A Cook, who was convicted of placing Arsenic in Dumplings, and executed, 26th of June, 1815, after Solemn Protestations of Innocence
ELIZA FENNING was indicted at the Old Bailey for that she, on the 21st day of March, 1815, feloniously and unlawfully did administer to, and cause to be administered to, Orlibar Turner, Robert Gregson Turner and Charlotte Turner, his wife, certain deadly poison -- to wit, arsenic -- with intent to kill and murder the said persons.
From the age of about fourteen Elizabeth Fenning had been out in servitude; and at twenty-two, in the latter end of January, 1815, was hired as cook into the family of Mr Orlibar Turner, at No. 68 Chancery Lane. About seven weeks from that time the circumstances unhappily arose which led to the unfortunate creature being charged with an attempt to murder Mr Turner's family.
It was stated in evidence that Fenning cooked some yeast dumplings, which with beef-steak were served to Mrs Turner, her husband and his father, all of whom were afterwards seized with illness and excruciating pain. The prisoner herself, said Mrs Turner, was also taken ill. The prisoner had cooked the dumplings, and the allegation was that she had put arsenic in the dough with which she made them. Arsenic was kept in a drawer in two wrappers, with the words "Arsenic, deadly poison," written upon them. Any person might have access to the drawer.
Margaret Turner said when she arrived at the house she found her husband, son and daughter extremely ill. The prisoner was also ill and vomiting.
Q. Did you say anything to her while you were there that day respecting the dumplings?
A. I exclaimed to her: "Oh, these devilish dumplings!" supposing they had done the mischief. She said: "Not the dumplings, but the milk, madam." I asked her: "What milk?" She said: "The halfpennyworth of milk that Sally fetched to make the sauce."
Q. Did she say who had made the sauce?
A. My daughter. I said: "That cannot be, it could not be the sauce." She said:
Yes, Gadsden ate a very little bit of dumpling, not bigger than a nut, but licked up three parts of a boat of sauce with a bit of bread." Q. (To Mrs Turner, jun.): Was any sauce made with the milk that Sarah Peer fetched?
A. It was. I mixed it, and left it for her to make.
Robert Gregson Turner was here sworn.
Q. Did you partake of the dumplings at dinner?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. Did you eat any of the sauce?
A. Not any portion of that whatever.
Q. Were you taken ill, sir?
A. Soon after dinner I was, sir. I first felt an inclination to be sick: I then felt a strong heat across my chest. I was extremely sick.
Q. Did it produce any swelling in you?
A. I was exactly as my father and wife were, except stronger symptoms. I had eaten a dumpling and a half. I suffered more than any person.
Q. Were your symptoms, and those of the others, such as could be produced by poison?
A. I should presume so: all taken in the same way, and pretty near the same time.
Mr John Marshall, sworn, said: "I am a surgeon. On the evening of Tuesday, the 21st of March, I was sent for to Mr Turner's family. I got there about a quarter before nine o'clock. All the afflictions of the family were produced by arsenic. I have no doubt of it, by the symptoms. The prisoner was also ill, by the same I have no doubt."
Q. Did Mr Orlibar Turner show you a dish the next morning?
A. He did. I examined it. I washed it with a tea-kettle of warm water. I first stirred it and let it subside. I decanted it off. I found half-a-teaspoonful of white powder. I washed it a second time. I found it to be decidedly arsenic.
Q. Will arsenic, cut with a knife, produce the appearance of blackness upon the knife?
A. I have no doubt of it.
Q. Did you examine the remains of the yeast?
A. Yes: there was not a grain of arsenic there; and I examined the flour-tub: there was no arsenic there.
The prisoner said she was truly innocent of the whole charge, and the recorder, in addressing the jury, said: "Gentlemen, you have now heard the evidence given on this trial, and the case lies in a very narrow compass. There are but two questions for your consideration, and these are, whether poison was administered, in all, to four persons, and by what hand such poison was given. That these persons were poisoned appears certain from the evidence of Mrs Charlotte Turner, Orlibar Turner, Roger Gadsden, the apprentice, and Robert Turner; for each of these persons ate of the dumplings, and were all more or less affected -- that is, they were every one poisoned. That the poison was in the dough of which these dumplings were composed has been fully proved, I think, by the testimony of the surgeon who examined the remains of the dough left in the dish in which the dumplings had been mixed and divided; and he deposes that the powder which had subsided at the bottom of the dish was arsenic. That the arsenic was not in the flour I think appears plain, from the circumstance that the crust of a pie had been made that very morning with some of the same flour of which the dumplings were made and the persons who dined off the pie felt no inconvenience whatever; that it was not in the yeast nor in the milk has been also proved; neither could it be in the sauce, for two of the persons who were ill never touched a particle of the sauce, and yet were violently affected with retching and sickness. From all these circumstances it must follow that the poisonous ingredient was in the dough alone; for, besides that the persons who partook of the dumplings at dinner were all more or less affected by what they had eaten, it was observed by one of the witnesses that the dough retained the same shape it had when first put into the dish to rise, and that it appeared dark, and was heavy, and in fact never did rise. The other question for your consideration is, by what hand the poison was administered; and although we have nothing before us but circumstantial evidence, yet it often happens that circumstances are more conclusive than the most positive testimony. The prisoner, when taxed with poisoning the dumplings, threw the blame first on the milk, next on the yeast, and then on the sauce; but it has been proved, most satisfactorily, that none of these contained it, and that it was in the dumplings alone, which no person but the prisoner had made. Gentlemen, if poison had been given even to a dog, one would suppose that common humanity would have prompted us to assist it in its agonies: here is the case of a master and a mistress being both poisoned, and no assistance was offered. Gentlemen, I have now stated all the facts as they have arisen, and I leave the case in your hands, being fully persuaded that, whatever your verdict may be, you will conscientiously discharge your duty both to your God and to your country."
After the charge, the jury in a few minutes brought in a verdict of guilty, and the recorder passed sentence of death upon the prisoner. The miserable girl was carried from the bar convulsed with agony, and uttering frightful screams.
On the 26th of June (says The Annual Register), the day appointed for the execution of Elizabeth Fenning, William Oldfield and Abraham Adams, the public curiosity was strongly excited, perhaps to a greater degree than on any similar event since the memorable execution of Haggerty, Holloway, etc. In the case of Fenning many had taken up an opinion that her guilt was not clearly established, for she had uniformly protested her innocence. The last interview between her and her parents took place about half-past one o'clock on Tuesday. To them, and to the last moment, she persisted in her innocence. About eight o'clock the sheriffs proceeded from justice Hall along the subterraneous passage to the press-yard.
Fenning was dressed in white, with laced boots, and a cap. Oldfield went up to her in the press-yard and enjoined her to prayer, and assured her that they should all be happy.
The sheriffs preceded the cavalcade to the steps of the scaffold, to which the unfortunate girl was first introduced. Just as the door was opened the Reverend Mr Cotton stopped her for a moment, to ask her if, in her last moments, she had anything to communicate. She paused a moment, and said: "Before the just and Almighty God, and by the faith of the Holy Sacrament I have taken, I am innocent of the offence with which I am charged." This she spoke with much firmness of emphasis, and followed it by saying what all around her understood to be: "My innocence will be manifested in the course of the day." The last part of this sentence was spoken, however, so inaudibly that it was not rightly understood, and the Reverend Mr Cotton, being anxious to hear it again, put a question to get from her positive words: to which she answered: "I hope God will forgive me, and make manifest the transaction in the course of the day." She then mounted the platform with the same uniform firmness she had maintained throughout. A handkerchief was tied over her face, and she prayed fervently, but, to the last moment, declared her innocence. Oldfield came up next, with a firm step, and addressed a few words in prayer to the unhappy girl. About half-past eight o'clock the fatal signal was given. One movement only was perceptible in Fenning. After hanging the usual hour, the bodies were cut down, and given over to their friends for interment. The following paragraph relative to Elizabeth Fenning appeared in an evening paper:-
"We should deem ourselves wanting in justice, and a due respect for government, if we did not state that, in consequence of the many applications from the friends of this unhappy young woman who this day suffered the sentence of the law, a meeting took place yesterday at Lord Sidmouth's office (his lordship is out of town), at which the Lord Chancellor, the recorder, and Mr Beckett were present. A full and minute investigation of the case, we understand, took place, and of all that had been urged in her favour by private individuals; but the result was a decided conviction that nothing had occurred which could justify an interruption of the due course of justice. So anxious was the Lord Chancellor in particular to satisfy his own mind, and put a stop to all doubts on the part of the people at large, that another meeting was held by the same parties last night, when they came to the same determination, and in consequence the unfortunate culprit suffered the penalty of the law."
Her funeral took place on the 31st. It began to move from the house of her father, in Eagle Street, Red Lion Square, about half- past three o'clock; preceded by about a dozen peace officers, and these were followed by nearly thirty more; next came the undertaker, immediately followed by the body of the deceased, The pall was supported by six young females, attired in white; then followed eight persons, male and female, as chief mourners, led by the parents. These were succeeded by several hundreds of persons, two and two, and the whole was closed by a posse of peace officers. Many thousands accompanied the procession, and the windows, and even the tops of the houses, as it passed were thronged with spectators. The whole proceeded in a regular manner until it reached the burying-ground of St George the Martyr. The number of persons assembled in and about the churchyard was estimated at ten thousand.