Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Notorious Life and Death of Cornelius Asher

Another week - another ancestor - although this one isnt a direct ancestor and Im taking a break from my Goodwin branch to recount a really horrible tale relating to my 5th Great Uncle.
My 5x Great Grandparents were William Asher and Hannah Burgoine ( I really want to do some more research on the Burguoine family to discover the origin of the name and to discover where the family came from.
William and Hannah had 4 children that I am aware of. One of them was Hannah Asher, my 4x Great Grandmother  who married John Youson my 4x Great Grandfather.  Hannah's elder brother was Cornelius Asher and his story is a doozy .  So much of a doozy that it filled 4 pages.
Its a long story so grab a coffee and read this!!

Cornelius Asher was the eldest son of William Asher and Hannah Burgoine of Leicester, born in 1798 , his life first comes to public notice in 1819 when he is charged with Grand Larceny.  It is not known exactly what Cornelius’ crime was , but he was sentenced to 7 years transportation to New South Wales and was imprisoned on the Prison Hulk ship Justitia. It is unlikely Cornelius actually made the voyage to Australia because he is pardoned in 1823.
In 1826 Cornelius marries Elizabeth Blythe and together they had 6 children. Several of those children must have died young. Certainly their fourth child, Hiram Asher died age 3 of a fit, in 1840.
In the 1841 census, Cornelius is living in High Cross Street with wife Elizabeth, and children William aged 13, daughter Anne aged 8 and son Thomas aged 1 . It is likely his second son David has also died.
In 1847, Cornelius once more appears in court records, this time charged with stealing the seeds of turnip tops. He is sentenced to 2 months hard labour, though it is not known if he served this sentence.
By 1851 it appears Cornelius has changed his trade and is now practicing as a Botanist/Herbalist. While perhaps the majority of his trade may have been for the good of others, he is known more notoriously for his actions most likely where herbs were not the only tool of trade.
The following article is from the Derby Mercury February 21 1855
One of the most atrocious cases of crime that ever stained the annals of Leicester was brought to light by a post mortem examination of the body of a woman named Fletcher, on Friday afternoon, and by a coroner's inquest on Saturday evening. The deceased died on Tuesday afternoon, and arrangements were made for her funeral to take place on Friday, and the body was on the point of being thus put out of the way without its being known to more than two persons under what circumstances death had taken place. One of these two, however, who had up to that time kept the secret for the purpose of screening the character of the deceased, could not rest until she had divulged what she knew, which put a stop to the funeral and led to the examination and investigation just referred to. Elizabeth Fletcher, the deceased, was a healthy lively person about 28 years of age; she was wife of George Fletchler. a fancy hosiery hand by trade,... About two years ago Fletcher left his wife with four children, a married woman named Birchnall leaving her husband and family at the same time to accompany him; in their absence a too intimate acquaintance has taken place between the discarded husband, Birchnall, and the wife of Fletcher, and the latter discovered a few weeks ago that she was pregnant. Mrs. Bircshall has now returned to her husband, and Mrs. Fletcher received a letter from her husband, in America, wishing her to join him there. This she intended doing, and had fixed upon April next as the time for her departure. About three weeks ago Mrs. Mackley, a neighbour of the deceased (who lived in Willey's yard, Marlborough-street),was confidentially made acquainted with Mrs. Fletcher's state,which she had before suspected, and Mrs. F. at the same time said she knew a man that could " get shut of it" for her." Mrs Mackley exclaimed '" Oh dear! what are you going to take? and Mrs. Fletcher. replied she was not going to take anything-taking would be of no use. At the inquest on Saturday evening, Mrs. Mackley stated that on Monday evening,the 29th of January, she accompanied Mrs. Fletcher to the house of a man named Cornelius Asher, who sold herbs, in High Cross-street; Mrs. Fletcher went in, and was there for  some time, Mrs. Mackley walking about outside; on Mrs F. coming out, a conversation ensued from which it appeared that Asher wanted two sovereigns for what he was about to do, and that she had paid him 30s.; that his "operation" that night was not successful, and that Mrs. F. was therefore to go again on Wednesday evening; on that and several subsequent occasions, Mrs. Mackley says she tried to persuade Mrs. Fletcher never to go again, but she replied she was not going to pay all that money for nothing. Mrs. M. told her that if it were not for her sake she would expose Asher, and Mrs. F. said she would rather die than live to be exposed, and that if Asher could not do it there was a person at Nottingham who charged £5 who could, and she would go there. It appears from subsequent conversations, related very circumstantially by Mrs, Mackley to the jury, that Mrs. Fletcher went to Asher's house and underwent some operation on the nights of Wednesday, 31st of January,and 7th of February, and that on her return on the latter occasion she said Asher did not doubt for a moment that he had done it ,  adding words, the purport of which  was that the "operation” would  be completd on Thursday or Friday morning; if it was not she was to go again. He has  told her there was not the slightest danger. Mrs. F. seemed to be in pain at that time,but  to be trying to hide it. 
Friday, the 9th inst she was taken very ill, and sent for Asher, who is Described as trembling very much when told what a state she was in, as having said to Mrs. Mackley on the way to the house that it was the first case that had failed, and added " Let's hope its not so bad as you think it is." On arriving at Mrs. Fletcher's bedside he is described as having " used her just as a doctor would at a confinement." Her screams at this time were awful. Asher then mixed her some herb tea which was administered to her,and visited her several times on Saturday and Sunday, ordering the oven shelf and hot bricks to be placed to her feet, a mustard plaster to be applied to her bowels, and herb tea to allay sickness and produce perspiration. The poor woman was all this time suffering the most agonising pains, and cries were distressing to all her neighbours. On Monday morning Asher visited her again,'and Mrs. Mackley told him a doctor had been sent for, in the hope of getting rid of him. This was the case, as the doctor's medicine and his might not ad the desired effect; he said he was sorry that that agree, but as it was so he would go, and he went away. Mr.Crossley, surgeon, was afterwards sent for, and saw Mrs Fletcher on Monday afternoon, but was not told what had occurred, further than that she had been very ill since Friday with pain in the  bowels. He examined her and found that she was suffering from peritonitis, and told Mrs. Mackley that she was in a very dangerous state. He ordered constant fomentation, and sent some suitable medicine, and on calling at noon on Tuesday found her dying. She expired in the course of the afternoon. The post mortem examination of the body on Friday disclosed an awful scene, but the description of these appearances must be suppressed. Mr. Crosetey, having heard the evidence of Mrs. Mackley, said he was fully warranted in believing that it had been done by Asher, as she had described. The deceased could not have lived more than two or three days in such a state. Asher having been duly cautioned made a lengthy statement, which fully corroborated Mrs. Mackley's evidence on many points, but he denied everything, which could incriminate himself. He said lie had sold deceased a bottle of herbs for 1s. 6i., and that was all the money he ever had from her. He said, she never told him that she was pregnant. His account of his visits on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Mon- day morning, and of his prescriptions and orders at those visits, quite accorded with that given by Mrs. Mackley. except as to the use of violence on Friday, which he denied. The jury returned a verdict of " Willful Murder" against Asher, who was handcuffed and lodged in the borough gaol the same night, to await his trial at the ensuing Assizes. He appears to be about 60 years of age, and has been ostensibly obtaining a livelihood by selling herbs, but the disclosures in this case lead to the suspicion that lie has had other means of living. The inquest lasted nearly six hours.
Facing a possible death sentence for murder, Cornelius must have had some luck on his side,because The next report we see is in the London Times 6th March 1855.
In the case of Cornelius Asher, a herb doctor, who was charged with the wilful murder of Elizabeth Fletcher, on the 13th of February, by causing her death in attempting to procure abortion, the grand jury ignored the bill for wilful murder, but brought in one for manslaughter. The defending counsel, Mr. O'Brien, applied for the case to be traversed to next assizes, on the ground that the public excitement in the matter was so great that the prisoner would not be able to obtain a fair trial. His lordship refused the application, but granted that the case should be tried by a county jury.

The newspapers were full of the story of Cornelius and Mrs Fletcher. It was only a few days later that this report appeared in the  Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser - Wednesday 21 March 1855.

Cornelius Asher, a herbalist and quack, was found guilty in Leicester, last week, of causing the death of a woman in  operating her to procure abortion, and was sentenced to 14 years transportation.

So Cornelius was for a second time in his life sentenced to transportation, but it appears that once again he avoided the long trip to Australia. Prison records for 1855 state the following
Cornelius Asher, Age 57, Married with 3 children  Convicted on 3rd March 1855 in Leicester of a Felony. Sentence Fourteen years Penal Servitude, on 20th April 18955 in Leicester. Gaolers record as to Character states he had been previously transported for 7 years  convicted 1849 once summarily.  Left 20 April 1855 for Dartmoor Prison.
This record indicates that at some point after Cornelius’ sentencing to transportation, it was commuted to 14 years penal servitude. In all likeliness his entire term was served at Dartmoor which had recently been reopened as a civil prison.  What we do know is that Cornelius did not remain in prison for the full 14 years , in fact he did not even serve half of that time as in the 1861 census we find him in Leicester with his wife Elizabeth at 10 Sycamore Lane Leicester and he his occupation once again is listed as a Botanist. 
It seems that Cornelius seemed to live under the radar as far as the media goes for the next 14 years of his life. He continues practicing as a herbalist, and in the 1871 census he is living and working out of 11 St Nicholas Street Leicester. He is supporting his wife, Unmarried daughter Ann aged 38, and Granddaughters Ann  aged 21 and Charlotte age 7 and Elizabeth age 6 despite his advancing age of 70 years.
 But it appears Cornelius had not learned from his previous experience resulting in the tragic death of Elizabeth Fletcher for in May 1876 we find  another newspaper report.
At the Leicester Town Hall, on Monday, before the Mayor (Mr W. Barfoot) and other magistrates, Cornelius Asher, seventy-six years of age, a herbalist, was charged with the willful murder of Ann Gee, on the 2nd of May. Mr Wright, solicitor, watched the case on behalf of the prisoner. It seemed that the deceased, who was a married woman, was twenty-six years of age, and that her husband has been for some time living in America. On the evening of Monday the 24th April, she was accompanied by a woman named Elizabeth Richards to the prisoner’s shop when he ordered the witness outside, saying that she might wait in the street for deceased, so he did not allow anyone to stay in the place. On the deceased rejoining the witness in the course of the two hours she complained of being ill, and could scarcely walk to her sister’s where she lived, only a short distance away. She at once took to her bed,where she lingered in great pain until the 2nd inst. when she died. In the meantime she had been attended by Mr Bryan, surgeon, but after her burial rumours in the neighbourhood led to the Coroner, Mr Geo. F. Harrison issuing an order for the exhumation of the body on Wednesday last, when Dr Bryan made a post mortem examination in conjunction with Dr. Franklin, which showed that deceased had suffered great inflammation of the internal membrane, arising from several punctures caused by the use of such sharp instruments as those found in the prisoner’s house on his apprehension on Saturday last. It also seemed that, on the Saturday after the death of the deceased, the witness Richards went to the prisoner’s house, and told him of Gee’s death, that it was he who had killed her, and that he ought to refund some money out of the 27s,6d, which had been paid him by the deceased to help to bury her, as her friends had no harm, but after some conversation, gave the witness 10s. saying that was all the money he had from the deceased. Prisoner was remanded until Friday. He was convicted of a similar offence to that with which he is now charged some years ago, when he was sentenced to fourteen years .

It seems that justice moved far swifter in Victorian England than it does today because the next time Cornelius’ name appears in the newspaper is the report from the Assizes where he is sentenced.

At the Leicester assizes on Monday, Cornelius Asher, an herbalist, seventy seven years of age, was charged with the willful murder of Ann Gee, aged twenty-six years , on the 2nd May. The husband of the deceased left her nine months ago and went to America. In April last she found herself enciente, and went with a female companion to the prisoners shop on the 24th of that month. The prisoner ordered the deceased companion out, and she remained in the street nearly two hours, during which time it was alleged on the part of the prosecution that an attempt was made by the prisoner to procure abortion. Mrs Gee was ill when she went home, and had to go to bed. She became worse, told her sister that Asher “ had given her a death blow” and died on 2nd May. After burial the body was exhumed and a post mortem examination revealed that an instrument had been employed. The prisoner who has undergone fourteen years penal servitude for a similar offence was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Within days - on July 22nd 1876  there is another report .
EXECUTIONS: July 31st has been fixed as the date for the execution of Cornelius Asher, 77, herbalist, sentenced to death at the Leicester Assizes, for the murder of Ann Gee.

It appears that Cornelius was, despite his actions a respected figure in the community, and that the death sentence, and the act of abortion was called into question just as much then as it is now as this letter to the editor in the days before the execution confirms:

Sir,—The convict, Cornelius Asher, lying in cells of our prison under sentence of death, and the time is now drawing near when that awful sentence must be carried into execution, unless respite comes down within a very short time. Report says that preparations are being made the gaol for Asher's execution on Monday morning next; and the Chaplain is doing his best prepare the mind of the convict for that solemn change which seems be awaiting him. I learn that petition or petitions are length being signed to obtain Asher’s reprieve, and am glad that it is so. I entertain no morbid sympathy for murderers, or convicts generally, bat I think, in common with many others, that to carry out the last dread sentence of the law in Asher’s case would excite much dissatisfaction and disapprobation amongst all classes of the community. Asher may and probably has been a very bad man; but that is guilty Willful murder” open grave question. Willful murder means what implies—premeditated, malicious, or Intentional murder. I deny that Asher has been proved guilty of such crime. The unfortunate deceased woman went him for unlawful purpose, and paid him a fee operate upon her in a certain way. The act was foolish and wicked the part of each. Some days after the woman died from the effects, is alleged, of that operation. Asher charged with causing that death; but, granting that he did cause it, was it  done willfully and maliciously ? Common sense says no.  Then the sentence of death cannot jnst one in the eye of the law.

There were similar other letters to the editor which professed similar beliefs, and their views did not fall on deaf ears because a day or so later this report appears in the newspaper.
An order from the Home Secretary to respite Cornelius Asher, aged 77 years, herbalist, who was under sentence of death for the murder of Ann Gee, during her Majesty’s pleasure was received in Leicester about 7.15 pm on Saturday. Everything had been prepared for the execution, which was to take place on the following Monday morning, and Marwood had taken up his residence at the borough gaol.

Sadly Cornelius’ good luck was to come to an end within months. He was an old man- prison was to take its toll. On November 25th 1876 the following report appeared in the newspaper


On Wednesday last Mr St. Clair Bedford, the Coroner for Westminster, London, held an inquest at the Penitentiary, Milbank Prison, on the body of Cornelius Asher, 78, herbalist, who was convicted of murder at the Leicester Assizes on the 10th of July last. The medical evidence went to show that when the deceased was admitted into the prison he was placed under observation- ie he was supposed to be suffering under mental delusion. He continued in the same state until the 20th inst. when he complained of a difficulty of breathing. The complaint resolved itself into acute bronchitis, from which he died on the 20th inst. Charlotte Dale, residing at Nottingham, deposed that she visited the deceased, and that as far as she could judge, although he was suffering under mental delusion, he appeared to be quite comfortable and clean and he had all the attention that could be desired. The jury returned a verdict of “Natural Death”

Cornelius Asher died on Monday November 20th 1876 in Millbank Prison, London.



1 comment:

  1. Hi, I am researching the Burgoin family and am distantly related to Cornelius Asher through the Burgoin line. I might be able to help you with that branch of your family. If this is of interest to you then get in touch