Case heard at the Norfolk Assizes
We can only imagine the effect of the conviction of attempted murder had on 18 year old Great Ellingham girl Charlotte Fisher and her family in the August of 1871.
The charge against Charlotte was heard at the Norfolk Assizes and widely reported in the newspapers.
It was alleged that Charlotte Fisher had feloniously attempted to administer a quantity of vermin poison with the intent to kill and murder her employers, Benjamin and Sarah Barnard, on the 5th July, 1871. 73 year old Benjamin Barnard, a farmer of some 330 acres, lived at The Hall in Great Ellingham with his wife Sarah. Charlotte was their servant.
The case was reported in the Norfolk News of August 12th, 1871. There had been a disagreement between Charlotte and her employer Sarah Barnard on the day in question. Charlotte was displeased to find that Mr Barnard’s cattle had torn some linen which she had put out on some hedges (presumably to dry in the sun). Charlotte told her mistress that she would not put up with this and she would make Mr Barnard “pay for his stock getting out” and this was something she would do before leaving that evening.
Later in the day, Mrs Barnard gave Charlotte notice to leave which Charlotte agreed to do saying “If it is your wish, I will go; don’t think I have given you much trouble.”
Illustration by Christine Fuller
In the evening, Benjamin Barnard returned home. It was usual for the Barnards then to take tea. It was noted that Charlotte Fisher had prepared the tea in the dining-room which was not the usual place where the Barnards took their tea unless they were entertaining. On pouring the tea, Sarah Barnard noticed that the tea appeared blacker than it should be and it smelled awful. On pouring more water from the kettle into the teapot, Mrs Barnard found a bluish sediment.
The water from the kettle, teapot and cup was later analysed and a skilled witness confirmed that the water contained enough phosphorus to kill.
Charlotte had access to the poison which her employers kept around the house and which they used for killing vermin. In fact, Charlotte had previously helped Sarah Barnard to spread the poison on bread and butter in order to kill some rats and mice.
At the trial, the Barnards were critised for leaving the poison “within reach of so young a girl as the prisoner“.
Charlotte’s sentence was penal servitude for life. However I believe she was released within 10 years of being sentenced.
Who was Charlotte Fisher?
Early Life to the Court Case
One of at least 9 children of Joseph and Elizabeth Fisher, Charlotte was baptised in the Parish Church at Great Ellingham on September 5th, 1852.
The 1861 census captures 33 year old agricultural labourer Joseph with his 32 year old wife Elizabeth and children Joseph 6, Elizabeth 3 and one year old William living in Bow Street, Great Ellingham. 8 year old Charlotte is found at the home of her maternal Aunt, Mary Ann Danby, and her husband James in Shoreditch, Middlesex.
Joseph and Elizabeth with seven children are still living in Great Ellingham in 1871. I suspect that they are still in Bow Street, although the census does not specifically say this. The same census shows Caroline Fisher aged 19 and born Great Ellingham as a general servant to Benjamin and Sarah Barnard also in Great Ellingham. Given the details of the court case which confirms that Charlotte Fisher was working for the Barnards in 1871, I believe reference to Caroline Fisher in the 1871 census is erroneous and it was in fact Charlotte Fisher. Further, there are no baptisms for a Caroline Fisher in the Great Ellingham Parish Registers around the time that Charlotte Fisher was baptised.
Release from Prison
Despite the life sentence, 29 year old Charlotte Fisher appears with her parents (now in their fifties) and two of her brothers, Robert 13 and John 10, in Bow Street at the time of the 1881 census. Accordingly, Charlotte must have been released from prison. Charlotte is described on the census as a domestic servant out of employ.
Marriage and Later Life
Charlotte Fisher married widower Samuel Uttin at the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Fakenham on the 2nd November, 1884. They were both aged 32 and of Great Ryburgh.
The 1891 census finds Samuel and Charlotte Uttin both then aged 38 living in Great Ryburgh together with Samuel’s sons James 12 and George aged 9.
The registrations of the births of James and George confirm that their mother was Esther Ann Toll, the first wife of Samuel Uttin, and not Charlotte Fisher. The marriage of Samuel Utting to Esther Ann Toll was registered in the Walsingham District between July and August 1877. Esther Ann Uttin aged 22 years was buried at Great Ryburgh on 6th February, 1882.
By 1891, Samuel’s occupation had changed from an agricultural labourer to a Prudential Insurance Agent. Samuel was still working for the Prudential in 1911.
The 1901 census captures Samuel and Charlotte Uttin living in Fakenham Road, Great Ryburgh along with Samuel’s 19 year old son George. 25 year old William Willis (born London) is boarding with the family. The 1911 census suggests that Samuel and Charlotte (both then aged 58) were living at or near to the Primitive Methodist Chapel at Great Ryburgh.
A burial for a Samuel Uttin, a Primitive Methodist Minister, aged 61 appears in the Parish Registers for Great Ryburgh for 2nd February 1914. Charlotte outlived her husband by some 18 years. A death was registered in the June Quarter of 1932 in the Walsingham District for Charlotte Utting aged 79 years.
Brooks, Pamela. Ghastly True Tales of the Norfolk Poisoners. Halsgrove. 2007. ISBN 978-1-84114-583-0
Norfolk News 12th August 1871
GRO Index. Free BMD website. https://www.freebmd.org.uk/cgi/information.pl?cite=Ny5FbdgKTieH%2F9%2BqAInd0A&scan=1. Accessed 20.12.2019
GRO Index. Free BMD website. https://www.freebmd.org.uk/cgi/information.pl?cite=7sas4%2Fbdh%2FqhN8Q6bb%2F1Dg&scan=1 Accessed 20.12.2019
GRO Index. Free BMD website. https://www.freebmd.org.uk/cgi/information.pl?cite=3U0Aq%2FEuTIqPayp3ZZZECQ&scan=1 Accessed 20.12.2019
GRO Marriage Certificate. 1884. 2 November 1884. Samuel Uttin and Charlotte Fisher.
Great Ryburgh Parish Registers. Norfolk Record Office. PD/621. Transcript of Great Ryburgh, Burials – 1547 to 1930. Norfolk Family History Society. https://www.norfolkonlinerecordsearch.co.uk/search/Uttin/476-great-ryburgh-burials/
Great Ellingham Parish Registers. Norfolk Record Office PD/609. Also available at FamilySearch.org https://www.familysearch.org/search/image/index?owc=4J8C-CB7%3A29627201%3Fcc%3D1416598
1861 census RG9/1237/85
1871 census RG10/1841/80, RG10/1841/78
1881 census RG11/1984/63, RG11/1974/84
1891 census RG12/1558/150
1901 census RG13/1876/144
1911 census RG14/11552/113