"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Friday, September 30, 2016

Weekend Link Dump



This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the League of Sink Cats!






That eternal question:  What the hell is the Voynich Manuscript?

What the hell is Spontaneous Human Combustion?

What the hell is the Phobos Monolith?

What the hell is this patch in the Australian desert?

What the hell was the Maracaibo Incident?

What the hell was the Tresco Incident?

What the hell is...anything?  Now you can know!

Watch out for those clowns!  But you already knew that.

Watch out for those sewer snakes! I'm betting you knew that, too.

Watch out for those fighting firefighters!  I'm betting you did not know that.

A Pennsylvania mystic.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris: What to do with toast and herbs.

And what not to do with your nose.

So, a goat, a man, and two prostitutes walk into a courtroom...

Press censorship in 19th century Vienna.

The doctor who became a museum piece.  Reminds me a bit of last Monday's Manchester Mummy.

Cooking with Napoleon.

Sisterhood is powerful.  Especially when the Sisterhood has arsenic.

The notorious--and lethal--Mrs. Clem.

A look at Georgian weaponry.

A look at Japanese folklore.

A look at burials at sea.

Monks evict some demonic squatters.

A Polish Stonehenge.

Catherine the Great's library.

Holding a seance?  Not sure if the genuine ghosts will cooperate?  Help is on the way!

A poisoning case from 1836.

Freemasonry in 18th century France.

A silent film that inspired a lawsuit.

Some 18th century Fall recipes.

The man without a memory.

The execution of a chastened wife.

How Vikings helped cats conquer the world.

An interesting burial of a prehistoric disabled woman.

Dodging the censors.

The dressmaker and the bodysnatcher.

Irish sky ships.

Prohibition-era Booze Cruises.

Guillotine Fun Facts!

A very strange Old West adoption.

The ghost of the Continental Congress.

The Case of the Housekeeper's Chocolate.

Barnum's grandson throws one heck of a bachelor party.

Stalin's body double.

Louis XVI's sister.

Southern treasure ghosts.

The death of the Flower Witch.

Britain's greatest double cross agent.

Snowballs to the rescue!

An Egyptian pillar of fire.

The 14,000 year old reindeer:



Science is finally catching up to Lady Wonder.

This week in Russian Weird:  They're putting robots under arrest.

And, finally, our hero of the week:  The Cat Man of Aleppo.

And there you have it for this week.  See you on Monday, when we'll be looking at that ever-popular topic of demon visitations.  In the meantime, here's some choir music.  I am not religious in any orthodox sense, but I love hymns.  Go figure.  This is one of my favorites:


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day



I often come across bizarre old newspaper stories that are so "too good to be true," that I reluctantly assume they are hoaxes. It's such a disappointment to suspect I have failed to find an authentic slice of Weird. More rarely, I find a story that makes me clasp my hands in thankfulness that what I just read was presumably a work of imaginative fiction.

This is one of those times. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Great Spider of Issoir.
For many years it is undeniably stated that in the fourteenth arrondissement of Paris--called the tomb of Issoir--a number of persons living in that quarter had mysteriously and periodically disappeared. The most careful researches, the most minute inquiries, the most skillful agents of the police had failed to discover the least trace of them. Every year successively some inhabitants of this quarter would suddenly disappear, leaving their friends overwhelmed with grief and anxiety. It is also stated that these strange, inexplicable facts always occurred in the early spring--from the 20th to the last of March--and without regard to age or sex.

First a notary disappeared. It was thought he had used his client's funds and fled to parts unknown. Then an old woman, returning late one night from market, was the next victim, then a laborer going home from work. The last victim had been a young girl--a flower maker out late delivering her goods. From that time she had as completely disappeared as if the earth had opened and swallowed her up. Strange to say, no children had been among the victims. This peculiar fact was accounted for in this way. These mysterious disappearances always occurred late at night, when the children were at home asleep.

As the time was drawing near for one of these periodical mysteries the chief of police became very anxious and instituted a strict surveillance, confiding the matter to a number of the most skillful of his assistants, hoping the combined efforts of so many zealous agents would surely be crowned with success. You will now see the result.

One night--this fact can be verified by applying to the office of the prefecture--a policeman at about 3 o'clock in the morning heard a distant musical song, which seemed to come from the bowels of the earth. He listened and fancied the sounds came from an opening in the center of the street, at the foot of an enormous rock called the tomb of Issoir, or the Giant's cave. It may be interesting to state that this rock derived its name from a legend that a great giant had been buried there many years before the Christian era, and this rock had been placed there to mark the tomb. Surprised at this strange discovery--for the opening had never been noticed before--the policeman waited, listening to this peculiar song, when he suddenly saw a young man approaching. He knew from his costume that he was a countryman lately arrived in the city. This young man also seemed to hear the subterranean sounds, first walking slowly with a peculiar wavering step, as if in cadence with this musical chant, then faster and faster as he drew near the fatal rock, until he ran with such velocity that in spite of the warning cries of the policeman he was swallowed up in this mysterious opening. Without taking a moment to consider the policeman recklessly followed, first firing his revolver and giving one or two vigorous blasts on his whistle. At this signal several of his comrades quickly arrived.  
The musical chanting had ceased, but they could hear in the dark, cavernous depths the muffled sounds of a desperate struggle. By the aid of ropes and ladders they succeeded in entering this mysterious chasm. The light of their lamps revealed a sickening sight. The countryman was lying on his back writhing in the grasp of an unknown monster, whose horrible aspect froze the agents of police with terror. It was as large as a full grown terrier, covered with wartlike protuberances and bristling with coarse brownish hair. Eight jointed legs, terminated by formidable claws, were buried in the body of the unfortunate victim. The face had already disappeared. Nothing could be seen but the top of the head, and the monster was now engaged in tearing and sucking the blood from his throat. As soon as they recovered from their horror and surprise a dozen balls struck the body of this sanguinary beast. He raised up on his legs, a greenish, bloody liquid flowing from his wounds, and, with a frightful cry, expired. The first policeman, who had given the alarm, was lying unconscious in one corner of the cavern, where he had fallen, a distance of 30 feet. It was with great difficulty they succeeded in removing the two bodies and the unknown monster from the cavern. The poor countryman was dead, but the policeman was soon restored to life. 
The agents immediately sent for the commissioner of police, who summoned a naturalist in great haste. The first established the identity of the victim; the second declared the creature lying before him was a gigantic spider. The species had been considered extinct for centuries--ever since the days before the deluge. It was called "Arachne gigans" and was said to have the power of enticing its victims by a peculiar musical song. None had been seen or heard of for ages, but it is now believed some of these sanguinary beasts still exist in the deepest galleries of the catacombs. The dead body of the spider was conveyed to the Museum of Natural History, where it was carefully prepared and stuffed and is now on exhibition.
"Bucks County Gazette," August 23, 1894
As I said, one can assume this story is fictional. However, just to be on the safe side, if you're planning a trip to Paris I advise packing one freaking big can of Raid.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Mummy of Manchester

For generations, mummies have been a source of morbid fascination. They are a staple of museum displays, where crowds eagerly gaze at these eerily well-preserved bodies, revering them as tangible links to the remote past. Usually when we think of human mummies, we think of ancient Egypt. 18th century English ladies do not often come to mind.

Today's post is out to remedy this omission.

Our story opens at Birchen Bower Farm, a pleasant rural home near the Lancashire village of Hollinwood. Its residents were John Beswick and his half-sister Hannah. John, by virtue of both inheritance and hard work, was a wealthy man. However, while still a young adult, his health began to fail so badly that he was forced to give up all labor and retire to the quiet of Birchen Bower. He died in 1737, leaving most of his considerable estate to Hannah.

Although Hannah was now essentially alone in the world, she was an intelligent and strong-minded woman who had no trouble assuming control not only of Birchen Bower, but of the numerous nearby properties her brother had owned. Hannah never married, but her local "lady of the manor" status earned her the respectful nickname of "Madame Beswick."

Life ran on without incident until 1745 and the famed Jacobite Rebellion. Alarmed by the reports of how Bonnie Prince Charlie's Highlanders were on the march through Lancashire, Madame prudently buried what were described as "great sums" of money and other valuables around her home. On a more eccentric note, after the danger had passed, Hannah not only allowed her treasure to remain buried, she stubbornly refused to tell anyone where it was hidden.

There were no further disruptions to Hannah's quiet and prosperous existence until she reached her fifties. Her health deteriorated to the point where she could no longer manage Birchen Bower. She retired to a small cottage. Her last years were dull and rather lonely. Hannah's relatives dropped in on her occasionally, but her only regular visitor was her personal physician, Charles White. He did much to keep the rapidly failing woman comfortable, both physically and emotionally.

Charles White


Just before Hannah passed away in 1758 at the age of about 70, she promised that if her relatives brought her back to Birchen Bower to die, she would finally reveal where she had hidden her valuables. Unfortunately, she expired before they could carry out her request, leaving the mystery unsolved. Her will left Birchen Bower to a cousin on her mother's side. Upon that cousin's death, the manor was to pass to the cousin's daughter, then to Charles White. As it happened, White outlived both these women, so the estate eventually came into his possession.

Hannah's funeral was her first full leap into The Weird. That's because, to put it simply, she didn't have one. Like many people of her era, Madame had a terror of premature burial. To avoid this horrific fate, she instructed that her body be kept "above ground" long enough to ensure against any nasty surprises. The faithful Dr. White was entrusted with carrying out this unusual provision.

The doctor did so, and then some. For reasons best known to himself, he embalmed Hannah's corpse with a tar-based preparation of his own invention, then swathed the body with a large bandage, leaving only the face exposed.  This modern-day mummy rested for two years at the ancestral home of her family, Cheetwood Hall. Afterwards, White took possession of the body, proudly exhibiting it at his home in Manchester. When he retired, he settled in The Priory, his country residence in Cheshire. Hannah's mummy came with him, where it found an honored spot in White's private museum, sharing space with anatomical subjects and bizarre curios of various types. Hannah rested in the case of a grandfather clock. The clock-face had been removed, allowing the curious to get a refreshing peep of Hannah's dessicated features. According to Thomas De Quincey--whose mother had been a friend of Dr. White--Hannah had left the request that once a year, White and two other "witnesses of credit" should make a formal examination of her mummy, evidently just to reassure Hannah that she was still dead. De Quincey wrote that as a child, he himself had been allowed to view the mummy, a sight that filled him with "inexpressible awe." Alas, De Quincey added, in White's later years, he kept the "departed fair one" from the public eye.

It is not surprising that Hannah's non-burial inspired any number of more-or-less outlandish legends. Birchen Bower developed the reputation of being haunted. The neighborhood reported hearing strange, inexplicable noises around the farm, while the manor's livestock were said to behave strangely. These phenomena were particularly noticable on every seventh anniversary of Hannah's death. On a less paranormal level, it was also said that Hannah had demanded that every 21 years, her mummy was to be brought back to Birchen Bower and put on exhibition there for a week. It is not clear if this tale was anything more than gossip, but one can always hope it was based on fact.

In the late 18th century, Birchen Bower was turned into tenements for village weavers. These tenants reported that Hannah's ghost was still very much in residence. They often heard "Madame" striding imperiously through the corridors, while certain favored occupants actually saw her. One family in particular saw so much of Hannah that she practically became an accepted member of the household. When her figure--always clad in black silk--would make an appearance, they would merely shrug and announce, "The old lady comes again!"

After some time had passed, it was noticed that one tenant of Birchen Bower, known as "Joe at Tamer's," was living in surprisingly comfortable circumstances. Although weavers at that time were mostly living in desperate poverty, this man and his family appeared to have no trouble keeping themselves clad and well-fed. Rumors soon spread that "Joe" had found Hannah's long-hidden stash of valuables. Many years later, "Joe" reportedly confirmed his good fortune. The story goes that one day, he pulled up a floor in what had been Hannah's parlor, with the intention of setting up a loom. While digging a hole for the treadle, he uncovered a tin box full of gold. Unfortunately, accounts differ about whether or not "Joe's" lucky find is historical fact or just more of the folklore that grew around Hannah's strange afterlife.

Charles White died in 1813. He bequeathed Hannah to his own physician, Dr. Oilier. In 1829, Oilier donated the mummy to the museum of the Manchester Natural History Society. Hannah, laid out in a glass case, became one of the museum's most popular attractions. The mummified lady kept company with a variety of stuffed animal exhibits, including an elephant, a giraffe, and the head of "Old Billy," a horse who had lived to the age of 61. (Let us hope that Hannah's spirit never learned that while the elephant was insured for £80, her mummy was given a value of only £10.) A mid-19th century journalist noted that Hannah's body had remained "well preserved," but her face was "shrivelled and black."

The Manchester History Museum


In 1868, the museum was given to Owens College (now the University of Manchester.) Sadly, Hannah's new owners viewed the august remains of this irreproachable spinster with a deep distaste. Even the head of Old Billy earned more respect from them. The college's commissioners tried to unload the mummy on Hannah's remaining descendants, but no one was willing to take her off their hands. The interesting fact emerged that a death certificate had never been issued for Hannah, meaning that as far as British bureaucracy was concerned, "Richard Hannah liveth yet!"

The college felt it was high time for Miss Beswick to just legally die already. One hundred and ten years after Hannah Beswick breathed her last, the Home Secretary finally pronounced her deceased. Her mummy was given a quiet burial in an unmarked grave at Manchester's Harpurhey Cemetery on July 22, 1868.

"Bath Chronicle," August 20, 1868


Although a contemporary newspaper published the pious prediction that with this long-deferred funeral, Hannah's "after-death wanderings have at last ceased," this may have been underestimating Madame's restlessness. For many years afterwards, stories circulated that Hannah was now haunting The Priory, while the neighbors of Birchen Bower continued to report seeing her black-silk-clad spirit--sometimes headless!--wandering the grounds she had loved so well in life. The barn of Birchen seemed to be particularly haunted. On the twenty-first anniversary of her death, a cow was found in the barn's hay-loft. No one could explain how the poor animal could have gotten up there. On particularly dark nights, a fiery red glare was reportedly seen from inside the barn, and eerie, inexplicable noises could be heard within.

Birchen Bower is long gone, and the area where it once stood is now a busy urban scene. If an elderly lady in black silk still wanders her old property, it is likely that passers-by are too preoccupied with very modern concerns to even give her a glance.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Weekend Link Dump



This week's Link Dump is proud to again be sponsored by the Confederacy of Bookplate Cats!








What the hell happened to this Sherlock Holmes fanatic?

Who the hell was Lori Ruff?  Now we know!

Watch out for those Colorado banshees!

Watch out for those London vampires!

Watch out for those 19th century dentists!

Watch out for those Fairy Blasts!

Speaking of which, how fast can fairies fly, anyway?

The history of a famed WWII quote.  ("Serial killer Joe."  Love that.)

19th century child labor.

Singing with the Kibbo Kift.

The strange death of Mrs. Hopper.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris:  "In one ear and out the other" is not meant to be taken literally.

The latest on the Antikythera shipwreck.

Indian settlers in Australia 4,000 years ago.

Napoleon scared children.

Send music, spies, and money:  the history of electronic tollbooths.

A scientific method for finding the perfect cup of coffee.

Ancient sponsorship.

The theft of an Empress' diamond.

A (particularly) dangerous duelist.

The wreck of the Medusa.

Ever wonder what's in a Nazi time capsule?  Well, who hasn't?  Here you go.

The massacre of a family, 1976.

Edgar Allan Poe and Charleston.

Floating islands and the Loch Ness Monster.

The hard life of Victorian seamstresses.

Indian WWI soldiers write home.

The Golden Age of bodysnatching students.

Literary pigeons.

Wellington's "Dearest Georgy."

A particularly weird case of identity theft.

An 18th century versatile scoundrel.

The weirdness of ball lightning.

Yes, they do.  Next question?

Winston Churchill's early years.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the kung-fu nuns of Nepal.

Need to defend yourself against pixies?  Pack a sandwich.

Because this link collection wouldn't be complete without a discussion of Eleanor of Castile's viscera.

The execution of a drunken preacher.

Queen Victoria defends a dog's right to attend church.

Some interesting research into the powers of meditation.

The questionable past of a famed explorer.

A very helpful ghost.

Louis XVI's brother.

Is this the voice of a Neanderthal?

Another bit of evidence that ancient people were smarter than we think.

America's first popular newspaper comic.

Science is finally beginning to take ancient remedies seriously.

Painting with a mummy.

A modern-day witchcraft trial.

Sleeping with the dead in Neolithic Turkey.

The St. Bernard and the Bear Hunt.

This week in Russian Weird looks at a Soviet psychokinetic.

Oh, and they're also turning car accidents into artwork.

And just to help you get ready for the weekend:  How to drink like a Norman.

And we're done! See you on Monday, when we'll be looking at an 18th century Mummy Dearest. In the meantime, here's some Charpentier:

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day







The ninth installment of the "Boston Post's" "Famous Cats of New England" series introduces us to Glory, a Greek alley cat turned Boston hymn-lover:
Probably no cat in New England lives in a more religious atmosphere than "Glory," the maltese cat that belongs to the Volunteers of America. Once Glory was just an ordinary heathen of a meat-stealing, back yard-fence-yowling slum cat.

That was before Glory's owner, a young Greek lad, "got" religion. Getting religion he offered Glory as a thanks offering to the Volunteers. That was two years ago. She was a great mouser, he assured them. Since then Glory has mended her ways.

Never a prayer meeting gathers at the Howard street headquarters that Glory is not in the midst of. Hymn singing has great charm for Glory. At most of the meetings she perches on the organ keys. The top of the drum is another favorite vantage point.

Another claim besides that of religious environment gives Glory right to be classed among the famous cats of New England. It is that she is probably the most travelled cat in these parts. For Glory was born in Greece and crossed the ocean with her one-time master. It was to the classic name of Daphne that she answered in those old days. 
December 16, 1920

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Draught of Laurel Water



The life of John Donellan reads like the plot of an 18th century novel: Protagonist uses his wits, his charm, and his capacity for shady dealing to rise from obscurity to affluence, only to take a dramatic fall that provides ample material for the moralists.

And, not incidentally, to provide crime historians with a lingering judicial enigma.

Donellan was born in Ireland in 1737. In 1753, he became a cadet in the Royal Artillery. He entered the service of the East India Company in Bengal, where he rose to the rank of Captain. He took part in the siege and eventual capture of Masulipatam from the hands of the French. The aftermath of this battle gives history its first look at Donellan's lack of scruple. He and three other officers were given the job of reuniting local merchants with their rightful property. The officers, however, opted to capitalize on their power by forcing the merchants to bribe them into turning over the goods. When their Colonel heard of this extortion, he had the four miscreants court-martialed and dismissed from the service.

When Donellan returned to England, he set out to make a place for himself in high society. His good looks and dashing manner soon won him the job of Director of Entertainments (essentially, master of ceremonies,) at the Pantheon, which was at that time the most popular gathering place for Georgian London's jet set. The mileau perfectly suited the vain, pleasure-loving, ambitious man. The Pantheon's lavish ballrooms were an excellent hunting field for an impecunious fellow in need of a rich wife.

In 1777, Donellan found his prey when a young girl named Theodosia Anna Maria Ramsay Beauchamp Boughton left Lawford Hall, her family home in Warwickshire, for a season in London. Naturally, one of the first places she visited was the Pantheon. The Boughtons were among the "old aristocracy" in their county. Their baronetcy--at that time held by Theodosia's young brother Theodosius--dated back to 1641. Theodosia was pretty, wealthy, and completely inexperienced in the ways of the world. She was the easiest of pickings for a sophisticated seducer such as Donellan. Knowing that her family would never accept him as an honorable suitor, he soon persuaded Theodosia to elope with him.

Naturally, the Boughtons were outraged, and swore to disown them both. Donellan, however, played his cards very well. Rather than try to force his new in-laws to welcome him, he gave up his playboy lifestyle and devoted himself to his bride--and her private fortune. His behavior was so irreproachable that by the following year, Theodosia's widowed mother forgave the couple and invited them to live with her at Lawford Hall.

The nominal head of the family was Theodosia's brother. However, Sir Theodosius was not prepared, either emotionally or physically, to handle his responsibilities. When he was only 15, he had contracted a serious venereal disease. His health had so deteriorated that he was forced to leave Eton. The spoiled, willful boy was capable of doing little but ailing and sulking around Lawford Hall.

Donellan again showed himself to be an expert at seizing opportunities. He, and not his brother-in-law, soon became the true master of the house. A contemporary account related how "No arrangement was made without [Donellan's] advice, nor alteration in the domestic economy admitted but with his participation. He directed every business according to his own ideas, and found obedience paid to his orders as though he had been the owner of the mansion. In short, nothing could exceed the authority which he assumed but the deference and submission with which his commands were received." We have little direct evidence about what the rightful head of the family made of this, but it seems unlikely that Sir Theodosius appreciated his brother-in-law's ascendancy. Lawford Hall could hardly have two masters forever, especially once Sir Theodosius attained his majority--an event that would take place in August 1781. Surely after that, one or other of the men would have to cede control.

As a matter of fact, by August 1780, Donellan was dropping grim hints that this would be exactly what would soon happen--and he made it clear that he would not be the one to leave. He began treating acquaintances to lurid descriptions of Sir Theodosius' illness and impending death. He confided to a local vicar that the baronet's "blood was a mass of mercury and corruption," which had left the young man sadly broken in body and mind. His brother-in-law, he sighed, was certain to die soon.

On August 29, the Boughton family's apothecary, a man named Powell, put together a "purging draught" for Sir Theodosius consisting of rhubarb, lavender, nutmeg, saffron, and other unremarkable ingredients. It was delivered to Lawford Hall later that day, where it was placed in the young baronet's bedroom. Sir Theodosius never locked his room, meaning that the contents were easily accessible to anyone in the household. The day progressed uneventfully. Sir Theodosius spent much of the day fishing, and appeared to be in reasonably good health and spirits.

At 7 a.m. the next morning, Lady Broughton came into her son's room to give him his medicine. He complained that it "smelt and tasted very nauseous." His mother agreed that the "draught" "smelt very strongly like bitter almonds," but urged him to swallow the dose anyway. Sir Theodosius obeyed.

He very soon had reason to regret his compliance. Within seconds, the youth became horribly ill. He began to go into convulsions. Within ten minutes, however, he appeared calmer, and seemed about to fall asleep. Lady Broughton, rather oddly, assumed that all now was well, and calmly left the room to finish dressing for the day. (She and Donellan were riding to a nearby spa to "take the waters.") When she returned a few moments later, she was shocked to see that her son seemed near death: his eyes were rolled upwards, his teeth were clenched, and froth was running from his mouth. She instantly ran for help.

When Donellan arrived on the scene, Lady Broughton exclaimed to him, "I have been giving my son something that was wrong, instead of what the apothecary should have sent." Donellan reacted to this news by taking up the medicine bottle and carefully washing it out with water. His mother-in-law protested, "Good God! What are you about? You should not have meddled with the bottle."

Donellan ignored her. When a maid entered the room, he coolly ordered her to take away the bottle and the basin he had used to wash it. Lady Broughton told her to "let them alone." However, the minute her back was turned, he repeated his instructions to remove the items.

Donellan later told the other servants that Sir Theodosius' death was due to "a broken blood-vessel." He cheerfully told the head gardener that "I have wanted before to be master; I have got master now, and shall be master." When Powell the apothecary arrived at the Hall, Donellan informed him that Sir Theodosius died of a chill, caught as a result of his unwise fishing expedition the day before. He said nothing about the "draught." The apothecary asked no questions, and seemed content to write off the baronet's death as just one of those unhappy accidents of fate.

Sir Theodosius' guardian, Sir William Wheeler, thought otherwise. The suddenness of the baronet's death was generating a lot of unpleasant talk in the area, and Sir William believed an investigation was called for. He wrote to Powell asking that an autopsy be performed, in order to "prevent the world from blaming any of us that had anything to do with poor Sir Theodosius." Donellan, with his usual geniality, unhesitatingly agreed.

The post-mortem was scheduled for September 4. However, the body had so decomposed in the hot summer weather that the doctors believed even attempting an autopsy would be pointless. They left without even a cursory examination of the corpse.

Afterwards, Donellan wrote to Sir William giving a decidedly misleading account of the proceedings. He strongly intimated that the autopsy had indeed been performed, "and I am happy to inform you they fully satisfied us."

The funeral was scheduled for September 6. However, Sir William, who had learned the truth about the aborted autopsy, sent two surgeons named Buckhill and Snow to do a post-mortem before the burial. When Buckhill came to the Hall, Donellan told him that they could do nothing until Snow arrived. In the interim, Buckhill left to attend a patient who lived nearby. When he returned an hour later, he found that the other doctor had already came and left. Donellan assured him that "Mr. Snow had given his orders what to do, and they were proceeding according to those orders." Buckhill shrugged and left without even seeing the body. (We do not know exactly what Snow's "orders" were, but he did not examine the corpse.) Sir Theodosius was placed in the family vault without any further ado, and, as far as Donellan was concerned, the matter was closed.

Unfortunately for him, the county coroner felt otherwise, and ordered an inquest into the baronet's mysterious death. On September 9, Sir Theodosius was exhumed, and an autopsy was finally done. Regrettably, due to the advanced decomposition of the corpse, little could be learned from it.

Donellan told the coroner's jury that Sir Theodosius kept "arsenic by the pound weight" that he used to wage battle against the rats who "swarmed remarkably" around the Hall. The baronet, he said, was frighteningly careless about how he handled the arsenic, so he doubtlessly accidentally poisoned himself. (It was later proved that the Hall had neither arsenic nor rats.)

When Lady Boughton gave her inquest testimony, a juror noticed that when she began to speak about Donellan washing the medicine bottle, "I saw the Captain catch her by the gown and give her a twitch." When they returned to the Hall, Donellan rebuked her, stating "You had no occasion to mention my washing the bottles, if they did not ask the question."

He had good reason to be upset by Lady Broughton's loose lips. After the jury heard her testimony about Donellan's curious behavior in the death chamber, they had little trouble charging him with murder. He was soon apprehended at put in jail to await his trial.



Lady Broughton's description of the fatal draught's smell led doctors to suspect that it had been doctored with laurel water. It was noted that laurel grew in abundance around the Hall, and that Donellan possessed a still. The theory outlined by the prosecuting attorney was simple: "Had [Sir Theodosius] attained to the age of twenty-one years he would have had in his own power and at his own disposal a great and opulent fortune. In the event of his dying before that time, by much the greater part of that fortune descended to his sister, who is the wife of the prison, Mr. Donellan, and he in her right would have been entitled to a life estate in this considerable fortune." In regards to this fortune, it is alleged that Donellan's attorney later related an interesting anecdote. Supposedly, this legal counsel recommended that Donellan hire a very talented, but very expensive lawyer. The defendant agreed, and told the attorney to have Mrs. Donellan provide the necessary funds. She demurred, arguing that it was unnecessary to pay such a high fee. When the Captain heard of his wife's reluctance to part with her money, he snapped, "And who got it for her?" "Then, seeing he had committed himself, he suddenly stopped."

Donellan confided to a fellow-prisoner that the real murderer of Sir Theodosius was none other than the boy's mother, who had been anxious to gain control of the family fortune before it was frittered away by her irresponsible son. "He spoke of my Lady's covetousness, how covetous she was." Donellan even wrote his wife a letter repeating the charge against Lady Broughton, advising her to leave her mother's house, "where you are likely to undergo the fate of those that have gone already by sudden means." For good measure, he hinted that Lady Broughton had poisoned her husband, Sir Edward, as well.

Donellan's trial took place on March 30, 1781. Lady Broughton and the other witnesses gave essentially the same testimony they had delivered at the inquest, laying great emphasis on Donellan's decidedly squirrely behavior with the medicine bottles. Lady Broughton added that her son and son-in-law "used to have words, to be angry with each other; they did not in general live in friendship or intimacy." Doctors gave their reasons for presuming that Sir Theodosius had been poisoned with laurel water, although they admitted that they were handicapped in their diagnosis by the inability to do a thorough post-mortem. They did not believe that the baronet had died from any recognizable natural causes.

When the time came for the defense to present their case, Donellan submitted a written statement that was notable for what it did not say. The matter of the medicine bottle was ignored entirely. His assertions that he had married his wife "with the entire approbation of her friends and guardians," that he and Sir Theodosius lived "in perfect friendship and cordiality" and that he had signed a marriage settlement renouncing any claims to his wife's money, were all demonstrably false. All in all, the defendant might have been better off simply keeping his mouth shut.

The defense's most notable witness was John Hunter, a famous and highly regarded surgeon of his day. Dr. Hunter gave his belief that Sir Theodosius had died of apoplexy. From the testimony given by the other doctors, he saw no reason to assume the baronet had been poisoned. However, under cross-examination, he was forced to admit that "If I knew the draught was poison I should say, most probably, that the symptoms arose from that." He also conceded that laurel water could produce the symptoms observed in Sir Theodosius' death. He closed by admitting that he really could not say how the baronet had died.

After deliberating for ten minutes, the jury gave a unanimous verdict of "Guilty." The judge heartily concurred with this decision, telling the prisoner that "I think it is impossible to find any, even of the meanest capacity, amongst the numerous auditory standing around you, that can doubt about your guilt."

Donellan's execution was scheduled for April 2. While awaiting his doom, the condemned man occupied himself by writing a lengthy document asserting his innocence, and repeating his charge that the real murderer was Lady Broughton. As he stood on the gallows, he told onlookers he was "a sacrifice to the malice and black devices of a mother-in-law." His last words were to calmly tell the hangman, "Pray do not let us have any bungling."

Theodosia Broughton Donellan survived her notorious spouse by nearly fifty years. She had two further marriages: to Sir Egerton Leigh, a well-known Nonconformist, and Barry O'Meara, Napoleon's surgeon-in-exile and author of the book "A Voice from St. Helena." Her three very different husbands were nicknamed, "The Pendant, the Independent, and the Dependent."

The unsatisfactory investigation into Sir Theodosius' death and the essentially circumstantial evidence against the accused have led a surprising number of authors to assert that Donellan was innocent. The famed 19th century novelist G.P.R. James even wrote a three-volume novel ("Sir Theodore Broughton") portraying Donellan as a guiltless victim of popular prejudice. Over the years, it has been theorized that perhaps, after all, Sir Theodosius died from natural causes. Or Lady Broughton really did poison her son and then frame her son-in-law for the deed. Or, perhaps, Theodosia Donellan, desiring sole possession of the family estate, was responsible for her brother's death. Or were the young baronet's mother, sister, and brother-in-law all plotting together against him,?

It is fair to say that we will never be completely certain about the exact circumstances surrounding the death of Theodosius Broughton. However, I don't believe they hanged a guiltless man.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Weekend Link Dump



This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Confederacy of the Bookplate Cats!








Where the hell is Atlantis?  This Italian scientist thinks he knows.

Where the hell is HMS Terror?  Now we think we know.

Who the hell killed James Garfield?  This author thinks he knows, and the murderer may not have been who you think it was.

What the hell is this Neolithic stone?

What the hell was the Loomis Street Affair?

England's first Wicked Stepmother.

A murder mystery with an inconclusive ending.

The secret diary of an 18th century planter.  Read the excerpts and you'll see why it was secret.

Some etiquette tips if you're ever transported to the 18th century.

The Clock Bewitcher.

The ultimate cure for rheumatism.

The Mitford Sisters, the Kardashians for the intellectual set.

The battle over Nefertiti.

Canada's role in the Louisiana Purchase.

Dog-grooming in 19th century high society.

9,000 year old Australian homes.

A Scottish "Physic Well."

Medieval recycling.

A Brownstone for your favorite hipster cat.

The first attempt at optography.

This week's "Well, duh!" moment: It's finally dawned on scientists that dolphins have a language.

The biggest witch trial in history.

The top American folktales.

A Series of Unfortunate 1843 Events.

A doomed Rat Utopia.

That time someone wanted to drain the Mediterranean.

A look at some megalithic tombs.

Re-evaluating the Black Prince.

Some WWI dowsing.

The life of an 18th century courtesan and spy.

The world's oldest snowshoe.

Another one for the "Our Ancient Ancestors Were a Lot Smarter Than We Think" file.

A bad landlord leads to a family tragedy.

Living on the fringes of Empire.

Visions of the American flag.

Particularly strange cases of missing children.

Anyone else up for booking a room in a haunted lighthouse?

The Case of the Howling Queen.

Some French animal tales.

How to lose a 137-carat diamond.

A magistrate's extremely colorful casebook.

An 18th century Zelig.

An interesting experiment testing the power of mind over our bodies.

Poisons and love potions.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris:  Beware the snake poo salesmen.

Also, what not to do with pins.

A British MP puts in the ultimate overtime.

More about fortune-telling with moles.

Cows and the full moon.

The Shaman's Apprentice.

An early Northern Ireland UFO sighting?

Is there a secret message in the Sistine Chapel?

A place where a very peculiar woman thinks the world is falling apart and surrounds herself with cats because she thinks they're gods.  Despite what you're assuming, this is not a profile of Strange Company HQ.

An ill-fated Duke of Burgundy.

Why we all love black pigs.

The death of a prostrated pirate.

A case of "Second Sound."

How to raise a genius.

A French Court of Miracles.

A guide to eloping.

Bird trees and barnacle geese.

This week in Russian Weird:  This one's for anyone out there nursing a delusion that life under the Soviets was fun and games.

Except, of course, when they were trying to find the hollow earth.  That was fun and games.

And that's all for this week.  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a still-controversial 18th century murder mystery.  In the meantime, here's a song that has been covered by pretty much everyone who ever stepped up to a microphone, but this is probably my favorite version: