Monday, February 2, 2009

Famous inmate: Florence Maybrick

Florence Maybrick was an American woman who was tried and sentenced to be hanged in August 1889 for murdering her British husband. This was later commuted to life imprisonment.

There's an interesting twist to the story because a little while after Florence was imprisoned, the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette (W T Stead) received a letter of confession from a dying man in South Africa. The man claimed to have had a grudge against Mrs Maybrick and set her up by poisoning her husband with arsenic.

Of course, Florence Maybrick was found guilty of the offence. It didn't help that the judge was a notorious misogynist whose remarks about Mrs Maybrick's adultery played no small part in her conviction.

What wasn't brought to the attention of the jury, however, was that James Maybrick (almost twice the age of Florence) was a debauched philanderer with several illegitimate children. He was also habitual drug user. His drug of choice? Arsenic.

There was a huge outcry when Florence was found guilty ... and a great deal of pressure from America for Florence's immediate release.

However, even though the case against Florence was deemed unsafe, she spent 14 years in prison. Florence spent a significant part of her sentence at Woking Invalid Convict Prison and wrote an incredible account of her experiences shortly after her release in 1904. The following is an 11,000 word extract from her book: Mrs. Maybrick's Own Story, MY FIFTEEN LOST YEARS (Google Books). It's an excellent account of life in Woking Invalid Convict Prison, covering everything from food, punishment, manual labour, sickness and more:

In Solitary Confinement
Removal to Woking Prison

ON the morning of the 29th of August
I was hastily awakened by a female
warder, who said that orders had come
down from the Home Office for my removal
that day to a convict prison.
When I left, the governor was standing
at the gate, and, with a kindliness of voice
which I deeply appreciated, told me to be
brave and good.
A crowd was in waiting at the station.
I was roughly hustled through it into a
third-class carriage.
The only ray of light that penetrated
those dark hours of my journey came from
an American woman. God bless her,
whoever she is or wherever she is! At
every station that the train stopped she got
out and came to the carriage door and
spoke words of sympathy and comfort.
She was the first of my countrywomen to
voice to me the protest that swelled into
greater volume as the years rolled by.
As the train drew up at Woking station a
crowd assembled ... read more

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