When London grandfather Samuel Nelme sprinkled sugar on his stewed apple one day in 1847, he had no idea he would be dead within five days.
Still Life with Apples, a Pear, and a Ceramic Portrait Jug Paul Gaugin 1889 via Wikimedia commons
The bowl contained arsenic mixed with pounded sugar. Samuel, a Londoner of around 73 years of age, kept arsenic at home in Hackney in a locked drawer. He used it for killing rats. This was a common practice in Victorian times.
William Newton Allnutt, Samuel’s twelve-year-old grandson, was accused of the crime.
At his trial at The Old Bailey, London’s Central Criminal Court, the jury heard that others in the house also fell ill, including Samuel’s widow, who used sugar from the same bowl to sweeten arrowroot – after Samuel’s death.
The doctor then passed some of the sugar to a London Hospital physician who discovered arsenic in the sugar as well as in Samuel’s stomach and liver.
State of mind
William was 12 years old at the time. The court asked many questions about his state of mind: he had fallen on a ploughshare at the age of 18 months, suffered from headaches, talked of voices in his head and walked in his sleep.
Two doctors, one in practice at Clapton and one from a lunatic asylum, agreed he was of unsound mind, although the surgeon at Newgate Prison disagreed.
He had once stolen a watch, claiming that voices told him to do so.
After a session with the Chaplain in Newgate Prison, William wrote a long confession to his mother, saying he was terrified God would not forgive him if he did not confess. He wrote that his grandfather had “knocked me down into a passage” and threatened to kill him.
William was sentenced to death although he was too young to be hanged. Instead, according to the Black Kalendar website his sentence was commuted to transportation. He spend four years at Newgate Prison before leaving from Plymouth in 1851 for Fremantle, Australia. Two years later, he died of tuberculosis while still in Fremantle Prison.
Violence in the home was commonplace in Victorian England, but murder was a crime. I’m interested in how this relates to the treatment of young offenders now. What would have happened to William today?
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