Wavertree Tragedy 1890

Wavertree Tragedy 1890

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Liverpool Daily Courier – Tuesday 8 July 1890

Wavertree Tragedy

Inquest and Verdict

Yesterday at Toxteth Workhouse, Mr S. Brighouse, county coroner, resumed the adjourned inquest on the bodies of William Robert Charlton, 4 years, Dorothy Bennett Charlton, two years, and Barbara Bennett Charlton, twelve months, who were found murdered at 16 Garmoyle road, Smithdown Road, on the evening of the 8th May last. The deceased it will be remembered were the children of Charles Arthur Charlton, a Custom-house clerk, and Leah Charlton, his wife, and it was on the husband’s return home on the night named that the murder of the children was discovered. Mrs Charlton, according to her own confession, had cut the children’s throats with a razor, and had then attempted to take away her own life in a similar manner. She has since been under treatment at the Toxteth Workhouse, and the wound has now healed. She was not present at the inquest, although she was in an adjoining room. Superintendent Bryning conducted the inquiry for the police; Mr. J. O. Swift represented Mrs. Charlton; and Mr. Jackson (Bartlett and Berry) appeared on behalf of the relatives of the Charlton family. The jury, of which Mr. S. Fox was foreman, consisted of 14 gentleman.

The first witness called was John Edwards, a retired builder, residing at 60 Lawrence road, Wavertree, who stated that about half-past seven on the night of the 8th May he and his wife were in Garmoyle road. They saw Mr. Charlton go up to the door of his house. A moment or two afterwards the door was opened by a woman, who he was told was Mrs. Charlton, and Mr. Charlton entered the house.

Mary Edwards, wife of the previous witness, added that she heard Mrs. Charlton speak and Mr. Charlton replied sharply. In answer to Mr. Swift, witness said she could not tell what Mrs. Charlton said. She considered Mr. Charlton spoke in an angry tone of voice. One word he used was “What.”. Mr. Swift – A sort of exclamation ?. Witness – Yes.

Jane Roberts, a married woman, 6 Garmoyle road, deposed that at Mr. Charlton’s request she went to his house on the evening in question. She noticed Mrs. Stubbs go into the house, and witness then looked in, the door being open. Mrs. Charlton was lying on the lobby floor and there was a quantity of blood around her. Witness did not at the time go into the house. She did not know Mrs. Charlton intimately. When Mr. Charlton came to witness he said, “Mrs. Roberts, I want you to come along with me. I believe she has cut her throat.”

Replying to Mr. Swift, witness said that on a previous occasion her husband had been sent for to go into Charlton’s house to assure Mrs. Charlton, who was very peculiar in her manner, that some stones which were in front of the house were not there to be thrown at her. Mrs. Charlton had also stated that she was afraid of the workmen who passed her. A few days before the occurrence a boy was drowned in a pit in the neighbourhood, and this seemed to excite Mrs. Charlton. Whenever she had seen Mrs. Charlton with her children she appeared to be very fond of them.

Richard Bolton, bookkeeper, Gresford avenue, Toxteth Park, said he was in Garmoyle road, on the night of the 8th May, and was called by Mrs. Roberts, who asked him to go into Charlton’s house. In the lobby he found Mrs. Charlton in a reclining position. There was a pool of blood on her left, and subsequently he noticed that her throat was cut. Dr. Michael and Dr. Jackson were called in to attend her. Afterwards on proceeding upstairs they discovered in the back bedroom, in separate cots, the bodies of the two eldest children. They were quite dead. Their throats had been cut.

Kate Stubbs, wife of Peter Stubbs, living at 12 Garmoyle road, said she was acquainted with Mrs. Charlton, and was called to her house about half-past seven on the night of 8th May. She saw Mrs. Charlton lying in the lobby with her throat cut.

Questioned by a juror, witness said she had not heard previously any rumour that Mrs. Charlton was not in a proper state of mind.

Peter Stubbs deposed to seeing Mrs. Charlton with her throat cut, and the two eldest children dead.

Dr. Hy. S. Michell, residing in Smithdown road, stated that on the 8th May last his services were called into requisition at 16 Garmoyle road. He saw Mrs. Charlton lying on the lobby floor with her throat cut, her windpipe being almost severed. Dr. Jackson arrived and they both attended to the woman. They did not think it possible that her life could be saved, her wounds, were so serious. After they had done all they could for her, witness, in company with a constable, went into the back bedroom, and there saw the bodies of the two eldest children lying in separate cots. Their throats were cut, and he considered that they had been dead for two or three hours. The bedclothes were saturated with blood. He left the house, but about half an hour later he was again called, and he was then shown the body of the youngest child in a cot in the front bedroom, its throat having also been cut. He made a post-mortem examination of the bodies, and found that the children had been healthy and well-nourished. The wounds were very deep, and death must have been almost instantaneous.

By a Juryman – Mrs. Charlton could speak when he saw her, but she could not have been allowed to hold a conversation as it might have resulted in her death. He did not question her about the affair as he was too busily occupied in endeavouring to save her life.

Police constable Oliver Young deposed that he was stationed at Aigburth, and he was on duty in Garmoyle road. When he was called into the house he saw Mrs. Charlton with her throat cut, and he also viewed the bodies of the children. He had since had the custody of Mrs. Charlton, and on the 4th instant he charged her with having murdered her three children on the evening of Thursday, May 8th, by cutting their throats with a razor. Witness cautioned her before making the charge, but she did not make any reply.

Police sergeant Hodgson deposed that when he arrived at Charlton’s house on the evening named Mrs. Charlton was conscious. When in the kitchen he was told by Police constable Young that she had murdered her two children. Witness then wrote on a slip of paper “Did you kill your two children ? I am a police sergeant. What made you do it ?” He handed this paper to Mrs. Charlton, who took his pencil, crossed out the word “two” and put over it the figure “3”. She also wrote, “Afraid of the mob; they are all against us; we are strangers. Keys of cashbox, money in the bed where my boy lies.” On going upstairs he saw the bodies of the three children. The cashbox was also found as directed. Witness produced the razor, which was smeared with blood, and which he found in Mrs. Charlton’s coat pocket.

Cross-examined by Mr. Swift – Mr. Charlton had told him that he took the razor from his wife. That was about twelve o’clock on the night of the murder. At the time Mr. Charlton did not remember taking it from his wife.

The Coroner – Was he unconscious ?

Witness – No, sir; he was drunk and very excited.

By Mr. Swift – Before Mrs. Charlton was charged with the murder of her three children, I asked her how she was and if she knew what she had done and why she were here. She replied that she did know why she was there, and that she recollected what had happened since the affair, but did not remember having murdered the children. He then told her she would be formally charged with murder. Mr. Charlton was detained in the front room of his house, simply because he was in drink; it was not because they had any suspicion of him. He did not think that Mr. Charlton was suffering more from the effects of excitement than drink.

Sergeant M’Keand stated that he saw Sergeant Hodgson find the razor produced in Mr. Charlton’s coat pocket. He heard Mr. Charlton relate the circumstances under which he obtained permission of the instrument. Mrs. Charlton spoke after her throat was cut, and asked for a drink of water. She then made signs that she desired to write something, and he produced writing materials. She wrote as follows: -

“Came from Southsea in November. Girl from Wavertree came to work for me in January. Mr. Roberts, dairy people, spoke to sergeant of police about the girl. He said, Don’t have her in the house. Did not. Was seen talking to him. The Wavertree mob hate us; think I am a spy. People near to file or drill metal all day. I suspect they had something to do with robberies about here. They heard me draw Mr. Charlton’s attention to the noise last week. Mob had stones at timber-yard to stone them last Saturday. Gentleman over there stop it to-night. I think from remarks made to me they would have drowned us in the clay-pit where the child was found today. I was so frightened and mad with terror. Signed, Leah Charlton.”

She also wrote:

“I cut myself in the front room and came down to let Mr. C. in. Pointed to my throat. He ran out and asked that woman who was here to come in. She comes from W., and she said: “Certainly not. You get someone else to come into your house.” Mr. C. said, “Oh ! surely you will come to a dying woman.” The little girl Dorothy first, boy Bob second, Barbara baby last, then myself. Quite strangers, do not know anyone; nobody in the house at the time. Baby, 12 in July next; Bob, 4 last March; Dorothy, 2 last January. It fell out of my hand in the passage.”

By a Juryman. - When witness saw Mr. Charlton at first he found he was suffering from the effects of drink.

By the Coroner. – From the 9th of May, when Mrs. Charlton was removed from her home to the workhouse she had been under the care of the resident surgeon.

Dr. Wilson, of the Toxteth Workhouse, deposed to having received Mrs. Charlton into the workhouse on the 9th May. He said she was in a critical condition for several weeks. The wound was healed up now. On one occasion she told witness she remembered nothing of what had happened.

Superintendent Bryning. – Have you formed any opinion as to the condition of her mind ?

The Coroner. – That will not form one of the points of our inquiry.

Mr. Swift – But have you formed an opinion ?

Witness. – I have.

Mr. Swift – What is it ?

Witness. – I don’t believe she is of sound mind. She has been suffering from melancholia.

Mr. Swift. – Do you think she realises what she has done ?

Witness. – She does not appear to realise it.

Mr. Swift. – The finding of a dead body near her house might send her into a low state ?

Witness. – Yes, very likely.

Marie Ha?ar, nurse at the workhouse, said she had had charge of Mrs. Charlton in the daytime. On one occasion she said, “I know I have done wrong; I have killed my three babies” At times Mrs. Charlton was very low, especially during the last fortnight.

Supt. Bryning having intimated that he had no more witnesses.

Mr. Swift said he understood the coroner’s ruling to be that the jury had nothing to do with the state of mind in which Mrs. Charlton was at the time the deed was committed.

The Coroner. – That is so.

Mr. Swift said that any evidence he was prepared to offer was simply upon that point. The husband was present, but there might be an objection to his giving evidence, and what evidence he would give would be practically upon that point. He (Mr. Swift) also understood the police had some evidence as to Mrs. Charlton’s state of reason, but he supposed it would not be offered here, seeing that it was not admissible.

Superintendent Bryning. – That is so.

The Coroner in summing up, pointed out that the jury had had before them certain statements made by Mrs. Charlton as to the deaths of her children, and also other evidence upon the point. They had now to say whether the children had come by their deaths by the hands of their mother. If they found that Mrs. Charlton had unlawfully killed the children, they would have to return a verdict of murder against her. The state of her mind would not come within the scope of the inquiry. It would form the subject of inquiry before another tribunal.

The Jury and Their Verdict

After an absence of twenty minutes the jury returned a verdict that the three children came by their death at the hand of their mother, but they believed her to be in a state of unsound mind at the time.

The Coroner said the jury could not say anything as to the state of her mind in the verdict.

The Foreman said they passed that opinion in the hope it might be favourable to the woman.

The Coroner. – Do you find that the mother killed them ?

A Juryman. – Not with intent.

The Foreman. – The jury do not want to convey wilful murder.

A Juryman. – We say it was done under the influence of melancholia.

The Coroner. – You must not presume she was insane at the time.

A Juryman said it was very useless bringing a jury if they could not express their opinions upon circumstances of this kind. Although they knew their opinion would have no weight in a court of law, yet they believed, according to the evidence brought before them, that the woman was really not of sound mind when she killed the children.

The Coroner said that strictly speaking he ought not to have allowed any evidence as to the state of Mrs. Charlton’s mind to have gone to the jury. He thought the jury ought to take his ruling on a point of law. Except in cases of suicide the law stated that “if the jury were of opinion that the acts done were such as, if they had been done by a person of sound mind, would have amounted to a murder or manslaughter, it was their duty to find a verdict of murder or manslaughter.” The question was – If these acts that Mrs. Charlton had done had been done by a person of sound mind, what would the verdict of the jury have been ?

The Foreman. – Wilful murder precisely.

The Coroner. – I am strongly of opinion – I have no doubt in my mind – that if you think that these acts had been done by a person of sound mind you would have said that was wilful murder – you ought to say wilful murder in this case.

A Juryman said he thought that a jury in giving a verdict ought to have the power to put in a word in reference to the state of mind of the person concerned. He could not see why they should not be allowed to do so, though their opinion might be good for nothing.

The Coroner. – Are you not satisfied with the fact that the press have taken notice of your expression of opinion ?

A Juryman. – But that is no use unless we can back it up a recommendation.

The Foreman asked if the coroner would accept the written verdict the jury had returned.

The Coroner. – I cannot put in a verdict having anything to do with the state of mind of Mrs. Charlton. If you are satisfied that if these acts had been done by a person of sound mind that it would have amounted to wilful murder, then it is your duty – painful it may be – to return that verdict against this woman. You must treat her as if she were sane when she killed the children.

Mr. Swift. – It seems to me the jury are satisfied the woman was in a state of temporary insanity, and therefore, they wish to say she is not guilty of wilful murder.

The Coroner. – That is a very specious argument, but I am bound to act according to law.

Mr. Swift. – I think you are bound to accept the verdict of the jury.

The Coroner. – No, I am not. I am bound to accept the verdict of the jury if it is a legal verdict. I do accept their finding, but I rule that the state of mind of Mrs. Charlton has nothing to do with the verdict.

A Juryman. – Can we say that the children came by their death at the hands of Mrs. Charlton, but that there is no evidence to show in what state of mind she was in at the time ?

The Coroner. – No, you cannot. Cases of suicide are the only ones in which a coroner’s jury is entitled to say whether a person is sane or insane. You will not prejudice Mrs. Charlton in any shape or form. I am of the same opinion as yourselves. Having heard that, and bearing in mind that the press will no doubt report your remarks, are you satisfied in returning a verdict of wilful murder ? The evidence will have to be taken again before the magistrates, and when the case goes for trial the coroner’s depositions, and the depositions taken before the magistrates, must both be read by the judge who tries the case, so that the judge will have both sets of depositions in his mind before the case goes to the jury.

Mr. Swift. – And she will be found not guilty on the ground of insanity, just as the jury want to find her not guilty now of murder.

A Juryman. – How is it we have not seen her ? We are all dissatisfied.

The Coroner. – Because she is represented by a solicitor.

Mr. Swift. – It was thought that the shock of bringing her before the jury might have the effect of driving her absolutely insane. I think she is in an adjoining room.

A Juryman asked what was the mildest form in which the verdict could be put ?

The Coroner. – You must return a verdict against Mrs. Charlton just as if she were a sane person.

A Juryman. – I feel for her relatives and her friends. Cannot we put in “murder” instead of “wilful murder ?”

The Coroner. – If she had been sane you would have said she did it with intent, and you must say the same now.

A Juryman said he could only agree with a verdict of “wilful murder” under protest, and in accordance with the directions of the coroner.

The Coroner. – You don’t need to do so if there are 12 of you who are agreed to a verdict of “wilful murder.”

On the foreman of the jury requesting those jurymen who were agreed to a verdict of wilful murder to hold up their hands fewer than twelve hands were counted.

By the direction of the coroner, the jury again retired, and returned into court after a few minutes absence.

The Coroner. – Have 12 or more agreed upon a verdict ?

The Foreman. – All 14 are agreed in returning a verdict of wilful murder against Mrs. Charlton.

The Coroner. – That is a verdict of wilful murder in each case.

A verdict of wilful murder against Mrs. Charlton was then recorded in respect of each of the three children.

At the conclusion of the inquest the Coroner directed Mrs. Charlton to be brought into the room, and informed her of the verdict of the jury. She made no reply. She was taken back to the hospital with the assistance of a nurse. The charge of murder against her will be dealt with by the county magistrates at a special sitting, which takes place at the County Sessions house, Islington, on Thursday morning.

Liverpool Courier – 13 May 1890

The funeral of the three infant vicitms in the Garmoyle road tragedy took place at Smithdown road Cemetery yesterday. The interment gave rise to a very painful scene. In order to avoid anything in the nature of a demonstration the police early removed the bodies of the children from the house in Garmoyle road to the mortuary church in the cemetery, and succeeded in doing so without attracting attention. The interment was fixed for ten o’clock, and by that time a considerable crowd, composed mainly of respectably dressed women residing in the neighbourhood, had gathered. The father of the children, Charles A. Charlton, and his brother were the only mourners. From the chapel to the graveside the remains were bourne by three bearers, who walked in procession, each carrying a tiny coffin on his shoulder. The spectacle was indescribably melancholy, and was the cause of a great many women in the crowd bursting into tears. The Rev. Francis Smith, curate of St. Clement’s, Windsor, read the burial service. Several police constables were present, and were directed by Inspector Barendale.

The condition of Mrs. Charlton was reported last night to be practically unchanged. She is not considered to be out of danger.


The deaths were registered in Sep 1890

Barbara Bennett Charlton, age 0, Toxteth Park, vol 8b, p149.

Dorothy Bennett Charlton, age 2, Toxteth Park, vol 8b, p149.

William Robert Charlton, age 4, Toxteth Park, vol 8b, p149


Copyright 2002 / To date