How the Victorian press covered the story

 

The Judge Sums Up the Case

4th May 1887

19th century Assize Court judgeHis Lordship, in summing up, said that the charge against the prisoner was that of the manslaughter of his wife. Proceeding to explain the law relating to manslaughter, his lordship said that if a man by unlawful violence caused or materially contributed to the death of another, that constituted manslaughter and if his unlawful violence accelerated the death of another he was guilty of manslaughter. If the prisoner turned his wife out of doors or was guilty of such violence as caused her to rush out, and that exposure brought about her death, he would be guilty of manslaughter; but if he administered blows which would have had no fatal consequences in themselves, and her going out of doors after they had been inflicted, voluntarily, and not for the purpose of escaping from his violence, he would not be guilty of manslaughter, because the blows so administered would not be the cause of death. If, however, after she had been out of doors he inflicted blows upon her, in the condition she then was, and that exposure, coupled with the blows accelerated or contributed materially to her death then he would be guilty of manslaughter.

The case was a very painful one and no one could help feeling that in all probability that curse of the country, drink, had had a great deal to do with the prisoner's position. He hoped, as a result of the better education and training which now prevailed, that in a few years men like the prisoner, occupying ostensibly a respectable position, would be ashamed to get drunk instead of regarding it as a natural thing, they might anticipate acts of violence connected with drink. It was all very well to talk about the prisoner being a religious and an extremely respectable man, and kind father, but under the circumstances which he had heard detailed, he felt bound to enter his protest against the suggestion in the public interest. They must not forget that a man who was capable of getting into the state described might when in that condition commit acts which he would never contemplate in his sober senses.

"The main facts of the case did not seem to be in dispute. There was a certain amount of unreliable evidence, which seemed to make it difficult to square with the story told by the children. Of course, they were not likely to make the worst of things against their father, and with that exception the facts scarcely seemed to be of controversial character at all. The deceased was confined at seven o'clock in the morning. She was taken ill downstairs, and the birth took place there. They then came to the evidence of Dr. Matheson, a perfectly good witness, who stated that he got to the house at eight o'clock, and left about half-past the woman being then comfortable and progressing favourably. The next thing they knew was the transaction to which Fleming spoke. They knew that whilst the prisoner was in the house, Fleming said he heard screaming and on looking up saw three children running one by one from the house across the yard. He saw them looking earnestly at the door, and looking as if something was going on which excited their attention. The little girl's story was this, 'I was playing outside, and I saw my father and mother in the yard.' She said she did not scream nor did her little brother, and they must believe that if they could, but it was wholly inconsistent, with Fleming's evidence. They could not make the two stories hang together. Those were the only facts they knew of about the first occasion on which the woman came out of the house."

Mr. Addison called the attention of his lordship to the evidence of the little girl when she said that her father was in the shop when her mother went out on the first occasion.

His Lordship: "She said he was in the workshop and that negatives his being in the house. So far as the witnesses were concerned there was this important fact which had not been brought before the notice of the jury, but which to his mind had a strange bearing on the question as to whether the deceased was likely to have left the house voluntarily, or was really thrust out by the prisoner and which was strongly against the latter theory. On the second occasion, according to the evidence, she was half dressed, and if she had been thrust out of the house by actual force it was not likely she would have had time to dress; nor was it likely that he would have brought her back after he had put her out. He should think that that view was disposed of by that fact. But it did not dispose of another possible view, namely, that there had been violence used in the house, to escape which she rushed out; and if there had been violence used in the house by whom could that violence have been inflicted. On that occasion, about two o'clock, they had the evidence of Ainsworth and Dickinson. It was clear enough they heard screams and those induced them to look up from their work. Ainsworth stated that when he first raised his head he saw no one, but immediately afterwards he saw Garner and a woman which under the circumstances of the case, must have been his wife coming from the stile to the house. They had a clear view and both said that Garner was taking his wife back, and that he had his left hand upon her left shoulder. Both also saw him two or three times lift up his hand and bring it down upon the woman. One said he used his hand and the other his fist, but at the distance he did not suppose any one could tell the difference and the question for the jury was whether they could rely upon the witnesses seeing an action of that kind. Just about that time two of the children came up from another direction, and they saw the father dragging the mother back to the house; they also said it was done gently and she went willingly, and that no violence was used, but they denied hearing any screams. He therefore found it difficult to reconcile those two statements.

He could not understand those two incidents occurring at the same time - the men hearing the screams and the appearance of the children - how it was that the children did not hear the screams, and it was for the jury as men of common sense, to ask themselves whether they could get an absolutely reliable account from these children, especially as they were likely to make their evidence as favourable as they could for their father. The jury would also have to ask themselves whether it was likely these two men could have invented or imagined that they saw the prisoner strike his wife. Soon afterwards Mrs. Eccles came back, and she noticed a blueish mark under the left eye, and which developed into a black eye. There was also this further fact that there were found upon the body marks of violence to a considerable extent. There was also evidence of a mark on the neck; one said the back and the other the front."

A Juryman: "I understood the doctor to say both sides of the front of the neck."

His Lordship said Mrs. Eccles, who washed the body, spoke of a black mark on the back of the neck, and no doubt there seemed to have been a mark visible there; he called their attention to this fact which was more worth considering than anything else, because it bore out to a certain extent the evidence of the man who said that he saw the prisoner place his hand upon her neck or shoulder. Then there was found the mark on the lower portion of the back to which he did not attach much importance. The woman came downstairs shortly after her confinement. She was in a weak state; and under the circumstances he could not but think it was a hurried business, and he could not conceive anything more likely than that she should have slipped down two or three steps which would cause the mark. The two marks which seemed to him to have a good deal of significance and which were difficult to account for were those on the back of the neck and the black eye. It did seem to him difficult to explain how the black eye could be there without someone having given it to her. It did not follow he gave it her, but it was for the jury to ask themselves if anybody did give it her.

Dr. Ballantyne, in reply to the Judge, said he saw no marks on the back of the neck, the marks he noticed were on the front part of the neck. At the post mortem he noticed some lividity on the back part of the neck, but the body being laid on the back would accelerate decomposition and discolouration.

Continuing, his lordship said that with regard to what deceased said on the Wednesday when her husband went up stairs, "Cover me up don't let him touch me," he thought there was a danger of attaching too much importance to such statements, for two reasons. It was clear that about that time she began to wander. She had also been ill for some time, and women in that condition were inclined to imagine things which practically had no existence.

With regard to the incident at the inquest, Mr. Blair had laid some stress upon the fact that though the prisoner heard the conversation which took place between Nancy Eccles and Thomas Garner he remained silent, but he did not think the jury could construe that silence into anything, as it was not an observation calling for an answer.

With regard to some portions of the medical evidence his lordship referred to that of Dr. Buckley, who on some important points had formed his opinion second-hand, and for that reason he did not like the look of it. Still Dr. Buckley was a gentleman of great eminence and they must accept his evidence unreservedly. The most important part of Dr. Buckley's evidence was that relating to the condition of the woman shortly after her confinement. She had had a comfortable confinement and in two or three hours afterwards she went out of the house. He admitted it was possible she might have puerperal fever, but she was not likely at that stage to have puerperal mania.

His Lordship concluded by again directing the attention of the jury to some of the salient points of the evidence, and said that if they believed that the man in getting the deceased back to the house punished her for having gone out and administered blows which accelerated death after the exposure had taken place, in that case he would be guilty of manslaughter. Did they consider the prisoner had administered such violence as made deceased afraid of him or that he actually drove her out? Drink was no excuse for wanton acts and brutal violence and anything like a serious blow administered to a woman in that condition would be an act of brutal violence, and it hardly needed a doctor to tell them so. If they adopted the view that the woman left the house voluntarily then they would acquit the prisoner.

A Juryman: "Before we discuss the matter, seeing that the confinement was a hurried one, and the uestion is whether she left the house voluntarily or was thrust out, I should like to know whether her stockings were taken off when Mrs Eccles left the house."

His Lordship: "I suppose so. (To Mrs Eccles) When you left the house were her stockings off?"

Mrs. Eccles: "Yes."

His Lordship: "And you reduced her to her night dress?"

Mrs. Eccles: "Yes."

The jury then retired, and, after an absence of about ten minutes, returned to court.