Thorne, Florence

Thorne, Florence         1877 July 7th         Upper Woodford

A Child Poisoned

On Monday in last week an inquest was held at Upper Woodford before Mr Wilson, touching the death of Florence Thorne, a child one year and seven months old, daughter of Enos Thorne, who died the previous day.

It was stated that the child took her tea about 6 o’clock on Sunday, and afterwards became sick and threw up blood. As it became worse Dr Pyle was sent for, but did not come. He, however, sent some medicine which the child was too weak to take, and she died the same night. Dr Pyle said he could give no satisfactory account as to the cause of death without a port mortem examination, and as the jury suggested that a post mortem should be made the inquest was adjourned till the following Wednesday, on which day Dr Pyle and Dr Batho both gave it as their opinion that the stomach contained poison.

The Secretary of State has since ordered an analysis of the contents of the stomach to be made, but at the adjourned inquest on Wednesday last the Coroner stated that such had not yet been done, and the inquiry was then further adjourned until the 18th inst., when it will be held at 4 o’clock.

We understand that the father of the deceased has a long family. A short time ago his wife was sent to the Asylum, where she died within the last few days, and was buried on Wednesday. He also has other trouble.

Adjourned Inquest 1877 July 21st

I will skip the introductory blurb.

Enos Thorne, the father of the deceased, was first called in, and the Coroner, addressing him, said : I am going to continue this inquiry as to the death of your child, and I want information from you, but if you object to give it I shall not swear you. If you object to give it I am afraid I am possessed of evidence that your child was poisoned.

Enos Thorne : It is unknown to me; I am innocent of the crime.

The Coroner : Very well, then, you don’t object to be sworn and to answer such questions as I put you?

Enos Thorne : I will answer them as near I can, sir.

The child’s father was then sworn, and said he was a shepherd working for Mr Flower.

The Coroner : Had you any stone mercury? Yes, sir.

Where did you get it from? Mr Flower.

Did you ask him for it? Yes, sir.

I believe it is commonly used to kill maggots in sheep? Yes, sir.

When did you first get any from Mr Flower? I forget exactly what day of the month it was. I had some I brought with me from Stone’s. I went away to Wilton one day, and I gave it to my son John, who went to catch a sheep on the down, when the sheep knocked it out of his hand and he lost it.

How long ago is it you gave this to your son? About a month ago. I told Mr Flower I wanted some, and he said he would get it. He got it on the Tuesday and gave it to me on the Wednesday.

What did you do with it? I kept it in my waistcoat pocket always, except when I was using it. From the time my master gave it to me till the time PC Barlow took it it never left my hands.

Had you more waistcoats than one, or did you shift it? If I changed the waistcoat I changed the stuff, and always carried it with me.

On Sundays what did you do with it? I wear the same Sundays as I do weekdays.

Well, then, you always had it about you except at night I suppose? Yes, sir, then I always hung my waistcoat upon the head of the bed.

Who slept in your room? Two children, John and Elizabeth.

Did you go to Stapleford on Sunday, the 24th June, the day the child died? Yes, sir.

Who did you go to see there? My sister.

Had you the poison in your pocket then? Yes, sir.

What time did you get to Stapleford? About three o’clock.

Did you go away from here or the fold? The fold.

How far was your sister’s house from the fold? About a mile and a half or rather over.

How long did you stay there? Till about half-past four.

Did you come back to the fold? Yes, sir, and then I came straight on home.

Did you leave John at the fold when you went to Stapleford? He was with another lot of sheep on the down near me.

When you returned to the fold did you see John? He had gone away somewhere. He was not at home when I got home.

About when did you get home? About 6, sir.

When you got home, who did you find there? My eldest daughter and the rest of the children except John.

Were they having their tea at the time? Yes, sir.

Did you have some tea with them? No, sir, I didn’t, because I had some with sister and I didn’t want any.

Where was Florence (the deceased) when you came home? Sitting up at the table, sir.

Who was she next to? Elizabeth, sir.

Who was on the other side? Maria.

Who fed her? Elizabeth, sir; she always gave her her supper.

I don’t mean always, but that night? Elizabeth gave it to her, sir.

Do you know what the child had? It had some tea, sir, and some bread and butter.

Did she eat heartily? Yes, sir.

About what time had they done tea? About quarter past six, sir, I should think they had done. They had begun tea when I got there.

Where did you go to after tea? I took a walk down the Green and then went to the tap and had a pint of ale.

When did you get to the tap? About half-past seven or 20 minutes to eight.

Did you stay there till John came? Yes, sir.

And then did you go home with him? Yes, sir.

What was your reason for going home with him? Because he told me the child was taken bad, sir.

When you got home who had the child? Elizabeth, sir.

Was Maria in the house? Yes, sir, Maria had her own child, sir.

When you got home did you find them all there? Yes, sir, all then. John came back with me.

How old is Maria’s child? About a month or five or six weeks.

When you came in was the child sick? Yes, sir, when the boy come after me.

Ay, but when you got into the house was the child sick? Yes, sir.

And what did she seem to throw up? A little phlegm at first. Elizabeth told me she threw up her tea just before I got there. After that she threw up blood and phlegm together.

Were her bowels moved at all? Yes, sir.

Frequently? Yes, sir.

Did you remain there till the child died? I went for master for a horse to go to the doctor. He said he could not let me have one, but sent his brother Walter.

Then you went for Sarah Witt? Yes, sir.

Did she come back with you? Yes, sir.

Did you go out again afterwards? Yes, sir, I went to Mrs Conduit’s for three pennyworth of brandy.

With the exception of those times you have mentioned did you remain in the house with the child till she died? Yes, sir; she died in my arms about twenty minutes to twelve I think.

Did you see anything the matter with the child when you were at home at tea? No, sir.

After the child was purged in the way described what was done with what came from her? It was wiped off in a napkin.

What became of the napkin? It was kept, but never asked for, and of course it was not brought out.

What was the object of keeping it? We didn’t know whether the doctors would want to see it at the inquest.

Where was it? In the pantry, on the top of some dirty clothes.

Dr Batho stated that he searched everything, but didn’t find the napkin.

The child’s father said the napkins were not put in water for three or four days afterwards. Maria washed them.

Dr Batho said he saw on a bush, against the witness’s house, what appeared to some washed halves of cloths or something of the sort.

Sarah Witt, wife of Henry Witt, was the next witness, and stated that she thought Maria Thorne came to her house about half-past six on Sunday evening, the 24th June, but she never looked at the clock. She had her baby with her, and was there till a little after 8, when witness’s sister’s little girl came in and said she was wanted at home, but it was not said what she was wanted for. She stopped a minute or so afterwards and then went. Mrs May said perhaps the children wanted their supper, and Maria replied that if they did they knew where to get it. About five minutes to ten, she thought, the same evening, Enos Thorne came to witness to say the child was very ill, and asked her to go down. She went with him, and found the deceased in Maria’s lap. The child was very sick, and napkins were spread in Maria’s lap to catch what came from her. There was blood in three or four places where the child had been sick. Witness remained till she died. She kept throwing up blood mixed with water every ten minutes until about a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes before she died. Witness told Maria to put the napkins away and not wash them, as perhaps the doctors would like to examine them.

Mary Ann May, wife of Charles May, proved seeing Maria Thorne at her sister’s house, and said her little girl came in to say she was wanted. Witness said, “You had better go home; perhaps the children want their supper,” and she replied, “there it is for them if they want it, if they can’t get it they can let it stay and be —— to them.” She then put on the baby’s shawl and went directly.

John Thorne, son of Enos Thorne, said he worked with his father for Mr Flower, and was with the sheep on the down on the Sunday night the child died, the day his father went to Stapleford. When he left the down his father hadn’t returned. He came straight on home from the down.

The Coroner : Who did you find when you got there? My sister Bessie, Annie, and the little maid.

Where was your biggest sister? Down Mrs Witt’s.

She was not at home then when you came? No, sir.

Who did you first see? My sister Bessie.

Was she in the house? No, sir; she came and met me in the road.

What did she say? She told me my sister Florence was very ill.

What else did she say? She told me after I had had my tea to go to Mrs Witt’s for Maria.

Was the child sick and ill all the time you were having your tea? Yes, sir.

All the time? Yes, sir.

What did she throw up? Blood and phlegm, sir.

Where was your father? He had been home but had gone out again.

Did you go to Mrs Witt’s? Yes, sir.

And did you see your sister? No, sir. I sent Mary Ann May’s little girl in. I afterwards went after my father, who was at the publichouse, and he came home with me. Maria sent me.

Do you know what stone mercury is? Yes, sir.

What is it? White, sir.

What do they use it for? Maggots.

Had your father any? Yes, sir.

How do you know it? He let me have it a week before that; before he went to Wilton.

Where did your father use to keep the mercury? In his low coat pocket.

Did you give it back? No, sir; I lost it on the down. I was catching a lamb to rub it in, when the lamb kicked it out of my hand, and I could not find it afterwards.

Did you tell your father you had lost it? Yes, sir.

When? The same day I lost it, and he asked master for some more.

Did you ever put that stone mercury to your mouth? No, sir.

Do you know that it is poison? Yes, sir.

How do you know that? Because father told me of it.

Did you tell anybody else that you had lost it? No, sir, only my big sister and little one.

The witness stated that his sister Elizabeth, who is only eleven years of age, asked him if he had stone mercury, but he didn’t know what for. He also made some other statements which were not very intelligible, and the Coroner told him that in this matter he didn’t think he was telling the truth.

Ann Elizabeth, 11, sister of the last witness, said they had tea about 5 o’clock on Sunday, the 24th of June, those present being herself, Maria, Florence, Harry and Annie. They had tea and bread and butter. Maria made tea and they all had tea out of the same teapot. Maria also cut the bread and butter. She gave each of them a piece, and did not put it all on a plate together. Maria gave Florence hers. They had done tea about half-an-hour before her father came home, and John came home a little before her father. She met him with the child in her arms, and when she got against the gate the child began throwing up her tea. John came in and had one piece, after which he went out and played with some other boys. Maria was down Mrs Witt’s, and her father had not come back from Stapleford then. When Florence had thrown up blood witness sent for Maria. John was out against the gate at play when his father came in, and his father went out again almost directly.

Florence was very well before Maria went away, but she had been sick before her father went out. When Maria came home she said, “John, will you go down for father?” Her father knew that the baby was sick, and witness asked him to call for Maria. He said, “All right,” but she did not think he did so. There was nothing put upon the bread and butter. After Florence had her tea she went down the garden path, and when she came back she began crying. Witness took her up, and when against the garden gate she was ill. She heard her father and John talking about stone mercury on Sunday night, when John said the sheep kicked it out of his hand. She could not remember having seen stone mercury herself, and she did not remember Maria asking him about it. Maria did not take the baby up in her arms before she went to Mrs Witt’s. The baby would never go to her, but she drank out of the same cup and saucer as Maria. She had no cup of her own, and Maria drank the whole of what the baby left. Florence sat in the chair witness was sitting in, and Maria was sitting across the other side of the table.

The Coroner : How came Maria to give part of her tea to Florence? I don’t know.

Did she give it to anyone else? No, sir; only herself and the little one. Maria gave her some tea almost every evening.

Enos Thorne was recalled, and said the child had not been sick before he went out, Elizabeth said not a word to him about going for Maria, and John had not come home before he went out.

Ann Elizabeth adhered to her statement, however, when her father contradicted her to her face. He said they had not done tea when he came in, and asked what good it was to tell such lies.

The Coroner (to Enos Thorne) ; Of course when there are two contradictory statements one person is telling a lie and the other the truth, but I am not at all satisfied you are speaking the truth.

In reply to the Coroner the girl said the napkins were washed two or three days after the child’s death, and they were only put in the pantry.

Dr Batho repeated that he searched all over the house, as did also the policeman, but they did not see them. There was scarcely any clothes in the house.

John Thorne, upon his being recalled, said he came home before his father. They had not put away the tea things. Maria was down at Mrs Witt’s. They had all done tea when his father came in, and Florence had been ill before he came home. She had thrown up some blood when he came home, but he did not think he saw it.

Theophilus Redwood, professor of chemistry to the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, was then sworn, and stated that on the 28th of June he received five packages – two jars, one containing the stomach and bowels, and the other the liver, spleen, kidneys and lungs; two bottles, one labelled “contents of the stomach,” and the other “the whole of the canal from the stomach to the anus,” and a small paper parcel containing a white powder not marked.

In the first instance he submitted part of the contents of the stomach and a portion of the stomach itself to an examination with the view of ascertaining whether oxalic acid was present, but he failed to get any evidence of it. He then submitted the stomach to the usual examination for the purpose of detecting metallic poison. It was oxidised in the usual way and on treating the filtered solution with sulphuretted hydrogen a copious black precipitate was obtained, which was found to consist of sulphide of mercury. The sulphide was tested in the usual way, and he had the results, the tests being perfectly conclusive of the precipitate being a precipitate obtained from mercurial salt. The sulphide of mercury was dissolved in aqua regia, and one of the most characteristic tests of mercury was obtained from it.

He examined the contents of the bottle labelled “contents of the stomach” very carefully, microscopically and chemically, and failed to find any evidence of the presence of solid crystalline matter, but on adding a little distilled water to them and filtering the solution and allowing a few drops to dry spontaneously on a slip of glass ascicular crystals were found to have been formed there, which answered to the tests of corrosive sublimate. He then submitted the whole of the remainder of the contents of the stomach to the same process as he had previously submitted the stomach itself to, and obtained from it a similar black precipitate, the amount of both of these precipitates corresponding to 3½ grains of corrosive sublimate, which he considered quite sufficient to cause death in a child of deceased’s age.

It was very evident from the evidence which had been given that some must have been ejected. He might perhaps state that corrosive sublimate was the name given by chemists to what was called stone mercury by shepherds. The taste of it was acrid and very disagreeable; so nauseous that he should say a child picking it up and putting it in its mouth would spit it out again at once. He should think it next to impossible for a child to take it spontaneously. The time before the effect of the corrosive sublimate would show itself would depend upon the state of the stomach; if empty it would show itself very speedily, but if full it would take a longer time.

Maria Thorne was called in, and the evidence given by her at a previous enquiry read. In it she stated that the child became sick in her lap about 8 o’clock. At first it appeared that she only threw up her food, but afterwards she threw up bloody matter, not much at first, but more later on. At first blood only came from her mouth, but afterwards from her nostrils as well. She had nothing in her tea, and if anything had been given her she must have seen it whilst she was there.

The Coroner (to Maria Thorne) : We have very conclusive evidence this poor child died from poison, and the evidence rather points in the direction of your having given it.

Maria Thorne : No, sir; I am quite innocent of it.

The Coroner : I am quite ready to hear anything you have to say, and put down any statement you can make, if you wish to submit yourself again to examination.

Maria Thorne ; No, sir; I am quite certain I never gave the child anything.

The Coroner : Do you wish to be examined again? I am quite willing if my father is, but I am quite innocent.

The Coroner : What has your father to do with it? He has nothing to do with it.

The Coroner : Who was at home when you were at tea on Sunday evening? Annie, Elizabeth, and the little girl. Father came in while we were at our tea. John didn’t come in at all while I was there.

By a juryman : The baby was not sick till after her father left.

PC Barlow confirmed Dr Batho’s statement as to searching the house of Enos Thorne, saying they turned out everything, but didn’t find any dirty clothes, but Maria said there was some clothes. The police constable produced some letters which he took possession of, and the Coroner opened them, but found they simply announced the child’s death.

No other fresh witnesses were called.

The Coroner, in addressing the jury, said they had obtained all the evidence it seemed to him they were likely to get in the case, which was certainly a very mysterious one. He thought there could be very little doubt that this child had been poisoned by what they called stone mercury. Who administered it was a more doubtful question, but he should make these observations. The evidence of the father was certainly contradicted by two of his children, and contradicted in material points. The father would induce them to believe that he had come home and seen these children at tea, but they had the evidence of the little girl and John, from which it appeared that they had not come home till they had had their tea.

Elizabeth or Bessie seemed to have been one of those at tea; John the boy came in afterwards, and according to the account of both of them the father came in some time after John, therefore if their statement was correct he could not have been at tea with them as he represented. The little girl went further, and said the father knew the child was sick, because she told him to tell Maria of it, and he said, “All right.” That the father denied, but it was a very extraordinary statement, if it was not a true one, to be made by this little girl. She would have no motive in making it and certainly as far as they were capable of corroboration the statements of these two younger children corroborated each other in several material particulars.

If they were to be believed this sickness which caused the child’s death took place before the father came home. The reliable history seemed to be that Maria and the younger children were at tea together; that shortly after tea Maria went out, and afterwards John came. John said when he got home Maria was out; then the father came home and was told of the child’s sickness. If they believed the statement of the eldest girl, almost directly after tea Maria went down to Mrs Witt’s, and remained there for more than an hour.

Then they had the evidence of Dr Redwood, which was extremely material, first of all as to the fact of the poison being found, and they also had evidence that the taste was very nauseous, and that a child taking it accidentally – which possibly might be one theory – would spit it out again, whereas in this case a considerable quantity was found in the stomach, and there could be no doubt a considerable quantity had been vomited. It therefore would look very much as if this child had been wilfully poisoned.

The father declared that he had had this stone mercury under his care, and that he had given some to his boy on the Down. His story and the boys’ entirely corresponded, and a very natural thing too; this boy was catching one of the lambs to apply this stone mercury when the lamb kicked it out of his hand, and he lost it. Of course if they believed the statement of the two younger children, and attributed death to this sickness, the father could not have been home at the time, therefore suspicion pointed certainly far more strongly to the elder sister than to him.

It was for them to consider the question thoroughly, and return a verdict accordingly. If they were not satisfied in their own minds that the evidence was strong enough to bring home the poisoning to the eldest child it would be competent for them to find a verdict, if they thought so fit, that this child had been poisoned, but they were unable to say by whom.

The jury consulted together for a short time, and then returned a verdict to the effect that there was no doubt the child had been poisoned, but there was not sufficient evidence to show by whom.

Both Enos Thorne and Maria Thorne were afterwards apprehended by the police.

Magistrates Hearing 1877 July 28th

Enos Thorne and Maria Thorne were brought up charged with feloniously murdering Florence Thorne, a child aged one year and seven months, at Woodford, on the 24th of June, by poison, viz., stone of mercury.

Elizabeth Thorne, 11, daughter of Enos Thorne, and sister of Maria Thorne, said she remembered the day on which her sister Florence died, and she was at home on the evening of that day. She was at home at tea-time, as were also Harry, a brother now in the Infirmary, Annie, and Florence, another —– —- — — — together. Her father was not then at home, for he was away from home the whole day. Maria cut the bread and butter and made the tea. She gave some to Florence and the others. Florence drank out of witness’s saucer, and also Maria’s. After tea witness went out to play and Florence went out too. She went down the garden path and came back to witness, who was indoors, at which time there was nothing the matter with her, but she —– not long afterwards when witness took charge of her. Maria had then gone down an hour to Miss Witt’s, but she had not left the home long. Just after the baby began crying she commenced throwing up her tea; she was constantly sick and threw up blood, and didn’t cry very long. Witness remembered seeing her sister Annie bring something into the house after tea, which she let fall, and it broke into pieces. It looked like a piece of soda and was as large as a small marble. It was of a light colour. Her sister found it against the gate leading to the door of the house, and witness herself found it there the previous day, but thought it was a little marble and put it down against the gate again.

After her sister broke it witness picked up all the pieces she could see, rolled them up in some rag, and kept them in her hand till her brother John came home, when she at once gave them to him, and upon asking him what it was, he said it was stone mercury. Florence was close to where the stone mercury fell and was indoors when witness picked up the pieces. Witness didn’t see Florence pick any up. She thought John told her he lost it the day his father went to Wilton, which was about a week before the death of the child.

She believed her brother put the stone mercury into his pocket. When witness’ father came home he asked if they had any hot tea and he was told that they had not. Witness told him Florence had been sick, and he said, “Oh, has she?” and afterwards went out, saying he was going to the publichouse. Witness sent John to Mrs Witt’s for her sister Maria, who came back with John soon afterwards. The baby hadn’t been sick, neither had she been crying, before Maria left. Witness told Maria, when she came back, that Florence was very ill, and she replied, “Oh, is she?” She then took Florence and witness took Maria’s baby. Maria sent John to the publichouse for her father, and he came back directly with him. He afterwards went for Mrs Witt, who came, and remained till the child died, death taking place about 20 minutes to 12. Witness’ father went to the publichouse after some brandy, and brought back some, and Mrs Witt gave some to Florence. Witness, her father, Maria and John staid with the child till she died.

John Thorne, 13, brother of the last witness, said he was a shepherd boy and worked with his father for Mr Flower. His father went to Wilton about a month previous to the child’s death, and before he left he gave him some stone mercury about the size of a marble, to destroy the maggots in the sheep. He had never given him any before. Witness used it on one lamb and afterwards lost it at home, the same day his father gave it to him. He had it when he left the down and missed it the same night as he was going to bed.

It was wrapped in some rag and he told his father the next day that he had lost it. He looked about for it, but not against the gate, and didn’t find it till his sister gave it to him on the Sunday his little sister died. It was broken into three pieces, and was about as much as he lost. He thought it was about six o’clock when he came home, and his father was not then there. He gave two pieces of the stone mercury to Long’s boy, who asked him for them, but he didn’t tell him they were sweets, neither did he tell anyone else so, and no-one tasted it at all.

On the day the child died his father left him on the down and said he was going to Stapleford, and witness next saw him about seven o’clock. He first saw his sister Elizabeth in the road, and Florence was with her. Elizabeth said Florence had been sick, and he went home and had his tea. His sister sent him to “Sally Witt’s” for Maria, and he afterwards went to the publichouse for his father, telling him what he was wanted for. He told him he was to come home directly, for Florence was very ill, and he made ne reply, but came.

No other witnesses were called, and the Bench retired to consider their decision. On returning into court,

Mr Hussey said they had heard all the evidence against the prisoners which could be adduced, and he was happy to say that there was nothing at all to show that either of them in any way administered the poison to the child. It was satisfactory to the public and to themselves, perhaps, that there should be an opportunity for the police to bring forward everything they could against them. The child might have picked up some of the fragments of stone mercury and swallowed them, but whether that was so or not there was no evidence either of them gave any poison to the child, and they were discharged (much applause).


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