Ought Mrs. Maybrick to be Tortured to Death?

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Ought Mrs. Maybrick to be Tortured to Death? An Appeal from North America, and a Confession from South Africa.

W. T. Stead (The Review of Reviews, vol. VI, October, 1892) pp. 390-396

A somewhat curious experience befel me this autumn. A voice, as it were, from the grave compelled me to look into an almost forgotten past and reconsider conclusions which seemed at one time to be final. Three years ago, when I was editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, Florence Maybrick was tried and convicted and sentenced to be hanged for the wilful murder of her husband. In accordance with principles on which I had always acted, with one fatal exception, the Pall Mall Gazette objected to any retrial of the case by the Home Secretary in deference to clamour. I was on holiday at the time, and paid no attention to the case, merely assuring my locum tenems that I approved his adherence to the sound principle that a judge and a jury who have seen the witnesses and heard them give their evidence are more likely to be right than a heterogeneous omnium gatherum of newspaper readers who had no opportunity of forming an opinion of the comparative credibility of the opposing witnesses. Logically, Mrs. Maybrick should have been hanged. Mr. Matthews, however, was Home Secretary, and Sir Fitzjames Stephen was the judge, and between them they contrived to make as nice a botch of the whole business as wrong-headedness on one side and semi-dotage on the other could have brought about. Not daring to carry out the capital sentence, they evaded the gallows by a solemn declaration that there was a reasonable doubt whether any murder had ever been committed; and then, instead of sending Mrs. Maybrick for trial on the charge of attempting to poison, they commuted the sentence passed for murder to penal servitude for life. Mr. Labouchere, who was one of the most strenuous believers in her guilt, admitted sorrowfully that Mr. Matthews by his explanation had knocked the bottom out of the whole case against Mrs. Maybrick.

The excitement, however, died down, Mrs. Maybrick went to her living tomb in Woking, the newspaper reader passed to the next sensation, and probably not a vote was lost to the Unionist party at the General Election on account of the illogical absurdity of the Home Secretary’s dealing with Mrs. Maybrick.

Her case was buried and forgotten, at least on this side of the Atlantic, and I certainly had not the least inclination to refer to it again.

But no sooner was the General Election over than the Maybrick case was thrust upon my attention by a letter which reached me from the Transvaal Republic – of all places in the world. It was a quaintly addressed letter, bearing the postmark of Krugersdorp, July 19th, and franked by four penny stamps of the South African Republic. The address was as follows:-

Staed Esq
Editor of the Palmall Gazeeth and Reweu of Reweujs
London. England.

On opening this mistive, which reached me August 15th or 16th, I found it was dated Rithfontein, July 10th, 1892, and contained a remarkable communication purporting to be the death-bed confession of a man who accused himself of having conspired with others to bring suspicion upon Mrs. Maybrick. At first I was not disposed to pay it much attention. When any great murder case is in the air there are-usually some people ready to accuse themselves of a share in it, especially if they are at a safe distance or at the point of death. But after a time I reflected that the Maybrick case was not by any means in the air, and that even if it had been before the public at home, the contagion of morbid curiosity could hardly have spread to the banks of the Limpopo. There was also an air of genuine conviction about the letter which impressed me more in a second and third reading than it did at first. The extraordinary spelling, due to the effort of a South African Dutchman to spell English as he pronounces it, gave the communication an unmistakable stamp of authenticity so far as its writer was concerned. So after much consideration I decided to look into the matter. But before printing my conclusions let me give my readers the exact text of the letter…

Mr. Stead.—Dear Sir,— Please will you insert this in your valuable and widely-read paper, in justice to a poor woman, who is still in prison for a crime another person has committed. It is about five months ago since (I was) in company with Harry Wilson from Mashonaland to the Transvaal. He was sick with fever, and at last died on January 14th, 1892. Before he died he made the following confession, which he instructed me to send to Sir Charles Russell, Barrister-at-Law, London, England. There were four of us who started back, and all three died from fever except myself. And as nothing has been done in the matter — Sir C. Russell has not moved in the matter, I hope that you, loving justice to your fellow men, will move in the matter. He died on the Limpopo Flats on January 14th, 1892, and was buried by me, and what is the worst part I was the only one of the four left to hear that miserable confession. Trusting that you, loving justice, will take this into consideration, I will subscribe myself your most humble servant,

These I will swear to at any time. M. M. B. N.


He stated that he, in conjunction with a woman by the name of——————, tampered with medicine which was intended for Mr. Maybrick, put arsenic into the [—–]. He said because Mrs. Maybrick and he could not agree, and he had a grudge against her. There was also another woman, he called her Sarah, but I don’t remember the other name. It was somewhere near Manchester, some time ago, and she is still in prison. He told me to send this statement to Sir Charles Russell, Barrister-at-Law.

On communicating with Sir Charles Russell, he kindly afforded me an opportunity of perusing the letter which had been sent to him. Without reproducing the Dutch spelling, this is the first letter Englished:-

Johannesberg, March 25, 1892.
Sir Charles Russell. Sir,—A man of the name of Henry Wilson made a confession to me in my tent at Mashonaland that he put arsenic into some medicine for purposes of revenge on Mrs. Maybrick, near Manchester, some years ago. She was convicted of the crime of murder and sent to prison for life, and he wants me to write to you his confession of the crime. He died, and was buried on the Limpopo River, near the drift crossing to the Transvaal. He said he wanted to be revenged on Mrs. Maybrick. He with a servant girl tampered with the medicine for Mr. Maybrick, and put arsenic into it, but how much I could not get to know as he was delirious for fourteen days. He died and I buried him on the Limpopo Flats on the other side of the Transvaal two months ago. Trusting you will interest yourself on behalf of the woman Mrs. Maybrick, I remain, your most humble servant, M. M. BERTHRAD NEUBERG. This is written on arrival from Mashonaland. I am sorry there is not another witness to this miserable statement, —M. M. B. NEUBERG.

After carefully reading and re-reading these pathetic appeals from the solitary survivor of the ill-fated party of farmers in Mashonaland, I came to the conclusion that it was simply impossible to refuse to look into the whole matter. Mr. Neuberg was evidently profoundly convinced of the serious importance of the case. He seems to have written to Sir Charles Russell as soon as he got within range of a post office. After waiting four months, when he heard nothing from Sir Charles, who, however, had sent his letter at once to the solicitors, he could not remain at rest, and all difficulties of caligraphy notwithstanding, he wrote off to me, believing that I would at least look into the matter as “one loving justice for my fellow men.”

So, without more ado, I did look into the matter, with this result, that whether there is anything in the confession or whether there is not, I can not resist the conclusion that the case is so scandalous an illustration of the very worst sides of the British judicial system and of the British character, that, if only to give us a chance of burying the matter in oblivion, Mrs. Maybrick should be released. I do not care how prejudiced any one may be against Mrs. Maybrick. No Englishman can feel otherwise than ashamed of having to defend the manner in which she has been dealt with by our Courts and our Governments. If, as seems by no means improbable, the case should become a subject of diplomatic representations between the Governments, as it has already become the subject of very vehement journalistic disputation between the papers in America and Great Britain, we shall not be able to escape a gibbetting that is little short of a national humiliation. The Americans who in high places and in low are criticising the way in which we dealt with Mrs. Maybrick, have us on the hip. A sorrier exhibition of all that is worst in the blundering, wrong-headed illogical side of John Bull has seldom or never given occasion for his enemies to exult and his friends to wince.


The climax of the whole tragedy of errors was not, however, reached until the publication of Mr. Matthews’ response to the American appeal for Mrs. Maybrick’s release, in which the world is solemnly told that “the case of the convict is that of an adulteress attempting to poison her husband under the most cruel circumstances,” etc. The reluctance I felt to grapple with the subject disappeared before this revived imputation of the charge of adultery, as if it were to fill in and make up for all deficiences of evidence in support of the major charge.

Mrs. Maybrick may or may not have been unfaithful to her husband on the one solitary occasion that she undoubtedly compromised herself, when she was smarting under the discovery of her husband’s infidelity, when conjugal relations had ceased, and she was almost out of her senses with excitement and hysteria. But the worst offence which senile malevolence on the Bench or in the Home Office can impute to this unfortunate woman is as a trifle light as air compared to the debauchery in which her husband lived and moved and had his being.


James Maybrick is dead and gone to his account. The adage de mortuis does not apply when silence as to the dead inflicts cruel injustice upon the living. But for the chivalrous anxiety of Mrs. Maybrick to shield the reputation of her dead husband, even when she stood in the dock accused of having murdered him, she would not to-day be slowly pining to death in Woking Gaol. Let there be no mistake about this matter. When the Messrs. Cleaver, her solicitors, were in consultation with her before the trial, Mrs. Maybrick pathetically implored them “to spare Jim as much as possible.” “I know,” she said, “he has done many wrong things, but he is dead now, and I would be distressed if his life were to be made public.” Her solicitors yielded to her entreaties, consoling themselves from a professional point of view that to comply with her earnest entreaty might not materially injure the case. If they had laid too much stress upon the immoralities of Mr. Maybrick, it might have been held to have suggested a motive for his removal, so they kept silence. Nothing was said to bring the actual facts of Mr. Maybrick’s life before the jury, and the judge was able to indulge to his heart’s content in portraying the unfortunate wife who stumbled once as a horrible adulteress—false to a husband who, for aught that appeared in Court, was entitled to her love and honour and respect.

That fatal chivalry of the loving heart of a deeply injured woman is primarily responsible for the hideous miscarriage of justice, which has as its latest expression this Ministerial reference to the “adulteress” who is now being slowly done to death in a convict prison.


I feel, therefore, compelled for the first time since the case was reported to let the public understand exactly what kind of a man James Maybrick was, in order that they may form some idea of the justice of the judge’s invectives and the cold-blooded brutality of the sneer which Mr. Matthews put into Lord Salisbury’s mouth.

James Maybrick, his friends will say, was “a very good kind of fellow,” which, according to the standard of goodness that prevails in certain circles in Liverpool, may be true. But James Maybrick was a seducer, an adulterer and a debauchee. Before he married the young and innocent girl, for whose release the best and most influential Americans have been pleading in vain, he had seduced a young woman of eighteen under promise of marriage. He kept her as his mistress until she bore him five children and then he cast her off without remorse when he saw his chance of marrying poor Florence.

But after the marriage he continued occasionally to meet his forsaken mistress, paying her more or less irregularly a miserable pittance, and dying without making any provision for her maintenance. Mrs. Maybrick was suspected of having made away with her husband’s diamonds, which, it was subsequently discovered, had been given by him to his old mistress within the last year of his life. But that was not all. James Maybrick was false to the young wife whom he had brought to his polluted home. His relations with loose women could have been proved in court, and as the result of his misconduct marital relations were suspended for the last two years of his life. It was not, however, for her sake that this virtual separation took place. He said he did not wish to injure any child he might have. Thus, by his own evil living, Mrs. Maybrick was virtually separated from her husband before she ever transgressed with Brierley. That does not condone or excuse her fall, but it entirely puts the husband out of court, and makes the judge’s anathemas seem even more brutally unjust than they appeared at the time.


When Mr. Maybrick married, he was over forty, but so far from being in the prime of life and manhood, he admitted to his American doctor that he had wrecked his constitution by his vices. He only kept himself going by the perpetual administration of aphrodisiacs. His office was like a drug-shop, his house had arsenic in almost every corner. He habitually drugged himself with arsenic, in the hope of restoring his exhausted vitality. To upbraid the wife of such a debauchee, whose life was one long series of adulteries, with being an adulteress of so heinous a type that she deserved to be hanged, is absurd. Yet there is too much reason for believing that but for the imputation of adultery against her, no jury would ever have found her guilty of the murder which the late Home Secretary declared might never have been committed.

I went down to Liverpool last month to look up the evidence. I found that on two points there seemed to be no difference of opinion. First, that Mr. Maybrick was an habitual adulterer; and secondly, that in order to counteract the enervating consequences of his debauchery he constantly drugged himself with arsenic. Here, for instance, is a statement which would have been made on oath under cross-examination at the trial but that the unfortunate illness of the witness rendered him practically unable to give his evidence clearly. Mr. James Heaton, Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society, says:-

I am a chemist and druggist carrying on business in Liverpool. The late Mr. James Maybrick was a customer of mine. He used constantly to come to me for medicine, usually for liquor arsenicalis, for which he presented a prescription, believed to be American. This liquor arsenicalis he would sometimes take as often as five times a day. I have also seen him take arsenic in white powder out of his pocket and place it on his tongue. He carried arsenic about with him. He used it as he used the liquor arsenicalis as a pick-me-up.


Mr. Maybrick, in short, kept himself on his legs by dosing himself with arsenic. He had arsenic everywhere, arsenic in his pocket, arsenic in his house, in capsules and powders and solutions. I have in my possession one of the capsules of arsenic and iron, which the prosecution kept back until the middle of the trial, but which they admitted he had procured for his own use. To assume that the arsenic found in his body had been placed there by any other hands save his own, is a supposition which would need to be supported by very strong evidence indeed before it could be believed.

But of that evidence, where is there even a shred or a tittle to be found? Mrs. Maybrick had a prescription for an arsenical facewash for her complexion, which, unfortunately, was not discovered until after the trial, and its existence was doubted. But it was found afterwards, and is printed in Macdougalls book. But beyond the infinitesimal quantity of arsenic which she used for her complexion, there is no evidence whatever to prove that she ever had procured any poison anywhere. If Dives had perished of a surfeit, it would have been as reasonable to accuse Lazarus of having choked him with the crumbs which he shared with the dogs, as to saddle Mrs. Maybrick, because of her cosmetics and her flypapers, with the responsibility for poisoning the adulterer who used arsenic as part of his daily diet.


The fact is that the case was decided not in the least upon the evidence of experts, but solely upon the prejudice imported into the case by the judge on the last day of his summing-up. Sir Fitzjames Stephen, who was much prejudiced against wives suspected of misbehaviour, had worked himself up into a kind of frenzy at the thought of Mrs. Maybrick becoming a popular heroine. The judge’s charge was of a nature happily almost without precedent in British courts. Sir Charles Russell, the Attorney-General, in his memorandum to the Home Office, used the following weighty words of censure of the judge’s conduct. After saying that it was eminently a case in which the judge was bound to allay prejudice instead of exciting it by vehement appeal, Sir Charles pointed out that Sir Fitzjames Stephen had “passionately invited them” to find a verdict of guilty. He made suggestions which were untenable, and had never been advanced by the prosecution, and went out of his way to make misleading references. Sir Charles continues:-

But most important of all, instead of distinctly separating the two issues of cause of death, and the prisoner’s guilt in connection with it, he appears to have told the jury not to consider the case separately, but as a whole. It is submitted this is clearly wrong and misleading.

It is no exaggeration to say that every point made by the prosecution was put by the learned judge, and with greater insistence, as well as other points which the prosecution had not made—while, at the same time, he does not seem to have realised the importance of many of the points made on the part of the prisoner, and did not put some of them at all, and those which he did put he minimised and discounted.

To begin with, he took two days to sum up. The first day he spoke as a judge. The second day some malign influence seemed to have possessed or obsessed him, and he raged like a violent counsel for the prosecution, leaving no stone unturned to excite prejudice against the unfortunate woman in the dock. Why this change no one can say. All that was known was that he paced his room the night before the verdict as in a frenzy, came into court and charged horse, foot, and artillery upon the wretched, forlorn woman in the dock. He laid himself out to excite prejudice against this “horrible woman,” but even when he had finished his twelve-hour harangue for the prosecution from the Bench, he had sufficient judicial acumen left amidst the perceptible decay of his faculties to doubt the possibility of a verdict of guilty. I was assured in Liverpool by one who had it direct from the official concerned, that when the jury retired the judge called up the clerk and asked him what the verdict would be. “My Lord,” he replied, “I am not the jury.” “Oh,” said the judge, “it is impossible for them to find her guilty in face of the medical evidence.” That, also, was the opinion of the prosecution.


The conviction that a verdict of “Not Guilty” was inevitable was so firmly entertained that both the evening papers printed special editions announcing a verdict of “Not Guilty,” and sold them in the streets. When the jury returned, after an absence of thirty-eight minutes, with a verdict of “Guilty,” the sensation was overwhelming. Even the judge felt it, and in passing sentence of death he placed the whole responsibility upon the jury and the jury alone. Outside the ebullition of feeling was almost unprecedented. I do not remember any case in which the public protested so vehemently against the decision of a court of law. Nor was it only the general public. Every member of the Bar present at the Assizes, with the addition of the Recorder of Liverpool, signed the memorial in her favour.

Sir Charles Russell in his memorandum to ‘the Home Office, says:-

Lastly. It is important to note that the verdict came as a surprise upon the trained minds of the Bar of the Northern Circuit, and that to the very last moment (even after the summing-up), the leading Counsel for the Prosecution, Mr. Addison, Q.C., M.P, persisted in saying that the jury could not, especially in view of the medical evidence, find a verdict of “Guilty.”


The Home Secretary, under the chaotic system of British jurisprudence, is the Supreme Court of Criminal Appeal. Being clamorously summoned to re-try the case, he went into the evidence with the assistance of the judge who tried Mrs. Maybrick. The result of his re-trial of the issue was the summary but decisive overturn of the very foundation upon which the verdict of murder had been given. The judge had submitted to the jury as the first question which they must decide:

Did James Maybrick Die of Arsenic?

And in order to prevent any misunderstanding he told them that, “it is a necessary step—it is essential to this charge that the man died of poison, and the poison suggested is arsenic.” Further, he distinctly asserted that “it must be the foundation of a judgment unfavourable to the prisoner that he died of arsenic.” The judge did not need to remind the jury that if there was any reasonable doubt, it is the established principle of English law that the prisoner must have the benefit of that doubt. That goes without saying. But the jury, notwithstanding the evidence of four most distinguished medical experts, who swore that the deceased did not die of poison, decided that there was no reason for doubting but that

James Maybrick did Die of Arsenic.

Then comes the Home Secretary who re-tries the case, and proclaims to the world that after taking the best medical and legal advice that could be obtained, he has come to the conclusion that “the evidence does not wholly exclude a reasonable doubt whether his death was in fact caused by the administration of arsenic!”

The Home Secretary’s verdict is directly opposed to that of the jury. His finding is:

I Doubt whether James Maybrick did Die of Arsenic.

As the prisoner is always entitled to the benefit of the doubt, this knocks the very foundation out of the verdict of the jury. If there was no murder no one can be guilty of murder. If there is a “reasonable doubt” that Maybrick did not die of poison, then clearly there can be no ground in law or in reason for convicting his wife of having poisoned him. But although the Home Secretary thus summarily destroys the foundation of the verdict of the jury, he refuses to alter the decision that she is guilty of wilfully murdering a man who, he admits, may never have been murdered at all.

We shall have to ransack the annals of topsy turvydom to discover a precedent for this absurd and ridiculous conclusion. But it stands to this day unreversed, and this morning Mrs. Maybrick was recalled by the harsh clangour of the prison bell at Woking to the lot of a convicted murderess, doomed to spend her life in penal servitude, to expiate a murder which the judge who tried her and the Home Secretary who re-tried her agree in declaring may quite possibly never have been committed!


The answer is that, although the verdict of wilful murder has been practically annulled, the Home Secretary decided that the evidence clearly pointed to the conclusion that Mrs. Maybrick administered and attempted to administer arsenic to her husband with intent to murder, and that for attempting to poison she may be lawfully imprisoned for life. If so, so be it. But in that case let us clearly understand that Mrs. Maybrick is at this moment a convict in Woking, not for committing wilful murder, but for attempting to poison. That surely is clear enough from the decision of the Home Office. Yet so anomalous are the ways of the circumlocution office, so labyrinthine the maze of British jurisprudence, that the Home Office still maintains that Mrs. Maybrick is under sentence, not for attempting to poison, but for wilful murder. It is such banal futilities which will yet make the British Home Office the laughing-stock of the world.


But is it true that the evidence points so clearly to the administration of poison by Mrs. Maybrick? She herself admitted having put a powder, at her husband’s urgent request, into a bottle of meat juice, and at the trial a bottle of meat juice, which Mrs. Maybrick declares she never saw before, was produced which contained arsenic. But it is admitted that none of that arsenious meat juice was ever administered to him, so that, whatever her intent may have been, it was not carried into effect. Where, then, is the evidence that she administered the arsenic, if she ever gave him any, which is not proved, with felonious intent? If she gave him arsenic in his medicine, it may have been at his own request, or she may have given it to him inadvertently, owing to the poison having been placed in his medicine by other parties. The former is the conclusion which is suggested by the notorious habits of Mr. Maybrick, the latter is put forward by the confession from South Africa. In either case there would be no reason for keeping Mrs. Maybrick in gaol.


The case for Mrs. Maybrick, I take it, if we accept the confession of Harry Wilson as genuine, is that Mr. Maybrick did not die of poison, and that after he was dead conspirators in the household put about the arsenic and the arsenical liquor which the dead man had in his possession, so as to excite suspicion against Mrs. Maybrick. Mr. Matthews, I believe, satisfied himself that the arsenic found in solution in the meat juice could not have been put there in powder, so that it is not accounted for by Mrs. Maybrick’s story about the powder. Now, however, we have the statement of the man, Harry Wilson, that he, for purposes of revenge, aided by nurses or servants in the house, put arsenic into the medicine or into the tea. I admit the difficulty of believing that any human being could be base enough to join in so wicked a plot against an innocent woman, and to carry it out at the very moment when their unfortunate victim was lying in a swoon into which she fell when her husband died. But here we have Harry Wilson’s confession, and as some, at least, of those about had made up their minds Mrs. Maybrick was a poisoner, they may have had slight scruples at making assurance doubly sure by assisting in preparing the evidence in support of their case. But I lay no stress on this.


But is there any proof anywhere that Mrs. Maybrick ever attempted to poison her husband? No one could prove she ever procured any arsenic anywhere, or administered it at any time. Dr. C. M. Tidy, one of the official analysts to the Home Office, and Dr. Macnamara, who were called as medical experts for Mrs. Maybrick, published after the trial a toxicological study of the case, in which they referred to “the disastrous result of a trial which, if often repeated, would shake the public faith in English justice.” These high authorities thus sum up their judgment as follows:-

Two conclusions are forced upon us:-

  1. That the arsenic found in Maybrick’s body may have been taken in merely medical doses, and that probably it was so taken.
  2. That the arsenic may have been taken a considerable time before either his death or illness, and that probably it was so taken.

Our toxicological studies have led us to the three following conclusions:-

  1. That the symptoms from which Maybrick suffered are consistent with any form of acute dyspepsia, but that they absolutely point away from, rather than towards, arsenic as the cause of such dyspeptic condition.
  2. That the post-mortem appearances are indicative of inflammation, but that they emphatically point away from arsenic as the cause of death. 3. That the analysis fails to find more than one-twentieth part of a fatal dose of arsenic, and that the quantity so found is perfectly consistent with its medicinal ingestion.


The confession from South Africa, even if it were quite valueless, has been of good service in directing attention once more to the travesty of justice, which has exposed us to serious remonstrances from the other side of the Atlantic. It is most humiliating for an Englishman to have to answer before the bar of American public opinion for such a farrago of blunders and illogicalities as we have passed in review. Mr. Asquith, dealing with a petition handed him on entering office, has declared that he sees no reason to depart from the decision of his predecessor. I have too much respect for Mr. Asquith to take this as his final deliverance. It is not necessary for him to publicly array the British Goddess of Justice in a white shirt and put ashes on her head in order to terminate this unseemly business. As Mr. Matthews reduced the charge from wilful murder to that of attempting to poison, Mr. Asquith can reduce the sentence from penal servitude for life to one for five years, which is the more usual sentence for such an offence. This five years’ sentence – shortened by the usual allowance for good behaviour – is almost on the point of expiry. Mr. Asquith while reconsidering the sentences of the convicts under his change, may easily arrange that Mrs. Maybrick shall not spend another Christmas in gaol.


Mrs. Maybrick is being slowly tortured to death in solitary confinement; and if she is not speedily released by the clemency of the Crown, she will die. She has been under medical treatment as an invalid since December. The medical officers have done what they can to alleviate her sufferings, and to restore her to a regular and normal state of health. They have utterly failed, and for this reason: the malady from which she suffers is directly engendered by incessant brooding over a cruel wrong in a silence unbroken even by the voice of the warder, in the solitude of an isolated cell. Too weak to labour, she spends twenty-three hours in every twenty-four in sunless gloom, with nothing to do, except to indulge in brooding over the steady approach of insanity or death. She suffers agony from racking headaches, which, from the family history, are probably the preludes of the consumption to which her brother succumbed. Pain, despair, gloom, and disease – all these are visited upon Mrs. Maybrick, and, unless Mr. Asquith relents, the pressure will be steadily kept up until the miserable woman is tortured to death. It would be more merciful and more logical to hang her off hand than to persist in wearing out her life by this horror of slow torment, out of regard for the amour propre of an ex-Home Secretary and a superannuated judge.


Even if Mr. Asquith should turn a deaf ear to the plea thus put forward, we should not despair. The matter is one which goes beyond the limits of a single department. Lord Rosebery is certain to have to deal with the matter, and Mr. Gladstone himself may find it expedient to spare a little time to consider whether or not it is worth while following President Lincoln’s example, and strain a point, rather than persist in rigour which creates on the other side of the Atlantic a very lively sense of the illogical injustice of British jurisprudence. For my own part, as one responsible for the only political periodical circulating equally in both Empire and Republic, which aims, above all things, at the establishment of a close union based on mutual respect between the two great sections of the English-speaking race, I can only present this plea respectfully before the new Administration, with the deep conviction that the permanent interests of both countries would be best served by the removal of a cause of dispute which is certainly not calculated to contribute either to our self-respect or our reputation for either justice or mercy.


In conclusion I may add that the opinion that Mrs. Maybrick was wrongfully convicted has been entertained from first to last by her solicitors, Messrs. Cleaver, of Liverpool, and her counsel, Sir Charles Russell, now Attorney-General. Everything that has since come to light has but confirmed the views expressed by the legal advisers of Mrs. Maybrick at the trial, viz. that the evidence was in her favour, and they have never ceased to promote every measure for obtaining her release. Sir Charles Russell’s position is somewhat delicate. He was Mrs. Maybrick’s counsel. He is now the legal adviser of the Government. This hampers him. He might be accused of using his official position to advise the release of his client. But before he was Attorney-General he drew up a memorial to Mr. Matthews, in which he expressed himself in terms which he abides by without hesitation to this hour. From this memorial I quote the following passage:-

On the whole, it is submitted that looking to all the facts – to the strange habits of the deceased, and to the strong conflict of medical testimony – coupled with the summing-up of the judge, which took captive the judgment of the jury, the verdict cannot be regarded as satisfactory, and the irrevocable penalty ought not to be inflicted.

The capital sentence was not inflicted; but penal servitude for life is, under present conditions, a sentence of death. Surely, considering all the circumstances, the time has come for that sentence to be revoked.


Gail Hamilton has addressed an “Open Letter to the Queen,” on the subject of Mrs. Maybrick, which appears in the North American Review for September. Gail Hamilton is one of the numerous band of American women who have espoused the cause of Mrs. Maybrick with a zeal and an enthusiasm which is beyond all praise, whether or not we think it in accordance with knowledge. Gail Hamilton lays before Her Majesty what may be regarded as the most powerful American plea for Mrs. Maybrick that has as yet been penned. Lord Rosebery will do well to read it, and the Home and Foreign Secretaries might do worse than consult together to see whether something might not be done to make a more adequate response to the American appeal than Lord Salisbury and Mr. Matthews could be induced to recommend. Gail Hamilton starts effectively enough with a reference to the pardon by President Lincoln of Alfred Rubery, an English subject, who bought a ship, stuffed it full of powder and shot with a view of seizing the forts of San Francisco, and raising a rebellion in California. Rubery was found guilty in 1863 and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment. Shortly afterwards John Bright appealed for the pardon of Rubery. President Lincoln promptly granted the pardon, and the entry in the law reports states that the pardon was granted as a mark of respect and good will to Mr. Bright, by whom it had been solicited. Gail Hamilton suggests from this that England might pardon Mrs. Maybrick in deference to the appeal of America. English people will read with surprise of the interest which the Maybrick case has excited in the most influential quarters in America. The wives of the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Agriculture signed a petition to Her Majesty the Queen, praying her grace “on behalf of our young countrywoman, Florence Maybrick, a widow, a mother, fatherless, brotherless, wearing out in prison a life sentence of penal servitude.” When the wife of the President of America and the wives of the principal Ministers at Washington earnestly and respectfully entreat the Queen of England to pardon and release Mrs. Maybrick, it is to be regretted that a petition so influentially supported should have been received so cavalierly by Lord Salisbury. Not only did the wives of the President and his Ministers appeal to the Queen, but a petition urgently asking Mr. Matthews to advise Her Majesty to order the pardon and release of Mrs. Maybrick has been signed by forty bearing the most representative names in America. This petition was drawn up under the immediate instigation and revision of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Chief Justice, it seems, is connected with Mrs. Maybrick on the mother’s side by marriage. Two other judges of the Supreme Court were nearly akin by the father’s side to Mrs. Maybrick. Among those who have signed the petition were the following:-

The Vice-President of the United States and President of the Senate; the Speaker of the House of Representatives; all the members of the Cabinet; many chiefs of bureaus; the General commanding the army and several Brigadier Generals; Cardinal Gibbons, the highest authority of the Catholic Church in America; the Minister to France; the Acting Judge Advocate-General; and others.

The petition which was so signed contained a statement of the facts as to the profound impression produced by the conduct of the trial, that there had been a miscarriage of justice, and a reference to the reasonable doubt which the Home Secretary said as to whether there had been any murder or not. The petition goes further and arraigns not unjustly the scandalous defect of the English judicial system which fails to provide any court of Criminal Appeal before which the question raised in the Maybrick case could be properly brought and decided. Whether or not this American impeachment of English justice nettled Lord Salisbury or not it is difficult to say, but many Englishmen will read for the first time with regret and with astonishment that Lord Salisbury replied to this petition in the following terms:-

Taking the most lenient view which the facts proved in evidence, and known to Her Majesty’s Secretary of State, admit of, the case of this convict was that of an adulteress attempting to poison her husband, under the most cruel circumstances, while she pretended to be nursing him on his sick bed. The Secretary of State regrets that he has been unable to find any ground for recommending to the Queen any further act of clemency towards the prisoner.

Gail Hamilton concludes her paper by making a somewhat bitter reference to the cases of Mrs. Osborne and Mrs. Montague, and it concludes by an eloquent appeal on behalf of this American woman immured in Woking Prison, whose release is prayed for by the agonising entreaties of a mother, and the tender urgency of the wife of the President of the United States and the respectful petition of the-most eminent men of the American Republic.

It is unfortunate for England that her peculiar institutions should come up for review under such circumstances as this of the Maybrick trial. This American woman was sentenced to be hanged by a judge on the verge of dotage, after the counsel for the prosecution had remarked it was impossible to find a verdict of guilty in the face of the medical evidence. She was declared by the jury to have been clearly proved guilty of wilfully poisoning a man, who the Home Secretary, sitting as Court of Appeal, found was possibly not murdered at all; and she is now serving a sentence which was not pronounced by the judge, for an offence which was neither alleged against her in the indictment nor submitted to the jury at the trial.