It wasn’t a murder trial that gripped the nation in 1842, but a conspiracy to defraud a vulnerable middle-aged woman by tricking her into marriage.
It’s definitely worthy of Crimes of the Centuries – and there are some Cumbrian Characters in the middle.
In April 1842, the nation was gripped by an unusual court case in Liverpool – the court itself was packed with members of the public, eager to witness the proceedings.
On trial initially were John Orr McGill (30), John Osborne Quick (30), Richard Jones (31) and Margaret Jones (28, of Victoria Terrace), James Wormand Rogerson (36), and Jane Clayton (29).
They were charged with abducting a ‘weak and easily led’ woman called Ann(e) Crellin: drugging her, then dragging her to Scotland. Where she came to her senses to find herself in a bed with McGill and Mrs Clayton, and a wedding ring on her finger.
The motive was simply money.
Anne Crellin, who was aged about 53, was thought by the conspirators to be worth £66,000, and if she married, control of her fortune would pass to her husband.
The other fraudster
It had all started with Samuel Martin Copeland, of Lodge Lane (and later Vine Street), pretending to be a single man called Thomas Martin.
Copeland, who was just 24, had courted her, even following her to the Isle of Man when she went to stay there for a while. But she broke things off when he insisted she settle half her money on him.
Poor Miss Crellin (who was actually worth more like £5,000) paid him £250 to buy off his threat of proceedings for breach of promise. Some of the later conspirators were in on this – Mrs Clayton, for sure.
Only later was she to discover – from policeman George Duval – that he was already married. Sadly, Duval’s motive in telling her this wasn’t as pure as one might hope
The next contender
George Duval introduced Anne Crellin to John Orr McGill, who also urged her to marry him. She refused, unless her property was settled on herself.
This landed Duval in court. Along with a Dr James Dunlevy – for applying, with Rogerson, for the marriage licence. Which was at best a presumpuous act.
Rogerson, of Boundary Street, Liverpool, was married to McGill’s sister.
John Orr McGill was a cigar dealer, of 18 Dale Street, Liverpool. Richard Jones was a stone mason, his wife Margaret was a charwoman. ‘Dr’ John Osborne Quick was a druggist (chemist), of Scotland Road, who had not long married, and employed an apprentice.
Jayne Clayton was ‘a woman of bad character’.
Anne Crellin began an action to get her money back from Copeland. She was told if she went to the house of Mrs Clayton, a lodging house keeper, he’d be there with £150. But when she got there, she was made to drink ‘a liquid containing some dark stuff’. And remembered no more till she awoke at Gretna Green, where Quick told her she was married to McGill and if she didn’t behave, he would put her in the workhouse.
Witnesses told the court that Quick had referred to their victim in various derogatory ways, including ‘the old devil’.
So convinced were the gang of their scheme, they even published a formal announcement of the marriage in the press: On the 19th instant, at Gretna Green, John Macgill Esq., of Elmount, county Dublin, to Anne, only child of the late Richard Crellin Esq., of Liverpool.”
And here’s the Cumbrian bit!
The trial went on for days, hearing witnesses from all stages of the journey. All of whom had thought poor Miss Crellin was either drunk, ill, or crazy.
The witnesses included James Bain, coachman for the North Briton, who took Quick, McGill, Jones, Mrs Clayton and Ann Crellin to Kendal, where they dined at the King’s Arms.
From Kendal, they travelled by coach to Shap. From where coachman John Wilson took them to Carlisle.
James Hodgson, waiter at The Bush Inn, Carlisle, also gave evidence. As did T Brownrigg, post-boy at The Bush, who drove them to Scotland.
Elizabeth Armstrong, chambermaid at the Crown and Mitre, Carlisle, described how the party had spent a night there. This was on the way back from Gretna, and her evidence, and that of waiter John Macfarline make it clear poor Ann Crellin was being kept out of it with either brandy or worse.
John Hawkes, at the King’s Arms, Kendal, gave a similar account. Though folk who knew her described Miss Crellin as a sober lady of good behaviour and character.
Scheming to the end
Back in Liverpool. Anne Crellin was taken to Rogerson’s house, where she was kept under watch. After two nights there, she made her escape and went to an attorney.
Even while he was on remand in custody, McGill was trying to get his hands on Anne Crellin’s money – claiming in June 1942 that £1,600 in a Liverpool bank should be paid to him, not her, as he was her husband. (The bank refused).
Meanwhile, his counsel tried (in vain) to argue Anne Crellin couldn’t be a witness against him because she was his wife!
John Linton, the Gretna blacksmith who conducted the marriage, claimed Ann Crellin had been sober and willing – but then he’d hardly have admitted he married a woman who was too drunk or drugged to know what was going on!
The defence produced witnesses to blacken Anne Crellin’s character, and the jury were not entirely sympathetic on that score. Her morals may or may not have met the standards of the time, she may not have been educated or bright. Or she may just have been a lonely woman who was taken in by false ‘friends’.
The judge had no hesitation in calling the conspirators cruel and callous in their scheme.
McGill, Jones, Clayton and Quick were convicted of abduction. McGill was jailed for 18 months, Quick for 18, Jones and Clayton for 12 – all with hard labour.
Copeland, meanwhile, was convicted of obtaining money by false pretences, and was also jailed for 12 months with hard labour. In court, he had admitted to using various aliases over the years (alongside his wife Maryann), and to pretending to be a doctor.
Margaret Jones, George Duval, Rogerson and Dunlevy were acquitted.