Copyright
Frederick Henry Seddon.

Trial of the Seddons online

. (page 2 of 57)
Online LibraryFrederick Henry SeddonTrial of the Seddons → online text (page 2 of 57)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Savings Bank, she took the remarkable course of having it paid in gold
two bags of 100 each and 16 in loose sovereigns. Further, when
remonstrated with by Seddon for having so much gold in the house, she
was angry, and uttered the curious remark, " I know what to do with it."
For the rest, although she had the run of the Seddon's house, she seemed
to have chosen as a recreation to spend her time chatting in the kitchen
with the charwoman and the general servant. When she became ill, and
her illness was accompanied by circumstances of an offensive nature, she
insisted on having the little boy Ernie Grant to sleep with her in her bed;
and altogether seems to have been a woman of unpleasing, not to say
squalid, habits.

Seddon also, as I have said, had his passion for gold. He had two safes
in his house, one in his bedroom and one in the office in the basement, and
seems to have been for ever carrying about gold from one to the other,
and casting up his accounts, and taking loose sovereigns out of one bag
to make up a sum in another, and generally fingering his money in the
accepted manner of the miser. His wife, as she appeared to those who saw
her at the trial, is a somewhat more inscrutable character. A woman with
some pretensions to good looks, dressed with some taste, apparently gentle,
and rather weak in character, she had been doing practically the whole of



Introduction.

the lighter household work of this fourteen-roomed residence, living, in
short, the life of a domestic drudge. It was obvious from the evidence,
and as a matter of knowledge outside the case, that she and Seddon were
not on particularly good terms; it was obvious that every one in his
household was frightened of him, and that he was a hard and tyrannous
man. Business, and especially Mr. Seddon's business, came first in that
house, and every one had to make way for it. Looking at his wife as
she gave evidence, it seemed humanly incredible that he would trust her
with any matter of importance outside the kitchen, and, in fact, I am
convinced that he did not. They stood by one another loyally throughout
the trial, however, and only once did Mrs. Seddon unconsciously reveal the
attitude in which they stood to one another, when to the question as to
why she did not tell him something, she answered, " He never used to take
any notice when I said anything to him; he always had other things to
think of." And, again, " I did not tell my husband everything I done ;
he never told me everything."

I do not propose to tell here the story which will be found unfolded
both in the opening speeches of counsel and in the trial itself. It is enough
to say that Miss Barrow lived for fourteen months, from July, 1910, to
September, 1911, at 63 Tollington Park with the Seddons; that in the
course of that year she made over to Seddon 1600 of India stock in
return for an annuity of 103 4s. per annum, and the leasehold of a public-
house known as the Buck's Head in Camden Town, with a barber's shop
adjoining it, in return for a further annuity of 52 per annum. During
the same period thirty-three 5 notes, known to have been paid to Miss
Barrow, were traced to the possession of either Mr. or Mrs. Seddon. On
the 1st of September, 1911, Miss Barrow was taken ill with what was
regarded as epidemic diarrhoea, and died about six in the morning of the
14th of September, having been attended throughout by Dr. Sworn, of
Highbury Crescent, who certified the death to be due to epidemic diarrhoea
and exhaustion. The body of Miss Barrow, owing to the surrounding
conditions, was removed to the undertaker's mortuary, and was buried at
Islington Cemetery, East Finchley, on the following Saturday.

A few streets away from the Seddons lived a Mr. and Mrs. Vonderahe,
cousins of Miss Barrow's, with whom she had lived before she went to
lodge with the Seddons. They did not hear of the death till after the
funeral, and naturally felt surprised at not having been advised of it
before. When they went to see Seddon he told them that he had written
them a letter on the day of Miss Barrow's death, of which he had kept a
carbon copy; but they had never received any such letter. They naturally
wanted to know what had become of Miss Barrow's property, and of the
sum in gold and notes which she was known to have had in her possession;



Trial of the Seddons.

but Seddon explained that she had parted -with her property for an annuity,
and that, although they had searched everywhere, they had found nothing
in her possession except a sum of about 10 in loose gold. From this fact,
and a host of other small facts which will appear in the narrative, suspicion
was gradually aroused. On the 15th of November Miss Barrow's body was
exhumed by a coroner's order, and examined by Dr. Spilsbury in the
presence of Dr. Willcox at the Finchley mortuary. Certain organs were
removed for further examination and analysis. Dr. Spilsbury in his
evidence said, " I found no disease in any of the organs sufficient to account
for death, except in the stomach and intestines. In the intestines I found
a little reddening of the inner surface in the upper part. . . . The
body was remarkably well preserved, both externally and internally. This
would suggest that death was due to some poison having a preservative
effect, or to the presence of some preserving agent. I think the arsenic
that Dr. Willcox says he found would account for the preservation of the
body. . . . The reddening . . . was evidence of inflammation. I
don't think there is anything to distinguish this from natural gastro-
enteritis. The healthy appearance of all the organs, except the stomach
and intestines, would be consistent with death from natural gastro-enteritis."

On the 23rd of November an inquest on the body was held, at which
Mr. and Mrs. Seddon both gave evidence. The inquest was adjourned.
On the 29th of November Dr. Willcox made a further examination of the
body, and found arsenic present in all the organs and parts examined. At
the adjourned inquest Dr. Willcox gave it as his opinion that there must
have been more than two grains of arsenic present in the body at the time
of death; that death was due to acute arsenical poisoning; and that a
moderately large fatal dose must have been taken less than three, and
probably less than two, days before death. On the 4th of December Seddon
was arrested. On the 14th of December the hearing of the inquest was
resumed. Seddon attended in custody, and reserved his evidence. At this
inquest the jury returned a verdict which was recorded as follows :

" That the said Eliza Mary Barrow died on the 14th of September,
1911, of arsenical poisoning at 63 Tollington Park, the arsenic having been
administered to her by some person or persons unknown. And so the
jurors aforesaid do further say that the said person or persons unknown
on the 13th or 14th or 13th and 14th days of September, 1911, did
feloniously, wilfully, and of malice aforethought murder and slay against
the peace of our Lord the King, his Crown and Dignity, the said Eliza
Mary Barrow."

On the 19th, 22nd, and 29th of December, and the 2nd, 9th, 16th,
19th, and 26th of January, 1912, the police proceedings took place. On
the 15th of January Mrs. Seddon was arrested and charged with being



Introduction.

concerned with her husband in the murder of Miss Barrow, and on the
2nd of February both prisoners were committed for trial.

Something had occurred in the meantime, however, which may
suitably be noted here. On the 6th of December Maggie Seddon was
sent, at the suggestion of her father, to buy some Mather's fly-papers.
He had made this suggestion to his solicitor because, as he said, when
puzzling over the problem of how Miss Barrow could have got the arsenic
into her system he remembered that at the time of her illness there had
been fly-papers in the room, and he had the idea of purchasing fly-papers
now so that they might be analysed and the quantity of poison in
them ascertained. On presenting herself at the shop of Mr. Price,
103 Tollington Park, and asking for a packet of fly-papers, Maggie
Seddon was told that she could not be supplied. The chemist had heard
about the case, and for some reason or other did not wish to be mixed
up in it. Now the case for the prosecution rested on the hypothesis that
Seddon had poisoned Miss Barrow by arsenic extracted from fly-papers,
and although Mrs. Seddon admitted having bought them and put them
in the room, another large purchase, from a chemist named Thorley, was
alleged against Maggie Seddon, her daughter, in the month of August,
1911. This purchase was denied by Maggie Seddon. Later, when they
were preparing the case, the police examined her on the subject of the
purchase of fly-papers, and so framed their questions that she made a
statement, which she signed, that she had never been to Price's shop to
purchase fiy-papers. This was not the case; but it is at least possible
that what was in her confused mind was the importance of being accurate,
and of not making any false admission which might be damaging to her
father, and that what she meant was that she had never purchased
fly-papers at Price's shop. If the form of the statement be altered from,
" I have never been to purchase fly-papers at Price's shop," to " I have
never been and purchased fly-papers at Price's shop," the mistake on her
part is easily accounted for. But the fact that she had signed a denial
of having been at Price's shop was used by the prosecution to discredit
her sworn statement that she had never purchased fly-papers at Thorley's
shop. Her identification by Thorley, however, was a still more doubtful
point in the case for the prosecution. The common ground between both
sides was that Maggie Seddon knew Thorley's daughter, had twice been
to the house, and on one occasion had been admitted by Thorley himself.
It was obvious therefore that he had seen her. On being questioned by
the police who were making inquiries everywhere in getting up the case,
Thorley said he remembered selling fly-papers to a fair-haired girl on
the 26th of August, 1911. The police then asked him if he could
identify her. He said he could not, and several times protested his



Trial of the Seddons.

inability to do so. By this time, however, the Seddon case had attracted
a great deal of attention, and portraits of all the family had been in
the newspapers. On the 2nd of February, 1912, Thorley was taken in
a motor car to the Police Court and shown a company of twenty women,
including two girls with their hair down their backs, and asked if he
could identify the girl who had purchased the fly-papers. He identified
Maggie Seddon. He had admitted he had seen her when she had
been twice to his house. He had also seen her portrait in the newspapers.
Hers was the only face in the whole company which he had ever seen
before, and there were only two girls of an age which could possibly
correspond with that of the purchaser of the fly-papers. Much adverse
comment was aroused both by the method with which this identification
was obtained, and by the admission of it into the trial as damning evidence
against the prisoner. Mr. Marshall Hall referred to it in very strong
terms in his address to the jury.

The trial was opened at the Central Criminal Court in the Sessions
House, Old Bailey, on Monday, the 4th March, 1912, and occupied ten
days. It was in every sense of the word a full-dress trial. The eminence
of the counsel engaged, the many mysteries involved in the case, and the
prosperous, middle-class position of the prisoners combined to excite in
the public a very high degree of interest. The Attorney-General himself
prosecuted; and in Mr. Muir, Mr. Rowlatt, and Mr. Travers Humphreys,
he was supported by three of the most able of the counsel who are
associated with the Treasury. In Mr. Marshall Hall Seddon had an
advocate of established eminence in his profession and of proved brilliance
and ability. He was assisted by Mr. Dunstan-and Mr. Orr, while Mr.
Gervaise Rentoul defended Mrs. Seddon. The trial was presided over by
Mr. Justice Bucknill.

The Court was crowded from the first day, as the case attracted
intense interest, both among the members of the bar and the general
public. Seddon and his wife were accommodated with chairs in the dock ;
and my remembrance of them throughout the ten days of the trial is of
two singularly calm and attentive figures, more like those of people
assisting at an academic discussion than prisoners on trial for their lives.
As the case was unfolded it became evident that there was matter for
immense prejudice against them both. A great part of the trial was
taken up with the financial transactions between Seddon and the deceased,
with the identification of the bank notes, and with the medical evidence
of Dr. Willcox and Dr. Spilsbury. It was not until Seddon himself was
put into the witness-box that the dramatic interest became at all acute ;
but then, indeed, the full force of the prejudice against him came out.



Introduction.

In his long duel with the Attorney- General he remained unshaken and
unperturbed. He appeared to be as calm and collected as if he had been
in his own office. It was quite evident that his demeanour and coldness
told against him with the jury one could almost see it happening before
one's eyes. He had an explanation for everything ; he could account for
every penny of money in his possession from long before he had ever met
Miss Barrow until after her death ; and things which his own solicitor
and counsel had racked their brains to find an explanation for, he explained
with plausibility and exactness. Only one or two things made him
indignant. One was the police version of his words when arrested.
According to Inspector Ward, Seddon's words when arrested were as
follows : He was told that he would be arrested for the wilful murder of
Eliza Mary Barrow ; for administering poison arsenic. According to
the police, his answer was " Absurd. What a terrible charge wilful
murder. It is the first of our family that has ever been charged with
such a crime. Are you going to arrest my wife as well? If not, I would
like you to give her a message for me. Have they found arsenic in her
body? She has not done this herself. It was not carbolic acid was it,
as there was some in her room, and Sanitas is not poison, is it? " He
denied that he had asked the question about his wife, and denied it with
great indignation. Indeed, a little knowledge of the way in which human
beings speak would convince one that the words taken down by the police
inspector could not have been the exact words used by Seddon, or, at any
rate, they were not uttered in the order in which they appeared in his
evidence. They read much more like an extract from a policeman's
note-book than the recorded speech of a human being. But the suggestion
that Seddon was seeking to bring his wife into it was bitterly resented
by him. He was also quite shocked by the suggestion that he had counted
Miss Barrow's money in the presence of his two assistants on the day
of her death. It is curious to notice the kind of thing which he thought
disgraceful. He was quite unmoved by the fact that he had bargained
for a cheap funeral for Miss Barrow and accepted 12s. 6d. commission
on it, and other instances of his mean and grasping nature left him
quite unperturbed. But it seemed quite to shock him that any one should
suggest that he was (in his own words) such an inhuman, degenerate
monster as to count out the money he was supposed to have stolen in
the presence of his two assistants. He undoubtedly was counting money,
but it was not satisfactorily established that it was Miss Barrow's money.

The speeches at the end of the trial produced a great impression on
the audience, though it is to be doubted if they made much impression
on the jury, who appeared to be bewildered by the mass of technical
evidence that had been presented to them, and to have either made up
their minds already, or to be waiting for the summing up of the judge.



Trial of the Seddons.

The speeches of Mr. Marshall Hall and Sir Rufus Isaacs occupied nearly
five hours each. They were admirable examples of two different methods.
Mr. Marshall Hall's speech was an appeal to the heart, clothed in the
subtlest intellectual disguise ; Sir Rufus Isaacs's was an appeal to the
head, solemnised rather than softened by an acknowledgment of the
human emotions. The defence was eager and pleading, and had soaring
moments of great eloquence, of which the music and manner alike were
memorable. The speech for the prosecution was criticised by some who
heard it as a "hanging speech," but it was certainly admirable in its
clarity and in the force and weight of its cold reasoning.

The summing up was the least satisfactory thing in the trial. Mr.
Justice Bucknill seemed to be feeling the effects of this very long and
intricate inquiry, and perhaps a younger and stronger judge, with more
experience of criminal law and less affected by the emotional aspects of
the case, would have put its issues more satisfactorily before the jury.
It is possible that Mr. Justice Bucknill, the most humane and kind-hearted
of men, knowing that he was harrowed by the whole thing, forced himself
on that account to be more severe ; it is often the way with humane
persons. At any rate, although throughout the trial he had seemed to
incline now to this siue and now to that, the whole tendency of his
summing up was dead against the prisoner and all in favour of his wife.
The usual direction about the benefit of the doubt he laboured at great
length, but he chiefly laboured it to impress upon the jury that it was
impossible for doubt not to exist, and he attempted to differentiate-
elaborately between reasonable doubt and unreasonable doubt. This
seemed to me at the time, and seems still, a dangerous proceeding.
There are two ways of uttering this warning. The traditional way is to
say, in short, " If you have no doubt as to the prisoner's guilt you must
declare him guilty, but if you have any doubt, any reasonable doubt, he
is entitled to the benefit of it, and you must give effect to it in a verdict
of not guilty." What Mr. Justice Bucknill said in effect was, "Of
course, if you are convinced that there is a doubt in the matter, your
verdict must be one of not guilty. But you must remember that there
is an element of doubt in all human affairs, and what you must ask
yourselves in this case is, is there any reasonable doubt judged by the
standard which I should apply to the ordinary business affairs of my
life? If there is not, then you must bring in a verdict of ' Guilty,' and
not shrink from the consequences, strong in the sense that you have
performed the duty required of you in your oath." There is no doubt
as to the effect of this kind of charge; humanly speaking, it amounts to
a direction to find the prisoner guilty. And that is what the jury did
in this case.

The real drama in this trial came at the end of the long and anxious



Introduction.

address of Mr. Justice Bucknill to the jury. When they retired, and the
Judge and Sheriff went to their apartments to have tea, the buzz in the
Court reminded one of nothing so much as the entr'acte in a theatre at
a matinee performance. I noticed that Seddon had been growing paler
and more worn and strained-looking all through the day, and though he
never lost his self-command, it was obvious that the strain of attention
which he had given to the trial, to say nothing of the suspense, was
telling on him terribly. Mrs. Seddon seemed less affected. They
retired also; to what ordeal of suspense no man can measure. And
the entr'acte of an hour began.

And then, suddenly, when the return of the jury was announced, the
feeling in the Court was tuned up, like the rising pitch of violin strings, to
an almost excruciating note. The jury returned and answered to their
names. The Judge, with the Lord Mayor, the Sheriff, and Aldermen, came
slowly back to the bench. Every one looked towards the dock; the
wardresses and the warders and the prisoners came climbing back into it.
This time there was a doctor with them, who also sat in the dock, and an
officer stood close behind Seddon. You could have heard a pin fall.

The Deputy-Clerk of the Court, in pleasant, easy tones, asked the
jury the fateful question, and asked it first as relating to Seddon. I
looked away from them to him while I listened. His eyes were turned on
them with a hungry, questioning look such as I have never seen before.
I heard the word " Guilty." He never moved or changed his expression ;
and the question was again asked with relation to his wife. The answer
came, " Not Guilty," and his expression relaxed a little. While the Clerk
of the Court was entering the verdict in his book Seddon quickly went up
to his wife and gave her one sounding kiss, the loudness of which echoed
incongruously through the death-like silence of the Court; and then he
turned to the front of the dock and took some papers from his pocket. She
was half -supported, half -carried out, and we heard her sobs sound from
below in the tense silence of the moment.

The Clerk of the Court asked Seddon if he had anything to say why
sentence should not be passed, and he then went to the front of the dock and
made that extraordinarily clear and explicit statement which will be found in
its place at the end of the trial. Quite calm in his manner, swallowing a
little as he spoke, but otherwise in perfect command of himself, he went
through an intricate yet lucid array of facts and figures, and, finally, with
his hand lifted up to take the Mason's oath, he swore by the Great Architect
of the Universe that he was innocent of the crime. The moment was
excruciating for any one who, if he was not assured of Seddon's innocence,
was certainly not assured that his guilt had been satisfactorily proved, and
there was more than one such person in the Court.

XXV



Trial of the Seddons.

The Judge's secretary, who sat beside him, had lifted a square of
black cloth, and held it in his hand. A figure in a black gown had glided
in at a side door and stood behind the Judge's chair; it was the chaplain.
The secretary arranged the black square on the Judge's wig. Then the
high tones of the usher sounded through the Court, crying the proclamation
for silence while sentence of death is passing. The doors of the Court were
locked. Seddon listened attentively, scrupulously, as though every word
were vital.

And the quiet, gentlemanly tones of the Judge began again,

admonishing the prisoner. But every now and then his voice dropped to a

\ whisper. He reminded Seddon that they were members of the same

I brotherhood, but that it was a brotherhood that did not encourage crime,
which condemned crime. He spoke gently of the wife, saying that, if it
was any comfort to the prisoner to know it, he could tell him that he
believed the verdict of the jury with regard to her was a right one. Seddon
nodded in acquiescence at this, as he did again when the Judge spoke of
his having had a fair trial. Twice only he interrupted the Judge, but in
quiet and civil tones. Once, when the Judge spoke about his terrible
? position, he said quietly, " It doesn't affect me, sir I've a clear conscience,"

I

and once again when the gentlemanly faltering voice implored him to
make his peace with God, Seddon said, " I am at peace."

And I do believe he was the most peaceful man in the Court. The
Judge was all but sobbing, and had to pause and brace himself before he
could begin to utter the sentence, which he finished in tears, while the
black-gowned figure behind him murmured " Amen." But Seddon was calm,
and when it was all over, and while the Judge, wiping his eyes, was excusing

, the jury from attending for ten years, he hitched his overcoat about him
with his old gesture and took a drink of water, and made ready to descend
the stairs that would take him away from the world of men for ever. As
he turned to go down he looked through the glass at the people at the back

I of the Court, where his own friends were, and where his own little girl had

I been sitting earlier in the afternoon a bleak, wintry look and then he
was gone.



It cannot be said that Seddon suffered from any want of skill or
resource in his defence. Everything was done that could be done; by
himself, by his solicitor, Mr. Walter Saint, who brought great intelligence
and unwearying energy to bear upon it; by Mr. Wellesley Orr, whose
preparation of the brief and analysis of the evidence were masterly; and



Online LibraryFrederick Henry SeddonTrial of the Seddons → online text (page 2 of 57)