Tried for murder but acquitted, 19th August, 1775
IN pursuance of our promise to the public, of inserting trials in extraordinary cases, in consequence of which the parties had been acquitted, we give the following, which is very remarkable, as the presumption of guilt is the least that could possibly be imagined.
At the assizes at Croydon, for the county of Surrey, on the 19th of August, 1775, Jane Butterfield was indicted for the wilful murder of William Scawen, Esq.
The short story of this unhappy affair is as follows: Miss Butterfield was, at fourteen years of age, seduced from her father by a woman employed by Mr. Scawen, who too soon brought the young lady to a compliance with his wishes. The seduction was followed by very disagreeable consequences: the father reprobated his daughter; and his death was hastened, as she herself acknowledged, by the grief he felt for her unhappy departure from the paths of virtue.
Mr. Scawen did not appear less affected than herself at this deplorable event: he did every thing in his power to calm the mind of the young lady; promised to supply to her the place of her late parent; and faithfully discharged that duty, by taking the utmost care of her education, and studying to oblige her in every possible instance. He even, as she says, 'faithfully supplied a parent's duty: be was by nature generous, and that generosity, with regard to herself, was unbounded.'
Impelled by notions of gratitude, Miss Butterfield presumed that she could not be thought to have acted ungratefully by her benefactor. -- Her attachment to the deceased was faithful, and her care of him unremitted: she administered to his wants and infirmities, and in all respects fulfilled the tender offices of a wife as much as if she had owed them to him under that sacred tie; and so diligent was her attendance, that her life was repeatedly endangered from excessive fatigue.
Mr. Scawen had been for a long time in a debilitated habit, and for the last six years could not arise or sit down without assistance; and such was the vitiated state of his body, 'that he was obliged to have the assistance of Mr. Caesar Hawkins, the surgeon, who applied caustics to his head, which was swelled to a degree almost incredible.'
At this time Mr. Scawen reposed such confidence in Miss Butterfield that he would not permit any person but herself to apply the proper dressings. So violent was his disorder, that he remained blind near two years, but at length recovered his sight; and his other infirmities were greatly relieved: yet his habit of body became weaker, and those who visited him foresaw that he could not exist for any considerable time.
Mr. Scawen had consulted regular physicians till he was tired, out of the hope of that relief which could not be obtained. He then had recourse to quackery, and had a perfect laboratory in his house, filled with a variety of medicines, to which he had frequent recourse for the relief of his real or imaginary complaints. His closet was stocked with Ward's and Maredant's Drops, and other medicines advertised for the cure of all complaints.
Miss Butterfield constantly advised Mr. Scawen against quackery, nor ever administered any thing to him that she conceived prejudicial to his health, or that he was disinclined to take.
In the course of the trial the strength of the evidence against Miss Butterfield rested with Mr. Edmund Sanxay, a surgeon, who deposed that he had been acquainted with the deceased about fifty years; that he put himself under his care; that he was much emaciated; that he said he was but just recovered from a salivation, which he had been thrown into by taking quack medicines for the rheumatism; that Mr. Sanxay recommended a regimen, which was observed for two days only; when Mr. Scawen came to him, and told him that in a decoction of sarsaparilla, which had been given him, he found a brassy taste, and that it made him very sick; that he had been frequently feverish and sick at stomach; that his mouth began to be sore; and that he apprehended be was going into another salivation.
After this Mr. Scawen was removed to Mr. Sanxay's house on the 20th of June, 1775, and died there on the 8th of July following. Mr. Sanxay declared his opinion that Mr. Scawen did not die a natural death; but that a salivation produced by mercury was the cause of this event.
On the contrary, several surgeons, and other persons of respectable character, gave such evidence as would induce a candid mind to believe that Mr. Scawen did not die by poison, but in consequence of his debilitated habit of body, and his preposterous attachment to quack medicines, in search of that relief which was not to be reasonably expected from them.
The consequence was, that the jury, after retiring about ten minutes, brought in a verdict of 'Not Guilty;' and Miss Butterfield immediately set out for London in a postchaise that had been previously provided.
We have been the shorter in our narrative of this affair, because there did not appear to he any just ground of suspicion of the alleged crime. What were the motives of this prosecution it would not be decent in us to say. It has been intimated that Mr. Scawen had made a will greatly in favour of Miss Butterfield, and that this urged the suit against her. Be this as it may, the generous public will congratulate her, as her friends did, on her honourable acquittal.
The fatal consequences of seduction will appear evident on a consideration of this case. Miss Butterfield's father lost his life in consequence of his daughter's being drawn aside from the paths of virtue. Let this furnish a lesson of caution to men, never to be guilty of a crime, with respect to the other sex, for which all their future tenderness can make no adequate compensation.