Murder & Suicide in Great Waldingfield

Great-Waldingfield-SignWhen Joshua Bowers left for work in March 1881, he did not expect to be summoned home to be told that his second wife had taken her life and murdered two of their children.  The day began like any other with Joshua walking to the farm of J Walter Hills where he was employed as a horseman. Around midday he was called back to the village to be told the awful news.

Born in Great Waldingfield, Suffolk in 1836, Joshua was the son of Peter Bowers, an agricultural labourer. He married his first wife, Emma Bird in 1859 and they moved to Upsher Green a small hamlet of red brick houses just outside the village. Their first child Henry Bird Bowers was born in 1859 and his brother Phillip Edmund Bowers followed shortly after in 1861. In 1863 Emma gave birth to her third and last child Elizabeth Sarah Bowers. The little girl died after a week and was buried on 24th March 1863. A week later Emma also died aged just 24 years.

With two small children to take care of, Joshua did not spend long looking for another partner and by May of 1864 he had married Susannah King, another resident of Great Waldingfield.

Their union produced six children, two boys and four girls. They lived together with the sons from Joshua’s previous marriage. Susannah’s health had been poor since the birth of her daughter Laura in 1880. She was both weak in body and prone to severe bouts of depression which, if treated today, might be diagnosed as post natal depression.

On Saturday 26th March 1881, Joshua Bowers left the house at about 9 o’clock to go to work. He was joined by his sons while his four daughters stayed at home with his wife. She had been complaining of a pain in her head and was lying upstairs in bed when he left.

The previous month, Susannah voluntarily admitted herself to St Leonard’s hospital in Sudbury. She had only recently come home. Her mother, Sarah King had cared for her since her return. Sarah was at the house that morning but left to collect her parochial relief just after Joshua departed. Susannah remained upstairs with the three younger girls while the eldest Elizabeth aged 13, scrubbed the floor downstairs.

Shortly after her grandmother left, Elizabeth was interrupted by her sister, 7 year old Ruth. Susannah had asked Ruth to fetch a razor to trim her corns. Elizabeth refused to let her younger sister have the razor so her mother came downstairs to collect it herself. Unconcerned, Elizabeth carried on with her chores. Moments later she heard a piercing scream coming from the upstairs bedroom.

She rushed upstairs to see two of her sisters covered in blood with their throats cut. Her mother was standing over the baby with the open razor, ready to cut its throat. Elizabeth tried to take the razor from her mother and her hands were badly cut in the struggle. She pleaded with her mother to stop but Susannah just said “Leave me alone, Lizzie”. Then she cut the throat of Laura, the youngest child. She turned towards Elizabeth who jumped from the top to the bottom of the stairs in fright.

Elizabeth’s screams alerted the next door neighbour, Mrs Carter, who ran upstairs and into the bedroom where she saw the three children with their throats cut. Susannah Bowers was still alive and walked towards Mrs Carter with her arms outstretched. Mrs Carter ran downstairs as fast as she could and ran straight into the path of another neighbour, Thomas Day, a beer house keeper.

By the time Day arrived upstairs, Susannah Bowers had cut her own throat and was dead on the bed beside her children.

Although two of the children were lifeless, Ruth Bowers was still mobile and required urgent medical attention. Mr Joseph Horsford, a surgeon of Long Melford was called and he tended to Ruth who was eventually saved. Nothing could be done for the other children who had died quickly. Susannah had cut both the trachea and jugular veins of baby Laura so her death was virtually instantaneous. The left hand jugular vein of four year old Emily was still intact so she may have lived for two or three minutes.

An inquest was held on Monday 28th March 1881 at Thomas Day’s Beer house in Great Waldingfield. It ruled the deaths of the children as “wilful murder by the mother”. A second inquest was held immediately afterwards in front of the same jury to decide on the cause of death for Susannah Bowers. The jury returned a verdict of “Temporary insanity”.

By the time of the 1881 census on 3rd April 1881, the surviving members of the family were living apart. Joshua was still living in the same cottage at Upsher Green with his eldest son Henry and his injured daughter Ruth. The other three remaining children from his marriage to Susannah King were staying with different relatives within the village. Elizabeth, who had been so brave during both the killings and as principle witness at the inquest, was living with her Uncle James Bird and Aunt Mary (nee Bowers).

On the night of the census, Phillip Edmund Bowers, second eldest son of Joshua from his marriage to Emma Bird was living with his grandparents George and Elizabeth Bird. His aunt, recently widowed Anna Maria Gallant, was also staying with her parents George and Elizabeth. Once again Joshua Bowers selected a new partner quickly and by May 1882 Anna Maria had given birth to the first of five children that she had by Joshua. Registered in the 1891 & 1901 census as his housekeeper they applied to the local vicar to marry. Under the 1835 Marriage Act it was against the law for a man to marry his deceased wife’s sister so the vicar refused the marriage and entered his decision into the parish records where it can be read today.

Joshua and Anna Maria lived together as man and wife until her death in 1902. He died in 1914 at the age of 78. Frances Ruth Bower survived her ordeal and married John Butcher in 1893. She died in 1958 at the ripe old age of 85 despite her earlier trauma. For Elizabeth Bowers, the memory of the loss of her mother and two younger sisters never left her. In 1888 she married Albert Edmund Day at Great Waldingfield. Her eldest daughter was born shortly after. She was christened Emily Laura Susannah Day.

To find out more about about this family, follow the link below

Joshua Bowers

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English Murder Mysteries

Agatha ChristieChecking through my Goodreads books yesterday, I realised how deeply entrenched my book tastes have become.  Everything I enjoy most is set in England and involves a good old-fashioned murder, preferably not too graphic.  Not surprising really since I was bought up on a diet of Agatha Christie & P G Wodehouse.

This intransigent reading habit was one of several reasons I joined a book club.  I thought it would be good to expose myself to other genres.  In the last six months I have read A history of Lonliness, The Cellist of Sarajevo, Rebecca, The Life of a Banana, Tuesdays with Morrie and The Boy that Never was.  And a depressing bunch of books they are, let me tell you.  Rebecca is the shining star amongst them (although I enjoyed The Cellist of Sarajevo).  But if there’s one thing I have learned from the book club experience, it’s that I like what I like.  It may not be highbrow literature, it’s not Booker prize winning stuff, but the books I love have a beginning, a middle and an end – and above all else, they have a plot!

So it’s English murder mysteries all the way for me, particularly anything with a family history or genealogical twist.  My top six of all time, in no particular order, are:

Agatha Christie – Crooked House

Robert Goddard – Past Caring

Val McDermid – The Wire in the Blood

Susan Hill – The Various Haunts of Men

James Ruddick – Death at the Priory

Dan Waddell – The Blood Detective

I’m sure there are many deserving English murder mysteries that should be on the list.  There are several up and coming genealogy writers (Nathan Dylan Goodwin springs to mind) and some debut authors (Paula Hawkins – The Girl on the Train) who have captured my attention.  Who are the best all time English murder mystery writers?  Your suggestions would be appreciated.

Intellectual inferiority & other excuses…

Millicent FawcettIt is interesting to read reports of early attempts to promote the case for women’s suffrage.  In this extract from the Bury Free Press, July 1871, Millicent Garrett Fawcett argues against multiple reasons given by men (and anti-suffrage women) against emancipation. She counters all arguments rationally and eloquently, but forty years later the government of the day still refused to grant votes to women.

“Mrs Fawcett, who, on presenting herself, was loudly cheered, then proceeded with her lecture, which was a resume and refutation of the argument used by the opponents of women’s rights to the franchise in the House of Commons on the second reading of the Woman Suffrage Bill. 

These arguments she enumerated as follows:  That women were represented already, that to give them votes would be to give two votes to their nearest male relation, or to their favourite clergyman; that it would occasion domestic broils; that it would destroy family government, which was necessarily despotic; that women were intellectually inferior to, and physically weaker than men, and therefore ought not to have the franchise; that home was woman’s sphere, that women were superior to men, and would be deteriorated by contract with the ruder life of men; that the line must be drawn somewhere for if women got votes they would demand to be admitted to Parliament; that women did not want votes; that women were by nature conservative; that women could not be soldiers; that the deference and courtesy now shown to women would be lost; that women suffrage would be destructive of the foundation of society, and obliterate the distinctions of sex; that the Bible said nothing about it; that reason must prevail; that authority was against it. 

To each of these objections Mrs Fawcett replied seriatim, and concluded by contending that the suffrage was not only woman’s right, but that woman, man and society would be improved by her possessing it.  She was much cheered, and received the thanks of the meeting, as did Sir R Murchison for giving the use of the theatre.

Mistreatment of Suffragettes

Women’s suffrage was newsworthy and accounts of suffragette militant exploits were often reported nationally, usually negatively.  The cruel treatment of those suffragists engaged in acts of peaceful protest is often conveniently forgotten.  The two accounts below, taken from The Framlingham News, portray the shocking treatments suffragettes were subjected to in the course of their fight for the vote.

Framlingham Weekly News 10th Oct 1908 The Suffragette

Suffragettes Ill-treated

Mrs. Despard and Miss Margaret Sidley, who visited Maidstone in the Suffragist van on Wednesday evening, were subjected to brutal treatment.  They had announced an open-air meeting, and a crowd of 3,000 assembled.  The Suffragettes were received with showers of granite chippings with which the road was being repaired.  A stone struck Mrs. Despard on the forehead, inflicting a nasty abrasion.  She pluckily mounted a chair and faced the crowd, who pushed her off the chair and smashed it.  When the van arrived the suffragists abandoned the attempt to speak, and barricaded themselves within.

Deliberate attempts were then made to over-throw the van, which was pushed uphill and allowed to descend by its own momentum.  Only by the narrowest shave was disaster averted.  The windows of the vehicle were smashed, the tailboard was wrenched off, rotten eggs and other missiles were flung, the imprisoned ladies being kept in a state of terror.  At length the police intervened, and amid much booing the van was driven away.

Framlingham Weekly news 8th March 1913

In Hyde Park on Sunday afternoon Mrs. Flora Drummond and several other members of the women’s Social and Political Union were made the object of hostile attentions of a huge crowd and were persistently pelted with pieces of turf.

Members of the crowd sang, danced, waved sticks, cheered and hooted in turn, and the statements of the speakers were greeted with cries of “You ought to be tarred and feathered,” and other similar taunts.

One suffragette was struck in the eye and another in the mouth.  Mrs. Drummond’s hat was disturbed with a walking-stick, which became entangled in her hair.

Another speaker had a fierce tussle with a member of the audience who attempted to board the platform.  Later the same woman injured her wrist in a tug-of-war for possession of a spectator’s stick.

At the close a formidable rush was broken by the police escort.

On Sunday afternoon an attempt by suffragettes to hold a meeting on Wimbledon Common led to disorderly scenes.

After the speakers had vainly endeavoured for half an hour to obtain a hearing, amid the blowing of motor horns and the singing of popular songs, the crowd closed in on the platform, the suffragettes were dragged off and despite efforts of the police to protect them, three of the women were knocked down.

An exciting scene was witnessed in Oxford-street on Saturday afternoon, when two suffragists, who during the morning had been playing a piano in the West End, were attacked by a couple of men, and in the skirmish which ensued the piano organ was upset and considerably damaged.

The women, both of whom are London members of the Women’s Social and Political Union, were engaged in the week’s self-denial campaign, which opened that day, and were thus engaged with the object of gathering funds on behalf of their union.

In the face of such hostility, it is easy to imagine why some women felt they could not expect to advance their cause through peaceful demonstration.