In the Witness Box

Evidence: (non-medical)

After a masterly four hour speech in which the General Attorney outlined the Crowns case against Palmer one by one he called the prosecution witnesses:

Prosecution witnesses of Cook’s first feeling ill at Shrewsbury

Ishmael Fisher, wine merchant: Present in Shrewsbury when Cook complained that his drink burned his throat and that Palmer had dosed him.

Thomas Jones, law stationer: Present at Shrewsbury and saw Cook when he was ill and complaining about his throat burning.

George Read sporting housekeeper: Present at Shrewsbury when Cook complained about a drink burning his throat. Under cross-examination stated that, “Cook was never a strong man, but one having delicate health”.

William Scaife Gibson, surgeon of Shrewsbury: Doctor who visited Cook who was complaining of pain in his stomach and heat in his throat. Cook also said he thought he had been poisoned. Gibson recommended an emetic to make Cook be sick he inspected the vomit which proved to be perfectly clean and Cook’s tongue was clean.

Ann Brookes, a lady from Manchester who attends races: Palmer was visited by her to ask him about a jockey. When she first saw Palmer he was pouring some fluid from a small bottle in to a tumbler and then shake it up and down before putting it up to the gaslight. Palmer was not distressed by her seeing this saying that he would be with her in a minute.

Although the prosecution tried to prove that Palmer had poisoned Cook’s brandy they never successfully proved that Palmer could have switched the glasses so as to poison Cook. That Cook was ill in Shrewsbury was established but not that Palmer was necessarily the cause of his illness.

Prosecution witnesses evidence of Cook in Rugeley

Elizabeth Mills from the Times Report of the Trial of William Palmer pub. 1856
Elizabeth Mills from the Times Report of the Trial of William Palmer pub. 1856

Elizabeth Mills, chambermaid at the Talbot Arms: In her evidence she stated that she had been ill after tasting some of Cook’s broth sent from Palmer’s house. When asked why she had not mentioned this earlier at the post-mortem or inquest she said that she had not been asked. Shortly after Cook’s death she went to work at Dolly’s Hotel, Paternoster Row in London where, on numerous occasions, Cook’s Stepfather visited her. She claimed that they did not discuss the case. However her evidence was very strong and some would believe it to have been ‘rehearsed’.

Mr. Gardner, Rugeley solicitor acting for Cook’s stepfather: He stated that he was unhappy with the way in which the Coroner conducted the inquest on Cook.

Lavinia Barnes, waitress at the Talbot Arms: She gave details of the time leading up to Cook’s death. She also stated that she had seen Palmer looking in Cook’s coat pockets after he had passed away.

Mr. William Henry Jones, Cook’s friend and personal doctor: Stated Cook’s health had been generally good but not robust. Palmer had summoned him to Rugeley in a letter dated November 18th1855. He arrived in Rugeley at 3.30 p.m. on the Tuesday 20th November. Cook was slightly recovered. Jones examined Cook in Palmer’s presence. The same day Jones visited Cook several times as did Dr. Bamford. Palmer proposed that Bamford make up some morphine pills. At 11 p.m. Palmer brought the pills in a box which he opened remarking of Bamford, “What an excellent handwriting for an old man!” Cook eventually was persuaded to take the pills but shortly vomited but did not appear to bring up the pills. Jones stated that the pills could not have caused the vomiting.

Later Cook called out, “Doctor get up, I am going to be ill! Ring the bell and send for Palmer”. Palmer arrived within some three minutes saying, “I never dressed so quickly in my life”. Cook then started having convulsions (violent irregular motions of the limbs due to involuntary contraction of muscles) which lasted five or ten minutes and his body went rigid and he asked to be sat up. They could not raise the body because he was so rigid and had to lay him on his side. Cook gradually weakened and shortly at about 1 a.m. he died.

Jones said Cook died of tetanus which caused the action of the heart to stop. Palmer remained half an hour after the death. Jones left the room to send for someone to lay out the body. When he returned Palmer had Cook’s coat in his hand and handed in to Jones with the suggestion that as Cook’s nearest friend he should look after his possessions which included a watch and a purse containing five sovereigns and five shillings. Jones saw no betting book. Soon afterwards Palmer told him that Cook’s death was bad for him, Palmer, as they had debts of £3,000 or more and he hoped Cook’s friend’s would assist him or all his horses would be seized. Jones did disclose that Cook was worried about secondary symptoms resulting from syphilis.

Also called were Ann Rowley Palmer’s charwoman; Charles Horley Palmer’s gardener; Sarah Bond house keeper at the Talbot Arms and Dr. Henry Savage physician one time doctor to Cook.

Later cook called out, “Doctor get up, I am going to be ill! Ring the bell and send for Palmer”. Palmer arrived within some three minutes saying, “I never dressed so quickly in my life”. Cook then started having convulsions (violent irregular motions of the limbs due to involuntary contraction of muscles) which lasted five or ten minutes and his body went rigid and he asked to be sat up. They could not raise the body because he was so rigid and had to lay him on his side. Cook gradually weakened and shortly at about 1 a.m. he died.
Jones said Cook died of tetanus which caused the action of the heart to stop. Palmer remained half an hour after the death. Jones left the room to send for someone to lay out the body. When he returned Palmer had Cook’s coat in his hand and handed in to Jones with the suggestion that as Cook’s nearest friend he should look after his possessions which included a watch and a purse containing five sovereigns and five shillings. Jones saw no betting book. Soon afterwards Palmer told him that Cook’s death was bad for him, Palmer, as they had debts of £3,000 or more and he hoped Cook’s friend’s would assist him or all his horses would be seized. Jones did disclose that Cook was worried about secondary symptoms resulting from syphilis.

Also called were Ann Rowley Palmer’s charwoman; Charles Horley Palmer’s gardener; Sarah Bond house keeper at the Talbot Arms and Dr. Henry Savage physician one time doctor to Cook.

Prosecution witness of the purchase of strychnine

Charles Newton assistant to Mr. Salt chemist: Claimed that Palmer had bought 3 grains of strychnine from him at 9 p.m. on Monday 19th November. He also said that he had gone to Palmer’s house on 25th November and, over a drink of brandy and water, Palmer had asked him how much strychnine it would take to kill a dog and had answered a grain. He added that Palmer had asked what the appearance of the stomach would be like after death and had replied that there would be no inflammation. He also stated that Palmer, on the morning of the post-mortem, had said that the post-mortem would be a ‘dirty job’ and given him two wineglasses of neat brandy. He said that he had not told the Coroner at Cook’s inquest that he had sold strychnine to Palmer on 19th November. He claimed he had not said anything to his employer Mr. Salt because Salt and Palmer were not friends. The first time he said anything about the purchase was to Mr. Boycott clerk to Mr. Gardner, the solicitor of Cook’s stepfather, on Rugeley Station as they were waiting to catch the train down to London. He had not entered the sale of strychnine in the book at Mr. Salt’s surgery.

Charles Joseph Roberts apprentice to Mr. Hawkins, druggist of Rugeley: He gave evidence that on Tuesday 20th November he had sold two drachms of prussic acid to Palmer and six grains of strychnine along with some solution of opium. Palmer had not bought drugs in his shop in for about two years. He admitted that he had not made entries of any of these things in the books and was not in the habit of making entries in the books.

Was either of these witnesses reliable? Why did Newton not mention the strychnine earlier? Palmer wrote to his solicitor categorically denying that he was even in Rugeley at the time Newton claimed as his train did not get in to Stafford until 8.45 p.m.

The Attorney- General stated that Dr. Bamford was seriously ill and unable to attend so his deposition was read out.

Prosecution witness – Cook’s Stepfather

Mr. Stevens, he had married Cook’s father’s widow some fifteen years ago. He said he was on affectionate terms with Cook but had tried to persuade him to give up ‘the turf’. He had last seen Cook on the 5th November when he appeared well although the previous winter he had had some illness. He had seen the body of Cook and was struck by the tightness of the face muscles. He had talked to Palmer about Cook’s financial affairs and on learning of debts had said that Cook would need to be buried whether he was in debt or not. Palmer had offered to bury him but Steven’s said he would do so but could not do so as he was going to bury him in London. He asked Palmer to recommend an undertaker to which Palmer replied that he had ordered a coffin already. Stevens was surprised as he had not given his authority to do so. He mentioned the missing betting book. He also told Palmer that he was going to insist upon a post-mortem.

Also called Mary Keeley, who had ‘laid out’ Cook’s body, who found the corpse to be the most rigid she had ever encountered.

Prosecution witnesses evidence of misconduct at the post-mortem

John Thomas Harland surgeon, Mr. Charles Devonshire undergraduate of the University of London; Dr. Monkton physician; Mr. John Boycott solicitors clerk and James Myatt postboy at the Talbot Arms were all questioned about the post-mortem and the way in which it was conducted. See Inquest on Cook web page.

Prosecution evidence – Coroner’s mail tampered with and Palmer’s attempts to bribe the Coroner

Samuel Cheshire, former postmaster of Rugeley: Direct from Newgate Prison where he was in prison for tampering with mail addressed to the Coroner. See Inquest on Cook web page.

Captain Hatton, Chief of the Staffordshire Constabulary
Captain Hatton, Chief of the Staffordshire Constabulary

Captain Hatton, Chief Constable of Stafford: Produced letter from Palmer to the Coroner that proved Cheshire had intercepted the letter to the Coroner.

Ellis Crisp Inspector of Police in Rugeley: he searched Palmer’s house and found, amongst other things, a medical book about poisons in which Palmer had written on a page about strychnine ‘Strychnia kills by causing tetanic fixing of the respiratory muscles’.

Elizabeth Hawkes, keeper of a boarding house: Gave evidence that Palmer had a hamper made up to send to the Coroner.

George Herring man of independent means: questioned about financial matters.

Frederick Slack, porter at Mrs. Hawkes’ boarding house: Said Palmer had given instruction to address the hamper to W. W. Ward the Coroner.

George Bates ex farmer then out of business: The Attorney-General tried to ask about Palmer insuring the life of Bates, see Narrow Escape web page, but the Defence objected and the Judges ruled in their favour. Bates was then questioned about a letter, which contained a £5 note for the Coroner and obtaining a basket of game as a gift for the Coroner. Bates became somewhat surly when asked about Palmer’s horses and couldn’t, “tell their value,” or “say whether the mares were in foal”. Also he “never saw any dogs ‘run’ them,” and was “not aware that Goldfinger’s dam slipped her foal,” and although he had seen a gun at the paddock couldn’t “say if it belonged to Palmer”. The implication was that the Defence wished to prove that Palmer purchased the strychnine to rid them of the dogs that were worrying the horses and which had caused their broodmares to lose their foals.

Prosecution evidence – Concerning Palmer’s financial difficulties

Daniel Scully Bergen, chief superintendent of police at Stafford: Searched Palmer’s house for any papers relating to the case.

Henry Augustus Deane , an attorney: A solicitor to the Prince of Wales Insurance Office and responsible for employing Inspector Field to investigate the proposed insurance of George Bates.

John Espin , a solicitor: Worked for the money-lender Mr. Padwick and gave evidence of forged cheques bearing Palmer’s handwriting.
Thomas Pratt, a solicitor: See Palmer’s debts. He gave evidence of Palmer’s dire financial affairs.

Also called were John Armshaw, Rugeley attorney, John Wallbank, Rugeley butcher, John Spillbury, a farmer near Stafford, Mr. Strawbridge, Rugeley bank manager and Herbert Wright, Birmingham solicitor.

Up to this point all the evidence was circumstantial and the Prosecution moved on to the medical experts. See Medical evidence.

Non-medical evidence for the Defence

Henry Matthews, Inspector of Police Euston Square railway Station: Last train from Euston was due in Stafford at 8.42 p.m. but was three minutes late. Rugeley is nine miles from Stafford by rail longer by road. The implication is that Palmer could not have been in Rugeley at the time that Myatt claims he sold him strychnine.

Joseph Foster, farmer: Gave evidence that Cook had suffered bilious attacks for several years before his death.

George Myatt, saddler from Rugeley: He stated that Cook had been “the worse for liquor” at the Raven in Shrewsbury but Myatt had not seen anything put into Cook’s drink.

John Sergeant, attendor of race meetings: Gave evidence that shortly before the Shrewsbury races Cook’s throat was full of ulcers and very much inflamed and his tongue swollen. He said that Cook had told him that his throat had been in that state for weeks and months and now he didn’t notice it.

Jere Smith, attorney from Rugeley: Jere Smith family friend as well as solicitor to the Palmer’s and he performed very badly under the cross-questioning from the Attorney-General. He evaded questions about whether he had acted for Palmer in matters concerning insurances. He was to provide an alibi for Palmer for the time when Myatt claimed to have sold him strychnine. Smith’s performance in the witness box was so poor at the hands of the Attorney-General that he did little to help Palmer’s cause. He was accused of being the lover of Palmer’s widowed mother and his testimony discredited.