Death of Lucy Clegg

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser

26 May 1825

Supreme Criminal Court. Friday, May 20, 1825.  John Clegg, of the Weavers' Arms, on the Liverpool-road, was indicted for the wilful murder of his wife, Lucy Clegg, on the 5th day of February last.

The Solicitor General stated, that the prisoner at the bar stood charged with the most serious offence which could be perpetrated in civilized society, with the exception only of high treason, and aggravated by having been committed on one who stood towards him in the tender relation of a wife.

The learned Gentleman went on to state that, in all cases of murder, the law supposes a malicious intent; but, on the authority of Blackstone, all homicide was presumed to be malicious and amounted to murder, unless the contrary be shewn; and, that, though no malice be inferred, the law will imply it, where one man kills another on a slight occasion.

It will be proved, by the evidence of the surgeon, who examined the body, that the unfortunate woman was in a very bruised state; the witnesses, which will be brought forward, are mostly the servants of the prisoner, and nearly affected toward him; and the reluctance with which they gave their evidence before the Coroner, was the principal cause of exciting a suspicion.

If the Jury find, from the facts, which will be proved to them, that the deceased came by her death in consequence of outrages committed on her by the prisoner, they are to impute guilt to him, unless it can be shewn that it took place in the heat of passion, and without that previous intent which, constitutes the crime of murder.

Dr. Alexander Nesbit examined; was called to the Weavers' Arms, by a requisition from the Coroner, to examine the body of Lucy Clegg, who died under suspicious circumstances.

The neck and upper part of the body were considerably advanced to a state of putrefaction;

there was a cut about two inches and a half long, into which the finger could be easily introduced, above the right ear;

there was no appearance of its being a recent cut; it had no appearance of blood;

the bone was not laid bare; examined the brain, and found it excessively loaded with blood and cerum;

in the upper part of the body from the shoulders, putrefaction had advanced so rapidly, that no distinct appearance of blows could be seen;

putrefaction would hide the bruises; considers death to have been occasioned by the infusion of blood on the brain;

does not think that blows, given within a few hours of death, could have produced such an appearance in a healthy brain;

was impressed with the belief that there must have been some violence used to produce such an appearance.

Cross-examined by Dr. Wardell. - The depending parts of the body are most liable to putrefaction;

the back of the head, the shoulders, the loins, where the greatest quantity of blood was, putrefaction would sooner occur; apoplexy might occasion the appearance in the brain;

it is possible that the deceased might have died without violence;

one of the causes of apoplexy is continued intoxication.

Ann Morgan examined; knows the prisoner; was at his house on Saturday the 5th of February;

I saw the deceased, she was in good health; saw her on the Monday following, about 10 o'clock; she shewed witness her hand, her shoulders, and her head; the shoulders were very black and much bruised;

there was a cut on the head, above the right ear, did not appear to be deep; witness washed it, it seemed to have bled much: the hair was clotted together;

believes the deceased was not 25; never saw her drunk; has seen her drink a glass of spirits without water; deceased shewed witness a pillow case, night cap;

and coloured gown, which were bloody; conceived the bruises were from blows; deceased was a healthy young woman.  

Cross-examined.—Deceased had not been drinking that morning; has seen her drink raw spirits about 8 or 9 o'clock in the morning;

does not remember ever having seen her put water in her spirits.

Ann Cox examined; was at the house of the   prisoner about 8 or 9 o'clock on the morning the deceased died;

saw the prisoner, Dr. Walker, the mother of the deceased, and several other persons there;

the deceased was in bed;

the prisoner said she was taken ill in fits, from a fall on the evening before; the deceased was alive for an hour and a half after witness came;

examined the body of the deceased; saw some blue marks on various parts of the body;

when witness saw her first, she supposed that it was a fit, but after sometime found she was in a dying state;

has known her for 4 years, and did not know her to be subject to fits, but has heard the mother of the deceased say, that "she was born in fits, and would die so."  

Cross-examined by Mr. Rowe.—Supposed her to be in fits from her appearance; her hands were clenched, and her mouth closed like a person in fits.

John Turner examined; was at the house of the prisoner on the night before the deceased died;

the prisoner came home in a chaise from Liverpool, while witness was there; the prisoner and deceased were in another room; did not hear any noise;

a teapot was thrown out at the door into the room where witness was; saw a servant and the prisoner carrying the deceased in their arms, from the room; did not make any enquiries.  

Henry Rowley examined; was at the house of the prisoner on the night before the deceased died; came about dusk;

saw Turner there; saw no marks on the deceased;

she was not sober; witness called for a half pint of peppermint;

the deceased did not bring it full measure,

but did not make any remark, as he saw she was not sober;

witness's attention was drawn to the room where the prisoner and the deceased were; saw him strike her with his open hand on the cheek.  

Bridget Devine is an assigned servant to the prisoner;

lived with him six weeks before the deceased died;

was there on the evening before she died;

the prisoner came home that evening, together with a man named Warby, from Liverpool;

the deceased was about the house, and doing her work as usual;

the prisoner said he had had his tea in Liverpool, but would take some with her and Warby;

they sat down to tea together;

witness did not remain in the room;  does not know what happened;

assisted the prisoner in removing the deceased to bed;

heard her say, “Oh my God, my head!"

Supposed she was in a fit;

about two hours after Dr. Walker was sent for;

deceased did vomit; does not remember whether it was while Dr. Walker was there, or before he came;

the prisoner was sober when he came home; deceased was tipsey, but not drunk;

Warby was quite sober.

William Warby examined;

knows the prisoner; was at his house on the evening before his wife died;

came from Liverpool in company with the prisoner quite sober, and being fatigued with the heat of the day, witness laid down on a sofa in the outside room.

After some time the prisoner carne and asked witness to come to tea; witness went into the room and sat down together with the prisoner and the deceased;

some joking took place, and witness said to the prisoner, "how could you be so greedy about all the women you had in Liverpool?"

The deceased grew angry, rose suddenly off her chair, and stumbled back against the wall;

she seized a teapot, and flung it out at the door;

and again reeled and laid down on the floor;

the prisoner had her taken out of the room;

and after some time returned, and said “she is very bad”.

Dr. Walker was sent for, who came and gave her something, and she shortly came to.

The prisoner spoke to her, and she said, "Oh my head!" Witness saw some blood on her head, as she lay in bed;

but supposed that she had cut it against the wall or chimney-piece, when she fell; did not see the prisoner strike her.

The following day the prisoner said she had been in fits.

Dr. William Walker examined;

is a surgeon;

graduated at Edinburgh;

has practised since the age of thirteen;

was sent for about 11 o'clock at night by the prisoner;

found the deceased lying on the ground, and her head supported on the knee of a servant;

found that she had a fit of epilepsy;

witness brought medicines with him; gave her a tea-spoon full of emetic wine, which produced an evacuation from the stomach, from which there proceeded a strong smell of spirits;

witness gave her a cup of tea, and she appeared to be recovered ; did not ask her what caused the accident;

came next morning, and found her in a very dangerous state;

did not give her any medicine the second time;

never asked her what caused her complaint;

 did not ask any question; saw some marks on the back and shoulders of the deceased after she died, as if from a cord or horsewhip.

Cross examined.- When sent for, was told the deceased was in convulsions; when sent for to attend a person, in a fit, it is not his practice to ask questions, but prescribe remedies.

Dr. Wardell said, he thought it quite unnecessary to call any witnesses, or make any defence, on the part of the prisoner.

His Honor the Chief Justice, in summing up the evidence, said, that, the subject of the present prosecution was of the highest kind which could happen in human society, and aggravated in the present case by the relationship existing between the parties.

It was a case depending upon circumstances, as well as on direct testimony.

From the examination of Dr. Nesbit, there was a clear account that, in his opinion, the deceased came by her death from the influx of blood and cerum on the brain;

but he also states, that the blows on the body, or blows given, within a few hours of her death, would not have produced such appearance in a healthy brain;

from the evidence, it appeared that there were blows so early as the 5th,but there was no evidence as to the person by whom the blows were inflicted;

nor could he suppose, from the testimony of Dr, Nesbit, that those blows would have caused the appearance described.

Warby states, that at tea, he very foolishly touched upon a subject which he should not have done; he asked the prisoner, "Why he was I so greedy about the women he had in Liverpool?"

A very foolish jest, as the event shewed.

The deceased rose from the table in a passion, most probably from a jealousy, stumbled against the wall, and afterwards fell on the floor, and was conveyed to bed.

Dr. Walker was sent for, who describes her as being in fits, and exclaiming, "Oh, my head!"

On the following morning, Warby asked the prisoner, "how his wife was;" he said "that she had fits off and on, during the night, and that he feared he should lose her."

"It appears to me (said His Honor,) that there is a total absence of all that forethought or premeditated intention which constitutes the crime of murder; it is possible, that the effusion of blood might have occurred by the fall against the wall; and, upon the whole, I am of opinion, that this is not a case upon which you can safely rest a verdict of guilty."

The Jury returned a verdict of Not Guilty