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Archiver > ESSEX-UK > 2002-07 > 1027986272

From: "jacqueline.cooper" <>
Subject: Re: arsenic Sally
Date: Tue, 30 Jul 2002 00:45:59 +0100
References: <004601c23691$e7a05f00$85f10250@ColleenMorrison>

Colleen - I though it was a general truth that breeding with close relatives
is not
always good for the mental health of progeny? At any rate, it is often said
that one of
the best things that ever happened was for girls to leave the village to be
servants elsewhere, or for people to be forced to emigrate, because that way
the gene pool became more diverse. That was what I meant.

Obviously the gist of what you write is very true, but you may yourself
be guilty of looking at things from a distorted perspective? I.e. How do we
know that our ancestors were good, decent people? I hope so, but without
letters or diaries as most of us are, we have very little direct testimony
to prove this. I think historical truth is far more complicated, which is
what makes it so fascinating.

As regards the links between crime and social deprivation, this is well
proven but there must be degrees to which it does or does not apply.
therefore instead of just labelling Clavering 'the murder capital of
Victorian Essex', each of the three murder cases must be looked at in
detail. Your comments about social deprivation would certainly
apply to the Starlings green (Clavering) murder case of the 1860s, when a
poor deranged woman drowned her child and chopped up her husband - she had
been in the workhouse and must have been at wits end.

Possibly a plea of mitigating circumstances might apply to the Chesham
murders of the 1860s - that's what I'm trying to find out by asking the list
for further information, but instead it seems inviting angry ripostes!
specifically: what was the nature of Sarah Chesham's relationship
with the farmer Thomas Newport whom she implicated in her crimes? If he was
seducing servant girls all over the place, that puts a different perspective
on it, even if he did not, as she claimed, incite her to murder one of the
children. It may indeed explain why she got away with it the first time -
perhaps the village closed ranks against authority and no one would testify
against her? If so, they certainly did so when she murdered her husband a
few years later by the same method, so what was going on really? It is
indeed wrong to look at things from our perspective today, but we have
to try somehow to think back in time, and I don't think delivering a homily
on the rural poor necessarily
answers the deeper questions.

And does any amount of social deprivation justify putting children to death,
let alone the dreadful sufferings caused by arsenic poisoning?

Such a view, ie citing the justification of murder caused by poor social
conditions, would not apply to the third case, the Moat farm murder of 1899
as that was pure greed motivation by a philanderer Dougal who lived off rich
women and was prepared to kill if necessary.

What is rather disturbing is the rather jolly way we talk about these
things,i.e. that Dougal was a bit of a lad, and Sarah Chesham earned the
nickname 'Arsenic Sally' which seems to trivialise dreadful crimes. As you
say, it is amazing there was not more of it, given the conditions of the

If you get around to reading my earlier book on Saffron Walden, you would
see your
viewpoint reflected and explored in more detail, as I hope to
do in the Clavering book, by developing a theme that moves on from the
poverty and crime to the changes brought about by education, evangelical
religion, getting the vote, etc. These villages were certainly perceived at
the time as rough old places so it is not entirely from the perspective of
today to say so.

Thanks for your interesting -if rather angry! - response.
Jacqueline Cooper

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