THE TRAIL OF THE LAW.
SENSATIONAL CRIME RECALLED
By PAUL URQUHART. In '' Glasgow Weekly Herald."
THE LONELY HOUSE
A SORROWFUL WOMAN'S END
Men of Kent claim that their county is the Garden of England. Some forty odd years ago an artist, with his wife, three small children, and a girl of sixteen, who performed the duties of an ordinary domestic servant, lived in a lonely part of this beautiful district. The house, away from the road, hemmed in at the back by the plantation, was in «A-ery respect the ideal retreat for an artist. /
About twenty minutes' walk through the picturesque country-side was a farm, tof which the artist's brother and his wife became tenants.
The two families were in rli-^e and constant association with each other. They lived on good terms with such.of their neighbours as casually met them. One Friday evening, in the spring of 1577, a customer was being served in a shop at Penge, the occupier of wlinh was also the local postmaster. He stood aside when a man came >n to ask the shopkeeper, in his capac'iy as postman ter, whether a certain roa-d «'•? n-Sur-rey or Kent. The road was really t!i<j boundary line and the nutn oxplMJird that he wished to know where h-> tutrht to register the death of v. woman wl.o had been brought to a certain house the day before from a place near Cudhnm. The customer, who had listened in silence to this conversation, left the shop shortly afterwards, and waited on the local medical man. The doctor had attended the woman, out he had only seen the patient when she was brought to Penge." From what he had been tcftd, and from the outward symptoms, he had given a certificate u» the effect that death was due to cerebral disease and apoplexy. After a conversation with' his visitor he withdrew the certificate, and communicated with the Coroner. Everything was in readiness for the funeral, but it was postponed icn consequence of the withdrawal of the certificate, and then ,stage. by stage, the story of the artist's lonely house was revealed.
A TITLED WEAKLING
In the year 1841 a child, who was christened '.Harriet, was born many miles away from this sequestered spot. As the girl grew up she showed traces of weak intellect. She was una.ble to master her lessons like other children and reached woman'hood'without the capacity for writing letters except in disjointed and ungrammaticaA language. She was connected with a titled family through her mother, and was the heiress in possession and reversion to some £4000. In the year 1874 she went to live with a first cousin of her mother. This gentleman had married a widow, and had two step-daughters. One of the stepdaughters married Patrick Staunton, an artist. Louis Staunton, the brother of Patrick, a youth of 23, .employed as a clerk, was a frequent visitor at the house. He became engaged to Harriet. Her mother-was very much opposed to the engagment. She went so far as to make'an effort, with the help of her son, to place the.young woman under the pmtection of the Court of Chancery as a person of unsound mind. This application was unsuccessful, and in the year 1875 the bridegroom of 24 led his bride of 34 to the altar. Under the law of England, as it then stood-,'the husband was entitled to all the property of his wife. . The mother called upon her son-in-law and daughter a few weeks after the marriage, but the next day she received a letter from her daughter saving that the husband objected to her visiting them, and in,order to prevent any disturbance she had better stay away. The husband also wrote. His letter was more peremptory; it was, an fact.-rude and insulting, and he Wd his", mother-in-law that he would not have her in the house.
A MOTHER'S SEARCH
In the spring of the following year the mother heard that a boy had been bomi, but she received no direct news fromi her daughter or son-in-law, who shortly after quitted the house where they first took up married life without leaving any address. For a whole year the anxious mother sought news of her daughter and could obtain none. By accident she met the yo<unger of the two step-daughters of her cousin, and noticed that she was wearing a brooch of her daughter's. The girl at first refused to tell her anything about Louis Staunton or h«s wife, and eventually said they were living at Brighton. . t Later on, the mother ascertained that Patrick Staunton was livinor at Cudhanf. She went there on March 5 1877, in,the hope of discovering from Patrick some information as to the whereabouts of his brother Louis. At the station she hap. pened to meet Patrick, who, in language more vehement than artistic, said he knew nothing about her daughter, and when she persisted in her inquiries he shouted. "Damn your daughter!" From further inquiries in the district, she heard that Louis Staunton occupied a farm near Cudham. Hiring a conveyance she drove to the farm, and found Louis with his sister-in-law, Mrs Patrick Staunton, in the. parlour. They refused to give her any information about daughter., and she was shown the door in no very polite fashion. She returned to London and had a watch set upon the farm, but nothing was seen of her daughter./ The lady-liv-ing thero, and who was assumed by all the neighbours to be Mrs Louis Staunton. did not correspond in any way/with the description of.Harriet Staunton. This brings us up to the date.when the customer in the local nost office at Penge overheard the conversation about the death of the lady on the boundary line between the two counties. By one of those strange chances of fate which out-manoeuvre the cleverest schemes, it so happened that he was married to a sKster of the missing Harriet Staunton. He had heard of her mother's fruitless inquiry at Cudham, and this induced him to seek out the local doctor for further information as to the identity of the woman who had been brought to Penge from Oudham.
The following day a telegram was sent to Harriet Staunton's mother by the landlady of the farm which Louis Stanton had occupied, suggesting that she should call at the hduse in Penge. She journeyed there at once, and at last found her daughter a corpse—an illkempt, emaciated, revolting corpse. Tlie pnspicions of her son-in-law hod been nil too well founded, and very quieklv the two counties rang with horrible rumours concerning the picturesque cottage by the plantation and the farmhouse across the field. The occupants of the farmhouse were not. as had been supposed. Mr an-l Mrs Louis Stavmton, but Mr. Lnuis Staunton and Alice, the yemser sister of Mrs Patrick Staunton. Tho art"'*tic cottage was occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Staunton, but Ihere had been for many months another person tYorc —an Mupmoned. defenceless woman, cut off from all communication
with the outside world, ill-treated, i'lciothecf. and, it was asserted, sionviy starved to death. One of the children in the house was reaiiy hers. It had been neglected, beaten, illnourished, and died a lew days before its mother in a hospital, to which it had been taken, in London. Ihe general servant, Clara, was a cousin of Mrs Patrick Staunton, a, girl of sixteen, wxth no father cr mother and no 'home.
The starving woman, when at the point of deatn, was declared to have been brought away from the lionise ana taken into these lodgings at Penge in order that she might appear to be suiferlng from paralysis. bueh was the popuJar version of che affa:;r, atid the machinery of the iaw was set in motion to track the truth o-i otherwise of this horrifying ..tale.
A. post mortem examination was ordered. At the inquest the girl Clara gave evidence which generally supported tiie claim of the Stauntons, that Mrs. Louis Staunton had not been unkindly treated. On the medical evidence and on other testimony, however, the jury found the' verdict of wiful murder against Mr and Mrs Patrick Staunton, Mi%. Lotus Stauutcm, and Alice. At the magisterial inquiry they were also committecl far trial, and by this time public excitement had Mjro.s'n to stiich an intense degree that application was made to remove the case from the County Assizes to the Central Criminal Court. The Attorney-General; Sir John Holker, did not oppose this, and, under the power vested in the authorities to change the venue when local feeling was so pronounced that prejudice might be created, the trial began at the Old Bailey on September 19th, 1877. S-ir Henry Hawkins, who had been promoted to the Bench the previous.year, was the Judge, and he states in his reminiscences ithat it was his first murder trial.
MALTREATED AND STARVED
The evidence for the prosecution was to the effect that the persons who in the ordinary way of business ■ called at the artist's cottage knew nothing of the existence of the woman, who was kept away from.the observation of the outer world. It was said that female screams had occasionally been heard. One witness ". deferred to an incident when a woman, who suddenly appeared at the door, was ordered back peremptorily by one of the prisoners. It'was shown that in the previous October Harriet had been brought to London for the purpose of appearing before the Commissioners for taking ackno"-.-. ledgments of married women in consequence of her husband having sold the reversionary interest to which she was entitled under the will of. her axtnt. At that time, according to the solicitor who explained the deed to her, she was apparently in.normal health. The maid Clara, since the,inquest had not been living with the Stauntons, and her evidence at the Central Criminal Court was. a direct contradiction to that which she had given at the Coroner's Court. She swore that Mrs Harriet Staunton had been ill-used; that she had seen Patrick Staunton strike her and strike her child, and that she had .heard her complain of being hungry. The girl was closely cross-examined. She admit. ted thac what she now said was entirely different from her evidence at the inquest, but asserted that she had then told the" Coroner what she had been instructed to say. She had no<t given cvi. dence before the Magistrate. The most acute interest centred upon the medical evidence. The local doctor and other witnesses who had been pr-js-ent at the post-mortem said" they found no disease of the brain. They gave the opinion that the state of apoplexy might be produced if the pafient had. been without food for some time and thau had he>;n given a meal suddenly. The deceased woman weighed 5 stone. 4 pounds, whereas a properly nourished woman of her proportions should weigh from 9 to 10 stone.
The question was whether Harriet Staunton had d\ed of starvation or of tubercular meningitis. Medical evidence by spec-'jalists for the defence, who had formed their opinion upon the vepofrt^ of the other doctors as to the state of the o-rgjans,* supported the latter theory. . Powerful speeches were made m science of the prisoners. It was pointed cut that the only direct evidence was that of the girl who had told two-differ-ent stories.' At that time of day prisoners could not be called as witnesses. It was admitted that Patrick Staunton was a man of violent temper, but the question before the jury was whether there was deliberate starvation such as might in* expected to cause the death of the afflicted woman. Distinctions were drawn between the positions of the defendants, more particularly the two women, one, of Wvhom, Mrs. Patrick Staunton, might be regarded 'as under the power of her husband. After seven days' trial, the jury at midnight found alfthe prisoners guilty o f wilful murder, with'recommendations.to mercy for the femala prisoners, and strongly in the case of Alice, who had beoome a mother while in jail awaiting her trial.
THE SCENE IN COURT
The fashionable crowd who thronged the cqurb listened in silence to the awoinspiriny;. tones of the Judge pronouncing the sentence of death. Livid and trembling after their terrible ordeal, Louis Stiiunton and Alice looked stupefied under the dread judgment of the low; Patrick was heard imploring his wife to be firm, but in the end he totally collapsed, recovering liimself, as he left the dock ,to grip the hand of his brother.
A yelling crowd outside received the verdict with cheers. The newspapers the following morning published articles in approval of it. The public mind presented to itself the spectacle of a man who, with his wife's money, had set him. eelf up in a farm with a younger and more attractive woman, and was anxious to free himself from one whose presence on this earth was a bar to their perfacx comfort as well as a menace to tluir social position. It also saw the brother of the man and the sister of the pretended wife joining in a conspiracy to rid the family of the helpless .victim who was in everybody's way. At first popular righteous fury knew no bounds. Then came doubts as to whether, in tho natural feeling of indignation, strict justice had been done. Writers and others began to question the sentence of death. Charles Rea.le, the great novelist, whose name will still be remembered as the writer of "It's Never Too Late to Mend," and similar works attacking the abuses of prisons and otli!?r institutions, took inp the case in his most vigorous style. Seven hundred physicians and surgeons, headed by Sir William Jenner, signed a memorial stating that, from their .hospital experietico, they had.acquired special opjvortunbios of observing the changes which are induced in the human body by disea«e :uid inanition. They were cbnvinccl that tbo symptoms in ihe post-mortem examination of Harriot Sia-uton's body were such as to indicate death from cerebral disease. The Home Secretnrv was induced to i-eopen the case. Hf summoned to his ass'staneo Lord-Justice Bramwell. Lord-Justice Brett, and Mr. Justice Lush. The medical witnesses were in attendance, an<l also the servant girl Clara.
As a. result, the death penalty was remitted; tho sentence on three of ihe prisoners was commuted to penal servi-
Permanent link to this item
THE TRAIL OF THE LAW., Wanganui Chronicle, Volume LXXIV, Issue 17614, 8 July 1919
THE TRAIL OF THE LAW. Wanganui Chronicle, Volume LXXIV, Issue 17614, 8 July 1919
Using This Item
See our copyright guide for information on how you may use this title.