1826 murders

1826 murders: On the morning of March 12, 1827, there was a double hanging at Carlisle jail.

At five minutes before twelve, the prison bell tolled a summons to Robert Fox and Philip Tinnaney, to procede along the middle court of the jail to the scaffold. 

Newspapers of the time weren’t adverse to describing executions in detail, adding that the bodies were to be dissected later.

The 1826 murderers

Robert Fox had been induced by parish officers into marrying a young woman after getting her pregnant.

At the time of marriage – August 26, 1826 – she was seven months gone. And at nine months, he poisoned her and the  baby she was carrying.

Philip Tinnaney is a more curious story. For one thing, he refused to plead in court, and for another, his remorse seems to have started before he took a hammer to Mary Brown, for rejecting him.

Robert Fox

Robert Fox, of Gosforth, was ‘about 25 years old, of middle size, stout, with a florid complexion, and rather well-looking’.

His wife Sarah was 21. After the ‘shotgun wedding,’ they lived with her parents. 

Just weeks later, Sarah’s mother, Mary Pharoah*, got home one day to find her daughter ‘violently sick,’ and saying something in the coffee that caused it.

Sarah’s sister Margaret, aged eight, was also violently ill.

At one point, Mary Pharoah threw out the water which was in the kettle into the pig’s trough.

By the evening, the pig was lying in a bad state.

*The spelling in the records and news reports for the family is Pharoah, not Pharaoh

Poor Sarah Fox was delivered of a full-grown dead child on the Monday morning, and died the following evening – September 21, 1826.

She sald, in the presence of her husband on the Tuesday, that he had poisoned her and that killing her was nothing to killing the child.

Margaret recovered – eventually – and looks to have grown up to marry twice.

Neighbours and witnesses

Mary Briggs, of Gosforth, had visited Sarah Fox twice in the days before she died, and told the court Sarah’s last words were

‘she hoped that God would forgive her all her sins; that she would forgive Bob, and that she hoped he would suffer as much on earth as she had done.  

Anne Cormic, of Gosforth has spent several hours with Sarah Fox and was with her when she dled. Sarah had said three or four times that she had been poisoned

Mary Briggs, the younger had stayed up all the Monday night with Sarah Fox, and gave a similar account.

The pharmacist

David Saul, of Whitehaven, druggist, said on September 14, 1826, a man came into his shop and asked for two-pennyworth of arsenic to poison rats.

He refused at first, as he never sold poison to strangers. However, another customer said he knew the purchaser, so Mr Saul let him have about half-ounce of the arsenic and gave him instructions on how to use it.

John James told the court he’d known the Robert Fox since infancy and had said so, but had said he wouldn’t stand bond for him.

More hearsay evidence

Henry Birkhend said he had met Robert Fox on the Sunday and gone with him to a Mr. Atkinson’s.

When there, Fox said to Hannah Pharoah, Sarah’s sister,, that he had been in Whitehaven on Thursday, and had brought Sarah some stuff; the stuff was to no purpose, but it was giving her a good heckling.

The medics

William Wright, surgeon at Gosforth, described attending her. And three surgeons – Jonathan Langrave Lawson of Egremont, Edward Thomson, and a Mr. Wright – described their joint post-mortem examination. Edward Thomson has tested poor Sarah’s stomach contents and conclusively found arsenic.

Robert Fox

The prisoner said nothing in defence.

The jury had no hesitation in finding him guilty.

After the sentence was passed, the prisoner, in a tremulous volce,

“Well, gentlemen, I am now quite willing to give up my life for the life which I have taken. The taking my wife’s life was nothing to taking that of the child. I ask for no favour, no mercy.

The Lord brought me into the wold, and I hope he will take me out of it.”

Philip Tianney

The second murderer was described by the jailer as ‘a well-behaved man, and a sincere penitent,’ who had been attended often by a Catholic clergyman.

In court, he refused to plead to charge of murdering Mary Brown, because:

by pleading guilty he would be committing suicide, and by pleading not guilty he would be telling a lie.

The jury found that the prisoner was ‘mute through obstinacy’, a formal ‘not guilty’ plea was entered, and the trial then proceeded.

The victim

Mary Brown lodged with a woman called Mary Graham in Carlisle. Philip Tianney was a pedlar who  cohabited with Mary Brown. He came about once every three weeks.

He and Mary Brown had quarrelled, and she wished Mary Graham to banish him the house.  

Carlisle publican Anne Irving said on September 7, 1826, about four o’clock, Philip Tianney came to her and asked if she had heard of the murder.

‘She said ” No.”

He sald there had been a murder, and he was the man who did it, that he had been 14 miles into Scotland, but had come back to give himself up. He said the woman’s name was Brown; that she was a bad woman; and then he began to cry.

Ruth Williamson, who lived In the same house with Mary Brown, said Philip Tianney had led ‘a great number of persons to a field,’ after confessing to murder.

On the way to the field she asked why he hadn’t simply left Mary Brown. He sald he ‘wished to see the far end of her’.

In Mr. Studham’s field called the Far HIll, about half a mile from Carlisle, they found Mary Brown with severe head injuries, lying ‘senseless’ on the ground. Nearby, they found a hammer. She died the next day. 

‘Kill me so I don’t kill you’

Magistrate Thomas Blamire had (in the jail, in 1826) taken voluntary examinations of the prisoner, who signed them. 

Philip Tianney said he and Mary Brown had spent several hours in the field, and had drunk some rum together.

In that time, he prayed that someone else might come along, to prevent his committing the murder which he intended.

He gave her the hammer, and requested of her to kill him, which she refused. He then struck the blows, and covered her face with her apron. 

‘Hanging isn’t enough’

Newspapers at the time published a very strange poem – written by Philip Tianney.

1826 murders, Cumbrian Characters, Philip Tinnaney,

Sleeping arrangements

The 1827 spring assizes also dealt with two claims of rape. Not charges Cumbrian Characters wishes to detail, but the cases have some interest. 

William Coward, 44 or 45, of Ireton, was convicted of raping a teenage family member. The points of interest being

  1. that they lived in a two-roomed house: one ground floor room, with one bedroom above. The ‘interest’ being that families did live in such conditions
  2. on being found guilty, Coward was initially sentenced to death. Though it seems his sentence wasn’t carried out, as the Carlisle Patriot in May 1827 reports that a William Coward (and a John Cameron) were removed from Carlisle jail to the Justitia Hulk at Woolwich, to be transported for the term of their natural lives.

The second rape case saw William Palmer, 59, was acquitted of attacking 15-year-old servant at his home in Glassonby. Palmer claimed it was consensual.

Apart from the abuse of position, the case is interesting in that the victim told the court she and the Palmers’ manservant, George Nicholson, had to share a bedroom. Again, it tells us something of living conditions deemed normal/acceptable in the early 1800s.

You can read more about sleeping arrangements in the early 1800s in this post