Ok, so it’s not Christiana-related but here’s another murder case from Victorian Brighton, a perfect read for Halloween…
Early in the evening of March 14 1844, John Lawrence was arrested on a charge of shoplifting and taken to the police station, a series of rooms on the ground floor of the Brighton Town Hall. Lawrence had been spotted trying to steal a roll of carpet from a shop in St James’s Street but was quickly apprehended by a local bobby by the name of Harnden.
While waiting on the arrival of a witness, Lawrence was placed in a room occupied by a number of men including Henry Solomon, the Chief Constable of the Brighton Police Force. (pictured below) Solomon was a well-liked and highly-respected figure in Brighton. He also had the honour of being the town’s first Chief Constable, a post he had held for the past six years. When Solomon noticed Lawrence in the room, he asked him how long he had been in Brighton. Lawrence claimed it was two days but Solomon suspected that it was much longer. Caught out, Lawrence became agitated and said to Solomon: “I’m tired of my life. Give me a knife that I may make away with myself.” According to a witness, Solomon ignored this obvious provocation and instead tried to soothe Lawrence by urging him to relax while they waited on the arrival of the witness. Solomon then turned away and began chatting to some of the other men in the room.
Lawrence (pictured below) now seized his moment. He rose from his chair, reached out to the fireplace behind him and grabbed the poker. Before anyone had noticed, he had landed a blow on Solomon’s head that was so strong he immediately fell to the floor. Covered in blood and “completely incapable of helping himself,” Solomon was attended to by those around him while Lawrence shouted “I know I have done it! I hope I have killed him, I shall be hanged!” Poor Solomon was then transported home. He lingered through the night but his wound was so severe that he died the following morning. He was interred on the following Friday afternoon in Brighton’s Jewish Burial Ground and the town’s public raised a fund to support his wife and nine children – with £50 donated by Queen Victoria herself.
Meanwhile, Lawrence was found guilty of his murder and sentenced to death. At trial, Lawrence claimed to harbour no enmity towards Solomon. It was, he explained, his wish to die and escape his miserable life. His wish was granted on 6 April when he was executed in front of a large crowd at Horsham, north of Brighton. He was only 24 years old – we can only wonder what prompted such unprovoked violence that night.