1868: Priscilla Biggadike, exonerated Stickney murderess

On this date in 1868, Priscilla Biggadike withstood one last gallows-foot plea from her minister to admit to poisoning her husband.

‘I implore you not to pass away without confessing all your sins; not only generally, but especially this particular case, for which you are about to suffer. I had hoped that you would have made that confession, and thus have enabled me, as a minister of Christ, to have pronounced the forgiveness of your sins … It has grieved me much to find that [you] still persist in the declaration, that you are not accountable for your husband’s death; that you still say that you did not administer the poison yourself; that you did not see any other person administer it, and that you are entirely free from the crime. Do you say so, now?

The Prisoner, still in a firm voice, said, yes.

The Chaplain. — There is only one [hope] left, that you have endeavoured to confess your sins to God, though you will not to your fellow creatures. All I can now say is that I leave you in the hands of God; and may he have mercy on your soul. What a satisfaction it would be to your children, to your friends, to your relations, to know that you had passed from death into life, in the full persuasion that your sins were forgiven you … I am sorry I cannot exercise that authority [to pronounce sins forgiven] at the present moment.

Then, at the stroke of 9 a.m., she was hanged by ten-thumbed executioner Thomas Askern. True to form, Askern made a mess of it, and Biggadike painfully strangled to death with the rope’s knot infelicitously positioned under her chin* … although, since this execution was behind the walls of Lincoln Castle (in fact, it was the first female hanging after an 1868 Act of Parliament had made all hangings private), at least it didn’t incense a vast concourse of onlookers.

Posterity, though, has taken plenty of umbrage at Priscilla Biggadike’s fate.

She and her late husband Richard kept two lodgers in a two-room house in the village of Stickney.

Richard already suspected an affair between Priscilla and one of those lodgers, Thomas Procter (or Proctor), when he returned home from work on September 30, 1868, enjoyed tea and cakethat his wife had made for him, and then fell violently, fatally ill. The post-mortem examination showed Richard Biggadike had been poisoned with arsenic.

Priscilla Biggadike and Thomas Procter were both arrested on suspicion of murder but charges against Procter were soon dropped.

Priscilla was known to have quarreled with her husband over that whole infidelity thing, and she had alluded at least once to having arsenic around for killing mice. She was accordingly found guilty of poisoning him, though “only,” in the words of the jurors when the judge pressed the question, “upon the ground of circumstantial evidence.”

Indictment, trial, conviction, and execution for the “Stickney Murderess” wrapped up in two months’ time. But the discharged co-accused, Thomas Procter, years later made a deathbed confession that it was really he who poisoned Richard Biggadike.

(During the investigation, Priscilla had even attempted to blame Thomas Procter, reporting that on one occasion prior to the murder he’d even made what looked like an attempt to poison Richard by mixing white powder into his tea, after which Richard became sick. Police didn’t regard the accused as a particularly credible source for obvious reasons, but it’s hard to believe anyone would have failed to follow up on that sort of lead.)

On account of that whole wrongful-hanging mix-up, Priscilla Biggadike received a posthumous pardon. She’s even had a short musical made about her conviction, which was recently performed in Lincoln Castle. If you visit, you can still see the cell where she passed her final days.

* The bad botch of this job led Lincolnshire officials to audition for their next execution a local cobbler and amateur noose enthusiast destined to revolutionize the British hanging with his scientific approach: William Marwood.

On this day..

8 thoughts on “1868: Priscilla Biggadike, exonerated Stickney murderess

  1. Hi Lizzie, yes you are right Mary Ann married “my” John Issac Black and had a family together ?
    Would love to share information with you , I can tell you all about the Black line as I’m a direct descendant on my fathers fathers side!

  2. Hi my 2x great grandma was Mary Ann biggadike. My 4x great grandfather was Thomas Biggadike brother to Richard. Julie Black we may be related too as Mary Ann married a John Issac Black.

  3. Kathleen Jukes. My family are also related to Richard. We are trying to work out where in our ancestry Richard is. If you have any info we would love to hear from you.

    • Hello. I too am researching the Biggadyke family.
      Not sure of dynamics but I think my 2x grandfathers brother John Isaac Black married and had a family with Richard Biggadykes niece Mary Ann Biggadyke????
      I’m not sure I may have it all wrong!! ?
      If anyone has any info to share I would like to hear from you ?


      • I have only just seen this site. Richard Biggadike was my great uncle. I have been researching my family history for several years and have found no evidence that Priscilla was exonerated or pardoned. I have various documents about Priscilla’s trial including the Lincoln Governors Journal and the post- mortem carried out after the hanging. There is no doubt there was a miscarriage of justice most of the damning evidence was hearsay.

  4. Christine R, I would so love to hear from you! I too am related on my paternal grandmother’s side of the family to Richard Biggadike.

  5. You’d think that even if she wasn’t guilty of premeditated murder she would have been convicted of depraved indifference or accessory to murder (nowadays anyway) if she knew her alleged lover had attempted murder before and hadn’t done anything to stop it from happening. Sad though.

  6. Pingback: My cousin – The Stickney Murderess, Lincolnshire | Christine R

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