The Ancient Art of Advocacy Logo

The Trial of Dr Pritchard

Edward William Pritchard (6 December 1825 – 28 July 1865) was an English doctor who was convicted of murdering his wife and mother-in-law by poisoning them. He was also suspected of murdering a servant girl, but was never tried for this crime. He was the last person to be publicly executed in Glasgow.

On 5 May 1863, there was a fire in the Pritchards' house at 11 Berkeley Terrace, Glasgow, which killed a servant girl. Her name was Elizabeth McGrain, aged 25. The fire started in her room but she made no attempt to escape, suggesting that she was unconscious, drugged, or already dead. The procurator fiscal looked into the case, but no charges were brought.

In 1865, Pritchard poisoned his mother-in-law, Jane Taylor, 70, who died on 28 February. His wife, whom he was treating for an illness (with the help of a Dr. Paterson), died a month later on 18 March at the age of 38. Both had been living at Pritchard's new family home at 131 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. 

Dr. Paterson was highly suspicious of the "illnesses" of both women and, when the time came, refused to sign the death certificates. However, he did not go out of his way to inform the medical or legal authorities of his suspicions. A 'Vindication' of Dr Paterson was circulated at the time and he took other steps to clear his name. Pritchard was apprehended after an anonymous letter was sent to the authorities. When the bodies of his wife and mother-in-law were exhumed, it was found that they contained the poison antimony. He was charged with murder and the case went quickly to trial.

The major points of interest in the trial, which you can read below, were: 

  • Pritchard's motive. Possibly he was having an affair with another maid in the household and would blame her for the poisonings as his defence.
  • The strange reticence of Dr. Paterson to inform anyone in authority of his suspicions.

pdfChronology441.18 KB
pdfPreliminary proceedings6.2 MB
pdfOpening for the prosecution4.73 MB
pdfEvidence for the prosecution 25.38 MB
pdfEvidence for the prosection 34.72 MB
pdfEvidence for the defence 2.12 MB-7 pages!
pdfClosing speech for the Crown7.48 MB
pdfClosing speech for the defence7.08 MB
pdfLord Justice's charge to the jury and verdict3.16 MB
pdfConclusion458.26 KB
pdfAppendices5.01 MB

At his trial Pritchard was represented (unsuccessfully) by Scottish law firm Maclay Murray and Spens. Upon his execution the law firm pursued his estate for their outstanding fees. But as there was no money in his estate to settle their bill they arrested his wooden consulting chair along with some other property. The chair remained on display in the firm's boardroom until as late as 2016.

You are not authorised to post comments.