On Saturday, 19th May, 1888, just a few months before the onset of the Jack the Ripper murders, Robert Bright, apparently without any provocation whatsoever, attempted to murder his wife, Maria.
Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper gave a summary of the circumstances behind the assault in its edition of Sunday 27th May 1888:-
ATTEMPTED WIFE MURDER AT ISLINGTON
“On Saturday morning, between six and seven o’clock, a desperate attempt to murder a wife took place at Church-street, Islington, a man named Robert Bright having attacked his wife with a chopper and inflicted terrible injuries.
It appears that Robert Bright, who is a whitesmith, had been rather strange and peculiar in his manner, whilst he was extremely jealous of his wife. At times they had quarrels in consequence of his jealousy.
Bright got up shortly after six o’clock and dressed himself, and whilst his wife was lying in bed he attacked her with a chopper, striking her on the head and body, after which he left the house.
Some of the lodgers going into the room, hearing the woman’s continuous cries for help, found her lying in a pool of blood. They at once called in the police and Dr. Sidney Pedler Morris, who found that the woman had received extensive and severe injuries, and, by his orders, she was at once removed to St. Bartholomew’s hospital, in a precarious condition, it being stated that her skull is fractured.
The husband succeeded in escaping, but was arrested on Saturday night and taken to Islington police station.
ROBERT BRIGHT’S COURT APPEARANCE
Robert Bright, assistant-engineer, aged 29, was charged, at Clerkenwell police-court on Monday, with feloniously wounding his wife, Maria, by striking her on the head with a lath hammer, at 25, Church-street, Islington, with intent to murder her, last Saturday.
Emma Minchin, wife of John Minchin, of 25, Church Street, Islington, said that they occupied two rooms on the first floor, and the prisoner and his wife and four children occupied two rooms on the second floor.
At half-past six on Saturday morning she was sitting in her bedroom nursing the baby, when she heard someone run downstairs. Directly afterwards, she heard Mrs. Bright call out, “Oh, dear.” Witness at once put the baby down and ran upstairs. Witness called to Mrs. Bright, but received no reply. Witness, therefore, entered her room and found her in bed with the blood streaming from her head. She said nothing, but her hands were up to her head. Witness saw the hatchet (produced) on the bed.
Witness then ran downstairs and called Mrs. Marther, who lives on the ground floor.
A doctor was fetched, and Mrs. Bright was removed to the hospital. Witness had not seen the prisoner before that evening.
THE POLICE ARRIVE
Police-serjeant James Charlton, 536 N, stated that at 10 minutes Past eight am. on Saturday he was called to 25, Church-street.
On going to the second floor front room, he found a woman lying on the bed bleeding from a terrible wound on the head. The hatchet produced was lying by her side. While there the doctor arrived, dressed her wounds, and ordered her to be removed to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, where she now lies.
Sidney Morris deposed to being called to 25, Church-street, on Saturday morning, when he found the prosecutrix in the front room lying on the bed in a pool of blood. She was bleeding from a lacerated wound on the back of the head, from a smaller wound parallel to it, and also a punctured wound. Upon further examination, he found she was suffering from a depressed fracture of the skull. She was advanced in pregnancy, and nearly exhausted.
Police-constable George Taft said that he was on duty in plain clothes in Baxter-road, Essex-road, at half-past 10 on Saturday night, when he saw the prisoner go into No. 24.
Witness followed him and told him he should take him into custody for feloniously wounding his wife. The prisoner said, “All right; I know all about it,” and asked if his wife was dead. Witness replied that he did not know. The prisoner then said, “You would not have me here tonight, onlv there were too many boats on the River Lea, for I should have drowned myself.”
At the station, he made no reply to the charge.
Mr. Bros remanded the prisoner.”
ATTEMPTED WIFE MURDER
The Morning Post provided the following update on the case on Wednesday 20th June 1888:-
“Robert Bright, 29, an engineer, was charged, on remand, yesterday at the Clerkenwell Police-court with attempting to murder his wife Maria, by striking her on the head with a hatchet, at 95, Church-street, Islington, on Saturday, May 19, since which day she has been detained at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.
The prisoner was first brought before the court on Whit Monday, and has been remanded from week to week since that day.
MRS BRIGHT’S EVIDENCE
The prosecutrix, Mrs. Bright, whose head was wounded in four places, now attended to give evidence.
She said that she had been married to the prisoner for nearly nine years.
On the 19th of May, early in the morning, she was in bed when her husband was dressing. He kissed her and bade her good morning, saying that he was going to work, and asked her to come down to the shop and meet him.
Witness said that she would, when the prisoner said, “No; stop at the corner of Old Street.” Witness said, “Very well,” and laid down.
Witness heard her husband moving about the room, when she suddenly felt a blow at the back of the head, and remembered nothing more.
By the Magistrate:- They had had a few words the night before. Her husband was quite sober when he went to bed.
Mr. Cooke remanded the prisoner for a week.
HIS MIND HAD BECOME AFFECTED
The Islington Gazette, on Wednesday 27th June 1888, reported that Robert Bright’s mind had become affected during the course of the week:-
“At the Clerkenwell Police-court, on Tuesday, Robert Bright, assistant engineer, aged 29, was charged, on remand, with feloniously wounding his wife, Maria, by striking her on the head with a hatchet, at 25, Church-street, Upper-street, on the 19th May, with intent to murder her.
It was stated that the prisoner’s mind had become affected during the week, and it was deemed inadvisable go on with the case, therefore he was remanded.
HIS OLD BAILEY APPEARANCE
Robert Bright appeared at the Central Criminal Court on Thursday 20th September, 1888, and The Manchester Times reported on his trial and the verdict in its edition of Saturday 22nd September 1888:-
“At the Central Criminal Court, on Thursday, Robert Bright, 29, was indicted for feloniously wounding his wife, Maria Bright, with intent to murder her.
Mr. Poland and Mr. Mead prosecuted, and the prisoner was defended by Mr. Keith Frith and Mr. Gooding.
THEY APPEARED TO BE HAPPY
The prisoner had been married to the prosecutrix for about nine years, and they had five children.
They appeared to have lived very happily together down to the 19th of May. On that day the prisoner got up as usual, about six o’clock in the morning, and was about to go to his employment, which was that of a blacksmith, at Islington, when he asked the prosecutrix to come and meet him at night, and kissed her. She promised to do so, and there did not appear to have been the slightest quarrel or dispute of any kind between them.
The prisoner, however, it was alleged, then seized a hatchet that was in the room and struck the prosecutrix a terrible blow on the head.
He then left the house.
The prosecutrix was found in an unconscious condition and was taken to the hospital, where it was discovered that she had been so dangerously injured that more than a month elapsed before the unfortunate woman was sufficiently convalescent to give her evidence before the magistrate.
HE HAD ACTED STRANGELY
The evidence went to show that the prisoner had previously behaved very kindly to his wife, and it appeared that, before the occurrence, he had acted very strangely, and was under various delusions. In addition to this, Dr. Gilbert, the medical officer of Holloway prison, expressed an opinion that he was insane while under his charge.
The learned judge, in summing up, told the jury that they could not acquit the prisoner on the ground of insanity unless they were satisfied that at the time the act was committed the prisoner was not aware of the nature of the act he was committing, but the evidence showed that he knew perfectly well what he was doing.
The jury found the prisoner guilty of wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm, and he was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment with hard labour.”