1831: John Bell, age 14 1795: Jerry Avershaw, contemptuously

1834: Eliza Joyce, confessed poisoner

August 2nd, 2015 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1844, Eliza Joyce was hanged on the roof of Cobb Hall at Lincoln Castle for the murders by poison of her two daughters and her stepson.

She was the fifth and last woman to be publicly hanged at the castle during the 19th century, and she remains the last woman in England to be hanged for a crime she’s pleaded guilty to.

Eliza had married William Joyce, a gardener, in 1840. He had two children by his prior marriage, Emma and William Jr., and he and Eliza went on to have a daughter together, Ann.

However, Emma died suddenly in October 1841 and William took sick the following year. In September 1842 he was visited by a doctor, who prescribed medicine for him. Eliza went to the chemist’s … where she picked not that medication, but arsenic.

Her husband found out and took the poison back to the chemist’s, where they realized some of it was missing. By then William Jr.’s condition had worsened considerably and he was showing symptoms of arsenic poisoning. Before his death at Christmastime he gave a statement, confirming his stepmother had given him the arsenic. He was fifteen years old.

Early in 1843, Eliza’s baby daughter Ann also died. Eliza was charged with William Jr.’s murder, but the indictment was thrown out on a technicality. She was then re-charged with attempted murder, which at the time carried the same penalty: death. But at her trial she claimed William Jr.’s poisoning was accidental: she’d spilled some of the arsenic powder on the floor, she said, and picked it up with a spoon, and later without washing it she used the same spoon to give William his medication.

The jury bought the story and Eliza was freed in the summer of 1843.

However, in light of what had happened, her husband cast her out and she had to move into the workhouse.

Eventually, her conscience began to trouble her and she confessed she’d been guilty all along of William Jr.’s murder, and that she had also poisoned both Emma and Ann with laudanum.

When asked why she’d done such terrible things, she plaintively replied, “I don’t know, except I thought it was such a troublesome thing to bring a family of children into this troublesome world.”

By now fully resigned to her punishment, she offered no defense to the court and pleaded guilty to both girls’ murders. (She couldn’t be charged with her stepson’s murder a second time.) William Calcraft handled her execution, and (for once) he didn’t botch it; she died quickly and quietly.

The prisoner walked with tolerable firmness, being only occasionally supported; and once, when about midway on the platform, she paused for a second, and turned to take a parting glance at the sunny scenery by which she was surrounded, and, as if to bed a lingering farewell to the bright and glorious world which she had sacrificed: her face and features wore an aspect of ghastly agony which none can forget who gazed upon her. Having ascended to the top of the tower on which the scaffold was erected, her bonnet was removed, her arms pinioned, and the cap placed over her face. She then ascended the step of the gallows. The effect of her appearance on the immense crowd was awfully striking. In an instant, the hootings, bellowings, and imprecations, which ever distinguish such enormous assemblages, were hushed, and a profound stillness reigned throughout the living mass.

The Hull Packet and East Riding Times, Aug. 9, 1844

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Other Voices,Public Executions,Volunteers,Women

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9 thoughts on “1834: Eliza Joyce, confessed poisoner”

  1. Meaghan says:

    The answer to your question is pretty simple: my Executed Today entries are written, usually, weeks or more often months before they’re due to run, and I have some time to look over them and do a bit of tinkering around, and then after I send them to the Headsman he looks over them too and does whatever edits he desires. Whereas I write my Charley Project casefiles the same day they’re posted (or, very occasionally, the night before) on a program that doesn’t have spell check and post upwards of five at a time and don’t have the time to do much more than glance at each one to make sure nothing hideous jumps out at me before I put it on the interwebs.

    If you have specific complaints it would be far more productive to just contact me directly. I’ve got an email address, a blog, a YouTube account, a Twitter account and two Facebook pages.

  2. rblume says:

    Good writing style would mean knowing the difference between “led” and “lead” (as in “was led to….”).

    No; not ENVIOUS; just wondering how the styles differ.

  3. KYGB says:

    Meaghan Good writes profiles of missing persons for her Charley Project.

    On ET, she pens interesting stories about executed persons throughout history.

    She shows a good writing style in both endeavors and does a ton of work over and above the call of duty at both sites.

    Methinks I spy a jealous troll, perhaps?

  4. rblume says:

    Interesting. Meaghan Good’s “guest eds” here are well written, while entries on her “Charley Project” read as something an eight-year old would compose.

  5. Fiz says:

    If it is any consolation, JCF, I don’t think the Victorian prison was open then. It was run on the lines of the “separate system” and the chapel had shut in boxes for the unfortunate malefactors to lounge in – they were not permitted the luxury of a chair but a tilted board to rest against! The prison chaplain would gaze out across them all. He could see them but they could not see him. It was a most inhumane system. High Bridge cafe and the swans or their descendants are still on the Brayford. Come back to visit!

  6. JCF says:

    On my one and only trip to Britain, 35 years ago, my parents and I (I was 18) went, at my special request, to Lincoln (I’d seen pictures of the Cathedral, and fallen in love). In addition to the Cathedral, we also enjoyed a lovely tea at the High Bridge Cafe (Tudor construction, swans a-swimming below).

    Somehow we missed the Castle prison. }-/

  7. Lisa says:

    THAT HAMSTER!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Fiz says:

    We now live in Lincoln. The Castle and prison have been newly restored to coincide with the Magna Carta celebrations here as we have one of only four copies which remain. We took our friends to see the castle a couple of weeks ago. The prison has the most claustrophobic atmosphere ever and the first time we went there, I did not know that Cobb Hall had been used for capital punishment. I couldn’t bear it in there. I had to get out immediately.

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