The Damnation of John Donellan

BOOK: The Damnation of John Donellan
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The Damnation of John Donellan

Under the names Elizabeth McGregor and Holly Fox, Elizabeth Cooke has been writing for over twenty years and has published twelve novels.
Little White
Lies was televised by the BBC and in
The Ice Child
she turned to a historical theme for the first time with the story of the Franklin expedition. Elizabeth Cooke lives in Dorset.


As Elizabeth McGregor
The Ice Child
The Girl in the Green Glass Mirror
An Intimate Obsession
Learning by Heart
Little White Lies
Out of Reach
A Road through the Mountains
Second Sight
The Wrong House
You Belong to Me

As Holly Fox
This Way Up
Up and Running

Bayron and Grev27 stop stealing my books from a private site and putting them up on AvaxHome without putting anything back, not even a thanks. I shall be putting this message in all my books from now on so people will know what you are like.

A Mysterious Case of Death & Scandal in Georgian England


First published in Great Britain in 2011 by
3A Exmouth House
Pine Street
London EC1R OJH

Copyright © Elizabeth Cooke, 2011

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Printed and bound in Great Britain by
Clays, Bungay, Suffolk

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner
and the publisher of this book.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British library.

ISBN 978 1 84668 482 1
eISBN 978 1 84765 752 7

The paper this book is printed on is certified by the © 1996 Forest Stewardship Council A.C. (FSC). It is ancient-forest friendly. The printer holds FSC chain of custody SGS-COC-2061


Map of Warwickshire 1787


Family tree: From the 4th Baronet Boughton of Lawford to the 10th Baronet (1663–1856)

Family tree: The early Boughton line

1. Poison

2. The Following Days

3. The Major Players: The Boughtons

4. The Major Players: The Cursed Quartet

5. The Major Players: John Donellan

6. The Major Players: John and Theodosia

7. ‘Wonderful News …'

8. A Very Long Winter

9. The Trial Begins

10. ‘No Such Thing'

11. ‘Not Particularly Intended for Anatomical Pursuits'

12. A Man of Judgement

13. ‘Against Him Every Circumstance'

14. ‘With My Last Breath …'

15. Aftermath – The Female Line

16. What Killed Theodosius Boughton?


List of Illustrations

Further Reading




in Newbold-on-Avon, Warwickshire, is a curious monument. Mounted high on the chancel wall to the right of the altar is a visored helmet, the crest of which shows a disproportionately heavy long-necked bird, marked with a double chevron and holding a struggling serpent in its mouth. The ancient armour is believed to be a relic of the Boughton family.

Through the leaded glass windows, the bird faces a Boughton vault under the yews of the churchyard; but to the south side is a much older tomb, a more probable last resting place of Theodosius Boughton, once the heir to a vast fortune and the seventh Boughton baronetcy. Theodosius was barely twenty when he died suddenly, after taking a prescribed physic, on 30 August 1780. He was buried in the tomb a week after he died; but his body was exhumed three days later when rumours began to circulate the parish that the apparently fit and healthy young man had been poisoned. His body was brought out from the tomb into the sunlight of an exhaustingly hot September day, and a belated autopsy was conducted before 500 ghoulish spectators on the grass in front of the vault.

The surgeon, Samuel Bucknill, was well prepared for the stench of his unsavoury task: to protect himself against the odour he wore
a waggoner's apron soaked in vinegar with a napkin, also dipped in vinegar, tied around his mouth and nostrils. Bucknill had to be given a glass of strong wine after his job was done, and for weeks afterwards denied that he had rushed from the scene out of fear.

Other ‘gentlemen of the Faculty' (according to the
Northampton Mercury
of 23 April 1781) examined the body. They concluded that it was in a ‘mortified state' and added: ‘when it is considered how long Sir Theodosius had been dead, the excessive Heat of the Weather at that Time, the Circumstance of the Body having been heated to the Degree it was six Times by the soldering and unsoldering of the leaden Coffin … the Body was not more mortified than might be expected.' This measured response was not reflected in the
Gentleman's Magazine
; ‘The whole corpse,' it reported, ‘was a spectacle of horror scarce to be endured.'

The mortification was reported in careful detail. The corpse's face was black and its tongue protruded until it almost touched its nose. Dr Rattray, one of the attending doctors, noted that there were no maggots on the face, as he had noticed when called to view the body five days previously, but the teeth were black, the throat and chest were also black and the body had swelled considerably. ‘It rather put on the appearance of gangrene,' he commented. Bucknill had pointed out that there was a quantity of thick fluid in the stomach but when it was removed from the body and examined closely, no grainy particles were discerned. When the chest was opened, ‘a pint of extravasated
blood appeared on each side of the thorax or breast'. ‘The contents of the stomach were about a spoonful and a half of a slimy reddish liquor which I rubbed between my finger and thumb and it contained no gritty substance,' Rattray observed. He also added enigmatically, when asked later, ‘There was another circumstance which, for decency, I have not mentioned.'

In fact, decency had nothing to do with this dreadful public inspection. Nothing decent at all was left of the careless, head-strong boy who only a fortnight previously had ridden out to go fishing the night before his death.

Theodosius's mother, Lady Anna Maria Boughton, was also in the churchyard. The same article from the
Northampton Mercury
attests that she ‘viewed the melancholy operation performing upon the Corpse of her Son without betraying the least appearance of Feeling or Affection'. But Anna Maria's calm would not have been unusual in a woman of her rank. An heiress in her own right before her marriage, for eight years now she had been the widow of the sixth Baronet Boughton, and, until Theodosius attained his majority at twenty-one (an age he would now never reach), in control of a valuable estate. A dignified appearance was second nature to her; however, she might have been forgiven for displaying some emotion in the face of the events of the previous ten days, in particular those of the morning of her son's death.

Theodosius had been given a phial of liquid to drink at around 7 a.m. that day. He had complained at the sickening taste of the mixture, and tried to put it down. Yet the person standing by his bed that morning had insisted that he drink it all, despite having smelled the concoction and realised that it had an aroma of bitter almonds.

Within the hour, the heir to the extensive estates of Lawford Hall had died in convulsions. And the person who had insisted that he take every last drop of the physic had been his own mother.

Anna Maria turned from the scene at the opened coffin on that stifling afternoon and returned to her carriage. Inside the church, a vast monument to Theodosius's great-grandfather and step-great-grandmother bore mute testimony to the Boughton name while in the main body of the church lay the fourteenth-and fifteenth-century tombs of their ancestors. The inscription on the tomb of Sir William Boughton and Catherine Shukburgh spoke of ‘valuable qualities, the esteem and favour of County … steady and untainted principle …' Anna Maria had a role to play, one foisted upon her by marriage: to maintain that untainted principle, whatever serpent might attack.

BOOK: The Damnation of John Donellan
9.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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