Deadly rice pudding

Whilst I was researching my Tarver ancestors from Gloucestershire, I discovered Harriet Tarver who, at 21 years of age, murdered her husband, and was the youngest woman to be hanged in Gloucestershire during the 19th century.

I was interested in finding out if she was related to my Tarver family. I found her marriage and her baptism on the International Genealogical Index on Family Search, and to my amazement discovered that she was linked via my Martin line in Gloucestershire.

She was born, Harriet Tracey, in 1815 in Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, the daughter of William and Sarah Tracey, and married Thomas Tarver there on 29th January 1834.

I found reports of the inquest and trial in The Times:~

The Times 
31st December 1835

An inquest has recently been taken at Chipping Campden, in this county, before Mr J Cooke, coroner, which has terminated in the committal of a party upon the charge of murder. We abstain from entering into a minute detail of the case, but the circumstances may be briefly stated as follows:-

On the 11th inst. A man named Thomas Tarver, an inhabitant of Chipping Campden, died after a very brief illness, and rumours of foul play having been circulated, an inquest was summoned, and the jury met on the 15th inst., when nothing of a decided nature was brought forward, but in order to obtain a more satisfactory analysis of the contents of the deceased’s stomach, who was supposed to have died of poison, the inquest was adjoined, at the special request of the jury, “till the 21st inst”. On the latter occasion, satisfactory professional evidence was adduced of the presence of arsenic in the stomach of the deceased, and it was proved on the testimony of several witnesses that Harriet Tarver, wife of the deceased, had recently purchased two separate parcels of that deadly poison, although no adequate reason could be assigned for her entertaining the diabolical purpose of destroying her husband, yet, as some suspicious circumstances were adduced, the jury, after a long deliberation returned a verdict of ‘wilful murder’ against his wife, who has there upon been fully committed for trial. ~ Gloucester Herald.

The Times 
12th April 1936

Spring assizes
Oxford Circuit
Gloucester, Friday April 8 1936

Harriet Tarver, a woman of very unprepossessing appearance was charged with the wilful murder of her husband, Thomas Tarver, by poisoning him with arsenic on the 11th of last December.

Mr Alexander and Mr Cripps conducted the prosecution, Mr Watson the defence.

On Friday 11th December, the deceased went to his place of work between 4 and 5 in the morning, at the Noel Arms in Campden.

By 10 minutes afterwards he became sick and continued to get worse till 2 o’clock the same day, when he died. He complained of a great heat in the stomach and vomited much. About a week before the prisoner bought some arsenic at a shop in Campden, and when two witnesses, who proved the fact were examined before the coroner, she denied she had done so. She said on several occasions after his death that she hoped to God nothing would be found in her husband when he was opened. She had bought some rice pudding on the Wednesday before, and she stated that she gave him some before he went out on the morning of his death. A man of the name of Holland had given the deceased two pills made of scorched wood-laurel, nitre and flour, on the Wednesday before, but he was quite well on the Thursday.

The report then went into great detail of how Thomas Tarver’s stomach and its contents were tested for the presence of arsenic. Mr Justice Williams summed up the case with the greatest accuracy, and after deliberating for an hour the jury returned a verdict of Guilty. The learned judge immediately passed the awful sentence upon her in a most impressive manner, and ordered her to be executed on Saturday. We understand that on her arrival at the gaol she confessed that she administered arsenic to her husband in rice pudding.

Harriet Tarver was hanged for the murder of her husband at Gloucester Gaol on 9th April 1836.

I found more references to Harriet on the internet, through a Google search.

On the web site ‘A Printer in the Town’ – Sarah Dazley and the Merry family of Bedford

According to the printed ballad, Harriet Tarver, executed at Gloucester in 1836 for poisoning her husband, hoped that her ‘orphan child’ would take warning and shun ‘vice and bad company’

You married women wheree-er [sic] you be
I pray take a warning by me
Pray love your husband and children to [sic]
And God will his blessing bestow

Written on the Body of Harriet Tarver
Who was Executed April 9th 1836, at Gloucester, for Poisoning
her Husband in the town of Camden

Camden being Chipping Camden

Dead Rellies

© Dead Rellies 2008


Gale/Times Digital Archive

‘A Printer in the Town’ – Sarah Dazley and the Merry family of Bedford

Dr Thomson’s report:

Mr Hiron, a surgeon, opened the body and took out the stomach, which he found to contain half a pint of dark-coloured fluid, which he put in three phials, and took together with the stomach to Dr Thomson of Stratford upon Avon.

Dr Thomson said

“I am accustomed to making experiments to ascertain the presence of poison. Mr Hiron brought me three phials and a galley-pot containing the stomach. The phials contained fluid. The outer surface of the stomach was a reddish pink colour. It was of a redder colour than it generally is; the inner surface was very red indeed, very much redder than in its ordinary state. There was a patch of a deep mulberry colour, three inches in diameter at the lower or pyloric extremity of the stomach. The internal surface was covered with a bloody gray mucus. I never saw a stomach at all like it from natural causes, I scraped off the mucus in several parts; that did not alter the colour of the membrane, which was not dependant of the mucus. The lining of the stomach was thicker, but not softer than usual. The minute vessels in several parts were highly injected with blood and turgid. I have seen appearances of that kind in two other cases, where the death arose from arsenic. The colour of the fluid in two of the bottles was a b loody red and opaque, and there was a deposit of gray mucus at the bottom of them. The other was of a bloody red colour, but transparent, having been filtered. I began my experiments with the filtered. I applied ammoniaco sulphate of copper and ammoniaco nitrate of silver; those are improvements on the nitrate of silver and sulphate of copper. The precipitate produced by the nitrate of silver was of a sulphur yellow colour and a good deal masked by the deep colour of the fluid. The precipitate obtained by the sulphate of copper was of a greenish colour and also masked. Those are characteristics of arsenic being in the fluid. Those tests are trial tests. I tried the same tests with a small portion of the mucus scraped off the stomach and the results were very similar. I examined the stomach very carefully. I clipped it up into small pieces and put them into a glass flask and boiled them for nearly three quarters of an hour. I then filtered it through gauze and afterwards through paper, so to separate all the solid and fat portions from the fluid. The colour of the fluid was a light sherry wine colour, I applied the same tests to it, Ammoniaco nitrate of silver threw down a yellowish precipitate, which became brownish on exposure from some time to the air. That was characteristic of arsenic. That precipitate is called arsenite of silver. Ammoniaco sulphate of copper produced a precipitate between grass and apple green colour. That also denotes the presence of arsenic. That is called arsenite of copper. I then applied acetic acid, with a view of throwing down any animal matter which remained. I then passed a stream of sulphretted hydrogen through about two ounces of it. That produced a sulphur yellow colour precipitate in great abundance, indicating the presence of a very great portion of arsenic, that is sulphuret of arsenic, and is called orpiment. I separated the sulphuret from the fluid by filtering it, and then I dried it, with a view to bring it to its metallic state, by sublimating it. I mixed a portion of it with black flux, and put it into a small glass tube and applied a spirit lamp to it, and there was formed a metallic crust of arsenic on the inside. There is no other known metal which can be produced in the same manner. The metallic crust was then oxidated by chasing it up and down the tube with the spirit lamp flame. I cut off the portion of the tube containing the oxide, broke it into pieces, put into a larger tube and boiled it in distilled water for about 10 minutes, till the whole oxide was dissolved; so that I had brought it to a fluid state. I filtered it from the glass and applied the three tests as before. The precipitates obtained were the characteristic precipitates indicating the presence of arsenic. I continued my experiments on a larger scale, with the same results’.

Dr Thomson then produced a small glass tube containing both the oxide and metallic crust, another tube containing oxide, and a third containing a very distinct speciman of metallic crust.

“From the stomach and fluid I obtained 49.5 grains of sulphate of arsenic which is equal to about 27 or 28 grains of arsenic. The stomach was afterwards completely dissolved by boiling it in nitric acid, and a considerable portion of arsenic was discovered in it. If a person had vomited much he would have thrown up a large portion of what he had taken. I have not the slightest doubt that he died from arsenic. There is an instance of 30 grains having produced death. No other tests are to be depended upon besides those I used. When they concur they are considered unerring tests. They proceed upon the fixed qualities of certain bodies and fluids, Some tests formerly relied upon are now exploded. The smell of garlic is one, which is now not depended upon. I have never seen a case where scorched wood-laurel leaves have been taken. It is but little noticed in medical works. It is said to be an acrid poison. I think they would operate in the course of 10 or 12 hours at the furthest . I think, as the deceased was well the day after he took them, they had no injurious effect upon him”.