Mysterious Deaths At Mile End

Everyday life in the Victorian East End was, for many of the inhabitants, hard, and they fought a daily battle for survival.

Violent deaths were frequently featured in the newspapers of the day, be they husbands murdering wives, wives murdering husbands, or even parents murdering their children.

Deaths from starvation were commonplace, and many of those who dwelt in the district would often try to forget their waking nightmare by drinking themselves into oblivion.

The following story appeared in The Bromsgrove & Droitwich Messenger  on Saturday the 17th of September 1864:-


On Wednesday afternoon Mr. John Humphreys resumed and concluded an inquiry which he opened on the 29th ult., into the circumstances of the death of Frances Backingham and Mary N. Gribbin, whose bodies were found dead in a room at one of the houses of Albert Cottages, Mile-end New-town, on Friday, the 26th ult.

It will be remembered that the first witness called on the last occasion was John Buckingham, the husband of one of the deceased, women; but it soon transpired that he was a perfect imbecile, and the coroner declined to proceed with his evidence, which was of a contradictory and inconclusive character.

The women, it was proved on that occasion, had been drinking hard for several days.

Victoria Cottages.
Victoria Cottages. Albert Cottages Can Be Seen In The Distance.


The first witness called was Lydia Goozey, a neighbour, who was in the habit of sitting with the deceased persons. She said she fetched beer for them, and some gin, but nothing else. She saw no powder or anything else put into the beer or gin which the deceased persons drank.


Elizabeth Wagstaff, of 27, Albert Cottages, said she knew Lydia Goozey, the last witness, and had had some conversation with her about this case.

It was soon after the funeral.

She said that Mrs. Backingham had offered a white powder to her husband, but that he would not take it, so she took some of it herself and gave the rest to her sister.

She then said that both of them were very sick afterwards. She said they put the powder in some beer.


Mary Anne Roam, of 22, Arundel-street, Bethnal Green, said Mrs. Gribbin had been a lodger of hers, having occupied a back room in her house nearly a month.

She was not a person of sober habits. She got up tipsy and went to bed tipsy – in fact, she had beer fetched her at eight o’clock in the morning.

By the Jury: Never heard her threaten to take her own life or that of her sister.


Dr. Henry Letheby, professor of chemistry in the London Hospital, detailed the analyses which he had made.

Potash was present in both cases, and in one to a large extent. The potash must have been taken in the form of caustic of potash, or carbonate of potash, or cyanide of potassium.

His own opinion was that cyanide of potassium had been taken. It was a deadly poison, the active principle being prussic acid. It was more easily obtained than any other, in consequence of its being so generally used.


Dr. Gayton, who was examined on a previous occasion, was re-called, and asked by the jury whether the man Backingham could have lived so long in the room as he appeared to have done without food.

He said that a man could live that time, three duo, without food.

The Coroner reminded the jury that when the room was broken into, crumbs of bread were found on the floor, so that the man had probably been feeding during the time he was there.

Dr. Gayton, in answer to a juryman, said a person would live half an hour, or an hour at the outside, after taking such poison, as Dr. Letheby had described.


The Coroner in summing up went carefully through the facts of the case, and described with great minuteness the circumstances under which the bodies were discovered.

He also commented upon the medical evidence which had been given.

The jury after a brief consultation returned as their verdict, “That the deceased persons died from the effects of poison, but how it was administered there was no evidence to show.”