Who’s Afraid of Justice Stephen?

Adeline Virginia STEPHEN was seven years old when her Uncle James put on the black cap and addressed Florence Elizabeth MAYBRICK:-

Prisoner at the bar, I am no longer able to treat you as being innocent of the dreadful crime laid to your charge. You have been convicted by a jury of this city, after a lengthy and most painful investigation, followed by a defense which was in every respect worthy of the man. The jury has convicted you, and the law leaves me no discretion, and I must pass the sentence of the law:

‘The court doth order you to be taken from hence to the place from whence you came, and from themce to the place of execution, and that you be hanged by the neck until you are dead, and that your body be afterward buried within the precincts of the prison in which you shall be confined after your conviction. And may the Lord have mercy upon your soul.’

‘My Fifteen Lost Years’, Florence Elizabeth Maybrick

“The man” referred to above was Sir Charles Arthur RUSSELL, who would become Lord Chief Justice of England five years later. He was, I think, convinced of Florence Maybrick’s innocence from first meeting her and presented all the arguments that should have brought her acquittal. But on this occasion “the first advocate of his age” was no match for Justice Stephen who, reflecting on his service in India, once said:-

It is far pleasanter to sit comfortably in the shade rubbing red pepper in some poor devil’s eyes, than to go about in the sun hunting up evidence.

Sir Charles came from a family of middling circumstances in Ireland and this is reflected in his pedigree on the FamilySearch Shared Tree. As if to underline the unfairness of human existence, Justice Stephen’s pedigree comes close to falling into the “super” category.

Early in her memoir, My Fifteen Lost Years, Florence refers to “Mr Swift” visiting her in Walton Jail before her trial began. I so wanted Thomas to be part of her defence team but he was for the prosection, supporting Mr ADDISON QC and Mr McCONNELL. Sir Charles was assisted by “Mr PICKFORD and Messrs CLEAVER”. (Apologies for giving the wrong book title on Monday.)

At least three of Thomas Swift’s sons became lawyers. A while back, I wrote about Ernest William facing a judgment of sorts in 1890 (Swift Action).

Rigby Philip Watson SWIFT was Thomas’ first child born to second wife Emily Mary DAFT.

Sir Rigby Swift, Elliott & Fry, National Portrait Gallery, CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0

Following Ernest William’s death in 1927, 37 years after he was Pasteurized, probate was awarded to wife Frances Isabel and half-brother Sir Rigby.

More facets of the miscarriage of justice here.

Mark of Man 58 · Lime Hole

North Cliffs

A Woman Scorned

I gave my undernourished Churchyard Index some attention yesterday and, while looking for information about the death of Thomas SWIFT, happened upon a murder mystery.

Thomas is curiously connected to Filey. His first wife, Dinah SAMPSON, was born in Lincolnshire but the family later crossed the river and her mother is buried in St Oswald’s churchyard. Mary Alice, the Swift’s firstborn  opened her eyes in Prescot, Lancashire, and closed them forever 15 months later in Filey. She is remembered on the headstone of her great uncle, John OAKDEN, who had died the previous year. The birth of her brother, John Oakden Swift, was registered in Prescot the following year.

Findmypast offered three hints for Thomas Swift’s death in Lancashire and rather than guess, I turned to newspapers. Several reports of his sudden death in Liverpool in 1899, at the age of 66, agreed that he was a man of exceptional ability, well-known in Liverpool and St Helens and held in the highest esteem. As a solicitor he was particularly expert in licensing law but after being called to the bar in 1882 he acted as counsel in some high profile cases. In 1889 he was involved in the prosecution of Florence Elizabeth MAYBRICK for the murder of her husband, James.

The case against Florence was weak but the judge successfully persuaded the jury to find her guilty. She became the first American citizen to be sentenced in Britain to hang. A public that gleefully trashed her character at the beginning of the trial, had doubts about the fairness of the verdict at the end. Following an appeal, Queen Victoria reluctantly commuted the sentence to life imprisonment.

In 1891 Florence was in Knaphill, Woking, the first purpose-built female convict prison. When it closed in 1895, the inmates were transferred to the new female prison in Aylesbury. Florence was enumerated there in 1901, given age 37.

She served fifteen years for a crime for which she hadn’t been tried. At some time between 1889 and 1904 she had been cleared of murder but not re-tried on a lesser charge.

On release from prison she made plans to return to the United States. Her son James was then 22 years-old but had changed his surname to FULLER. He would die in Canada seven years later after drinking cyanide, thinking it was water. Daughter Gladys Evelyn would marry Frederick CORBYN in 1912 and die, childless it seems, in Haverfordwest in 1971. One source says that Florence “never saw her children again” after the trial.

You can see Florence’s application for a United States passport here. She did, as promised, undertake literary work. You can download her Memoir – My Fifteen Wasted Years ­from the Gutenburg Project at no charge. How she came to find work on Henrietta Banwell’s chicken farm in Gaylordsville, Connecticut remains a mystery. But she lived in poverty there in a small bungalow – described by some as “a shack” – with a lot of cats. Reverting to her maiden name, it seems that nobody in South Kent knew of her notoriety until after her death from acute myocarditis on 23 October 1941, aged 79 years, one month and 22 days, according to her death certificate.

There is a lot of information online about Florence. If you are curious…

There is a photograph of her grave and a short biography here. On the FamilySearch Shared Tree she awaits the sad gift of her children. Her husband’s five children by just one of his mistresses are also not yet recorded.

Tree 59 · Country Park