was always much excited—she was not violent at that time—the confinement was a premature one, about the sixth month; the child lived for about half an hour—I saw her the next day; there was a good deal of nervous excitement about her, with pains in the abdomen, that I could not account for—there were also pains in the head, and very great restlessness—she required large doses of opium, to give her rest—the symptoms yielded to the opium, but not entirely; there was always excitement about her—I had to give her a very considerable quantity of opium to enable her to get any rest at all—she used to talk to me a great deal about her affairs, always about Mr. Chappell, and what she considered his ill-treatment of her—within the last three weeks previous to this act she refused to accept any money from him, she was provided with everything necessary to her personal comfort as far as I could tell; it was a comfortable lodging—she had the appearance of being at her ease in a pecuniary sense—I never saw her in want before that time—she continued for several months in that excited state—within the last three months she said she would have Mr. Chappell's affections or no money—she told me they had had a desperate quarrel, and after that Mr. Chappell's lawyer came to me, and I was requested to arrange with her terms of separation—I did so; it was on that occasion that she refused any money, and up to the time of the child's death—I think I saw her every day from the time I spoke to her about the separation up to the commission of this act, and sometimes twice a day, with the exception of three or four days, when she went to Liverpool; during that time she was in an exceedingly excited state—that made me call in my friend Mr. Byam—my attention had been several times called to her condition by her sister; she came to me three times before 31st July, in a state of alarm about the

condition of her sister's mind, but I could not see it—I visited her on those occasions—I had my suspicions about her, because she said she would do this act—she said she would destroy herself—I don't think she said that more than three times before I called in Dr. Byam—I argued with her, but I do not seem to have convinced her at all—she still said she would destroy herself—her sister called my attention to some laudanum, and seemed alarmed about it—I heard nothing about the dagger or razor—I did not think she would do anything to herself—Mr. Wilson, the solicitor's partner, also spoke to me about her condition—it was after that that Mr. Byam and I saw her together—she was then reading her Bible—during the conversation she smiled two or three times, when I was telling her she had better give up all worry of Mr. Chappell, and accept an allowance—she smiled, and seemed quite cheerful—that was on that very morning that this happened—I don't think I saw her sister then—Dr. Byam had seen her for me since her confinement—at that time I did not think it necessary to put her under restraint.

COURT. Q. Was your object in going there to determine whether or not she ought to be put under restraint? A. Yes, it was.

MR. SERJEANT SHEE. Q. And on the whole her manner was such that you thought it was not necessary. A. She threw us off our guard by her excessive cunning—she must have been cunning, because at that time she must have contemplated doing something to herself; yet she threw us off our guard—I do not think she was in the family way at that time—the day she came to Newgate she had some symptoms of being in the family way, and some not—I could not say one way or the other positively.

MR. CLERK. Q. You say you heard from her that she had had a desperate quarrel with Mr. Chappell; was that prior to her confinement or after? A. After; I think about five weeks before the 31st July—I had not noticed any change in her manner after that; no more than increased passion towards Mr. Chappell—she was always in a passion whenever his name was mentioned in consequence of his doing things which she said he ought not to do.

COURT. Q. From what you saw of her should you say she was a very obstinate person? A. Excessively so; I thought so by her not taking the advice I gave he with the best intention.

ELIZABETH MITCHELL . I am the prisoner's sister—in 1859 she went into the service of Mr. Chappell, near Liverpool—she remained there up to 1862—on 11th October, 1862, she came to London, and I came with her—the child was born in, London—it was fourteen month's old—ray sister went back to Liverpool after 11th October, leaving the child with a nurse—she came back to London about 30th October, and took charge of the child herself—I lived with her from 11th October until this occurrence took place—during all that time she had the child with her; I was acting as nurse—for some little time before the child's death my sister become very low and desponding, in the extreme; I observed that change in her manner after we had been in London about three months—she became very strange, and had peculiar ways; she became very desponding, and had a great many fancies—she fancied things that were not real—she acted very strange in many ways, and complained very much of her head and pains up her back—she complained of persons coming and talking to her during the night, and of having very distressing dreams—she said she saw policemen, and she was quite sure they were coming to take her away—on one occasion she asked me to look in the bed; she was sure there were some mice or black beetles running in her bed—she was troubled very much with flushings in the face, and complained very much of her sight, and I found towards the last that she

entirely lost her memory; she would tell me a thing two or three times over and forget that she had told me—I went several times to Mr. Cathrow, and told him I was very much distressed about her strange and odd manner, and I told him there was a bottle of laudanum which made me very uneasy; I was afraid of her taking it, as her manner was so strange; I believe it was bought for her in her last confinement, and she had kept it in her possession—I should not have known that she had it only she gave me a little for the toothache—on the morning of Friday, 31st July, I went out with the child for a walk in the Regent's-park—I returned about 12—I saw my sister when I came back—I gave the child its dinner, and put it to bed in its cot about half-past 1—I then had my dinner, and went to Covent-garden Market for a peach—my sister had desired me to get her one—I returned at five minutes to 4—I went up stairs and found the drawing-room door fastened; it was always kept open—there are two doors; they were both fastened—the other door was always fastened; that was the bed-room door—it was one large room, divided by a curtain—the bed-room and sitting-room were together, but there were two doors—I went for Mr. Cathrow—he came back with me and broke open the door—I got in, and then let him in—when I went out in the morning I left the child in the care of its mamma, in a room above the first-floor, which we had as a nursery—it was in its cot—it used to sleep sometimes a quarter of an hour, and sometimes half an hour, but never more—it had been brought down from that room when I got back—it was exactly in the same dress in which I had left it, and was lying on the bed covered with a pillow—I had never seen a razor or dagger in my sister's possession before this; I did not know of either.

Cross-examined. Q. I believe when your sister first went into the employment of Mr. Chappell you went there too? A. No; I went shortly after—I remained there until my sister went to Seymour-street, Liverpool—my father is in an accountant's office at Liverpool—my sister was housekeeper to Mr. Chappell, at Highton Hall—Mr. Chappell is a widower, with two daughters—Mr. Chappell took the lodging in Seymour-street—it was a house that we had for ourselves for a town house—my sister was his housekeeper, and I assisted her—we managed the house between us—Mr. Chappell came there daily; sometimes he would take all his meals there, at other times his breakfast, and his coffee in the afternoon—after my sister had been there sometime she went to London—I was told that she had gone up to London to see the Exhibition, and at the same time she was to see a baby-linen establishment, in which Mr. Chappell had promised her she should have a part, and I should assist—that was what I was told—I did not know that she went to London to be confined; I had no idea of it, nor had any of our family, or she deceived them so much—she stayed in London a month, and then returned to Liverpool—I did not know then what had taken place in London—in October my sister and I came up to London together, and went to a lodging on Weymouth-street, not far from Mr. Chappell's town house in Devonshireplace—he continued to visit her there—she went by the name of Mrs. Chappell—when we first came to London Mr. Chappell met us at the station with a cab, very much to my surprise, and brought us to the lodging, and there he first introduced her to my knowledge as Mrs. Chappell, and me as her maid—she always continued from that time to the child's death to bear the name of Chappell, and she always wore a wedding-ring in Mr. Chappell's presence—he always called her Mrs. Chappell to me, and to every one else—he had all the necessaries of life—I don't know that there was any want of money—I had my salary—we lived economically, because Mr. Chappell's

expenses were so heavy that I understood he could not afford more—we were supplied by him with the common necessaries of life—it was not on account of money that my sister was distressed; it was her ill health and other causes—her ill health commenced very shortly after we had been in London; she became very much changed and altered for the worse—she was altered in her mind as well as in her bodily health—she became very low indeed, which was quite unnatural to her, she was so lively; and she could not sleep; she said she did not know how it was—that was after we had been in London about three months; just at the end of February—she was always extremely kind to the child; more devoted than I had ever seen any one; in fact if she had had it she would have ruined it; she was too kind to it—she showed more maternal tenderness to it than I had ever known—if it cried in the night she would rush up stairs and feed it herself when she was not able to do so, as she was so ill—she became more and more affectionate to it up to the very last moment—I remember her confinement in April—I noticed a great change in her manner after that—I thought her quite deranged—she spoke and acted so strangely; sometimes I would speak to her, and she would not answer at all; and at other times she was very much excited without any cause—it was after her confinement that she had the fancies I speak of—they wore frequent—she fancied there were people in the room at night, and that a policeman was there to take her away—she did not say what for—she was very suspicious—at one time, towards the latter part, she thought Mr. Cathrow's medicine did her more harm than good, and she thought we were all conspiring against her to poison her—I don't know whether that suspicion extended to Dr. Byam she told me on several occasions never to let the dear babe go out of my sight, for she was under the impression that Mr. Chappell, or some one, would take it from her; she was quite sure something was going to happen, and they would take it from her, and she would never be separated from it—she did not say anything about any apprehension that they were going to put her into an asylum—after her confinement in April, Mr. Chappell's visits became less frequent—about three weeks before 31st July, I remember receiving a letter from Mr. Chappell; I delivered it to her—I never read it—she tore it in shreds, and put it away—about that same time I received a letter from Mr. Chappell—I spoke to her about it—I did not show it to her—I am not quite sure whether I read it to her, for she was so distressed about the note that she had herself received that it almost seemed as if it had driven her mad—I told her the contents of it—I am not quite sure as to the time, but I think it was about three weeks or a month before she stabbed the child—at times after that she became very much excited, and at times sobbed and cried, and I could not cheer her up at all—the fancies increased—I don't think she slept at night for seven weeks before this occurrence—I have listened, and heard her of a night, for I was so distressed and alarmed about her—this is the letter that I received from Mr. Chappell. (MR. SERJEANT SHEE proposed to put in the letter if the Court considered it was receivable; Both the learned Judges were of opinion that it was admissible, the contents having been brought to the attention of the prisoner, and her subsequent acts having reference to it. Read: "Thursday (envelope dated 25th June, 1863). Dear Elizabeth, I am very sorry to have to tell you that from what has occurred between me and your sister the last few days, her violence has been such that I have become hopeless of our ever getting on comfortably together, and that I have written to her to say that a separation must take place between us, for I am

convinced that is the best thing for her as well as myself. With this view my solicitor will call to-morrow morning to confer with her as to my making a proper settlement for you all, for I am resolved neither your sister nor yourself shall ever want for anything. If you would like to see me again on any matter, I should like you to come to the office, and if you will let me know previously I will take care to be in the way to receive you, and talk matters over with you. You and your sister, with baby, will be enabled to live wherever you like, though it should be somewhere where I should be able to see baby occasionally. I am sure you will never forsake poor baby, and that you will do your duty to the poor child; give her a kiss for me, and believe me, yours sincerely, H. Chappell. It will not be so bad, but your sister is now provoked. I think you will be able to go on more comfortably, particularly as far as you are concerned, and you might live at some nice healthy place, such as Brighton.") From that time till the child's death she was excited at times; more so than before—I remember Mr. Wilson the solicitor calling—he addressed her as "Madam," and with that I left the room—shortly after I heard the bell ring; I entered the room, and found my sister fainting, and Mr. Wilson supporting her, and giving her a little brandy-and-water—that was two or three weeks previous to the child's death; between 25th June and the child's death she went to Liverpool for a few days—I did not go with her—on 31st July, when the door was broken open, and I entered the room the child had its day-clothes on in which I had left it—my sister had taken off all the clothes that she had on when I left the house, and had put on her night-dress, and a clean pair of stockings, and had laid out on a chair another night-dress, and some stockings, and a robe for the baby—she had put up her ordinary day-clothes, and locked them up, and the keys were hidden—I believe Mr. Chappell came once to the house after 25th June, after Mr. Wilson's visit, but not again.

WILLIAM JONATHAN BYAM . I am a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and reside at 34, Welbeck-street—I was called on by Mr. Cathrow on 30th April last, to attend the prisoner for him—I had not seen her before—she was confined the same evening of a six months' child—I found her suffering more pain than is usual on such occasions, and very nervous and excitable—I did not perceive anything wrong in her state of mind—I attended her until her delivery, and remained with her the usual time afterwards—I saw her again a day or two afterwards, I think twice—she was nervous and excitable, and suffering great pain—the last time I visited her was about the third or fourth day after her delivery—on the morning of 31st July, I was requested by Mr. Cathrow to meet him in consultation, with a view to ascertain the state of her mind—that was the professed object of my visit—I found her calm and collected, but a good deal depressed in spirits—she became apparently much more cheerful while we were there—the result of the interview was that I did not think there was any necessity to put her under restraint at that time—I had previously learnt from Mr. Cathrow that she had threatened to destroy herself and her child—that, and the annoyance that I understood she had been to Mr. Chappell were the subjects of the conversation that I had with her—I saw her again the day after the deed was done, Saturday, 31st—at that time she had lost a great deal of blood—she was in a very exhausted state, and I did not talk to her—I thought she was too weak to be spoken to—I have had very little experience of cases of unsound mind—I could not form an opinion from what I saw of her as to the state of mind she was then in—I considered that the pain she was suffering from after her delivery,

was more of an hysterical character than in the nature of after pain—I do not think that hysteria coming on at such a time always affects the mind.

Cross-examined. Q. You attended her after 1st August, did you not? A. Yes, and saw her many times for Air. Cathrow—I formed the opinion that she was labouring under a form of insanity; I thought her of unsound mind—that was my judgment about her—when I saw her at first she was prostrated by loss of blood.

DR. WILLIAM THORNE . I reside at 87, Harrow-road—I have been about twenty years in practice—in the course of my practice I have had my attention directed to cases of persons suffering under aberration of mind—I attended the prisoner in her first confinement, in June, 1862—she had a very tedious labour, and suffered very much indeed from hysteria afterwards—I attended her up to the middle of July—a few days after her delivery I had a consultation; she was so bad—she was suffering from hysterical peritonitis, which is an attack of hysteria that imitates inflammation—I got her well by giving her large doses of opium—the remedy was given at the right moment—Dr. Chowne, physician of Charing-cross Hospital, saw her at the time, and we persevered with the opium treatment until we got her calm and comfortable—her mental condition at that time was just in that position, that I fully expected it to go—she was wavering, and I expected the mind to give way—I had some conversation with Mr. Chappell with regard to the state of her mind at that time—I suggested that the child should be put away to nurse, and that she should be sent home to her friends, and that advice was then followed I meant that she should not cohabit with him any more—I was positive that if she was again in the family-way, either her mind or her body, or both, would give way—I next heard of her when I was called to see her on 2d August, after this act had been committed—the child had then just died—the prisoner was then decidedly, in my opinion, maniacal—she did not recognise me, until I told her who I was—I attended her until she was removed to Newgate—up to that time she was decidedly in a state of suicidal mania—a nurse was constantly with her night and day—she told mo many very strange stories, which were all illusions, more or less—she thought she was to be taken away to an asylum, and that her child was to be taken away—after the loss of blood a certain amount of reason was restored in the course of a few days, and she then told me her motive, or her apparent motive, for what she had done, that her child was about to be taken away, which was not the fact—when I first saw her she did not seem to be aware of the death of the child.

NOT GUILTY on the ground of insanity. Ordered to be detained until Her Majesty's pleasure be known.