THE COACHMAN POISONINGS

Reported in various newspapers in Novenber 1859, was the 'shocking attempt at wholesale poisoning' at Stuffynwood Hall, Derbyshire, the residence of Joseph Paget, Esq, a magistrate for the county. It appeared that on the 2nd November, about midnight, five of the servant maids were taken ill, the sixth escaping the general illness. They were awoke with a burning, griping pain in the bowels. brandy was administered to them by the housekeeper, but as they recovered by the morning no further notice was taken of it, nor were Mr or Mrs Paget acquainted with the affair.

On Monday the 14th inst, at 10am, the cook was taken ill with pains of a similar character, but of a more acute nature. The parlour maid, the housemaid, the housekeeper and the remainder of the female servants, being shortly afterwards also affected in a similar manner. Brandy was again administered.. In the meantime, Mr and Mrs Paget were riding out to a meet of the Derbyshire hounds, during which time they were also taken ill. Upon their return they discovered that the aunt of Mr Paget (who was on a visit to the hall) was also suffering in a similar way. The coachman, Thomas Spowage, was despatched to Mansfield, three miles off, for medical assistance and Mr Furness, the surgeon in attendance pronounced that the symptoms were those that would be produced by cantharides. He administered medicines but they continued ill during the day; towards night, however, they were to a certain extent relieved.

Detective Barnes, who was instructed to inquire into the matter, examined each servant separately, and his suspicions fell upon the coachman, who, it was discovered, had purchased an ounce of cantharides at a druggist's shop at Mansfield. On Saturday the detective requested the coachman to drive him in one of Mr Paget's carriages to Mansfield. Upon arriving at the druggist's shop he was immediately recognised by the proprietor as the man who had purchased the cantharides at his shop. This the coachman denied, and also any knowledge of the drug or the use of it. He was then taken into custody on the charge of administering cantharides (commonly called Spanish flies) to Mary Dean (the parlour maid) and other domestic servants with intent to murder them. The prisoner is the only male servant having access to the house, and is said to have been paying his addresses to the parlour maid during the last five months. He had in the first instance drugged the beer of which the servants had partaken at supper, and in the second instance the coffee, of which all the family partook.

The following week, Thomas Spowage, who had for some time been coachman to Mr Paget, was brought before the bench of magistrates at Chesterfield charged with attempted murder. However, for some vague legal reason, the prisoner was released without charge. Shock and disbelief was reported in the press that a man with so dangerous a character could escape conviction despite the damning evidence.