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393.: THE CASE OF SUSAN MOIR MORNING CHRONICLE, 29 MAR., 1850, P. 4 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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THE CASE OF SUSAN MOIR
This article, quoting from “The Inquest on Mrs. Moir,” Morning Chronicle, 28 Mar., p. 2, is the eleventh by Harriet Taylor and Mill on injustice and cruelty (for background, see No. 303). This unheaded third leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A leading article on the Coroner’s Inquest on Susan Moir, in the Morning Chronicle of 29th March 1850. A joint production.”
(MacMinn, p. 73.)
only three days have elapsed since we held up to public indignation the frightful details of the Bideford abominations, and the scandal of an acquittal, decisive of Mr. Justice Talfourd’s calibre both as a judge and as a man.1 Already another case has presented itself, fully equal in its atrocious features, and in which, unless the public look well to it, similar impunity will probably be the result.
Our yesterday’s paper contained the Coroner’s inquest on Susan Moir, wife of Alexander Moir, carrying on business as a baker at No. 24, Brydges-street, Covent-garden. “When the sheet,” says our report, “with which the remains were covered was thrown aside, an expression of horror escaped all present, the body, from head to foot, being literally covered with bruises and contused wounds of old and recent date.” The surgeon, Mr. Watkins,2 deposed—“The integuments and muscles of the head were contused in a manner I never saw before—in fact they were a perfect jelly.” The following are the statements of the other witnesses:
The first witness, Mary Ann Bryant, a cousin of the deceased, said that she
called upon her on Saturday last, about half-past one o’clock, when deceased complained of having been very much ill-used by her husband. Deceased begged witness to ask him to allow her to go to bed, as she had been up all the previous night. She said to witness, “You might say to him, let Susan go and lie down.” Witness did ask her husband, as requested, but he refused to allow her to go to bed, and said she must mind the shop. Witness remained with deceased until half-past three o’clock, and during that interval her husband frequently boxed her ears as hard as he could with his open hand, and once, when she got up to serve a customer in the shop, he kicked her behind with great force, because, as he said, she did not move quick enough. He requested witness to examine her head, remarking that he knew he had hurt her. Witness did so, and found her left ear and all that part of the head dreadfully bruised. There were also cuts upon the head, and the hair was matted with congealed blood that had issued from them. Witness told deceased’s husband how much she was injured, but he did not appear to take any notice of it.
About six the same afternoon, on returning to the house,
he asked her whether she had supplied certain customers; and she replied that she had not; upon which he swore at her, and boxed her ears as hard as he could. He then directed her to put some bread in the shop-window; and while she was in the act of doing so she fell insensible on the shop-floor. Witness ran towards her, and saw that the blood was spirting from a wound in her temple. Witness then called out, “Oh, good God, uncle; cousin is in a fit—pick her up.” He replied that he would not. Deceased presently revived a little, and walked with witness into the back parlour. While doing so, she said, “I am in a fit, and a very bad fit. Don’t leave me, for God’s sake—don’t leave me, Mary Ann.” These were the last words she ever uttered. Witness wished to put her to bed, but her husband said she should never go into a bed of his again. Deceased was then standing over a sink; and presently her strength appeared to fail, and she sank down upon the floor with her head resting on the kitchen step.
She never rallied, and died on the following Monday morning.
John Johnson, a journeyman baker in this wretch’s employment, said that on Tuesday night, soon after eleven o’clock,
he heard a great noise overhead, as of two persons quarrelling, and a cry of distress from the deceased woman. The noise was similar to that of one person dragging another across the room, and it continued up to three o’clock to such an extent that witness could not get any sleep. Witness did not hear any words distinctly, but he could tell that his master was speaking in a very ferocious manner. On the Saturday afternoon witness saw his master knock deceased about, and shortly afterwards she fell down insensible. Deceased’s cousin asked witness to assist in raising her, but his master would not allow him. He said, “D—n her, let her get up herself.”
Amelia Meredes, who had lodged in the house for the last two months,
had frequently seen deceased with black eyes in that time; and on Saturday, about five o’clock, during a dreadful noise of quarrelling, she came down stairs into the passage, and while there heard deceased scream out and cry, “Oh, oh! you’ll kill me, you’ll kill me!” Her husband replied, “Yes, I will kill you. I’ll murder you before I have done with you.” Witness also heard deceased’s little boy call out at the same time, “You’ll kill my mother, father.”
It was after such evidence as this that the Coroner’s jury brought in a verdict of manslaughter! And were the ruffian to be tried (as he has been committed) on this verdict, and not on a bill of indictment sent before the grand jury, he would be tried for manslaughter only, and not for murder! We have, however, much satisfaction in perceiving, from the result of the examination which took place at Bow-street yesterday,3 that public justice will be spared this indescribably outrageous insult; and that, despite the enormous folly and heartlessness of the fifteen “highly respectable” jurymen, the prisoner will be put on his trial for the capital offence.4
To prevent justice from being foiled in instances like these ought ever to be the primary object of all who have any power in the case. The parish officers, or any other public authority within whose competence it is to see that the most horrible crimes do not escape unpunished, are under a deep responsibility if they do not, when others fail in their duty, indict such culprits for murder. And when the case is not taken up by those who are most bound to do so, a public subscription ought to enable the relatives or friends of the unfortunate victim to take the proper means of invoking condign punishment on the murderer.
It is necessary that it should be, once for all, understood by juries that to beat a human being to death is not manslaughter, but murder. If it were otherwise, the famous Mrs. Brownrigg was hanged contrary to law.5 What she was convicted of was a series of brutalities exactly resembling this, and the Bideford case. And she would most assuredly have been acquitted had she been tried before Mr. Justice Talfourd. He would have said that there had been “chastisement of which he did not approve,” but that there was no proof that the death of the victim was caused by the “chastisement.”6
In the Brydges-street case it is in evidence that the prisoner actually, and at the very time, said to the unhappy victim that he would murder her; and though this, or any other ruffianly speech under such circumstances, does not amount to proof that the speaker meant the full import of his words, experience shows what interpretation would have been put upon them if the case had been reversed, and if the woman had been charged with killing the man. If the husband had died in circumstances similar to the case of Ann Merrett,7 and such a speech could have been proved to have been uttered by the wife—no matter under what circumstances of just exasperation—she would not have had a chance to escape a capital conviction.
Is it because juries are composed of husbands in a low rank of life, that men who kill their wives almost invariably escape—wives who kill their husbands, never? How long will such a state of things be permitted to continue?
[1 ]See No. 392.
[2 ]Joshua Watkins, R.C.S. (d. 1871).
[3 ]“The Murder in Brydges-Street,” Morning Chronicle, 29 Mar., 1850, p. 7.
[4 ]After a postponement on 11 Apr. (The Times, 12 Apr., p. 7), Alexander Moir was tried at the Central Criminal Court on 9 May, 1850, convicted of aggravated manslaughter, and sentenced to transportation for life (The Times, 10 May, p. 7).
[5 ]For Mrs. Brownrigg, see No. 389, n5.
[6 ]His expressions were used in the Bird case (see No. 392), reported in “Assize Intelligence. Western Circuit,” Morning Chronicle, 25 Mar., 1850, p. 7.
[7 ]Anne Merrett (b. 1819) was convicted of poisoning her husband James with arsenic, and condemned to death (see “Central Criminal Court, March 8,” The Times, 9 Mar., 1850, p. 7).