Mary Ann Burdock – The
Mary was born in Ross
on Wye in 1805 and moved to
She now found a
boyfriend, a tailor by the name of Agar, whom she soon married and equally soon
left for another man. She then spent
some time in a relationship with a wine merchant before leaving him for Charles
Wade who was a ship’s steward. The
couple opened a lodging house in the St. Phillips area of the city and this
seemed to do quite well initially. Mr.
Wade died and Mary married for the second time to Mr. Burdock who was one of
the lodgers. Another of Mary's lodgers
was an elderly lady of about sixty, called Clara Ann Smith whom Mary and her maid servant, Mary
Ann Allen (also given as Alien), looked after.
Clara was quite wealthy but did not trust
early banks and kept her money in a locked box in her room. It is thought that the box contained some
three thousand pounds which had been left to Clara by her husband who had been
a successful ironmonger. This was indeed a great deal of money at the
Mary’s finances were stretched by 1833 and
she decided that the easiest way to top them up was kill Clara and help herself to the money.
As usual arsenic was the cheapest and most readily available means to
achieve this. Clara died on
Clara’s relatives were suspicious when Mary
told them that she had left very little money and in due course reported their
suspicions to the police. It was not
until the autumn of 1834, fourteen months after Clara’s burial, that the police
actually took any real interest and interviewed Mary Allen who had helped to
look after Clara. Mary Allen told the
officers that she had seen Mary Ann Burdock administer a yellow powder to
Clara. As a result an exhumation order
was obtained from the coroner and Clara’s body was removed for
examination. The autopsy took place at
the Bristol Royal Infirmary on the 22nd of December before several of its
leading surgeons. It was immediately noticed how well preserved the body
was. Clara’s internal organs were sent
Arrest and trial.
Mary was now arrested and charged with Clara’s murder, being remanded in custody to await trial at the Bristol Sessions of Gaol Delivery for the City which were held in April 1835.
Mary came to trial at the Guildhall before Sir Charles Wetherell on Friday the 10th of that month, the proceedings lasting three days and concluding on the following Monday. The prosecution was mounted by three crown lawyers, Mr. Smith, Mr. Rogers and Mr. Cooke, the defence being handled by a Mr. Payne, assisted by Mr. Stone.
The evidence of Mary Ann Allen and William Herapath were crucial in obtaining a conviction.
Wednesday morning, the 15th of
April 1835 a crowd
estimated at 50,000 had lined the banks of the New Cut to witness the execution and there was the usual carnival
atmosphere. Mary’s was to be the first
female execution on top of the gate house of the New Gaol in
She chose to wear a long black dress, dark shawl, black bonnet and vale for her execution. The usual procession consisting of the governor, under sheriff, chaplain, turnkeys, William Calcraft, the hangman and Mary herself ascended the internal stairs of the gatehouse and appeared on the roof. The crowd became silent as Mary was prepared and the hood and noose applied. Mary held a handkerchief in her hand which she was to drop when she was ready for Calcraft to release the trap door. When she had finished her prayers she dropped the handkerchief and the trap fell at 1.40 pm. She reportedly died almost without a struggle, her suspended body could now be seen by the crowd. She made no confession whatsoever to the chaplain, the Rev. Mr. Jennings, before she died.
Due to the passing of the Anatomy Act a year earlier Mary’s body did not have to undergo the indignity of public dissection but was to be buried within the precincts of the New Gaol.
She was the first woman
to be hanged on the gatehouse roof of the Gaol, part of which still
exists. Mary’s was the first female
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