Illustrated and unabridged edition of The Times report of the trial of William Palmer, for poisoning John Parsons Cook at Rugeley, from the short-hand notes taken in the Central Criminal Court from day to day

London: Ward and Lock, 1856

The case of ‘Palmer the poisoner’ gripped British attention for the first six months of 1856. The Times newspaper alone devoted more than 50 articles to the subject. Palmer was on trial for the poisoning of John Cook, a friend whose money he hoped to inherit. It was subsequently suspected, in addition, that Palmer, a doctor, had poisoned his wife and brother and possibly four of his young children, in order to benefit from their life insurance policies.

There was a grim fascination among the public in a doctor committing so many murders and by the time of his trial Palmer had become a kind of celebrity. The Times responded by producing this ‘special edition’ report of the trial. It was illustrated rather like a novel, with sketches of the main characters (the judge, defence counsel etc.). Other illustrations showed the places in Rugeley, Staffordshire, where the murders had taken place. Many members of the public attended the trial itself, or if it was full waited outside to hear the latest developments. Others made the journey to Staffordshire to see Palmer’s home and the house where Cook had died “screaming in agony.”

There was much interest in the technical medical details concerning the effects of strychnine poisoning, and in the ‘behind the scenes’ experience of the jury. The jurors were fed and housed at a London coffee house and even their ‘dormitory’ there was illustrated in the Times report. More bleak sketches followed of Stafford gaol and the condemned cell in Newgate Prison. Palmer was found guilty and condemned to be executed in his home town of Stafford, as the judge said “for the sake of example.”

Not on display in physical exhibition

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