Your BNA Stories – ‘Murder by Poisoning’ and a Missing Sea Captain | The British Newspaper Archive Blog


Your BNA Stories – ‘Murder by Poisoning’ and a Missing Sea Captain

We do love the stories you tell us about the discoveries you’ve been making in the Archive.

Pollie Scott, a family history researcher, has been finding dozens of fascinating (and very strange!) stories in the Archive about her ancestors.

The most shocking discovery made by Pollie concerns the poisoning of a sister of one of her ancestors. Until visiting the Archive, Pollie had no idea of anything untoward regarding this death, so it came as a complete shock when she discovered this ‘alleged murder’.

Thanks to the BNA, Pollie has also gathered some tales that would make the ancient mariner proud. In particular, the strange disappearance and fate (in 1841) of an ancestor who was the captain and owner of a ship called ‘The Eagle’, is a story that she is still trying hard to fathom.

Pollie takes up her various stories…

‘Murder by poisoning’ of ancestor’s sister
My ancestor’s sister was believed to have been poisoned by her husband. He was seen by servants to have put a powder into some conserve she ate, shortly after she had given birth to their second child. She died a few days later, supposedly from child bed fever. He ran away and was caught by a policeman in a hotel on Coney Street in York, having registered as a clergyman!

There was a bundle of letters to a young woman (she having returned them) in which he stated that he believed his wife was ‘not long for this world’. He had proposed marriage to the woman, despite being married already. The chap was an academic, and it is possible he knew about poisons, etc. However, when his wife’s body was exhumed, no trace of poison could be found in her stomach. Despite this, the police kept the letters.

Source: Huddersfield Chronicle, Saturday 15th February 1851

The missing sea captain…
The latest strange story I have found is the disappearance, in 1841, of my ancestor’s cousin, John Hargrave Donkin, who was a sea captain and owner of a ship “The Eagle” from Scarborough. He was discovered missing from his cabin when his ship was in port at Limerick. He had retired to bed at 10pm, but when someone went to wake him the following morning they discovered the cabin empty, his clothes were neatly folded and his pocket watch laid out ready for the day.

His body was discovered several weeks later in the River Shannon. In a later newspaper report it is said that a pauper woman had found a large amount of money in the streets of Ennis, a port the Eagle had visited before Limerick, and the money was thought to belong to Captain Donkin. it is thought he lost the money (perhaps sailor’s wages or payment for the goods he had taken to Canada?) and became so distraught that he committed suicide. He left a wife and two young children.

Source: Freeman’s Journal – Tuesday 02 November 1841

Strange cases attended by Dr McMillan of York and his recipe for quack pills
These are the most intriguing stories I have found (so far!) I have also discovered that my 3x Gt Grandmother’s second husband, Dr McMillan of York, attended several strange cases, including a young woman who threw herself into the River Foss in York because a young man didn’t return her affections (she died a few hours later, despite Dr McMillan’s attempts to revive her) and also several tragic cases of children burnt in fires and a young man run over by a steam train. Many adverts for his own recipe quack pills also appear in the Archive!

Source: Yorkshire Gazette – Saturday 21 August 1819

Pollie Scott.


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