Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

1856.)

WILLIAM PALMER.

77

deadly potion. The crimes of which William Palmer, a surgeon of Rugeley in Staffordshire, was accused presented all these features of atrocity, and many others besides. They had been planned and carried out by him in the most deliberate and cold blooded manner. In order to obtain some money from a person of the name of Cook, with whom he had been on terms of professed friendship, he first forged a cheque; then, to prevent discovery, he attempted to poison him with antimony, and at length effected his purpose by administering strychnine in pills. His trial for this offence commenced on the 14th of May, and was continued over twelve days, at the end of which time he was convicted ; but the evidence produced at the trial showed that this was neither his only nor his most atrocious crime. There can be no doubt that, after having compelled his unhappy wife to commit a forgery, he had poisoned her; that he had destroyed his mother and his brother, as well as several of his acquaintances, by the same means and from the same motives. Nevertheless he denied his guilt to the last, and when asked by the high sheriff, just before his execution, whether he acknowledged the justice of the sentence in virtue of which he was about to suffer, be replied with great firmness of tone, ‘No, sir, I do not; I go to the scaffold a murdered man.' His death appeared to be instantaneous.

It may seem strange that, though he had long been the object of strong suspicion, he had succeeded, partly by blandishments and partly by threats, in preventing any investigation of the circumstances of the deaths of several of his patients, which had occurred under extremely doubtful circumstances. When the inquiry into the death of Cook was going on, and facts were being brought to light which established a moral certainty of Palmer's guilt, the postmaster in Rugeley secretly opened a letter from the chemist to whom the contents of Cook's stom:ch had been sent for analysis, and the coroner so far forgot his duty as to receive hints and suggestions and a present of game from Palmer at the time when the inquest on Cook’s body was about to be held. However, that functionary was unable to prevent a verdict of wilful murder from being brungot in against his friend, not only in the case of Cook, but also of Palmer's wife and brother, whose bodies had

6

been exhumed for the purpose of inquiry into the cause of their death.

The atrocious crimes of which Palmer had been guilty served to draw public attention to the defective state of the law with regard to the sale of poisons. Lord Campbell inquired, in his place in the House of Lords, whether the government intended to bring in a measure dealing with the subject, and was told in reply that a bill was being prepared by the home secretary.

The war with Russia had left behind it a dispute with the United States. In accordance with the provisions of the foreign-enlistment bill, carried during the last session, American citizens had been induced to enter into the service of the Queen, and it was somewhat angrily complained that this had been done in violation of the laws of the States as well as of international law. The English government at once put a stop to the enlistment of American citizens, and tendered a full apology to the American government; but it was very ungraciously received, and our minister at Washington was summarily and somewhat insultingly dismissed. The conduct of the American government roused a strong feeling of indignation in England, and, on the other hand, the ill-temper of the Americans was exasperated when they learnt that one of the attachés of the American minister at London had been refused admission to the Queen's levée because he appeared there in a dress which did not conform to the regulations of the court of St. James's. While the ill-feeling on both sides was at its height, a motion was brought forward in the House of Commons by Mr. Moore, which was in fact an attempt to censure the ministry for their conduct in reference to this matter. He was supported not only by those who thought with him that the Americans really bad good reason to complain of the conduct of the government in reference to the matter, but also by many Conservatives, whose object was to gain a party advantage, while others, like Mr. Spooner, without giving any opinion on the conduct of the government, declined to join in this attempt to embarrass them. Eventually the motion was treated as a vote of want of confidence in the ministry, and rejected by a majority of 274 to 80.

Little reeds to be said with regard to the general legis.

1856.]

CLOSE OF THE YEAR 1856.

79

sources.

lation of this year. If the two war sessions had been legislatively barren, the first peace session that followed them was not more fertile. The government had promised few measures in the Queen's speech at the commencement of the session, and their performances fell far short of their promises. They carried absolutely nothing that exercised any appreciable influence on the progress and prosperity of the nation or the development of its re

The expenses which the war entailed, even after its close, made it necessary that 5,000,0001. should be raised above the ordinary revenue of the year; and it was proposed and agreed that this should be effected, not by addi. tional taxation, but by a loan, which was negotiated without difficulty.

Towards the close of this year a fraud of a very extensive character on the shareholders of the Crystal Palace was brought to light. A man named Robson, in the service of the company, was found to have sold forged transfers of the stock to the amount of 27,0001., which he had appropriated to his own purposes. But this robbery was completely eclipsed by the discovery which was soon after made of frauds practised on the Great Northern Railway Company by one of its servants named Leopold Redpath, who by means of fictitious capital had defrauded the company to the enormous extent of 250,0001. Both these offenders were arrested, tried, and convicted. The former was sentenced to twenty years' transportation for larcenies of which he had been guilty and fourteen years' for forgery; the latter was punished with transportation for life.

On the whole, the year 1856, which had commenced with the gloomy prospect of prolonged war, closed under far happier auspices. Peace had been obtained on terms which satisfied the national pride, though they did not entirely answer its high-raised expectations; and with the war the craving for naval and military glory had disappeared. The dispute with the United States respecting the enlistment question had gradually subsided. A thoroughly good understanding prevailed between England and the other great powers of Europe. For a moment indeed the prospect had been obscured, and it had seemed likely that England would have been replunged into war with Russia without the aid of France. But Russia yielded, the threatening cloud passed away, and the star of England was more than ever in the ascendant. The alliance with France was as cordial as ever, and promised to lead to amicable and commercial relations between the two countries of so intimate a nature as to place it almost out of the power of any government to disturb them. It appeared as if the union thus happily cemented would secure the general peace of Europe, and that the English government, now released from all doubt or anxiety with regard to the Eastern question, would soon be enabled to reënter that path of fiscal and financial reform which had so greatly increased the prosperity of the nation, and which, it was hoped, would be resumed and carried forward now that the causes which had interrupted it had been removed. But events soon occurred which dashed these anticipations, or at least deferred their fulfilment for several years.

The parliamentary session of the year 1857 was opened by commission on the 3rd of February. The royal message read on the occasion did not afford a prospect of greater legislative activity than had distinguished the other sessions that had followed the breaking-out of the Crimean war. The only subjects it recommended to the attention of parliament were legal and banking reform.

One of the earliest questions with which the House of Commons was called upon to deal was the manner in which our criminal population should be disposed of. It occurred to Mr. H. Mayhew that some very useful light might be thrown on it by the criminals themselves. In accordance with this idea he called a meeting of ticket-of-leave men, which was held at Farringdon Hall, and presided over by the Earl of Carnarvon, and laid before them the questions respecting which he wished to consult them. Some interesting information was elicited from this curious assembly. They all energetically repudiated and condemned the cowardly practice of garrotting. They bore testimony to the difficulty, amounting almost to impossibility, which most of them found in obtaining any kind of employment; thongh a few of them stated that they had been more fortunate in this respect than their fellow-convicts, and bad been able to maintain themselves and their families in

1857.)

OUR CONVICTS.

81

a position of respectability. They unanimously and unhesitatingly declared their preference of a ticket-of-leave in the colonies to a ticket-of-leave in England.

The question on which this meeting was intended to throw some light was brought before the House of Commons by Sir George Grey on Monday the 9th of February. The subject of transportation had for some years past been forced on the serious consideration of the executive and the legislature owing to the natural reluctance displayed by the inhabitants of many of our colonies to receive our outcast population. As early as the year 1840 the Archbishop of Dahlin in the Lords, and Sir W. Molesworth in the Commons, had proposed the complete abolition of this punishment; and the government so far yielded as to abandon the practice with regard to most of our colonies, reserving only Western Australia as a place to which convicts might still be sent. Tbis arrangement necessitated the substitution of some other punishment for that of transportation; and in 1853 Lord Chancellor Cranworth introduced into the upper House a bill having that object in view. He proposed that this penalty should be retained only in the case of those who had committed offences which rendered them liable to transportation for fourteen years and upwards—such as receivers of stolen goods; persons who had been guilty of outrages, violent assaults, or attempts to do grievous bodily harm; housebreakers, burglars, and cattlestealers. He proposed that those who were convicted of other offences, which up to this time had been punished with transportation for seven years, should henceforth be kept in penal servitude, and shonld in casu of good conduct receive a remission of their punishment, under the ticketof-leave system. This last portion of the bill was strongly opposed in the House of Commons by Mr. Keating; but the measure was ultimately passed. This act, which was entitled 'An act to substitute in certain cases other punish. ' ments in lieu of transportation,' had been found by experience to be insufficient for the object it had in view; and the bill now brought forward by the home secretary was designed to improve it. The measure was based on the recommendation of a committee of the House of Commons, which had been engaged in investigating the subject, and which had come to the conclusion that the duration of

VOL. III.

G

« AnteriorContinuar »