The Trial Of Esther Pay

In February, 1882, Esther Pay was committed for trial for the murder of the little girl Georgina Ann Moore, which had taken place on or around the 20th of December, 1881.

On Saturday, 22nd April, 1882 a grand jury was convened at the Lewes Assizes to confirm that Mrs Pay should stand trial and to set a start date for that trial.

The Liverpool Mercury reported on the outcome in its edition of Monday, 24th April, 1882:-


“At the Lewes Assizes on Saturday, Baron Pollock, in his charge to the grand jury, referred to the case of the prisoner Esther Pay, who was charged with the murder of a girl named Georgina Moore, and he observed that the evidence against the prisoner was entirely of a circumstantial character, and it appeared to him that it would assist them if he gave a short outline of the facts upon which the charge was brought against the Prisoner.

He said that her parents resided at Pimlico and that the deceased child was in the habit of going to school every day. She did so on the 20th of December, and appeared to have been last seen alive about two o’clock in the afternoon of that day, when she was seen in the company of the prisoner, and nothing more was seen of the child until the 30th of January, when the dead body was found in the River Medway at Yalding, not a very long distance from a house occupied by the prisoner’s father and mother.

A brick was fastened by means of a wire to the body of the child, and it was noticed that there were marks of severe injury upon the neck of the deceased child, and this injury was no doubt the cause of death.

There would be some evidence to show that a woman resembling the prisoner in appearance had purchased a fire brick of the same description as that which was attached to the body of the child. There would be some evidence that a woman resembling the prisoner was at the Paddock Wood railway station on the same day the prisoner and the deceased child were last seen at Pimlico, and that she bargained with the flyman for the conveyance of herself and the child to Yalding; but he was bound to inform them that the evidence as to the prisoner’s identity was not by any means conclusive.

The prisoner was not apprehended until the 31st of January, after the discovery of the body, and she undoubtedly made a number of false statements to the officers who took her into custody.

Sketches showing the various statues in the murder.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 25th February, 1882. Copyright, The British Library Board.


His lordship concluded by saying that this was a general outline of the case, and he imagined that upon the facts that would be laid before them they would not find any difficulty in returning a true bill.

In the course of the afternoon, the grand jury returned a true bill against Esther Pay for the wilful murder of Georgina Moore.

Mr. Byrom, who will conduct the prosecution with Mr. Poland and Mr. Eyre Lloyd, applied to the court for a day for the trial.

Baron Pollock said that it was very desirable that the other business should be disposed of before this trial was commenced, and he thought that it would be convenient to commence the trial on Wednesday morning.”

A portrait of Georgina Moore.
The Victim Georgina ann Moore. From The Penny Illustrated Paper, 11th February, 1882. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Her trial proper began at the County Hall, Lewes, on Wednesday 26th April, 1882, and, on Saturday, 29th April, The Thanet Advertiser published the following report on the proceedings:-

“The trial of Esther Pay for the murder of Georgina Ann Moore, at Yalding, Kent, was commenced at the County Hall, Lewes, before Mr. Baron Pollock, on Wednesday morning.

There was little or no excitement attending it.

The prisoner was brought in a cab from the gaol shortly before ten o’clock, accompanied by two policemen, and a number of policemen formed a lane through which she had to pass to get into court; but there were very few persons, however, much more than sufficient to fill the court, presented themselves afterwards, but the court being very small, only a few having tickets were admitted, and they filled it, the gallery being entirely appropriated to Ladies.

The witnesses, of whom it is stated there were 69, were kept together in a waiting-room adjoining the court.

A sketch of Mrs Pay.
From The Penny Illustrated Paper, Saturday, 18th February, 1882. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Mr. Baron Pollock took his seat on the Bench at ten o’clock.

The prisoner was then placed at the bar.

She wore a grey ulster and a black bonnet and veil, and had a white kerchief trimmed with lace round her neck. She at once put up her veil, and, while the jury were being sworn, she occupied herself putting on a pair of black kid gloves, casting a keen glance now and then on the jurors as they were being sworn, and she leaned over the bar and spoke to her solicitor.

After the jury were sworn, she was allowed to sit down, a female-warder sitting in another part of the dock. She listened very attentively to the speech of Mr. Poland in opening the case for the prosecution, and watched the evidence very closely.

Mr. Poland. Mr. Biron. and Mr. Eyre Lloyd, instructed by the Solicitors to the Treasury, were counsel for the prosecution; and Mr. E. Clarke. Q.C., M.P., Mr. Deane, and Mr. Safford. instructed by Mr. Dutton, solicitor, were counsel for the prisoner.

A sketch showing Mrs Pay in the dock.
From The Penny Illustrated Paper. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The Prisoner having in a firm tone of voice pleaded not guilty, Mr. Poland, in opening the case for the prosecution, reminded the jury that although the evidence was entirely circumstantial, there were connecting links which he believed would undoubtedly prove the guilt of the prisoner as the perpetrator of the grave crime for which she was arraigned.

Amongst the witnesses examined during the day were the father and mother of the child, the former being questioned at considerable length by the counsel for the defence respecting his relations with the prisoner, more immediately preceding the disappearance and death of his daughter.

On Thursday the trial was resumed.

The sitting was occupied in the examination of witnesses for the prosecution, the greater number of whom were called to speak to the identity of the prisoner, accompanied by the little girl, after she left London on the 20th of December, and made her way to Yalding.

The witnesses, however, with one exception, were very uncertain in the matter.”


The Witney Express and Oxfordshire and Midland Counties Herald reported on the final day of the trial in its edition of Thursday, 4th May 1882:-

“The trial of Esther Pay for the murder of Georgina Moore, was resumed at Lewes before Mr. Baron Pollock.

Mr. Edward Clarke, Q.C. for the defence, maintained that in this remarkable case there was not one scrap of the kind of circumstantial evidence which was usually relied on in trials of such a character. Nothing belonging to the child was found upon the prisoner, and nothing belonging to the prisoner was found upon the child.

True, there was picked up in the river Medway a black lace shawl, which one witness said she had seen in the possession of Mrs. Pay before the murder, but when confronted with articles of a similar kind and cross-examined upon them, her belief in the identity of this particular shawl was entirely shaken.


Certain evidence had been produced for the prosecution with an intention against which he must protest.

The prosecution undertook to prove that Esther Pay was the woman who did the deed, and if he showed that their case against Esther Pay was faulty, he was not called upon to suggest any other specific person as the guilty party.

The jury must abide by the evidence which had been laid before them, and, by that evidence, he claimed an acquittal.

The calling of these women on the part of the prosecution could only be characterised as an attempt to divert their minds from the real issue, which was  – has the prosecution made out their case against Esther Pay?

With every resource at their disposal, with every assistance from the most skilful detectives, the prosecution had proved absolutely nothing against the prisoner, while the woman’s poverty precluded her from making those investigations which might have materially assisted her.

Indeed, it was only by the kindly assistance of friends who sympathised with her aged parents that she was able to secure professional assistance at her trial.


Much had been made of the fact that the prisoner had not accounted for her movements on the day of the murder.

One of the absurdities of the law was that the prisoner’s husband could not be called, but barbarous as the law had sometimes been, surely it never contained a barbarity equal to this, that a person’s life was to be taken away because she did not account for where she had been on certain hours of a particular day gone by.

Out of eleven witnesses who were called to identify Mrs. Pay, nine failed to do so, and two of them actually picked out another person as the woman supposed to have been seen with the child at Yalding.


He repeated that the medical evidence distinctly went to show that the murder must have been committed in London, within two or three hours after the child had taken her dinner, at half-past twelve o’clock, and the body was then in some way taken down to Yalding.

The conversations and conduct of the prisoner after her arrest were those of an innocent woman. They had heard how she was taken into custody, how her aged father put the question, “Are you guilty or innocent?”

How she put her arms round his neck, and sobbingly replied that she was innocent, and how her father then told her that, conscious of her innocence, she could stand up and face either God or the devil.

He was sure it would be one of the happiest days in the lives of the jury if they found themselves not only entitled but bound by the evidence, to restore her to the home and hearts of her parents, who loved her – to restore her as a woman who between a husband’s cruelty and a seducer’s persuasion, unhappily had sinned, but who, in their opinion, was guiltless of the terrible crime charged against her.


Mr. Poland, for the prosecution, regarded as ridiculous the suggestion that the child had been murdered in London by a man, and the body then taken down to Yalding.

He mentioned that although each part of the evidence might not in itself be complete, yet it must be taken as a whole, each put in conjunction with the other, and, viewed in that way, he thought it pointed to the prisoner as the person who had first decoyed away the child from Pimlico, and then committed the murder at Yalding.

The prisoner was seen talking to the child in Westmoreland-street, when she was last seen alive; witnesses had been called who saw her in the neighbourhood of Yalding with a child on the same night, and witnesses had also been called who saw her on the station platform at Yalding in company with her mother the next morning.

It was true that the defence threw doubts on the recollection of these witnesses, and it was for the jury to say whether they believed them.

The prisoner also had given an erroneous account of her movements that day, and surely if she had been in London she could have found someone to say in whose house she had been or someone who had seen her.


Mr. Baron Pollock, in summing up, said that this was a case in which the jury could pursue no middle course.

It was patent to all that the trial was one of those in which only circumstantial evidence could be adduced, and it was for the jury to determine what parts they could accept and what they could reject. He did not think, on the present occasion, they would have any great difficulty. If they felt that there were any facts; upon which they could not perfectly rely, they would of course then give the benefit of their doubt to the side of the prisoner.

His lordship then proceeded at length to weigh the evidence, tracing the alleged movements of the prisoner to Yalding, and commenting upon the suggestion that the murder was committed in London.

As to Moore, he said that this man’s conduct was not such as would make it evident to the minds of most men that he was likely to be the murderer of his own child. Wicked as Moore might be – dissolute, immoral, sensual, of utter dishonesty of purpose and cruelty of mind to those women who to some extent trusted him – although he might be a man whom any person, even of the humblest rank of life, might be ashamed to own as a friend, it did not at all follow that he was a being who would take away the life of his own child without special motive.


In conclusion, his lordship said that, in his experience, which was of many years, he could not recollect any case in which, so far as human effort could go, greater pains had been taken to lay before the jury every piece of evidence possible to be obtained.

The jury retired at a quarter-past five o’clock, and, after an absence of twenty minutes, returned with a verdict of not guilty.

The verdict was loudly applauded by many of the Ladies in court.

The prisoner’s father and mother, brother and sister, who occupied the first seat behind the dock, were much affected, and the old woman, clasping her hands, cried out, “Thank the Lord, and all of you gentlemen.”

Mrs. Pay herself seemed also well pleased with her acquittal, and, with a smile of pleasure, thanked the jury. Leaning over the rail of the dock, she desired to thank her solicitor (Mr. Dutton) and her counsel (Mr. Clarke, Q.C., and Mr. Safford) for the very great efforts they had made on her behalf, but she had hardly commenced the sentence when the gaoler took her downstairs, away from the crowd of relatives who were striving to embrace her.”