“I can’t live long in this state”
Biggadike lived with her husband Richard, their three children and two lodgers: George Ironmonger, a 21-year-old fisherman, and 30-year-old Thomas Proctor, a rat-catcher. Their home was a small, two-roomed cottage containing just one bedroom and they all shared two beds, positioned just 38 cm (15 in) apart. Richard Biggadike left for work in the morning before the lodgers, which led to “an improper intimacy between Mrs Biggadike and one of the lodgers”. That situation led to arguments between husband and wife. On 30 September 1868 Richard Biggadike returned home from work and his wife gave him a meal of hot cakes and mutton. Almost immediately Richard fell ill, being violently sick. He suffered 11 hours of agony — “I can’t live long in this state” — before he expired at 6am the next day. The local doctor was called and he diagnosed food poisoning. Priscilla gave him some of the cake that her husband had eaten to prove that it was harmless.
An autopsy showed traces of arsenic in Richard Biggadike’s body and his widow was arrested. She told police that she had found a suicide note in her husband’s pocket but added that he must have asked someone else to write it because he was illiterate. However, when the police asked to see the note, she told them that she had burned it. Ten days later she said that she had seen her lodger Thomas Proctor, who may have been the father of her third child, putting a white powder into her husband’s tea.
Stickney, Lincolnshire, England
6am Thursday 1 October 1868
In a trial that lasted just seven hours, Priscila Biggadike was defended by Mr Lawrence. The jury did not leave their box before returning a verdict of guilty, with a recommendation for mercy, but the judge donned the black cap and said, “Priscilla Biggadike, although the evidence against you is only circumstantial, yet more satisfactory, and conclusive evidence I never heard in my life. You must now prepare for your impending fate, by attending to the religious instruction you will receive, to which if you had given heed before, you would never have stood in your present unhappy position.
The sentence of the court is that you will be taken to the place from whence you came, and thence to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck until you be dead, and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul! Your body to be buried within the precincts of the prison.” She was hanged at Lincoln Prison at 9am on 28 December 1868, the first private execution of a woman in England. Hangman Thomas Askern bungled it and she swung in agony for several minutes before death.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
In 1882 Thomas Proctor died. On his deathbed, he confessed that he had put the arsenic in Richard Biggadike’s tea.