the colmer manslaughter trial

the colmer manslaughter trial

As reported in full in the Press




The Western Flying Post, Tuesday 13 October 1863

On Tuesday, an inquest was opened before Dr Wybrants, at the Castle Inn, on the body of Elizabeth Fox, a young woman, a native from near Dorchester, who had been living as a servant at Rimpton. It appeared that she was enceinte, and that she went on Monday week, to Mr Colmer of Yeovil, for medical advice. She remained there some days, and death is said to have taken place early on Sunday morning. The jury having been sworn, they proceeded to view the body, which still lay at Mr Colmer's house. The body presented a most sickening spectacle. It was quite black, and three times the natural size of life, and appeared in a state of decomposition, as though death had taken place a week before. Of course the occurrence created considerable sensation in Yeovil, and it was determined at an early stage of the proceedings to make a post-mortem examination of the body, and for this purpose. Dr Garland was called in.

The first witness examined was Amanda Colmer, who said -- I am the daughter of Mr Robert Slade Colmer, and I live with my father and mother. I knew Elizabeth Fox, having seen her once before last Monday week. She told me she would be 20 years old on her next birthday. It was about mid-day, on Monday, when I saw her sitting by our fire. She complained of having something the matter with her liver. She remained in the house with us until she died. On Tuesday she got up about 11 o'clock, and remained in her bedroom all day, and complained of a sick-headache. I saw her twice that day; mother waited on her the other occasions. On Wednesday, she did not feel so well again, but she got up and came downstairs, and took food with us. On Thursday and Friday she also came downstairs, and took her food with us. She still complained of a sick-headache, and pain in her right side. On Saturday morning she was worse, and did not get up. I saw her about 1 o'clock and she was then very ill, and complained of great pain in her side and lower part of her abdomen. She had a miscarriage on Saturday about half-past 1 o'clock. I left her at half-past 2 and did not see her again till 5 o'clock in the evening. She was then much better. I saw her again about 11 that night, and she then wished me to remain with her till father came to give her something to relieve the pain in her side. My father came about a quarter after 11, and I then left and went to bed. In the night mother told me that she was dead. I think it was about half-past 2 on Sunday morning when she died. I did not see her take any medicine while she was at our house. I saw her take her food. My father is sometimes in the habit of attending both men and women, who come and lodge in the house as deceased did. This was the first miscarriage, and the first death in the house that I know of. My father saw her but about once or twice during the week until Saturday night. She was there as my father's patient, but did not come with intention, on Monday, of stopping. When she arrived father was not at home, nor did he come home till late, and she then said she would stay all night. She said she had been living near Rimpton, her father resides near Dorchester.

Jane Colmer said -- I am the wife of Robert Slade Colmer. Yesterday week the deceased came to our house. I had and not before seen her. My husband was not at home, and she remained in the house till he returned, which was about 5 o'clock. He went into the house, but as I was in the shop I cannot tell whether he saw her, or spoke to her. She remained in the house, and I did not see her again till 9 o'clock. She seemed very poorly and asked me if she should be too late for the train whether she could sleep there that night. I told her if my husband did not come home in time she might remain. She came down next morning about 10 o'clock, and took breakfast by herself, and returned to her bedroom till dinnertime, when she partook of dinner with my son and myself. On Wednesday and Thursday I was from home. At night she complained of a pain in her side, and other sick-headache. On Friday I was in the shop all day, and did not see her. On Saturday, about 12 o'clock, she called me. I went to her and found her very ill. She still complained of a pain in her side. I was with her about five minutes. She asked me for a warm meal poultice to place on her side, and I told her I would get her a cup of tea. She drank about half of that whilst I was making the poultice. She said she felt no ease from it, and took it off in about 10 minutes. I then made her bread and milk poultice. She complained of her left leg feeling very cold and dead. I gave her a tablespoonful of the best French brandy. When she had taken the brandy. She said that she had a bottle of wine in the corner of the room, and asked me to give her some. I went downstairs again, and subsequently heard her call. I sent Amanda to see her, and she said she wanted some hot tea.

At this stage of the proceedings. Mrs Colmer fainted, and, as Dr Garland and several other medical gentleman who had engaged to assist him would not make the post-mortem examination of the body till 3 o'clock, the inquest was adjourned for a week.




The Western Flying Post, Tuesday 20 October 1863

The adjourned inquest on the body of Elizabeth Fox, whose parents reside at Broadmayne, near Dorchester, and who died under peculiar circumstances was held at the Castle Inn, on Tuesday, the 13th inst., before Dr Wybrants.

Mrs Colmer, who had been ill since the previous hearing of the case, wished that someone might attend at her residence and take her evidence, but the jury were of the opinion that she ought if possible, to be present.

In the interim, the Coroner said the intestines of the deceased had been sent to Dr Herapath without his sanction. He had received a statement from Dr Garland, and from his testimony there was no doubt that she died from the effects of a wound. Under the circumstances he thought there was no necessity of an analysis being made, and he did not see why they should go for the expense of having Dr Herapath present.

All witnesses, except those of the medical profession, were then requested to leave the room.

Mr S Watts asked whether, as Mr Colmer Jr was present at the post-mortem examination, he would not be allowed to remain? The Coroner ruled that he might be in attendance.

The foreman protested against any cross-examination by solicitors. The Coroner said he should exercise his discretion on that point, and if Mr Watts had any question to ask, he should be most glad for him to do so.

The Coroner then read the following portion of Mrs Colmer's evidence, adduced on the previous Tuesday -- On Saturday, about 12 o'clock, deceased called on me. I went to her and found her very ill. She still complained of a pain in her side. I was with her about five minutes. She asked me for a warm meal poultice to place on her side, and I told her I would get her a cup of tea. She drank about half of that whilst I was making the poultice. She complained of her left leg feeling very cold and dead. I gave her a spoonful of the best French brandy. When she had taken the brandy she said she had a bottle of wine in the corner of the room, and asked me to give her some. I subsequently heard her call. I sent Amanda to see her, and she said she wanted some hot tea.

Mrs Colmer examined -- I then sent her a cup and Amanda shortly after returned for another. She came again for a third cup. (The Coroner here, said he had no objection to Mr Colmer being present.) Deceased was then sitting beside the bed. The cover of the bed was down, and she was sitting on it. My daughter was led in the room. I saw some blood on the blanket, and in consequence of that I requested her to leave. I perceived something, and on mentioning it to her, she said if I would go to the other side of the room I should find what it was in the washing basin. I then went to there, and I found it was a little child, but I did not take any particular notice of it; I was very angry. I then got her on the bed, and gave her another cup of tea. I asked her then what she would like to eat. She again asked for some tea, and afterwards asked if I could give her anything to relieve the pain. I went down and told my son what had occurred, and he said it would be a warning to me not to have anyone in the house in future. He said I might give her a tablespoonful of brandy. I said I had given her one already, and he replied that a second would do her no injury. I gave it to her.

(At this stage of the proceedings. One of the jury thought that Mr Colmer Jr ought to retire. Another juryman thought if Mr Colmer retired the other medical witnesses should leave. The whole of the witnesses then left.)

Mrs Colmer continued -- as I was feeding her she said, "Mrs Colmer, I have deceived you." I asked her why she had done so, and she gave no answer. She still complained of being cold, and I put a great coat on the bed. She afterwards felt warmer. This was about 5 o'clock, and I did not see her again until nine. I then merely opened the door and asked her how she was, and she told me she was easier. I saw her again about ten or fifteen minutes past 12 when I took up the bread and milk, she had left in the afternoon. About 1 o'clock, as I was in bed, I heard a knock against the partition. I called to know what she wanted, and she asked if it was too much trouble for me to get her a cup of warm tea. I took her some and she drank part of it. I returned to bed, and had not left her more than 10 minutes, before she called a second time for tea. She said "I could drink a basin full now." I was about to call my husband, who was sitting up for my son, and she asked me to tell him to come up, as she wanted to see him. He came up and asked me what I wanted, and I told him a young lady wanted to speak to him. He went into the room and I went back to bed. She complained of being very cold in the right side, and looked extremely ill. At a quarter-past twelve, when I gave her bread and milk for the last time, she appeared to be sinking, and I called to my husband to assist me to bolster her up. He came up, and when I gain covered her over he left. About twenty minutes to two o'clock my husband came into the room and said "For God's sake, Missus, get up and run for the doctor, meaning my son, I do believe the woman is dying." I merely replied "Nonsense, don't frighten me" for I didn't believe him. I did not go from my son, for I didn't know where to find him. I, however, subsequently got up, and as I was dressing I heard my son come in at the front door. I went downstairs as he came up. He called for two bottles of warm water to put her legs in, which I procured. About a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes after that he came and told me she was dead. She came to our house about a quarter-past eleven on the Monday preceding her death. Some time in the afternoon she told me that she had sent to the station for a hamper. I never saw the deceased till Monday afternoon. She never spoke to me about medicine while she was in the house; she never said she had consulted my husband before. I never said she had given him four shillings for a bottle of medicine before she came. I didn't think she was dying the last time I saw her.

By the Jury -- It did not strike me that the woman ought to have medical attendance. I believe the black bottle contained wine. Mr Colmer stayed alone with deceased, till he called me to say she was dying. I have not heard at all that the child was burnt, and know nothing about it. It was about quarter-past two when I found deceased was confined. I do not know whether she was left during my absence by herself. No one saw her from 5 o'clock till nine. The deceased did not tell me who recommended her to come to my house.

Amanda Colmer re-called, said -- I remember seeing the deceased about a month previously in the hall adjoining the shop. My father saw her also on that occasion, but I do not know whether he gave her any medicine. She only remained about ten minutes with him, as he was going off to Sherborne. I saw her in the house on the Monday, and on Wednesday she went out with me. We went to Mr Swatridge's, to have her likeness taken. That was the only time I went out with her. I was in the room when she was confined, and I put the child into the basin. When she first came to our house she merely wished to see my father. It was by chance that I happened to be in the room at her confinement, but there was no one present beside myself. There was a black bottle in the room containing some wine. I did not see the deceased take any medicine. I saw her about a quarter past eleven on Saturday, but I saw no alteration whatever in her.

By Mr Watts -- My father was not at home at the time she was confined, having gone to Dorchester.

Ptolemy Samuel Henry Colmer deposed -- I am a duly qualified medical man. I remember the deceased coming to my father's house on the Monday before her death, but I do not remember having seen her before. I saw her in the room behind the shop. I did not examine her. I saw her about four times during the week. She was not a patient of mine. I was called in about 4 o'clock on Sunday morning. I went into the yard, and my father came down to me, and said he believed the young woman was dying. I said "Nonsense; you don't mean to say the woman is dying?" He said "I am afraid she is." I said "Dying from miscarriage?" He said "Yes; do come up" and I went upstairs immediately. When I went into the room I asked her if she was in pain, and she said "Yes." She was very pale, and could not speak plain. She was at that time lying on her left side, and her feet were very cold. I then ordered hot water to be applied to her feet, and gave her some brandy, and considered her dying from internal haemorrhage, and told my father that she was in a dying state. I applied the cold water and used galvanism with great pressure over the lower part of her bowels. I laid her on her back, and she expired almost immediately.

On the same morning I went to Superintendent Smith, and informed him of the circumstances. He asked me if I could not give a certificate, but I said that I preferred having the case investigated. I was present at the post-mortem examination of the body, and death was caused, in my opinion, by a rupture.

By the Jury -- I have been told that she had taken medicine. I had it from my sister Amanda that deceased had told her that she took a particular medicine in water three times a day. I did not attend to her till just before her death. I never interfere with my father's patients at all as a rule.

The Coroner then called on Mr Colmer, and informed him that he need not criminate himself in any evidence which he might give, but whatever facts he might adduce would appear in evidence against him.

Mr Robert Slade Colmer deposed -- I am a chemist and druggist. I had seen that the deceased about five weeks previous to last Monday fortnight. She then complained of a weakness and a pain in her right side, and weariness of the legs. She asked if I could prescribe. I prescribed tonic mixture for her, and made it up myself. It was made of 10 ounces of tincture of iron and 15 grains of disulphate of quinine, diluted with water to 8 ounces. I directed two teaspoonsfull to be taken three times a day in water. I also gave her one box of pills, composed of alum, rhubarb and ginger, and two drops of oil of caraway, and she paid me 4s 6d. I had told her I thought the medicine would do her good, but I did not agree for her to come and stop at my house. I saw her again as I passed through the house yesterday fortnight; but I did not speak to her. I spoke to her on Tuesday about midday. She said she wanted to speak to me, as she wished me to give her some medicine for she feared she was in the family way. She said she had had to leave to go home to visit her friends, but she was too ill to proceed. I told her I could not give her any medicine for such a thing, and I advised her at once to go to her friends or to a situation, which she promised me she would do next morning; but she did not go. I did not see her again till Wednesday evening, when I returned from Bridgwater. I said "Not gone, Missy?" She said "No, I didn't feel well enough; I shall go tomorrow."

On the Thursday morning I went to Exeter, and returned the same night, but I did not remember whether I saw her then or not.I saw her on Saturday about 11 o'clock in the morning, as she said she particularly wished to see me. She complained of great pain and said she wanted some medicine to ease it. I told her I could not give her any medicine under the circumstances, but advised her to have something warm. I then took the train for Dorchester, from which place I returned in the evening. I went out during the evening, and returned home shortly before 11. When I got into the house my daughter (Amanda) called me, and said that deceased wished to see me, as she was very ill. I then went into the bedroom and saw her. She complained of great pain and coldness of her legs, and asked me to give her something. I then went and prepared 30 drops of tincture of opium and 15 drops of chloric of ether and 1 ounce of French brandy. I learnt also from her that she had miscarried. I told her I dare say she would be better by-and-by if that was the case. I then called Mrs Colmer to get something warm, and she obtained for her some tea and broth. I left her to get a little more brandy. She gave me no money for it. Between one and two I heard her call, and I went upstairs. She appeared to be in great pain. I felt her pulse, and found it very feeble, and I felt alarmed. I wanted to see my son, or some medical man, but I was unable to do so. My son was gone out to see a patient, and he returned about 2 o'clock. I said "Doctor, just come up and see this young woman; I think she's dying." He then went up, and I laid the whole case before him. She expired a quarter of an hour after he came into the house. I am certain I only gave her one bottle of medicine and one box of pills. I gave her a draft a little before her death.

By the Jury -- I did not know how I became acquainted with her; she came into my shop, and I did not make any enquiries as to who she was. I do not know that the symptoms were indicative of her being in the family way. I did not discover she was enceinte until the Tuesday. I know nothing about a bottle of wine deceased brought into my house. I merely saw the bottle. I took the child and put it into the fire. I cannot tell what the age of the child was. I think it was before the death of the woman that I burned the child, but I am not certain. Deceased would not tell where she came from until I told her she was dying, when she said she had been living at the rectory at Rimpton. I was not in the habit of taking females into the house. I did not make any arrangements for her being in the house. I did not have any part of the £6 which the deceased had. After her decease I found in her pocket four sovereigns, two half-sovereigns, and four half-crowns, which I returned to her father.

Amos Cleal said -- I work for Mr Colmer, and look after the horses. I saw the deceased on Monday fortnight, about 12 o'clock. She was then sitting in the hall with the children. I saw her again about 3 o'clock, and she came down to the stables to me. She asked me if I would go to the station to fetch a hamper, as she was unable to do so. I fetched it and placed it on the well-cover in the yard. Neither Mr or Mrs Colmer were present when I bought the hamper back. She gave me 4½d and told me that she intended to have left it there, as she meant to go back that evening. I saw her again on Thursday; she looked pale and was holding her sides exclaiming "Oh dear." She then sank down into a chair.

By the Jury -- I have not seen deceased at Mr Colmer's before. I did not consider her in good health; she looked very pale.

James Francis deposed -- I am a photographer at Mr Swatridge's establishment. I remember deceased coming their last Wednesday week evening, between four and five, with Miss Colmer. She did not have her likeness taken, but said she would decide upon its next day. I thought she seemed in pretty good health, and she apparently walk well. I saw her on the Thursday at Mr Colmer's. I was there about a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes. She appeared to be in tolerably good health. She promised to come into the establishment and have her portrait taken next day, but I saw no more of her.

Edward Garland said -- I am a surgeon living at Yeovil. On the 6th instant I made a post mortem examination of the body of Elizabeth Fox, in the presence of Mr Colmer, Mr Parsons, Mr Tomkyns, and Mr Coles, all of the medical profession. Decomposition had advanced in every part of the body, except the knées. The brain was in a healthy state, as was also the lungs. The other organs were also in a healthy state.

Arnold Coles, MRCS, deposed -- I was present at the post-mortem examination on the 6th instant. The body was in a frightful state of decomposition. The internal organs were generally healthy. I believe the injury must have been caused by mechanical means. I have no doubt that the rupture was the immediate cause of her death.

William Fancourt Tomkyns, MRCS and LSA, said -- all the organs were in a healthy state. I believe the rupture to have been the cause of death. The rupture could not have taken place from natural causes, nor could it have been produced by medicine. All the organs had suffered more or less from decomposition. The external pressure could not have caused the rupture, and external violence would not have done it. Internal violence would have done it. I had never before seen a body so much decomposed in the time will stop

Ruth Hodges, a schoolmistress, of Marston, said she had known the deceased, who had occasionally slept with her, but she had not done so lately. On the Saturday before she left she found that she was enceinte. She then appeared to be quite well. She said she was going home. She had been keeping company with a young man named Robert Still, as she (witness) always wrote deceased's letters for her.

Russell Aldridge said -- I am a doctor of medicine residing in Yeovil, and assisted in the post-mortem examination. The body was quite healthy. The rupture would not have ensued from natural causes.

The Coroner then ran through the facts of the case as adduced, and said it would be for the jury to decide as to what caused the rupture. The law stated, that if a medical man, whether he be a quack or a qualified man, attempted to deal in midwifery he must bring to bear competent skill. If he did not do so, and the cause thereof was death, that man, whoever he might be, would be guilty of manslaughter; and if on the other hand he was not a qualified man, and death resulted from violence, he would be guilty of wilful murder. He also expressed his concurrence and general approbation of the manner in which Mr Colmer Jr acted to the deceased in her last moments.

The room was then cleared, and the jury, after three quarters of an hour's deliberation, bought in a verdict of MANSLAUGHTER against Robert Slade Colmer.

Mr Watts asked for bail for the accused, and the coroner said he would admit him in his own and two sureties in £500 each. The coroner was then asked to mitigate the sum, but he replied that the case was of two serious nature to admit of any mitigation. Mr Watts represented that the security could be obtained, but Mr Smith said that, notwithstanding it, he should not be doing his duty if he did not take the accused into custody.

It was reported that Colmer would be examined before the magistrates, but if ever such was at first the intention, it has been abandoned, as on Thursday last the necessary bail having been procured he was liberated from custody.




The Western Times, Friday 23 October 1863

An adjourned inquest on the body of the young woman Elizabeth Fox, who came to her death under most suspicious circumstances, in the house of Mr Colmer, herbalist, was resumed on Tuesday, at the Castle Inn, Yeovil, before Dr Wybrants, coroner. The girl was cook in the family of a neighbouring clergyman. She left her place of service ostensibly on a visit to her parents, who are labouring people living at Broadway, near Weymouth. She had £6 in her possession and there appears little doubt that her intention was to stay at Colmer's; as she got out at Yeovil, and sent his man after her luggage. She went to his house on Monday, and remained there until the following Saturday, when according to the statements of the Colmers, she miscarried. About 12 at night she knocked for Mrs Colmer, appeared better, and said she could now drink a basin full of tea. She also desired to see Mr Colmer. He went to her and two hours after came back frightened, saying he believed the girl was dying. The son of Mr Colmer, who has obtained an MD qualification, lodges with his father. He came home at the time and tried various remedies, but the poor creature, who is described as having been a finely-formed and healthy young woman, sunk rapidly and expired.

On post-mortem examination, a frightful laceration of the womb was found. Much public interest was excited and the room was filled by respectable inhabitants. The father of the poor girl was also present and wept much when the medical men described his unfortunate daughter as a finely-formed and healthy young woman.

An extended examination of Colmer's wife and daughter, and the medical witnesses who made the post-mortem examination, then took place at the conclusion of which the Coroner, in summing up the evidence, said -- According to the evidence laid before them the deceased came into the town in a healthy state. But previous to that she had consulted Mr Colmer. She came there on Monday. Colmer saw her the next morning, when she told him she was in the family way. On the Saturday, if they believed Miss Colmer, the deceased was confined of a child. She had never been at a confinement before but she took the child and put it into a basin. Her mother came in and, more modest than the daughter, asked her to retire. The daughter said she asked her to send her father, as she wanted some medicine to relieve her pain. Mr Colmer went into her and was found coming out of the room saying he feared the girl was dying. Young Mr Colmer came in. He did all that a medical man could do, but the young woman died. The medical men agreed that death had been caused by rupture of the womb that must have been caused by violence. It may have been that Colmer senior attempted to remove the placenta, and so caused the rupture. It would be for them to say what caused the rupture. No matter whether a licensed man or a quack, if he professed to confine a woman he must bring competent skill to the discharge of the duty, and if he did not, he was guilty of manslaughter. But if a man attempted to produce abortion, and the woman died, it was murder. Here was a double crime if they believed it to have been committed, and the two persons - mother and child - had lost their lives.

The verdict of the Jury was that of manslaughter against Robert Slade Colmer. Mr Watts applied for bail, and the Coroner said he would take it - his own bail and two sureties of £500. 




The British Medical Journal, 24 October 1863

At Yeovil, last week, an inquest was held on Elizabeth Fox; and after a long inquiry, the jury returned a verdict of "Manslaughter" against a well-known herb doctor, Robert Slade Colmer. The unfortunate girl who was only 20 years of age, had remained at Colmer's house for a week, at the end of which time she had a miscarriage, and died on Sunday morning, October 4. At the opening of the enquiry on Tuesday, the 6th inst., The wife and daughter were examined, and they stated that deceased had come to the house, complaining that she had something the matter with the liver, that she took no medicine while there, and that she died on the night after the miscarriage.

The enquiry was adjourned for a post-mortem examination, which showed that the womb had been ruptured by some violent application, and death must have been almost instantaneous. Colmer, who is a well-known herb doctor, has been living at Yeovil for about 20 years. His son, Doctor Colmer, a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians at Edinburgh, lives with him, and, although he attended the young woman at her death, he stated at the inquest that he rarely interferes with his father's patients, although he has patients of his own in the town.

The prisoner, a man about 50, is said to have known something of "astrology" and was consulted on matters touching the recovery of stolen sheep, pigs, etc., but it is understood that he has refused to have anything to do with such matters for the past 12 months. However, some extraordinary revelations came out at the inquest, which prove that Colmer has not altogether divested himself of faith in the superstitious. He states that he took the child with the after-birth, etc., and burnt them, in accordance with the idea that such a proceeding would relieve the pains of the young girl.

The deceased was a domestic employed at a Rectory at Rimpton, Somerset, and her parents live in Dorsetshire. She left the Rectory with the avowed intention of going home. The evidence of several surgeons distinctly proved that death was caused either by an improper interference of the hand, or an unskilled use of instruments.




The Western Gazette, Saturday 24 October 1863

The Daily Telegraph of Friday thus commented on the case in connection with which Mr Colmer has been committed for trial on a charge of manslaughter :-

Crime, we believe, must be "genteel" for sensation authors, and nothing below a guilty baronet's wife will go down with their publishers, otherwise as sad and shameful a tale as need be told might be gleaned from them from a Somersetshire inquest held on Tuesday last. The details, it is true, are very ordinary - as commonplace, in fact, as ignorance, as usual as wants of natural affection, as rococo as heartless lust, horrible greed, and calculating depravity are in the age of which we boast so much. We will tell the story briefly; for, as we have said, it is not picturesque enough to be interesting. It is only very terrible and very degrading to a community which calls itself Christian; but suffice that does not wear silks and satins must go devil-wards without expecting much fashionable notice.

Elizabeth Fox, then, a comely and graceful girl, say the doctors under whose scalpels she came, was servant at the rectory of Rimpton, in Somerset. About the end of September she asked leave to go home to her parents in Dorsetshire, and obtained it. She went, however, instead, to the residents of Mr Robert Slade Colmer, "a well-known herbalist" living in Yeovil but exercising a sort of peripatetic practice about the county, with a faculty also for astrology and "for recovering stolen sheep, pigs, &c." The herbalist and soothsayer had an orthodox doctor for his son, a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians at Edinburgh, who was living with his father at the time. On Sunday, October 4, the sun was called in by the father to look at his patient, who was dying of haemorrhage, consequent upon miscarriage. The licentiate reinforced the treatment of the herbalist with such measures as usual, applying pressure, and trying to procure muscular contraction by galvanic shocks. But the pressure, declares the licentiate, with a purpose that will appear, was the proximate cause of death, for a new gush of blood succeeded it and the girl died. This result had not been expected and could not be hushed up. An inquest was ordered and a post-mortem held, at which five medical men, including Mr Colmer Jr, assisted. Four of the five saw with their own eyes, and swore in evidence to certain injuries which "Must have been produced by violence - no medicine could possibly have produced them, nor could any woman do it herself - it must have been done by one or more persons." The licentiate was not of this opinion, but protested that the means are adopted to arrest the haemorrhage unhappily brought on death. He also swore that his sister Amanda "told him" that the girl "told her" that she had bought medicine in Sherborne to procure abortion; and at a previous examination, the wife of Colmer senior asserted that the deceased had come to the house complaining that there was something the matter with her liver, and that "she had taken no medicines during her stay".

Colmer, the accused, on the other hand, after due caution, stated that he had administered medicine but that it was when he called in to find her dying of pregnancy, which she then confessed to him and which, being of five or six months standing, could hardly therefore be overlooked. The remaining link in this chain of seduction, terror, ignorance, and miserable death, was supplied by Ruth Hodges, a schoolmistress at Marston who had written letters for the deceased to John Hull "with whom she kept company."

Such was the story - as common, unhappily, as it is shocking - which went to the Somersetshire jury with the coroner's observations. These were that, doctor or "quack", if a man has not the skill he assumes to have, and causes death by well-meaning and honest but ignorant methods, he is guilty of manslaughter; and that if, doctor or "quack", he kills the mother in procuring abortion, or even procuring abortion without that result, he is guilty of murder.

The decision of the jury was that Robert Slade Colmer was guilty of manslaughter, and on that charge he awaits his trial. In two important points the evidence for the grave of finding was blank, namely, as to Colmer's knowledge of the state of Elizabeth Fox, and as to his administration of drugs calculated to bring on premature labour. But, though family secrecy with regard to the death made it impossible to have a demonstrative witness here, the presumption is overwhelmingly against the prisoner. Does the servant maid of a country rectory mistake the effects of her weakness for a liver complaint when she asks leave to go home, and repairs straight to a herbalist and "astrologer" instead, "a perfect stranger to her?" It is only a coincidence that, within a week of her arrival, she is dying of the effects of an obviously forced birth? That's all the organs of the body should be healthy, including the liver, while there were such other injuries that an apothecary's assistant could not mistake the cause of death? Was it merely a case of "doctors differing" that, with that damning evidence before the five medical men as to what had been the occupation of the week, the younger Colmer alone should have the hardihood to say that the useful and usual act under such circumstances brought on death? There never was a clear case of circumstantial evidence; and if the lesser charge has seemed the safer one to maintain, we trust that the consideration of these facts will weigh heavy upon the trial.

It is customary, in these horrible cases, especially with the medical press, to make an onset upon the body of "herbalists", and point the moral so as to pierce them wholesale. We do not choose to do this; the study of the efforts of vegetable medicaments is as lawful as any other, when it is honestly and cautiously pursued, nor can few or many letters of the alphabet after a man's name make all the difference between a quack and a man of science. There is this to be said, too for an honest herbalist, that he plies his trade under instant penalties for failure, while the graduates of medicine can kill, and do kill, with an almost legal impunity. The public chooses at its own risk between the accredited and the unaccredited doctor, and we must sadly confess that we have not so much faith in the kind of science available to a poor man's purse, as to lay it down that the people who sell him a harmless purge or lotion cheap are to be exterminated. Nor shall we descant, when we have done it so lately, upon the miserable ignorance of women like Elizabeth Fox, who have not yet learned that alphabets of physical science, that's to interfere with nature is to die or to live miserably. Our moral shall point another way: we address it to the country lout, the village Juan, whatever his name may be, who is primarily guilty of all this crime and misery. For his offence, the Dorsetshire girl lies in her grave - the murderess of herself and of her child; and through him, primarily, another awaits his trial for manslaughter. We do not know, nor care to know, where the scoundrel who has caused all this villainy and wretchedness skulks; Bart, wherever and whoever he is, there stands, we say the example of the kind of rascal that reads these tragedies - the heartless, thoughtless brute, who cheats a woman of her modesty to gratify a fancy, and then leaves her to live or die - to survive the quack doctor's drench, or too succumbed to it, with the fair order of nature all blasphemed and reversed. Human justice is but a poor travesty, after all, of the justice of God: we do what we can to "wrong the wronger" till he renders right; but our laws do not yet touched the veritable murderer in many a case for which the gallows is called in to use.




The Western Flying Post, Tuesday 15 March 1864

The great struggle between the aristocracy and the democracy of physic is being everywhere felt throughout England; and until very lately our friends of the North have heard nothing of the work that has been going on in the West. They will therefore see, with out surprise, that the same "cowardly old physic" with which they have had to do battle has been making great efforts to uproot the medical heresy which now bids defiance to its power. We almost fear to trust our pen upon the subject, for the West is very dear to us; we love it because we are native of that part, and because our fathers fought the battle of life there, and assisted in the great struggle which won for dear old England the religious liberties we now enjoy. It is with pleasure, therefore, that we turn to it and rejoice with supreme delight to see the work of medical progress making such rapid marches in that direction. Long, long have we promised, if God would prolong our life, that we would devote some share of it to our old localities, among our oldest and dearest friends. To see that work, therefore, which we feel the most useful to which we can apply our labours, already holding the position it does, is more than we calculated for; and right glad are we to lend it a hand. But let us to our story.

Among the many men who have for years struggled with old medical orthodoxy is a man, the brief outline of whose history we now give :-

Robert Slade Colmer was born on the 16th day of January 1816, at Crewkerne, nine miles from Yeovil, in the County of Somerset. At a very early age he began to evince a very great desire for the "art of healing" and for reading and studying works on Medicine and Botany; so much so, that, before he arrived at the age of thirteen, he cured three desperate cases of Scrofula by pure botanical remedies. From that period up to the present times his cures in general have been many and wonderful, in the counties of Somerset, Dorset and Devon; and many living monuments of his skill are now to be seen in a host of persons restored to health, after the most severe and distressing afflictions. As is generally the case with men of talent and ability, Mr Colmer has had to encounter great opposition; but notwithstanding, seeing it necessary to qualify himself or his eldest son as a legitimate medical practitioner, he sent his son to the college or university, where he distinguished himself, and returned on 10th May 1862 after having gone through a due course of collegiate study, hospital practice, &c. That at the early age of twenty-one, he received honours, and obtained to diplomas as physician, surgeon and licentiate of midwifery. This at once aroused the indignation of a certain clique in Yeovil, as will be clearly seen by the following circumstance. As it was natural for a father to feel a certain degree of pride and pleasure at his son's returning home with such eminent qualifications, he engaged with the ringers that the church bells of St John's, Yeovil, should be rung right merrily, which the regulars commenced to doing; but it's so annoyed certain medical men of the town, that they - having some little influence - made application to one of the churchwardens, and that gentleman, in order to please those individuals, applied to the vicar; a police constable was consequently dispatched to the church, and that functionary, under orders, bade the ringers leave the belfry and cease their merry peals. This shows the enmity entertained by those individuals towards Mr Colmer and his son.

Mr Colmer, on finding that his son had progressed so favourably, and being encouraged by the same, went to London himself, entered a medical college, and became a medical student at the College and Hospital on the 1st day of October 1860. This act sorely provoked his enemies, and many and bitter worthy invectives which they pronounced; but not only this, they also wrote anonymous letters against him from Yeovil to the professors at the College and Hospital, in which letters they endeavoured to do him the most serious injury, such as the following :-

"To the editor of the Medical Times and Gazette.
A new Dodge of Quack Doctors.
We have heard of Satan transforming himself into an angel of light; but it is something new to hear of gentlemen, who practice as itinerant herbalists and quacks, and who usually profess to have infallible cures, yet condescending to attend lectures and hospital practice, and going up for examinations before a licensing body; so that they may carry on their herbalists trade under the sanction of a real diploma. Yet we hear of a West Country 'Chemist and Herbalist' who has a son who is studying at a Scottish University and is said to be a member of the Edinburgh College of Surgeons, whilst he himself is studying in a London Medical School, in the hope of going up to the Hall and College. It is rather a ludicrous thing that a man should one day be listening to a teacher of orthodox medicine, and the next appear at a market, in a country town, selling drugs to all comers. Of course it is a good thing that any man should study; but it would not be a good thing that herbalist should get a legitimate diploma, and we hope the authorities will be put on the qui vive."

By such cowardly means as these the gentlemanly professors of Yeovil sought to ruin the reputation of Mr Colmer. They accused him of practising witchcraft, and of resorting to the grossest superstitions in order to impose upon, and rob the public. He "kept the markets, advertised in the papers, and sold herbal medicines" the whole of which were crimes in the eyes of these gentlemen that could not be tolerated. Mr Colmer's son at length returned to Yeovil, regularly ordained by the medical priesthood; he could therefore, through his son's aid, fight them with their own weapons. By-and-bye, however, a case occurred by which they hoped to positively crush Mr Colmer out of life. It was as follows :-

A young woman by the name of Elizabeth Fox, became enciente, and in order to hide her shame had, it is presumed, for some time been endeavouring, by taking drugs, to induce abortion. She came to Yeovil on the Monday, whilst Mr Colmer was absent on business; and being very ill Mrs Colmer, knowing nothing of the girl's condition, like a good Samaritan allowed her to go to bed. Mr Colmer, upon his return at night, offered no objection to this; prescribed medicine, and left next day to attend his patients. She continued in the house, and on Saturday aborted, and died from one of those occurrences that do not often transpire, that is, rupture of the uterus. Suffice it to say, that the medical gentlemen declared that such an accident could not arise excepting through violence, and Mr Colmer had undoubtedly caused the death of the girl. Upon this evidence, which was contrary to all experience, a verdict of manslaughter was returned against him. The consequence of this is that Mr Colmer has been put too much inconvenience, and will necessarily incur heavy expenses in order to defend himself. The trial will come off in a few days, and we call upon all men and women, who wish well to medical liberty, to come to the rescue. "Every one," we say; no matter how trifling, according to his or her means. Remember the "widows mite" and subscribe your "mite", one and all. That Mr Colmer will come off victor we are fully satisfied, for he has everything in his favour: law, however, is expensive, and the battle must be fought. Up, then, one and all, and help on the struggle for medical Freedom. None are too poor but that they can do a little; let that little be done. Let committees be formed in every town where Medical Botany is known, and let the monies be taken care of according as the committees decide until the trial takes place.

We head our list, to begin with, as follows :-

     John Skelton Snr, MD, LSA            £1 0s 0d
     John Skelton Jnr, MRCS                   10s 0d
     Mr Gilderslieve                                    2s 6d
     Mr R Beans, Leeds                           10s 0d

We merely notice this as a beginning, and shall be glad to learn, by the issue of our April number, what our friends have done. Persons desirous of lending a helping hand, independent of committees, can send their subscriptions in stamps or post office orders, addressed to John Skelton, 105 Great Russell Street, WC London. Post office orders payable High Holborn. Subscriptions are also received by Mr Stowell MRCS, Church Street, Brighton. All subscriptions will be advertised through this Journal.

Note - the trial comes off on the 18th of the present month, at Taunton. Let us work, then, for medical liberty, and dear old England. From the March number of The Domestic Medical Journal.




The Western Flying Post, Tuesday 29 March 1864

Robert Slade Colmer was indicted for slaying Elizabeth Fox at Yeovil on the 28th September. He was also indicted for misdemeanour - or, in other words, concealment of birth. Mr Cole and Mr Fooks were for the prosecution and Mr Coleridge QC and Mr Prideaux for the defence. Mr Cole stated the case for the prosecution.

He said that the nature of the evidence he should call was wholly of a circumstantial nature, nevertheless it was so plain that he thought the jury would have no difficulty in arriving at the conclusion that the prisoner had been guilty of the offence imputed to him. The young woman with whose death he was charged with causing was a servant, who left her situation for a few days, apparently in health, upon the pretence of visiting her parents near Dorchester. Instead of this she took a ticket at the railway station for Yeovil, went direct to the prisoner's house, and died about five days afterwards of a ruptured womb.

Now the prisoner was what was called a herbalist, or herb doctor. When she went to his house she was enciente, and the question for the jury to ask themselves was what, seeing that she was a stranger they are, the deceased went to his house for, because it must be evident to them that she went for some purpose or other? And how was it, for what reason, did he take her into his establishment, unless for medical treatment in some way? Well, she was treated by him, she had had medicine of him a month before, and she came and asked to see him to be treated by him again, and remained under his roof till the following Sunday morning, at an early hour of which she died.

On the Sunday afternoon, after she had been dead several hours, the son, whom he believed had obtained some Scotch degree, and was therefore called "doctor" went and gave information of the circumstance to the police. Now it was but about 200 yards from Mr Colmer's house to the police station, where the superintendent of police lived, and why was it that this information could not have been given earlier? Was it intended in the first instance to conceal the death, and afterwards, finding it could not be done, make up their minds that it would be better to make the affair known. At the inquest, Amanda, the daughter, was called and upon her evidence and upon that of the son, Dr Colmer, the case for the prosecution chiefly rested.

The prisoner's wife was also examined before the coroner; but, as a wife in a prosecution could not give evidence against her husband, what she said would not be available for them that day. He believed that the prisoner also made a statement, and it would be a question for his Lordship to decide how far that could be brought against him on the present occasion. The learned gentleman then went on to detail the evidence, and to comment on what he deemed the most suspicious points. The evidence of Amanda Colmer would prove that the deceased came at 10 o'clock on Monday morning, that she asked for the prisoner, that she stayed there for him to prescribe for her, that she complained of what she termed a liver complaint. What she really did suffer from it was difficult for them now to say, but according to this witness, she had been taking medicine for procuring abortion. Miss Colmer would also tell them that at 1:30 on Saturday afternoon, such an event did occur, that she was better at 5 o'clock, and yet at 2 o'clock the next morning she died. But he should call medical evidence to prove that the rupture could not have taken place half an hour before death occurred. There was also another fact this witness spoke to, and that was that her father was in the habit of receiving patients into his house, both young men and young women, but for what purpose he must leave the jury to draw their own inference.

Dr Colmer, in his evidence before the jury, stated that he killed the woman by external pressure; but he should bring the best medical evidence he could get on that subject, and they would find that such a thing was impossible. Subsequently a post-mortem examination was made, and to the medical gentleman present, all (except Dr Colmer, of course,) were agreed that the rupture could not possibly have been caused but by mechanical force. Of course, as he had said, the evidence was all of a circumstantial nature; but it was so clear and positive that he thought the jury would have but little difficulty in fixing on the prisoner the guilt. If, however, they had a doubt on their minds, as his Lordship would undoubtedly direct them, it would be for them to give such doubt to the prisoners benefit.

His Lordship said that this was not a case for inference, but fact, unless Mr Cole had other evidence to a adduce besides what he had alluded to in his opening remarks, he would put it to him whether it would be worthwhile to go on with the case? He had himself looked very closely through the depositions, and he could not see how it would be possible to fix on the prisoner the offence. Mr Cole said the case was such a bad one that he thought that a full enquiry ought to be instituted.
His Lordship -- Well, take your own course, it is not for me to dictate to you in the matter.
The examination was then proceeded with.

Amanda Colmer, daughter of the prisoner, said -- I lived at home on the 27th of September last. I remember Elizabeth Fox coming there on that day. Had seen her there about a month previously, but did not know for what reason she came there. She saw father, but did not remain there more than 10 minutes. I don't know whether father gave her anything to take away. On Monday the 28th, when she came, father was not at home. She remained there are some time, and father came home about 4:30 o'clock. I don't know whether he saw her. Both male and female patients come there and stay if it is their particular wish. Elizabeth Fox remained there that night, as she said it was too late to go home. On Tuesday she got up but two hours, but was better on Wednesday and I went with her to Mr Swattidge's to know the price for taking her likeness. She was obliged to rest her arm on the windowsill for support, and did not say much. The artist came to our house in the evening, and asked for my brother. He was there about a quarter of an hour, but I am not aware he spoke to her. She told me while he was there that her side was very bad. On Thursday my mother was away, and Elizabeth Fox said she felt so ill that she did not feel that she could go home, and asked me if she might remain with me. On Saturday I saw her at 9 o'clock, and again at one. She asked me to go for some brandy for her, which I did. She complained of being very ill indeed, and asked me to turn down the bedclothes. I did so, and found a fetus, which I took away, and placed in a basin of water. I saw nothing else. She told me that the placenta had passed, and that it was in the night commode. She then told me that she had deceived me. I saw her again at 11 o'clock at night; she said she had spasms in her side, and asked me to remain there until father came home. He came in at a 11:15. I asked him to come up, and I left the room. She never took any medicine while she was in our house, that I am aware of. I am sometimes away from home the greater part of the day, as I am a milliner and dressmaker. When I am at home I sometimes take the medicine to the patients. Mother, also, sometimes takes them the medicine.
Cross-examined by Mr Coleridge -- My father's business frequently takes him from home - to Bridgwater, Exeter, Taunton, Dorchester, &c. All the time deceased remained at our house she complained more or less of being ill - suffering, as she told me, of diseased liver. On the Saturday, father was at Dorchester. He left at 9:30, and while he was absent the whole affair took place. I first heard of the young woman's death on Sunday morning from mother, and my brother went early that morning to Superintendent Smith to give information on her death. I was at home all day on Friday. She was in bed all day, and complained very much of pain in her side. For the last two or three years, father has been frequently to London, walking the hospital.

Ptolemy Samuel Henry Colmer, a doctor of medicine -- On Monday, the 28th of September, I saw Elizabeth Fox at father's house, and saw her probably two or three times during the week. I saw her take meals two or three times. I don't often take my mails with the family. I understood on the Monday that she was waiting to consult father. About 2 o'clock on the following Sunday morning, when I went indoors, father called me and said he was afraid the young woman was dying. I said nonsense - what from, miscarriage? I had learned about 1:30 that she had had one. I went up, and found the woman in a dying state. Her legs and feet were cold. I asked her where she felt pain. She put her hand upon the place, and I ordered hot water to the feet, gave ergot of rye, and applied other remedies to stop bleeding, and restore animation.
His Lordship -- Where did you get the ergot of rye, from the shop?
Witness -- No, I keep no shop, father keeps a shop. I obtained it from my surgery. I perceived that she was suffering from internal haemorrhage, and applied cold water and pressure to the abdomen. Suddenly I found something give way. I gave information to the police. I called at the police station about 10 o'clock, but the superintendent was not up. I told the servant I would call again. I went to gain about 1 or 1:30 o'clock - it was before I had dinner.
Cross-examined -- I did not say this before the coroner, as I was not asked. I was present at the post-mortem examination, which was conducted by Dr Garland. Dr Parsons, Mr Coles, Mr Tomkyns and Dr Aldridge were also present. The womb was in a state of frightful decomposition. It and the lungs are the last organs of the body subject to decomposition. It is not easy to distinguish, without microscopic examination, between disease and decomposition. It would be most unusual for a healthy womb to be in a decomposed state as this was, in the short space of 48 hours after death. No microscopic examination took place in this case. Judging from the size of the womb the woman must have gone about four months, and at this stage it is impossible to get the hand into the vagina. Dr Garland has refused to meet me. It is unusual to bring away a fetus with instrument, but they are sometimes used to induce premature labour. Not so early, however, as three or four months.

Elizabeth Harvey said -- She was in the habit of washing for Mr Hawtrey, where the deceased lived as servant. About the middle of May deceased made a statement to her, from which witnessed inferred that at the time of death she must have been pregnant at least four months. Saw the deceased in September. Witness told her that she looked ill, and deceased replied "No, I am going away for change." So far as her bodily health she appeared well.

Bailey Thorne, stationmaster at Marston, deposed that on the 28th September last, Elizabeth Fox came to the station and took a ticket for Yeovil. Could not state anything as to her health at that time.

Mr Francis, an assistant photographer at Mr Swattridge's, stated that Elizabeth Fox called at his studio on the 30th September to make an appointment to have her likeness taken next day. She stayed 15 or 20 minutes. Did not notice that she appeared ill. In the evening he went to the house to see Mr Colmer.

Superintendent Smith said -- on Sunday the 4th October, somewhere about 3 o'clock, he received information of the death of Elizabeth Fox.

Dr Garland said -- On the 6th October last, in the presence of Dr Tomkyns, Dr Parsons, Dr Colmer, and others, I made a post mortem examination of the body. The deceased was a well-made young woman, about 20 years of age. I found decomposition going on. The internal organs were for the most part decomposed, but healthy. The lungs were healthy. The liver was healthy but decomposed. The kidneys were very much decomposed, as was also the womb. He expected this, as the effects of the rupture would allow the air to enter more freely, and thus cause decomposition to take place. I should say the woman had been pregnant five or six months. I discovered nothing, from its appearance, indicative of disease. The rupture could not have been produced after the expulsion of the fetus, by external pressure, nor by ordinary means. It must have been done by mechanical means - not by the woman herself. To this rupture I attribute the cause of death. In the state I saw the womb it was possible for a hand to pass. By violence being used, the air would enter more freely and decomposition ensue.

At this stage in the proceedings his Lordship interposed. He asked if Mr Cole was prepared with other evidence to bring the case home to the prisoner, and prove that he caused the rupture. Hitherto they were going all upon surmise. They assumed he was guilty of this and that, but where was the proof? He really could not see any; and if they continued all day, if they got no farther than they were at present, he must direct the jury to return a verdict of acquittal.

Mr Cole said he had only a sump to have evidence. It was assumed that the prisoner ruptured the womb by removing the afterbirth.
The Judge -- That is not according to your evidence. The afterbirth is said to have passed at the time the prisoner was at Dorchester.
Mr Cole said that there was a second indictment, and urged that it should be gone into now that the other had failed.
His Lordship asked if it was worth while to proceed with it. However he would throw no impediment in the way of the prosecution. It was most improper for the prisoner to have young women in the house, and such acts should be thoroughly investigated. If the prosecution thought there was sufficient evidence to convict, by all means let the case proceed.
Mr Cole said if they did proceed, it was requisite that the evidence should be to the effect that the child would be likely to live.
His Lordship -- The words of the Act are "If any woman shall be delivered of a child, every person who shall endeavour to conceal the body, whether the child died before or after the birth thereof, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour."
Mr Fooks said that, in a recent decision, Justice Erle had laid it down that the child in the due course of things had a chance of life, and this could not be preserved under six or seven months old. His Lordship said he did not agree in that decision, as he thought if the child possessed the usual organs, it might be deemed a child. Mr Fooks said he would proceed with the case. Mr Prideaux, hopes his Lordship, after the ruling of Justice Erle, would take a minute of the case for further argument. His Lordship consented. Upon that this second charge, that of concealment of birth, defendant pleaded not guilty. Mr Fooks then opened the case briefly to the jury, and called Dr Colmer. His Lordship asked why he did not call Amanda Colmer, as she was the only evidence who could speak positively as to the fact. Dr Colmer, however, was examined, but much of the evidence was unfit for publication.

Dr Wybrant was next called to produce the evidence given by the defendant before the inquest. Mr Prideaux put it to the judge whether the evidence could be received against himself? His Lordship replied he thought it might, but would reserve the point for a Court of Criminal Appeal to decide in the event of an adverse verdict being given.

The only other evidence given was that of Dr Garland, who in his cross-examination said he had refused to meet Dr Colmer, in consequence of the oath he had taken to uphold the honour of the medical profession. Dr Colmer consulted with his father as to the treatment of cases, and of course he could not, in supporting the dignity of the profession, meet one who consulted with uncertificated practitioners.

Mr Prideaux then addressed the jury for the defence, and left it to them to say, after what they had seen and heard in Court that day - when they saw how it had been determined to proceed in opposition to the recommendation and advice of his Lordship, whether the case was not one of persecution rather than prosecution. Having addressed himself to the facts of the case, he felt quite satisfied that he might safely leave the case in their hands, seeing that the fetus, a thing 3 inches long, could not possibly be considered anything but an abortion, and that the prisoner had not done more than any of them, if they were husbands, and their wives had been unfortunate, would have done. His Lordship then called Amanda Colmer, who again repeated that the fetus was about the length of her forefinger, or not quite so long.

His Lordship then summed up to the jury. He said that notwithstanding the ruling of Mr Justice Coleridge, that what the prisoner had destroyed was a child, and he saw no reason why it should not be as likely to live as to die, and that, therefore, if they were of opinion that the child had been secretly disposed of, he could not but think that the Act of Parliament had been infringed, and the prisoner guilty of the charge imputed to him. However, that would be a subject for criminal appeal in the event of their giving a decision adverse to the prisoner. There must be a secret disposition of the body, and there could be no doubt that the burning of a body was a secret disposition of it. This enactment was passed for the purpose of protecting the lives of their children from the temptation which often presented itself to young women to dispose of their offspring to prevent disgrace. The duty of the jury therefore was to consider what was the object of the prisoner in burning the child - was it to conceal the birth - to prevent the world knowing anything of what had taken place? For, unless they were of opinion that such was his object, they must return a verdict of not guilty. If he burnt that child conceiving that it would never come to maturity, if they believed he was actuated by that motive thereby endeavouring to conceal it, he was not guilty of this offence. The circumstances of this case were peculiar. The young person went to the prisoner's house on the Monday to consult him. In all probability he gave her medicine. She remained during the week, and on Sunday morning she died of a rupture of the womb. The cause of the rupture would never be satisfactorily explained to them. On the Saturday the child was born, and Miss, placed it in the basin. The reason the deceased went there he need not tell them. It did not seem idle to suppose that she remained there a whole week without his consent. He thought they might fairly assume that she was there with his consent - a thing that was very improper of any medical man, and especially of any non-professional medical man - without communicating with her friends. The prisoner, in his evidence before the coroner, said "the deceased told me that she had miscarried; that's the child was 3 inches long. It is a mystery to me why she stopped in my house from Monday to Sunday. I burnt the child at a quarter to 11 o'clock." If that were the case, the child was burnt two or three hours before the young woman died. These were the circumstances, so far as the evidence, and if the jury believed that the object was could to conceal the birth, to hide the shame of the young woman, they would return a verdict of guilty.

The jury, without a minute's hesitation, returned a verdict of "not guilty." His Lordship ordered his immediate discharge.

We should remark that Mr Weston, of Dorchester, instructed counsel for the prosecution, and Mr Fear of Sherborne, for the defence.

On the arrival of Mr Colmer at Yeovil at 5:20, there were scores of persons on the platform to meet him. Many cheers were given, and the horses of a carriage that was in waiting for him, were under harnessed, and the carriage drawn through the town by hand, and amidst the shouts of hundreds of spectators, many of whom, we were told, had been his patients. By the following train the medical men arrived in Yeovil, when they were greeted by a large crowd with hisses and other manifestations of disapproval. At this time and outdoor meeting was being held, opposite Mr Coggan's photographic establishment, when addresses were delivered by Dr Stowell of Brighton, Dr Skelton of London and Mr Coggan. Later in the evening the band of the Rifle Corps paraded the town, playing, "See the conquering hero comes" preceded by a flag and accompanied by a large number of spectators. 




This sepia-toned photograph looking east along Middle Street dates to about 1875 and is probably one of the earliest photographs of the Castle Inn, seen at left. The Colmer's house and herbal shop was the three-storey building next to it. The narrow entrance to Union Street is directly opposite.