Isaac Chamberlain, Hertford, Herbalist, & Mary Ann Parish of Aldbury - 1866


Ivan Judd has kindly drawn my attention to the following case where Mary Ann Parish, of Aldbury, died as the result of using a medicine containing arsenic provided by a herbalist Isaac Chamberlain of Hertford. I reproduce the article from the Herts Guardian describing the inquest. The article describing the trial appears in the Herts Guardian for 20th July, 1867. There is an interesting follow up to the case reported in the national press in April and May 1869. You can follow up what happened to Isaac in the British Newspaper Archive (and FindMyPast) or using Google.

Herts Guardian, Agricultural Journal and General Advertiser

Tuesday 2nd October, 1866




A coroner's jury met for the fourth time on Saturday, the Greyhound Hotel, Aldbury, near Tring, for the purpose concluding an inquiry into the circumstances attending the death of Mary Ann Parish, who it was thought had been poisoned the external application an ointment containing arsenic, received from Mr. Chamberlain, Hertford, who has resided there the last 40 years, and has been highly successful in his treatment of cases generally, and especially cutaneous diseases; but is a non-qualified practitioner, i. e. an herbalist. His practice extends largely over the neighbouring counties, and from the statement of his legal representative testimonials of his peculiar ability could produced in hundreds.

The evidence adduced at previous sittings showed that the deceased was the daughter of a labourer, was 32 years old, and had been suffering for 12 years from a tumour in the right shoulder-blade. She had consulted several medical gentlemen as to her complaint, and had been under treatment for 18 months at the West Herts Infirmary [Hemel Hempstead] but failing in obtaining relief she was advised by her friends, as an alternative, to see Mr. Chamberlain. She accordingly went, accompanied friend named Emma Knowles, in March last, to the shop of Mr. Chamberlain, and showed that gentleman the tumour in her shoulder. He told her it was a “cancer-tumour," & that he thought he could "cure it." Having been successful in previous cases he, without hesitation, prescribed for the deceased, and. although in handing her an ointment to applied the tumour he cautioned her to use "very little at the time," and rub it “just on the top of the tumour," he omitted to label the box to that effect. Instead however, of adhering to the verbal instruction, it appeared that the deceased applied the ointment herself, twice or three times day for a fortnight, when she became very ill, showing all the symptoms of having been poisoned. In consequence of this Mr. Pope, a surgeon of Tring, was sent for. He prescribed for her, after which she greatly improved, but subsequently relapsed and died in a fit in August last. A post mortem examination of the body was made, and the heart, liver, and intestines were analysed by professor Taylor.

 As at the previous sittings, Mr. W. A. Clark, barrister, instructed by Mr. Oram, from the office of Messrs. Sworder, and Longmore, of Hertford, was present on Saturday, and upon Mr. H. Day, the coroner taking his seat.

 Professor Taylor was called. He deposed that the 14th inst, he received from Mr. Henry Day, the coroner of Hemel Hempstead district, three boxes, two of which contained ointment and one pills, for analysis. There was no direction on either of the boxes. One of the boxes contained a common red ointment mixed with red peroxide of mercury. It was similar to an ointment known as the “red iodide of mercury.” It contained only the usual proportion of mercury. It acted as an irritant when applied to the skin, and if used for any length of time would produce salivation and other symptoms of chronic poisoning by mercury. It was a very useful ointment when properly employed; one of its specific qualities being to remove tumours by absorption. The second box contained a dark ointment. Arsenic was the only mineral ingredient it contained. From the examination of a small quantity, about the size of a filbert, weighing 19 grains, he obtained two grains and quarter of arsenic. It was white crystallised arsenic. The ointment contained as well some vegetable substance, which gave to it the colour and smell. There was no ointment like it recognized in medical practice. It was a very potent compound of arsenic, and if applied frequently to the skin in a broken or diseased condition, the arsenic would most likely be absorbed into the blood, and cause symptoms of chronic poisoning and death The pill contained antimony, a sulphate of antimony, calomel, a resin called “guiacum," and addition to these chemicals, small quantity of Venice turpentine. The pills were a very proper medicine for the treatment of skin diseases, where alterative medicines were required, and they corresponded with what was called "Plummer's pill," or the compound calomel pill of the British Pharmacopoeia. The pills and pink ointment were very proper things to use. Taking symptoms and appearances of the deceased, described by Mr. Pope and Mr. Whately, and the fact that he had discovered arsenic in the brown ointment, and that it had been applied by the deceased to the tumour on the shoulder, was of the opinion that her death had been caused the absorption arsenic.

Witness went to say that he had made examination of the tumour, and found it was an encysted tumour. He found traces of arsenic in it. The stomach was reddened in streaks. It was quite well preserved The liver also contained arsenic, and in his opinion it had been absorbed and diffused through the body of the deceased. Arsenic was now used as an internal medicine. It was formerly used for cancer and other skin diseases, but it so frequently destroyed life that the external use had been abandoned by regular medical practitioners. The amount absorbed would entirely depend upon the quantity applied, the frequency of the application. and the state of the skin. Frequent rubbing in would cause a sore or abrasion of the skin. Taking into consideration the delicate state of the deceased’s health the arsenic would necessarily act more readily.

Other evidence was then taken as to the delivery the medicines, and the Coroner briefly summed up the case.

The Jury retired, and, after half an hour’s deliberation returned a verdict of Manslaughter against Isaac Chamberlain.

The warrant of committal was then made out, but the coroner accepted bail for the accused's appearance at the next sessions, the accused in £200 and one surety in £l00.

February 2015   Page Created