The Trial of Emma George

Amy ‘Emma’ George was born in 1805 to Bennet and Mary George at Redruth. Her father worked as a miner.
In April 1824 at the Launceston Assizes Emma George faced a trial for the murder of her younger brother Benjamin George. Here is the extract of her trial.
Emma George, a young woman 19 years of age, was indicted for the murder of her brother, Benjamin George, by strangling him with a silk handkerchief.
The prisoner, on being placed at the bar, appeared in the deepest affliction, which operated so powerfully on her feelings, that a long time elapsed before her senses reminded her of the awful investigation that was about to take place.
On being called to plead to the indictment, a paper was put in her hand, which she returned, and which on being read, stated that she had been indicted falsely by the name of Emma instead of Amy. This plea was supported by the affidavit of her attorney, to which was affixed a certificate of her baptism, in the name of Amy George.
Mr. Holcomb, her Counsel, then submitted that the indictment must be quashed.
Mr. Tancred, for the prosecution, replied that the prisoner was known by the one name as well as the other, and that therefore the indictment was good.
Mr. Justice Burrough, Then there must be a jury sworn to try the issue between the parties.
A Jury was then sworn.
Mr. Tancred said he should call witnesses who would prove that the unfortunate young woman was known by, and had acknowledged the name of Emma, which he said would be a good estoppal to her present plea.
Mr. Rogers, one of the Coroners of the County, took an inquisition connected with the charges against the prisoner at the bar on the 5th of March last. The witnesses examined on that occasion, he observed, all called her by the name of Amy: towards the close of the enquiry, he asked the prisoner her name, and she said Emma; she was generally called by the name of Emma. In consequence of the different names by which she was called, he went to her mother’s house the next day, and saw the prisoner in an uneasy state of mind, bordering on frenzy. The house was full of people, and they generally called her Emma. There were upwards of a hundred persons present.
Mary George, the mother of the prisoner, said her daughter was known by the name of Amy, and all the people called her by that name, but she had also heard her called Emma.
Mr. Justice Burrough, It is impossible to say that the prisoner is not known by either name.
The Jury were of the same opinion, and the Court called on the prisoner to plead to the indictment.
The prisoner in a weak and faltering voice, said “Not Guilt.”
Mr. Tancred, in feeling and impressive language, retailed the circumstances of the unfortunate case. The unhappy young woman, he said, was called on to answer, at the peril of her life, for having taken away the life of her brother, a child under the tender age of seven years, and the facts were as plain and simple in nature, as the conduct of the prisoner was difficult and distressing to decide on. The main question for consideration of the Jury was (as there was no doubt but that the deceased lost his life by an act of the prisoner) whether she was at the time a responsible agent, capable of discriminating between right and wrong. If the Jury should be of opinion that her judgment was so defective as not to be able to make that distinction, then the retributive claims of the public for the act she had committed were to be laid aside and forgotten; if, on the contrary, they should conceive, that, though at the time she committed the fatal act, she was under the melancholy delusion, but which delusion was not sufficiently strong to deprive her of reason, they would not, from feelings of compassion, withhold that protection from themselves and society, which was entrusted to care and preserve.
Francis Hodge sworn. I live at western part of Redruth, near the poorhouse, in the same house that the prisoner lived in, which is divided into four tenements. On the 5th of March, a little after seven o’clock in the evening, the prisoner came into my part of the premises from her own dwelling, there was with me at the time my wife and two children. She spoke to my wife first. She said, “how do you , how do you do?” My wife said, “as well as I could wish.” In the course of a minute or two, the prisoner said, “I wish I could go to heaven.” Then I spoke. I said “Amy, you must make good preparation to try and get there; better than you have lately.” Amy then sat down, and I, seeing her face look so comical – I mean cast down a kind of trouble – said “what’s the matter, Amy?” She replied, “what shall I do?” While she was pronouncing these words she wrung her hands as if her mind was in agony. Her feelings becoming more strongly affected, she said “oh, what have I done?” I asked her if she had fallen out with any one. She said “No.” She then clapsed her hands firmly and said, “Oh, my dear Frank Hodge, I have hanged my little brother Benny.” I said, “You have hanged your brother?” And she replied, “Oh, yes.” I asked her where she had put him, and she said, “he’s put behind the door, hanging on a crook.” I went up to her house across the passage, and there saw a young man named Gribble, who said to me, “Frank, look in, he’s hanging to the crook.” I ran in immediately, and took hold of his feet. I called to Gribble’s father, who lived in the same house, and when he came I took the boy round the body and cut the black silk handkerchief by which he was suspended, and he fell down. The child was quite dead. He was about seven years old. I returned to the room, and said to Amy,”what have you done?” She answered, “I have hanged my little brother, and I am willing to die for it.” I did not ask her why she had done it, nor did she give a reason. I have seen the prisoner and little boy together hundreds of times, and she always appeared to be very fond of him.
Samuel Gribble. — I went to see my father, who lived in Mrs. George’s house, on the evening of the 4th of March. I might have been with my father a quarter of an hour, when I cane down stairs in the passage, and as I was leaving the house, I heard Frank Hodge’s wife scream out that Amy George had hanged her brother. I took the candle from her hand, and went into Amy’s room, and there saw the child hanging to a crook in the beam. Frank Hodge followed me into the room, and my father soon came after him. Those two cut the child down; I went into the room where the prisoner was, and asked her what she had done. She said “she had hanged her brother for to send him to Heaven, and that she would cut her own throat for to go to Heaven along with him.” These were the words she used; she appeared to be in a deranged state. I judge so both from her words and appearance, upon using that expression, she endeavoured to rise from her chair to get a knife, as she was determined, she said, to cut her throat. I with great difficulty kept her back. She repeated that she would cut her throat to go to Heaven with her brother. Some woman came into the room, and then I left her to their care. I returned to the room where the child was, and found him lying on the bed.
Cross examined by Mr. Holcomb — I have two sisters, one of them, Mary, was a companion of Amy’s, and they attended the Meeting-house together. I attend a Methodist Meeting; I go preaching sometimes. — There is a meeting called the Revivals. — There was one of that description at Redruth, six or seven weeks before the boy was hanged. I attended it once, and then I saw several people on their knees, crying to the Lord for mercy, as loud as their voices would let them. He did not know that those meetings were held once in every ten years, nor that they continued open day and night so long as they lasted.
John Cocking, a constable of Redruth, examined. — I sat up with the prisoner at the bar on the night of the 4th of March. About two o#clock in the morning she arose from her bed, and sat down by the fire-side, and we then entered into a conversation, which I began, by saying, “Amy, you appear to be a little more composed than you were just now.” I asked her if she recollected what she had done. She said she could, and would tell me the whole circumstance, from beginning to end. She then told me her mind had been impresses for some time, and that on the Monday and Tuesday before she committed the act, her intention was to have murdered her mother; but she endeavoured to banish that idea from her mind, and prayed to the Lord to take the temptation from her. Her mind, she continued, was the a little easier, till the Thursday morning, and then, while she was at work at the mine, the idea came upon her again with greater force than before. In the middle of the day, she went to get her dinner at the boiling-house, where the girls generally dine. After she got to the boiler-house, she recollected, that she had seen a little boy, a stranger, standing by the engine-house, near the shaft, or mouth of a pit, and she then regretted that she had not sunk that little boy into the shaft, for then she should have done that, which had long been on her mind to do. Returning home in the evening, a little before she came to a Methodist meeting, which stood in a back lane, she saw two children beofre her, at play, near another shaft alongside the road, and she then said to herself, “I’ll throw one of the little children into the shaft.” That the children, in running after each other, came towards her, but she could not get an opportunity of throwing one of them into the mine, as she had designed. Coming nearer to her home, she saw some more children, on which she said to herself, “I’ll seize one of these little children, and carry it out, and throw it into a shaft at the back of the houses.” She waited some time for an opportunity to take one of them up unperceived; but there were so many persons passing and repassing, that she could not get one of them away. After waiting for some time about the place, she went to her own house, and found her mother was going to the meeting. On going in her mother said, “Your supper is ready for you Amy; you can take it, for I am going to the meeting, and little Benny will remain at home with you. The prisoner then expressed in this way — “I felt glad I had the opportunity of doing the thing I long wished for — that I was going to be left alone with my little brother, and that my mother was going to be out of the way, so that I should be able to do the deed. She took her supper at the end of the table, and her little brother was sitting at this time before the fire. She gave the child part of her supper, and said to him, “should you go to Heaven dear?” The boy made answer and said “yes when I die.” She then rose from the place where she was sitting, and went to a line that was hanging across the room, and took from it a black silk handkerchief, and coming towards the child put it round his neck, tying it, as thought, in a running knot. She said to her brother, “is it too tight dear.” The child looked up in her face and smiled, and said “No.” She left the handkerchief round his neck, and said “go for a drop of water for me, dear?” Intending while the child was gone to a pail in the room, and while his back was towards her, to take him up and hang him to a crook behind the door. The boy was rather quicker than she expected, and she, meeting him took the water from him, drank a little of it, and put the cup on the table. She then took her brother up with one arm, and with the other hand put the handkerchief over the crook, looked him full in the face and left the room. At this period the prisoner was overpowered by her feelings and could say no more. About an hour after there was a second conversation, which I also commenced by putting a question to this effect — “If you could undo what you have done, do you think you should do it again?” She replied, wringing her hands, “Oh no, no — the dear little fellow!” I know there are the several shafts which the prisoner spoke of. I am not a member of the Methodist Society, but I have attended a Revival Meeting in Redruth, which commenced about three months since. A Revival is termed an “outpouring of the spirit,” and causes the congregation to cry aloud to the Lord for mercy. The Revival continued at Redruth for a month or six weeks. The Revivals are held in the stated places of worship, of particular congregations, and sometimes continue open for three nights and days in succession. I have been at a Revival; those who are “convinced of sin,” as it is called, fall on their knees, and with uplifted hands, and their bodies working to and fro, call as loud as they are able to the Lord for hell. Their ejaculations are such as “Oh! Christ! Pardon me my sins, — oh, Lord, give me grace!” And a variety of other similar expressions, adopted as the zeal of the moment may suggest. Their conduct was wild and extravagant, and altogether out of the mile and decent course of addressing the ALMIGHTY, usually observed in places of worship.
By the Court. — It was precisely that kind of strong excitation that was likely to operate on weak minds.
Examination continued — It is generally called screeching for mercy. There was usually a preacher at the meetings, but not always. The revival is open by night as well as day. There is no appointment when the Revival is to be held; a congregation may be met, and may be at prayers, when perhaps some member will fall on his knees and call aloud to heaven for mercy; when this happens the other members are generally moved by the same spirit, and the Revival commences. This is called the outpouring of the spirit, and continues till the preacher pronounces a benediction, and tells his flock, “the moment of conversion” is come, and they may expect “a ray of hope, of comfort and joy.” The moment of the coming of the “ray of hope” is uncertain, and the congregation continue their extravagant devotions till they are “convinced” or, “converted.” It is about ten years since there was a Revival at Redruth, before the late one. The prisoner, in speaking of the child, generally called him the dear little Benny.
Mr. Mitchell, a surgeon of Redruth, described the state in which he found the child, and gave it as his decided judgement, that its death was occasioned by strangulation. This was the case on the part of the prosecution.
The prisoner did not wish to say any thing in evidence.
Mrs. George the mother of the girl, said, “My daughter attended a Methodist meeting at Redruth for about seven weeks before the death of my boy; she also attended the Revival; I have fetched her home from the Revival. I went for her one night, about half past ten o’clock in the day. On going to the chapel, I found it extremely crowded. My daughter caught sight of me, and immediately she lifted both her arms, as if she was going to fly to the top of the room, and called on her dear mother and father to pray to the Lord to help them, for that they could not see the danger they were in. I got her out of the meeting as soon as I could, but she had lost her cloak, bonnet, handkerchief, and patterns, and was extremely disordered in her dress. She had been moving from one part of the meeting to the other, and in her unbounded zeal, had dropped her clothes, and they were trodden under her feet. My daughter’s conduct after attending the Revival, was quite different to what it usually been this was about seven weeks before the dreadful act was done. On another occasion, she came home praying in a horrible manner for the conversion of her father and mother.
The COURT — Explain what you mean by praying in a horrible manner? — I mean violently and outrageously agitated. From the commencement of the Revival she never missed but one meeting. She also attended prayer meetings and class meetings. Before the death of my son, I apprehended my daughter would do me some violence. On the Monday preceding, she came home, and sat by the fire in a melancholy way, and said, “Mother I am out of my mind.” I spoke a few words to pacify her, and she went to bed. The next night she said she was better, but she appeared very low. On Wednesday night, on coming home, she said, “I am tempted to murder!” I said, I was surprised that she could think of murdering me; and she said “I do.” After she has said this, she went to the Revival, and returned between nine and ten. From what she had said, I took the knives, and hid them to prevent her doing a mischief to herself, me, or the family.
The COURT — These sympton’s I observed on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and on the Thursday the child was killed.
Mrs. Osbourne examined — I saw the prisoner a week or ten days before the unfortunate affair happened, when she said she had been unwell, and that her illness was in her head; it appeared to her she said, as if the top part of her head was heaving off; she also said, that her brains felt as if they had been turned. She appeared to be in a very wild state, and her eyes were rolling in her head in a very vicious manner. I told her she should not give way to these thoughts, and read some words to her in the Bible, from Genesis, which appeared to make her more comfortable.
At the close of the evidence the unhappy young woman who had throughout the trial been too ill to pay much attention to what was passing, fainted, and was carried into the air in strong convulsions, by five or six men. In the street her distressing screams, were heard for a quarter of an hour, before she could again be brought into Court.
Mr. Justice Burrough said there was no question but it would be for the Jury maturely to consider, whether when she committed that act she was in a state of mind capable of distinguishing right from wrong, and if they should be of opinion that she did it in a moment when the imberility of her mind, was so great that she could not make that distinction, then the offence did not amount to wilful murder. It would not be sufficient to acquit her of that crime, by supposing that she acted under a momentary religious frenzy that did not totally occasion such a defect in her mind as to deprive her of reason. Upon looking at the facts given in evidence, it was almost impossible to conceive that the prisoner could be otherwise than insane, when she determined on the murder of her own brother, as the means of getting to Heaven. The Almighty had expressly declared that murder and suicide were two of the highest crimes that called for his vengeance; but such was the delusion this young woman had laboured under, that she first murdered her brother, and then contemplated self- destruction, conceiving that by committing those high offences she should be securing a way to Heaven. It appeared that this young female had been in the habit of attending religious meetings, as they were called, where the wildest and most extravagant excitements were used that could possibly operate on the minds of the weak, and lead them from a just sense of the importance and duties of religion. His Lordship knew nothing of the particular sect of persons that had spoken of today, and God forbid that he should be conceived as wishing to restrain any person from following those religious customs which were most contormable to the conscience, but he did conceive that the general benefit of society should be attended to, and therefore he could not but consider, that the doctrines and mode of worship, which inculcated the pernicious principles this young woman had acted upon, were injurious to society, and ought to be suppressed. He therefore guarded the pastors of those congregations, against continuing in those practices as being derogatory to true religion, and dangerous to the safety of the community. His Lordship thought there were many circumstances in the case, which decidedly showed the girl to have been of an irregular mind when she did the act. Her mind, from mistaken impressions, produced by religious excitations, had conceived that she must commit a murder before she could get to Heaven, and at one time she had marked out her mother as the object who was to be devoted to her frenzy; at another time, children she had never seen before, were to fall her victim; and lastly, her brother unhappily being in her power, she murdered him in the same absence of malice, as she would have done any other individual. If the Jury were of opinion, that the child lost his life, while she was in a state of insanity, they would return a verdict of not guilty on that ground, and his Majesty’s Government would then protect her, till she was found to be sufficiently restored to her reason to be returned to her friends.
The Jury returned a verdict of Not Guilty, believing her to be insane at the time. The Court ordered her to be detained in custody, but assured her friends, she would not be kept long from them.
She was committed to a Lunatic asylum in Worcestershire. After this there is no further information so it is quite probable that she never did obtain a release and died whilst still in the institution. Her father Bennett passed away in 1835 leaving Mary to carry on.