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The Lord Chief-Justice of England : Baron Reading of Earley.

(As Sir Rufus Isaacs, K.C.V.O., K.C., M.P., Attorney-General from
1910 to 1913.)


Trial of

The Seddons


Filson Young










VERT few people can hear an important criminal trial. The ordinary Court
of law has accommodation for only a small audience, and few even of those
whose interest is professional have the time to devote nine or ten conse-
cutive days to the hearing of a single case. Yet the things that take
place in these Courts are done in the name of every citizen, and when the
judge and jury deprive a man of liberty or life, they do it on our behalf
and with our authority. It is therefore of moment that the public should
have the means of studying at leisure, in such carefully prepared records
as those of the series in which this volume appears, the working of this
immensely important machine to which people's lives and liberties are
entrusted. And I cannot imagine any more interesting exercise in the
judicial faculties for a thoughtful and reflective person than to read the
evidence carefully and attentively, away from the personal distractions of
the Court, where he can concentrate his mind on its significance sentence
by sentence, and attempt to come to a calm judgment. One sees, in such
a record, human nature laid bare; one follows, link by link, the chain
composed of causes followed by their surprising effects; and one observes,
far from the emotional storm that inspired the crime, the cold and durable
nature of a man's acts when all the passion has died out of them and the
tale is told and the reckoning to be paid. But the study must be made
with patience and restraint. The tendency of the ordinary amateur in
these matters is to make up his mind quite early in the case (it is what
I am convinced nearly all jurymen do), and to throw down the book
when the evidence has been half read, saying, " I am sure he did it " or " I
am sure he is innocent," as the case may be. I need not say that a record
like that which I am presenting in the following pages will be both useless
and uninteresting if it is treated in this manner, but that if it be patiently
read to the end it will not only engage the reader's curiosity and afford him
a very considerable mental exercise, but inspire some sober reflections on
the present-day administration of the criminal law.


I wish to record my thanks to the Lord Chief-Justice, who, as Attorney-
General at the time of the trial, kindly placed at my disposal certain official
records which would not otherwise have been available to me ; to Sir
Charles Darling for courtesies which he extended to me in regard to the
proceedings in the Court of Criminal Appeal; to Mr. E. Marshall
Hall, K.C., M.P., for not only giving me access to the whole material of the
case in his possession, but for much friendly assistance and advice; and to
Mr. T. Walter Saint, Seddon's solicitor, who spared time out of some very
busy days to come and give me the benefit of his personal knowledge
and information, and who also afforded me the use of many valuable
documents. FILSON YOUNG.



Table of Dates,

The Trial


The Attorney-General's Opening Speech for the Prosecution,
Evidence for the Prosecution.

Percy Attersall, - - - - 17

Robert Ernest Hook, - - - 17

Frank Ernest Vonderahe, - - 30

Mrs. Julia Hannah Vonderahe, - 39

Mrs. Amelia Blanche Vonderahe, - 41

Henry Edward Grove, -
William Dell,
Mrs. Eleanor Francis Dell,
Stanley George Dell,




Evidence for the Prosecution (continued).

Cecil Vane Dunstan, 45

William Webb, - 46

Arthur Astle, . ... 46

Arthur Douglas Laing, - - 47-50

Edwin Russell, - 47

Henry William Denny Knight, - 48

John Charles Pepper, 49

Ernest Grant, 50

Mrs. Annie Henderson, 58

Mrs. Leah Jeffreys, 58

Mary Elizabeth Ellen Chater, - 58
William Seddon, .... 66

Mrs. Emily Amy Longley, - - 68

Harry Carl Taylor, - - 68

Evidence for the Prosecution (continued).

John Charles Arthur Smith, - - 72

Alfred Hartwell, - 74

Mrs. E. A. Longley, 75

Ernest Victor Rowland, - - 76

Charles James Crasfield, - - 76

Clara May Cooper, 76

Thomas Wright, 78

William Nodes, - - - - 78

Walter Thorley, - - - 80-81
Mary Elizabeth Ellen Chater, - 81
Robert John Price, 87

Dr. John Frederick Paul, - 87-98
Dr. Henry George Sworn, 89

Alfred King, 98

William Alexander Fraser, - - 98
Alfred Ward, 98


Evidence for the Prosecution (continued).

Charles Cooper, .... 101
William Hayman, - ... 101
Dr. Bernard Henry Spilsbury, - 101

Mavis Wilson, - - - - 108
Dr. Henry George Sworn, - - 108
Dr. William Henry Willcox, - - 108


Dr. William Henry Willcox,

Mr. Marshall Hall's Opening Speech for the Defence,


Evidence for the Defence.

Sydney Arthur Naylor, -
William John Wilson, -

- 149

Frederick Henry Seddon,




Evidence for the Defence (continued).


Frederick Henry Seddon, - - 165

Evidence for the Defence (continued).

Thomas Creek, - - 231

Mrs. Margaret Ann Seddon, - - 232

Frederick Henry Seddon, - - 195
Frank Edward Whiting, - - 231
Albert Sidney Wainwright, - - 231


Evidence for the Defence (continued).

Mrs. Margaret Ann Seddon, - - 236

John Arthur Francis, - - 269

Ernest Burton Poole, - - - 270

Mary Chater, ... - 270

Margaret Seddon, .... 270
Mrs. Alice Rutt, - - - - 274
Mrs. Longley, .... 275

Further Proof for the Prosecution.
Dr. William Henry Willcox, 276


Evidence for the Defence (continued).
John Arthur Francis, - - - 278 | Mrs. Margaret Ann Seddon, - - 278

Closing Speech on behalf of F. H. Seddon.
Mr. Marshall Hall, - - . -279

Closing Speech on behalf of Mrs. Seddon.

Mr. Rentoul, - - 332

The Attorney-General's Closing Speech for the Crown.

The Attorney-General, - - - 338


The Attorney-General, - - 351

Mr. Justice Bucknill's Summing Up, - - . - 380

Verdict, .... - 407

Sentence, - - 410



The Lord Chief- Justice of England : Baron Reading of Barley, - Frontispiece

The Seddons in the Dock at the Old Bailey, facing page 16

Mr. E. Marshall Hall, K.C., M.P., - 132

Frederick Henry Seddon, ,, 150

Members of the Seddon Family, ,, 232

Eliza Mary Barrow, ,, 276

Mr. Gervais Rentoul, ,, 332

Facsimile letter of F. H. Seddon, written in the luncheon interval
just before the dismissal of his appeal to the Court of Criminal

Appeal, 380



r I ^HE great importance of the Seddon case lies in the fact that it focusses
I in itself a number of changes which have gradually been developing
in the administration of the criminal law; and it is likely to be
epoch-marking for this and various other reasons. First of all it will
stand as a classical example of the working of the Prisoners' Evidence Act
in capital cases. If Seddon had not given evidence himself the Crown
would have failed to prove a case sufficient to secure a verdict of wilful
murder against him, and without his evidence few jurymen would have
dared to bring in a verdict of guilty. It was not that his evidence revealed
any facts which really proved the case against him, but the prejudice,
already large, was greatly increased by his cleverness and cool demeanour.
No doubt if he had been confused and emotional, that also would have
told against him. The case is remarkable for several other reasons. The
evidence, entirely circumstantial, and concerned almost wholly with motive
and opportunity, consisted of a chain of gossamer links joined together
with immense ingenuity, and it was the length of this chain rather than
its strength which enabled the prosecution to bind it round the prisoner.
There is further no precedent capital case of comparable gravity in which
two persons are indicted for the same offence, in which the same evidence
is offered against either or both of them, and in which the jury are given
their choice of four verdicts. All the evidence in the Seddon case was
directed against both him and his wife; in fact, the evidence upon which
Seddon was convicted pressed just as hardly, if not more hardly, upon
her; but the jury convicted him and acquitted her. Further, the case
illustrates a certain change which seems to have come over the administra-
tion of the English criminal law, a change relating to the ancient maxim
that " the accused is presumed innocent until he is proved guilty." That
has been a solid tradition of English criminal justice. The whole law has
been framed on the assumption that this first principle will be observed
in its administration; but nowadays, in the words of an eminent jurist
commenting on this case at the time, " we hear judges talking of infer-
ences, of presumptions, of the failure of the accused to account for his
actions or omissions, while the necessity for the Crown establishing an
indubitable chain of proof by testimony is ignored." And to one who
heard the whole of this trial, it appeared as if in fact Seddon was convicted

Trial of the Seddons.

not because the Crown succeeded in proving his guilt, but because he failed
to prove his innocence.

Another point which makes the case remarkable is the absence of all
evidence as to the handling by Seddon of arsenic at any time. It is
usually regarded as necessary for conviction in a murder case either to trace
the weapon to the prisoner's hand, or, in the case of poison, if the actual
poison cannot be traced, at least to prove expert knowledge on the part
of the accused as to the method of administration and effect of the poison
employed. In this case it was not proved that Seddon administered
or even handled any arsenic, that he had any knowledge or source of
information as to its toxic effects, or that his occupation or education was
of a kind likely to make the presumption that he had such information a
reasonable one.

A further distinguishing feature of the case was the use made of the
famous Marsh test, which is the classical method of discovering the presence
of arsenic when it exists in a quantity too small to be revealed by a simple
analysis. This has hitherto been used almost exclusively as a qualitative
test, as the presence of arsenic is only revealed by the slightest deposit on
a mirror. It has never before, I think, been sought to base on this almost
invisible mark any calculations as to quantity. Yet in the Seddon case
it was of such vital importance to the prosecution to prove that there must
have been at least two grains in the body at the time of death that the
Marsh mirrors were used as a quantitative test. On reference to the
evidence, it will be seen that in certain portions of the viscera which were
analysed it was necessary, in order to arrive at the quantity of arsenic
which must have been present in the material to use a multiplying factor
of as much as two thousand. The margin of possible error therefore was
enormous, and it is typical of the difficulties to which the prosecution
were put in this case that so much of their case was obliged to rest on
induction and deduction. Dr. Willcox, who conducted these experiments,
is a man not only of the highest ability in his profession, but also of the
most exact and scrupulous fairness, and one may assume that in this case
the results of his experiments were understated rather than overstated.
Nevertheless, such a method of arriving at a small fact on which a man's
life depends might easily in less expert hands, and conducted with less
scrupulous conscientiousness, have produced errors of the most dangerous
kind. It is not for me to say whether such methods should or should not
be relied upon as a means of bringing criminals to justice, but merely to
draw attention to this further peculiarity which distinguishes the Seddon
case from other famous poison cases.

Again, comments were made upon the way in which the police con-
ducted the preliminary investigations, more especially with regard to the


identification of Maggie Seddon by the chemist Thorley (which \vas a vital
point in their case), and of the manner, happily more characteristic of
French than of English procedure, in which they took her by herself into
the gaoler's room at the Police Court, and entrapped her into making a
false statement in order that her evidence for the defence, when she came
to give it, should be discredited. Finally, it was felt pretty widely at the
time of the trial that the Attorney-General had pressed the case against
Seddon with great severity, while dealing rather leniently with his wife.
Scrupulously fair as was Sir Rufus Isaacs's conduct of the case, it
differed more in omission than in commission from what hitherto has
been regarded as the best tradition of his office. In his cold and remorseless
methods there was more of the vengeance of a destroying angel than the
scrupulous moderation of a high officer of the Crown laying before a jury
facts on the interpretation of which two lives depended. There is, of course,
a reply to this criticism in the fact that the Attorney- General had to bring
home the crime to a cool and clever man, and in circumstances of great
mystery and obscurity; and his remorselessly logical treatment of facts
and inferences would no doubt have excited less comment if it had not
proved so deadly. Seddon himself was a person who excited no sympathy
whatsoever. He was as cold and hard as a paving stone, and had such
a jaunty and overweening confidence in his sharpness and cleverness that,
had the issue been less grave, it would have been only human to wish
to triumph over him at any cost. He was obviously capable of the crime
with which he was charged. But it is one thing to feel morally convinced
that a man is a scoundrel and a murderer and another to bring it home to
him by a strict and scrupulous use of the means which the law permits.
The feeling excited in the legal world by the trial as a whole was a mixture
of admiration and misgiving admiration for the ability and dignity with
which it was conducted, and misgiving lest the margin of judicial safety
implied in the presumption of innocence might not have been dangerously

But if this trial has a profound and far-reaching legal significance
which makes it worthy of the study and consideration of the professional
lawyer, it is also rich in that human interest which makes an appeal to
every citizen who is intelligent enough to care for exact knowledge of the
social conditions which surround him. For here the curtain is abruptly
drawn up on a scene of life in the crowded London of our day; strong
limelight shines upon the characters; people of a kind who would be
obscure and totally unknown to the ordinary public are suddenly revealed
in their habits as they lived ; and the most intimate details of their life are
made known to us. Their dealings with each other, their attitude towards

Trial of the Seddons.

life, their method and conduct of daily existence both among themselves
and as between themselves and the world, are revealed with a fulness of
detail and an exactness of circumstance unknown in any other kind of
historical record. And to read the trial, not merely as a legal problem, but
as a piece of human history of our own place and time, it is necessary
to form a mental picture of the characters, not as they appear in the false
proportions of a legal inquiry, but as that inquiry reveals them in the
conditions of their daily life. Imagine, then, a household living in one of
those prosperous and seemingly limitless residential districts that extend
far to the north of London proper. Tollington Park is a road having
* pretensions to more than mere respectability. Its houses suggest not what
houses of similar capacity in other districts so often suggest, a decayed and
fallen gentility, but rather a crescent and gratified prosperity. You feel
that the people who live there have come not from a better neighbourhood,
but from one not so good, and that they are proud to live in Tollington
Park. In one of these houses, No. 63, lived, in the year 1910, Frederick
Henry Seddon, an insurance superintendent of forty years of age; his
wife, Margaret, aged thirty-seven ; his father, and a family of five children.
The house has a bow window in the basement and the ground floor, three
windows in each of the two upper floors, a strip of greenery called a garden,
and a conservatory behind. At the time that Seddon moved into it he
was a man obviously on the up grade. In his business as district superin-
tendent of an insurance company he had moved from one position to
another, and his moves were always marked with an increase of responsi-
bility and income. As I read him, he was a hard-headed Lancashire man,
who had early, in that industrial battlefield of the north, learned the value
of money in the fight for existence; he was exact and exacting, thrifty,
hard, and saving. He was conceited, but had no false sense of dignity,
and seemed to be singularly free from the snobbish pursuit of appearance
which is so often a weakness of his class. He was not ashamed of turning
his hand to anything in the way of business by which money could be made.
Whether it took the form of petty commission on this and that, or the
owning and management of humble house property, or his own legitimate
business, superintending a large number of petty insurance transactions, he
applied himself with zeal to the business in hand. He appears to have been
a man who wished to turn if possible every transaction of his daily life into
a means of making money; pleasure meant singularly little to him; so far as
one knows, his chief passion was the passion to be the possessor of property.
In the strong light in which he stood throughout his trial this trait invari-
ably came out. Of all the things that he said, the only phrases that can be
called characteristic, that belong to and illuminate his individuality, were
utterances about business and property. Echoes of these utterances remain


in one's memory, giving the character of the man " I am always open to
buy property at a price," " With this money and other money that I am
possessed of (tapping a bag of gold) I can pay for this house," " This house
I live in, fourteen rooms, is my own, and I have seventeen other properties."
The only joke that is attributed to him is a joke about money when,
putting a bag of gold on the table in the presence of one of his assistants,
he said, " Here, Smith, here's your wages," and the assistant answered, " I
wish you meant it, Mr. Seddon." He was one of those people for whom
the word business has an almost sacred significance, and there can be no
doubt that money was his god. No transaction was too great or too small
for him, provided there was profit in it whether it was buying 1600
worth of property, or (although he was a very prosperous man for his
walk in life) exacting the sum of 6s. each from his two young sons for their
weekly board, or buying and selling old clothes, or going and making
a row at a music hall where he alleged, but of course could not prove, that
he had been given change for a florin instead of half a crown At the time
the curtain rises on this drama, then, Seddon was living in this house with
his wife and family of five children. It was a better house than he thought
necessary for his habitation, but he had purchased it as a speculation, and
rather than let it stand vacant lived in it himself, trusting, according to
his habit, to turn this seeming extravagance to some financial profit. Thus
he got from the insurance company that employed him a sum of 5s. a week
as rent for the room which he used as an office, and he let the top floor
unfurnished as a lodging for 12s. 6d. a week. By putting up a partition
in one of the rooms he crowded six of his household, including his old
father and the servant, into it, and thus had the use of the house while
taking in money within half a crown a week of its rental value.

It is said of him that, with regard to women, he abused his position
as an insurance superintendent with constant access to houses during the
absence of the husband; also that during the year 1911 he had, although
formerly a teetotaler, acquired the habit of drinking; but these accusations
did not come out in the course of the trial. He had formerly been a local
preacher, and a prop of chapel communities; but how much that may
have had to do with his business interests it is impossible to say.

By merely confining one's self to the facts of the life of this household
as revealed in this trial, it is possible to form a very definite picture of
them; and, although so ordinary in its circumstances, it was really no
ordinary household. There can be no question that the woman Miss Barrow,
who came to lodge with them, was a very strange person indeed. She was
ignorant with the dense ignorance of her class, suspicious, selfish, and, in
a squalid sort of way, self-indulgent. At the time of this story she was
forty-nine years old, and, having quarrelled with all her other friends,


Trial of the Seddons.

lodged with the Seddons alone, save for the companionship of a little
orphan boy named Ernie Grant. She had quarrelled with and spat at her
former landlords. She dressed badly, and was parsimonious in her habits.
She had formerly been given to alcoholic indulgence, and, although there
is no evidence that at the time under consideration this habit had con-
tinued, the probability is that she was not free from it. And it was a
strange circumstance which brought together by mere chance these two
people who had one passion in common the passion for gold. Miss Barrow,
when she came to the Seddons, was alleged to have in her possession a
considerable sum in gold ; there is no trustworthy evidence what the amount
was. She was also the owner of 1600 invested in India stock, and of the
lease of a public-house called the Buck's Head, and a barber's shop adjoin-
ing. She paid 12s. 6d. a week to Seddon for her rooms, and 7s. to Seddon's
daughter Maggie for attending upon her, and bought her own food; her
income was thus far in excess of her expenditure. As I have said, she had
a passion for gold, not merely for money, but for gold coin. She mistrusted
bank notes, and when she received one would generally get it changed into
gold. When, as a result of her having parted with her leasehold property
and stock to Seddon in return for an annuity to be paid by him, she was in
the habit of receiving 10 monthly from him, she took it in sovereigns.
And, further, when in an accession of mistrust of savings banks she drew
a sum of 216 which she had on deposit at the Finsbury and City of London

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