In the first part of this article, I looked at how the infamous institution, Broadmoor, came into being and the sort of asylum that it was when Christiana arrived there in July 1872. (If you missed it, you can read it here). In this post, I'm looking at life for Christiana once she was admitted and as under the care of Dr William Orange, Broadmoor's resident superintendent.
All of our knowledge of Christiana's time in Broadmoor comes from her medical file, a document filled out by Dr Orange and based entirely on his observations. As you can imagine, her file makes for interesting reading, not just because of its contents but because it is one of the few impressions of Christiana that remains in existence.
According to Dr Orange, Christiana confirmed her diagnosis of insanity in the first few weeks of her arrival at Broadmoor. Though she was a "quiet and orderly" in her behaviour, she showed no remorse for the crimes that she had committed nor did she offer any explanation of her motives. When her mother, Ann, made her first visit to Broadmoor, she was shocked by her daughter's lack of expression. Ann also said that Christiana never expressed any sorrow for the "trouble" she caused her family.
By July 1872, Christiana had only one remaining sibling: her younger sister, Mary who, in these early years, wrote to and visited with Christiana on a regular basis. None of their letters have survived but, according to Christiana's notes, were almost all about make-up and clothing. Specifically, about how to smuggle in contraband ("articles of wearing apparel") and how to apply paint to the face. Christiana’s smuggling attempts became an increasing source of frustration for Broadmoor’s matron, Mrs Jackson. In June 1874, for example, Mary sent a leather cushion to her sister but Mrs Jackson refused to hand it over. In a letter to Dr Orange, she stated that the cushion was "not really sent in to amuse or please" but was, in fact, "a deceptive manner of conveying false hair." Jackson went on to say "she has already great quantities which have been obtained by deception." Ironically, Broadmoor would have allowed Christiana to have the false hair, had she gone through the proper channels. By smuggling it in, it reflected a much more serious problem: that Christiana was driven by a need to be deceitful.
Over the course of 1874 and 1875, Christiana also turned her attentions from Dr Beard to Reverend Henry Cole, the chaplain of Lewes Prison (where she had been incarcerated before and after her trial). In July 1874, for instance, it was discovered that Christiana had sent letters to Cole through her sister and, given her efforts to conceal the letters from Broadmoor staff, it is likely that they contained amorous and personal references.
In her file, Dr Orange commented that he would have "no objection" to Christiana writing to the chaplain but, once again, it was in "conformity with her state of mind to prefer mystery and concealment."
After this, Christiana's behaviour deteriorated: she continued to smuggle in contraband, complained (to anybody who would listen) about her treatment by the staff and delighted in "tormenting" other patients. In July 1876, she was punished with a move to another ward. While she remained "excessively vain" and "frivolous," her behaviour improved significantly and she appears to have (finally) settled into life at Broadmoor.
When Dr Orange retired from Broadmoor in 1886, he was replaced by Dr David Nicholson who found Christiana to be "cheerful and pleasant" in her conversation but "very vain." He wrote in her file that she "courts and desires attention and notoriety" and "pushes herself forward on all occasions." Clearly, Christiana wasn't about to let her age of 58 slow her down.
After Dr Nicholson's retirement in 1895, however, Christiana entered a period of ill-health. According to the notes made by the new superintendent, the aptly-named Dr Brayn, Christiana suffered two serious bouts of influenza as well as catarrh and constipation. By 1906, she was unable to walk without assistance and suffered bouts of neuralgia too. Despite the problems, her vanity was "unabated" and she continued to worry about her personal appearance. While in the infirmary one afternoon, for instance, Dr Brayn overheard the following conversation between Christiana and a fellow patient:
Christiana: How am I looking?
Patient: Fairly well.
Christiana: I think I am improving, I hope I shall be better in a fortnight, if so, I shall astonish them; I shall get up and dance! I was a Venus before and I shall be a Venus again!
But Christiana would not get up and dance again. Over the next year, she weakened considerably and, on the morning of 19 September 1907, she died of "senile debility," a Victorian term for old age. The death of the notorious Chocolate Cream Killer was widely reported in national press and the details of her crimes were retold to a new generation. You can find more about Christiana's time in Broadmoor and her cultural impact in my new book, The Case of the Chocolate Cream Killer, available now.
Here's a lovely review of my new book from the blog, True Crime Daily. I'm sharing here but you can check out the original here: http://truecrimereader.com/2016/07/thecaseofthechocolatecreamkiller/
"This is a solid, meticulously researched book on a notorious 19th century British female killer.Christina Edmunds was a poisoner who laced chocolates with strychnine. She was tried for the murder of a little boy and she poisoned many others. Her murderous impulses were sparked by unrequited love she had for a married man.
Christina was found to be criminally insane and lived for the rest of her life at Broadmoor Hopsital (home of serial killers Peter Sutcliffe and Moors Murderer Ian Brady) , dying in 1907.
The author Kaye Jones knew the case was a sensation of its time, garnering national press coverage. However the book is also a social history of life in Brighton in the late 1800s and a detailed account of Christina Edmunds’ family history. The epilogue is also fascinating as it applies a diagnosis to what Edmunds was suffering, which was not a recognised condition at the time of her crimes.
Kaye Jones gave an interview to her local newspaper Andover Advertiser, which is a good background read if, like me, you are fascinated by the research and writing processes of authors."
On this day - 5 July - in 1872, Christiana Edmunds was transferred from the Sussex Country Prison to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum in Berkshire. Built in 1863, Broadmoor was England's answer to the long-standing question of where to house the criminally insane. Previously, the provision for such people was haphazard and generally inadequate, with many criminal lunatics housed in ordinary asylums or prisons. By 1860, it was felt that such provision was undesirable, as stated by a Select Committee of the House of Commons:
To mix such persons, that is criminal lunatics, with other patients is a serious evil; it is detrimental to the other patients as well as to themselves.
In the same year, the government passed the Criminal Lunatic Asylum Act which authorised the creation of Broadmoor and gave the Home Secretary control over its management and the admission of patients. Construction began shortly after and, three years later, on 23 May 1863, Broadmoor welcomed its first patients: a group of women transferred from the notorious Bethlem Hospital (or Bedlam). Nine months later, these women were joined by the first intake of male patients, and by the end of 1864, the population of Broadmoor had risen to 200 men and 100 women.
As you can see from above, Broadmoor was a visually striking building. Writing in 1865, a spectator remarked on its "lofty and handsome buildings," claiming that a "warmer and more comfortable-looking structure had never been erected in a more wild, though beautiful, situation." The patients of Broadmoor certainly had a lot of space to roam: the asylum was set amongst acres of pine trees in Windsor Forest. This wasn't just about keeping lunatics away from the rest of the population but providing them with plenty of fresh air and space. According to the proponents of "moral therapy," a popular treatment model at this time, fresh air and exercise were instrumental in keeping patients calm and aiding their recovery.
The first man in charge of caring for these patients was Dr John Meyer, the former supervisor to the Convict Lunatic Asylum in Tasmania and once-resident physician of the Surrey County Asylum. Meyer was thus well-experienced in dealing with the insane but it was, perhaps, his military experience during the Crimean War (in which he managed a field hospital) which informed his style of management. Meyer, for example, advocated the use of cages and periods of solitary confinement which contravened the principles of moral therapy but which, Meyer believed, were instrumental in maintaining order at Broadmoor.
Meyer's superintendency of Broadmoor lasted only seven years. When he died in 1870, he was replaced by his deputy, Dr William Orange. Orange was very different from his predecessor: he was an ardent supporter of moral therapy and one of his first actions as superintendent was to remove the cages and restraints, ushering in a more peaceful and caring atmosphere at Broadmoor.
Dr Orange met Christiana before her arrival at Broadmoor when he was appointed by the Home Secretary to ascertain her state of mind, alongside the eminent physician, Sir William Gull. During a lengthy interview, the men agreed that Christiana was of "unsound mind" and their decision saved her from the gallows, though it made her a "pleasure patient" at Broadmoor (a person detained at her Majesty's pleasure).
According to Dr Orange, Christiana arrived at Broadmoor wearing a "large amount of false hair," false teeth and had painted her cheeks with rouge. She was the self-styled 'Venus of Broadmoor' and her sensational and widely-reported case made her one of the institution's first celebrity patients. It wasn't just the shocking nature of her crimes nor her looks which made her stand out: the vast majority of Broadmoor's female patients were drawn from the working classes and a high number of these were confined for the crime of infanticide. In fact, between 1863 and 1902, 286 women were sentenced to a stay in Broadmoor for this reason. Christiana, in contrast, was a woman of considerable means who had killed a child that she had never met, let alone a child that she had birthed and raised.
Find out exactly how Christiana fared in Broadmoor in the next part of this article.
I wrote a guest post for the wonderful Mad, Bad and Desperate blog (http://criminalunacy.blogspot.co.uk) which I am reposting here. Alternatively, check out the original here.
Proving insanity in the Victorian courtroom was a notoriously tricky business and no case demonstrates this better than that of Christiana Edmunds, the infamous Chocolate Cream Killer.
Christiana was 43 when she stood in the dock of the Old Bailey in January 1872, charged with one count of murder and three counts of attempted murder by poisoning.
In court, the prosecution alleged that Christiana was a cold-blooded killer, driven to commit the mass poisoning of Brighton over the summer of 1871 because she had been rejected by the man she loved. The man in question was Dr Charles Beard, a local doctor, and his wife, Emily, was Christiana's first victim. In fact, Christiana poisoned Emily on two occasions and, fortunately, she survived both of these attempts.
The prosecution also alleged that Christiana's weapon of choice - poisoned chocolate creams - was strong evidence of her sound mind and sinister intent. Through painstaking investigation, the police pieced together her highly-planned and skilful method of obtaining poison: she had purchased chocolate creams from a local confectioner called John Maynard and used a false name and address to purchase strychnine from the local chemist, Isaac Garrett. After she had adulterated the chocolate creams at home, she paid young boys to return the creams to Maynard's shop (citing poor quality as the reason for return) or simply dispersed them across Brighton by leaving small bags in shops she frequented.
The ingenuity of her poisoning spree made the task of defending Christiana enormous and the man hired to do this job was John Humffreys Parry, a well-known and well-respected serjeant-at-law. Despite working on some of the era's most sensational cases, including that of Marie Manning, Parry openly admitted in court that he had never encountered a case like Christiana's and was, quite frankly, baffled by her motive:
In my experience at the bar - which is now not a short experience - I never remember any case similar to this. In my reading of the criminal annals, both of this country and others, I never remember a case similar to this, and I frankly own - I am not ashamed of it - that I feel completely at a loss in my own mind how to place this case by way of argument before you.
But, after meeting with Christiana as she awaited trial in Newgate, Parry became convinced of her insanity and, a dig around her family history, gave him the evidence he needed.
Born in 1828, Christiana was the eldest child of the locally-celebrated architect, William Edmunds. She grew up in relative wealth and luxury and was privately educated in Ramsgate. In March 1847, however, her died in a lunatic asylum in London. The cause of death was General Paralysis of the Insane, an illness that we now know as tertiary syphilis but, for the Victorians, was just another form of insanity. In addition, one of Christiana's sisters, Louisa, tried to kill herself by jumping from a window and, even more tragically, Christiana's youngest brother, Arthur, died of epilepsy in a lunatic asylum in Surrey. This, according to Parry, provided irrefutable evidence of the taint of madness in Christiana's family.
To successfully plead insanity, however, Parry would need to satisfy the McNaughtan Rules, the most commonly-employed test for insanity in the Victorian courtroom. In essence, these rules stated that the "jurors ought to be told in all cases that every man is to be presumed sane, and to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crimes, until the contrary be proved to their satisfaction." In other words, if Parry was to convince the jury of Christiana's insanity, he would need to prove what had happened to her family.
In court, Parry called a number of witnesses to testify to the taint of madness in the Edmunds family, including the current superintendent of Southall Park, one of two asylums which treated her late father. The superintendent of Reigate Asylum was also present to verify the death of her brother, Arthur.
Parry also arranged for some medical experts to interview Christiana and to medically assess her state of mind. These men were some of the leading figures in Victorian psychiatry and included William Wood, a physician at St Luke's hospital in London, Henry Maudsley, psychiatrist and professor of medical jurisprudence, and Charles Lockhart Robertson, former superintendent of the Sussex County Asylum. These men interviewed Christiana on 7 January 1872, just a few weeks before her trial, and were immediately struck by the "absolute indifference" to her position. William Wood, for example, could not make her understand the severity of the charges laid before her and quickly came to the conclusion that Christiana could not distinguish between right and wrong. Similarly, Henry Maudsley found her lacking in any "moral feeling" and regarded her as the one of those people on the "border-land between crime and insanity."
With all men in agreement that Christiana was insane as a result of her family history, Parry was confident that he could satisfy the McNaughtan Rules. In court, however, Charles Lockhart Robertson made a monumental mistake when questioned by the prosecutor, William Ballantine:
William Ballantine: Had she any moral sense?
Charles Lockhart Robertson: To a certain degree she had.
WB: Do you mean that if she administered poison to another with intent to kill she would not know she was doing wrong?
CLR: I believe that she would know that she was doing wrong if she committed an act.
By admitting that Christiana knew the difference between right and wrong, Robertson threatened to destroy Parry's defence. To make matters worse, the prosecution summed up in stating that insanity was the preferred defence of the wealthier classes who would rather spend time in an asylum than in prison. Given Christiana’s conduct while on remand, which included constant complaints about her poor conditions, it was indeed plausible that she might claim insanity to avoid further time in prison.
It took a little over an hour for the jury to find Christiana Edmunds guilty of all counts. She appeared calm and unmoved as she was sentenced to death. Parry's defence had failed: the jury believed that Christiana knew the difference between right and wrong, despite the prevalence of insanity in her family.
Find out what happened next in my new book, The Case of the Chocolate Cream Killer: The Poisonous Passion of Christiana Edmunds, on sale now.
(All images courtesy of Wellcome Library).