Jane Scott – murder of her parents in 1827.


Jane was the wayward daughter of John and Mary Scott who were shopkeepers in Bridge Street in Preston, Lancashire.

By the age of sixteen Jane had become pregnant and her parents stood by her, despite the fact that she also stole from them to fund her life style of drinking and debauchery with her friends. Her first child had also died at an early age although at the time Jane was not implicated in the crime. She had a further pregnancy and this child also died suddenly in March 1827. Although child deaths were common place at this time there was a degree of suspicion raised over this second death, however no formal investigation was carried out into it.


On Monday the 14th of May 1827 Jane prepared some porridge for her parent’s supper as a result of which they both became violently ill.  They were attended by a local doctor, Dr. Brown, who was unable to do much for them. Mary died in the early hours of Tuesday morning, by dawn Jane’s father had also succumbed.  Dr. Brown testified at the trials that he had instructed Jane to keep the pot in which the porridge had been made for examination but when he returned for it he found that Jane had cleaned it thoroughly, removing all trace of the porridge and the arsenic it contained. Dr. Brown informed the authorities and an inquest was held that concluded that Scott’s had died from arsenic poisoning, administered by their daughter.  Jane was therefore arrested and sent to Lancaster Castle to await trial at the next Assizes.

The Preston Chronicle of the 19th of May ran the story under the headline “Parricide - man and wife poisoned by arsenic supposed to have been administered by their own daughter”.


She duly came to trial before Mr. Justice Bayley, only on the charge of murdering her father at the Lancashire Summer Assizes of 1827, which opened on 29th August.  The evidence against her was strong but the failure to attend of the doctor giving the medical evidence of poisoning led to her being acquitted because the prosecution had failed to prove that the John Scott had died from poisoning.  It was therefore decided to proceed with the second charge, that of the murder of her mother Mary and to defer this to the Lent Assizes of 1828.  Jane therefore remained in prison in the Castle for a further six months awaiting this and in that time became very weak.


The Lent Assizes were formally opened at about 5 pm on Saturday, March 8th by Baron Hullock, the Civil Judge. He was joined at Lancaster the following day by Mr Justice Bayley, who was the judge for the Criminal list and who had presided over Jane’s first trial.
The proceedings began on Monday the 11th of March, and all the criminal cases were concluded by Thursday the 20th of March.

Jane asked the judge not to allow anyone from Preston to sit on the jury.  We do not know if this request was complied with.

Various witness were called including a chemist from Preston who identified Jane as a person that he had sold arsenic to, purportedly for killing rats, on three separate occasions, the last being a few days before her parents died.  Dr. Brown who attended John and Mary on the fatal night re-iterated how he had told Jane to preserve the saucepan with the remains of the porridge and how she had defied him by cleaning it out.  George Richardson, a boyfriend of Jane, told the court that a week or so before her parent’s deaths, Jane had suggested that they got married and that he had told her that he was in no financial position to do so.  She replied that she would soon be able to provide for them both and that her parents would give them whatever they needed.

Jane’s defence attempted to use the acquittal on the charge of murdering her father as a reason for the jury to return a not guilty verdict but this line was not permitted by the judge.

It took the jury just twenty minutes to find Jane guilty. Jane, when asked if she had anything to say as to why sentence of death should not be pronounced upon her, appealed to the judge for mercy and asked that he reduce her sentence to transportation.  This, of course, in law, he was unable to do. Instead he donned the black cap and sentenced her to death, telling her that “she was to be taken to the place from where she came and from there to the place of execution on Saturday next, and there hang by the neck until dead, and afterwards the body to be taken down and dissected and anatomised”. Jane sobbed as sentence was pronounced and had to be helped down from the dock to the cells below.  At this time the provisions of the Murder Act of 1752 were still in place, mandating execution within forty eight hours followed by dissection of the prisoner’s body.


In the condemned cell Jane was attended by the chaplain and confessed to the murders of her parents and her two children and also to the many thefts from her parents.

Her execution was set for midday on Saturday the 22nd of March and attracted a huge crowd with many coming from her native Preston to watch.  It was said to be one of the largest gatherings ever at Lancaster for an execution.


In the period from 1800 to 1865 Lancaster executions were carried out at "The Hanging Corner”, a small round tower on the east side of the Castle. (Click here for photo)
On the ground floor of the tower is the "Drop Room" which contains relics of the many executions, and can be visited today.  It is quite eerie standing in this room looking at the exhibits and listening to what happened within it.  The French windows have also survived and one can look out to the bank opposite where the spectators assembled to watch.

The balcony style gallows was erected the previous afternoon and consisted of two uprights that were seated into holes cut into the flagstones of the courtyard.  A heavy cross beam ran between the uprights with a platform containing the trap doors beneath it at the level of the bottom of the French windows, the platform being draped in a black cloth to hide the legs of the prisoner. High railings surrounded the drop area and the spectators were allowed up to these, within a few feet of the gallows. Many more crowded onto the opposite bank to get a good view of the proceedings.


Jane was brought into the Drop Room from the condemned cell where her hands and arms were pinioned but as she was so weak it had been decided to wheel her onto the gallows seated in a specially modified office chair (in those days quite a high chair). She was therefore wheeled forward through the inward opening French windows straight onto platform of the gallows. On the drop she was taken out of the chair and held up by two female warders, one on either side, whilst the unidentified hangman made the final preparations and the chaplain read from the burial service.  Jane seemed barely conscious and was almost oblivious of what was going on around her.  When all was ready the trap was released and she dropped a short distance becoming unconscious quite quickly.  After her body had hung for an hour it was taken off the rope and taken in through the small lower window that can be seen in the picture.  Jane’s body was sent for dissection in accordance with her sentence. The chair is still on display within the Drop Room of the castle.


Thus ended the criminal career of a real “bad girl”.


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