MURDER OF PRISCILLA BROWN in BERE REGIS, 1818

At about 10pm on the 14th May 1818, Ann Loveridge was standing on her front doorstep taking a breath of fresh air when she suddenly heard a woman's voice cry out, "Oh!
The Lord have mercy on me!" A low groan followed, then silence.
Ann called out to her next door neighbour, Elizabeth Rose, to ask if she had heard anything, but she hadn't.

An hour later, labourer Robert Lane was walking down Back Lane, the small road that ran behind Priscilla Brown's cottage, when he spotted a woman he recognised as Priscilla lying on her back on a dung heap.
Thinking that she may have had a seizure, he spoke to her three times.
Having received no response, he placed his hand on her breast to see if he could detect a heartbeat and, when he could find none, he ran to get help.

The first people to arrive on the scene were Priscilla's brother and a neighbour, Henry Philips.
Between them, the men carried Priscilla back to her house, still unsure of whether she was dead or just unconscious.
A doctor was summoned, but by the time Dr Thomas Nott arrived at 1am on the morning of 15th May, they had all realised that it was the former.

There were a number of people milling about Priscilla's small cottage by then and the doctor was only able to give the body a cursory examination, at which he noted that the woman's throat was blackened and that she had marks around her mouth and nose.
Dr Nott came to the conclusion that the woman had been strangled, but when he was able to conduct a more detailed post-mortem examination later that morning, during which he opened the body and head of the victim, he realised that the cause of death had been suffocation rather than strangulation.
It seemed as though someone had obstructed Priscilla Brown's nose and mouth, probably with a hand, and prevented her from breathing.
Dr Nott also confirmed that Brown was between six and seven months pregnant.

The police began investigations into the murder and soon had a prime suspect.
Everyone in the village knew that Priscilla Brown was pregnant and the father of her unborn child was rumoured to be John Gallop, a twenty-nine year old labourer who had recently married and now lived in lodgings just outside the village with his new wife.

In the course of their enquiries, police found a lot of villagers who had something to tell them about Gallop. Farmer Tomas Homer had seen John Gallop walk past his house between 9pm and 10pm on the night of 14th May, heading in the direction of Priscilla's house, which was about 100 yards away.
Gallop had been walking at a steady pace, swinging a walking stick and wearing a rough, long brown greatcoat.
Homer had seen Gallop pass by again on his return journey some fifteen minutes later, again walking at the same unhurried pace.
Another witness, John Sexey, who lived nearby had also seen Gallop going towards, and then later away, from Priscilla Brown's cottage on the night of the murder.

Gallop's landlord, Benjamin Romain, told police that Gallop had left his house at about 8pm on the night of 14th May and walked off in the direction of Bere Regis village.
Romain went to bed at about 10.30pm but did not fall asleep immediately.
He had not heard Gallop returning.

As the prime suspect - and in fact the only suspect - police wasted no time in arresting John Gallop and charging him with the wilful murder of Priscilla Brown.
As he was taken away, Romain later testified in court that Gallop had whispered to him, "Say I was in bed for ten o'clock".

Tried for the murder at the Dorset Assizes, before Mr Justice Burrough, John Gallop pleaded 'Not Guilty', denying all knowledge of the murder amd also denying being the father of Priscilla Brown's unborn child.

The first witness to be called was eight year old Charles Brown who, after being tested on his ability to differentiate between the truth and lies, identified John Gallop by pointing to him in the courtroom.
He testified that he knew the accused because he had often visited his mother's house.
On the night of the murder, he told the court that stones had been thrown against the cottage doors three times.
His mother had gone first to the front door, then to the back, to try and establish where the noise was coming from.
At the back door she spoke to Gallop, then, without pausing to put on her bonnet, she went out into the back garden and walked towards Back Lane.
She hadn't come back until she was brought back dead.
Charles talked of hearing Gallop's voice calling him out into the garden, but said that he hadn't gone because he couldn't tell what Gallop had said.

At this, Gallop interjected, saying that the boy had said before that he had never heard any voice, and that Thomas Clinch had heard him say this.
Mr Justice Burrough asked Charles about what he had heard several times, but he continued to insist that he had recognised Gallop's voice calling him.
Eventually the judge decided to ask Thomas Clinch for his version of events.

However, the decision to name Clinch as a witness backfired for John Gallop, since Clinch promptly testified that he had indeed heard young Charles say that someone had flung stones at the door and that he had later heard Gallop's voice.
Far from contradicting Charles Brown's testimony, Clinch's evidence actually corroborated it.

The arguments by Gallop against Charles Brown's testimony set a pattern that was to be repeated again and again as different witnesses gave evidence.

Gallop disputed the testimony of Romain, his landlord, saying that Romain had spoken false of him and that he had never asked him to say that he was in bed by ten o'clock.

Several people came forward to say that Gallop had spoken about murdering Priscilla Brown before the event. Page Ross, a servant, spoke of meeting Gallop in Homer's barn on 1st May and of Gallop asking him if he had heard any rumours.
When Ross said he hadn't, Gallop told him, "They have got it about town that Cil Brown is with child by me, but I will be damned if I know her a man from a woman.
And if she swears it to me, damn my eyes if I will not murder her the next minute."

Predictably, Gallop immediately protested. "He has sworn false against me.
I never said I would murder her and you may depend on it, my Lord".
Yet if Ross had lied, so too did Thomas Strickland, for he had also heard Gallop's threats and his statement matched Ross's word for word.

Elizabeth Harris was another witness who, according to Gallop, "swore false".
She had been working in the fields with Gallop during the previous year when Gallop had bragged before her and several other witnesses that he could kill a person in five minutes without being discovered.
Harris asked him how he would do that and Gallop responded by placing one hand around her throat and the other across her nose and mouth, pinching her nostrils closed.

"Did he hurt you materially?" asked the judge.
"Oh yes, my Lord", replied Harris, adding somewhat unnecessarily, "But he didn't kill me".
Gallop protested once more.
"She has a spite against me, and every word she has spoken is false".

The court heard from Thomas Homer, John Sexey and another witness, Sarah Welch, who had all seen John Gallop walking either towards or away from Priscilla Brown's home on the night of 14th May.
Perhaps not surprisingly, all according to Gallop were lying.

Finally, Gallop himself took the witness stand.
He made a great show of dismissing almost every word of evidence given in court so far as lies and gave a detailed account of his movements on the night of 14th May, which, of course, did not include being anywhere near the home of Priscilla Brown.
Yet although he insisted that he had an alibi for the entire evening, Gallop was unable to name any person who might have corroborated his story.

It was left to his defence counsel to try and repair some of the damage caused by Gallop's testimony, which he attempted to do by calling two or three character witnesses for his client.
In hindsight, this was perhaps not such a good idea, since none of the witnesses seemed to know Gallop too well and had very little good to say about him.

The jury retired for only a few minutes before returning with a verdict of 'Guilty', leaving the judge to pronounce the prescribed sentence of death.
Calling the murder one of the foulest crimes he had heard, he urged John Gallop to fall to his knees after leaving court and endeavour by prayer and supplication to obtain forgiveness from a merciful God.

Gallop accepted the sentence with apparent indifference and, after leaving the dock, continued to protest that he was as innocent of the murder as a newborn baby.
It is not known whether or not he heeded the judge's advice to pray for forgiveness, but regardless, he did not have long to wait before meeting his maker.
He was hanged at Dorchester on the 27th July 1818 and his body was then anatomised.
West Street