"This man's medicine will kill me.” - The Manslaughter of Susannah Thomas.

The Wyndham Arms, 1795.

On the 26th of January 1839 an inquest into the death of Susannah Thomas, aged 22, took place at the Wyndham Arms Inn. The inquest was held before Lewis Rees Esq. The coroner, and his jury.

It was suspected that Susannah (who died at Bridgend on the 25th of January, 1839) had died about an hour or so after taking medicine supplied by the infamous Baron Spolasco, a visiting doctor from Swansea.

Susannah Thomas was born to Anne and Thomas Thomas of Cowbridge. At the time of her death, Susannah was living with her auntie Elizabeth Arnott at East Gate Street (now Caroline Street).
For a time, Susannah was employed as a servant to Miss Bevan of Cowbridge, sister of the well-known solicitor Mr Bevan of the same town. Owing to her ill health, Susannah removed to her Aunties house at Bridgend.

A few days before her death, Susannah had read an advertisement in The Cambrian about how Baron Spolasco would be visiting the Wyndham Arms on the 24th of January.

Advertisement for Baron Spolasco's work.


On the morning of the 24th of January, Susannah carried out her usual household work then went to do some needle-work in the stable. On hearing that Baron Spolasco had arrived at Wyndham  Arms at 6 o'clock that evening; Susannah and Elizabeth made their way to the Inn. Once there, they were told to pay 5 shillings to see the Baron.

While waiting for their turn to see the infamous Spolasco, they witnessed a man by the name of John Thomas have his leg dressed. Baron Spolasco told the man that “he would have new legs in a short time.” It was soon the turn of Susannah and Elizabeth. After introducing himself, Baron Spolasco told Susannah that “..you have a bold eye, with a deadly disorder under it.” He went on to say that his “medicine is very dear; I cannot give you anything under a guinea”. 

Elizabeth gave the Baron all the money in her purse, 17s. 6D – she was then told by a Hannah Phillips (who was assisting Spolasco) that she could bring the rest of the money at another time. Baron Spolasco gave Elizabeth and Susannah the medicine which consisted of two pills and a packet of power.

He advised:“she (Susannah) must take one bolus and half the powder at night and if that should not operate take the remainder the next morning.” With that, he shook Susannah's hand and exclaimed: “you may bless the hour you ever saw the Baron Spolasco come to the town of Bridgend: you will be another person tomorrow. Pray to almighty god and you will be better tomorrow.”
He wished the both goodnight and asked them to come back between 11 and 12 the next day.

Under the direction of the Baron, Susannah took half her medicine and went to bed at 11 o'clock. Between 3 and 4 o'clock on the 25th of January, Margaret, Susannah's sister, came into the bedroom of their aunt and shouted: “O God, Susan is dying.” Frantic, both Elizabeth and her husband rushed to Susannah's bedside. While at the bedside Susannah cried: “O God, I am dying, this man's medicine will kill me.” 

“You may bless the hour you ever saw the Baron Spolasco come to the town of Bridgend."

After giving her the second dose of medicine and applying wet flannels to the area of Susannah's pain, Elizabeth went to the Wyndham Arms Inn and called upon Baron Spolasco. Spolasco told Elizabeth “There is nothing to be done, you must wait until the medicine operates.”  

Elizabeth returned home but within half an hour she called upon Baron Spolasco again. This time he instructed her to give Susannah “half a glass of wine, half a glass of brandy and mull them together to cheer her spirits.” Elizabeth responded by saying “it is proper you should come and see her, for if you do not, there will be an uproar in the town.” He reluctantly agreed to pass by and see Susannah in half an hour.

Thomas Arnott, the uncle of Susannah and husband to Elizabeth, saw the Baron walk passed the house twice. Thomas chased the Baron through East Gate Street and brought him to Susannah's bedside. At the time of his arrival, Susannah's hands and feet were cold and began to turn purple.
While there, Baron Spolasco told Elizabeth to give Susannah “a table spoonful of caster oil, and if it did not operate to give her another in an hour and a half; and if that did not operate, to make her a strong glister of turpentine in it.” 

Baron Spolasco told them he was going to stop at Cowbridge for the night and that Elizabeth should write to him to inform him how Susannah was doing.

Susannah died a quarter of an hour later after Baron Spolasco left the house. Susannah is buried at Holy Cross Churchyard, Cowbridge.

The entry of Susannah Thomas' death in the parish register of Cowbridge. 



Dr Abraham Verity (Snr) was requested to undertake a post-mortem examination of the body.
He undertook the postmortem examination with the help of his son Fredrick Verity and his nephew William Wood. They found a perforation of the stomach caused by excited inflammation. He also found that the medicine taken by the deceased had proved to be highly injurious.

"....the medicine now produced, which the Baron gave another patient, is composed of aloes and jalap, which would if administered to such a subject as deceased, who was weak and delicate, have accelerated her death."

The jury gave a verdict of manslaughter and Baron Spolasco was to be charged with "having unlawfully and wilfully administered to one Susannah Thomas, a certain destructive drug, of which Susannah Thomas died.”

A warrant was issued by the magistrates to arrest Baron Spolasco. He was apprehended at Cowbridge and he described the arrest as a "foul conspiracy got up against him." He was committed to Cardiff Gaol to await trial at the next County Sessions.
 The Lancet London

The trial of Baron Spolasco at the Glamorgan Assizes took place on the 6th of March 1839. 

The trial began at 9 o'clock and the hall in was full to excess with people. The Glamorgan Monmouth and Brecon Gazette and Merthyr Guardian reported that the death of Susannah Thomas “produced great excitement in the town and neighbourhood of Bridgend.” 

As the jury swore in, Mr  Lewis (Prosecuting) made an objection to a member of the Jury. He claimed that the person in question was an uncle to Mr Walters (Defence). The Lordship came to the conclusion that it did not perceive that could be any objection. The person in question was allowed to remain. 

Dr John Llewellyn was first to give evidence. He told of how he was called to her two months before her death. At that time she was under considerable ill health. He concluded that she was labouring under irritability of the stomach – which he treated her for. He states that Susannah was in his care from November 25th until December 2nd: at that time she left Cowbridge and went to reside in Bridgend. 

Portrait of Baron Spolasco - Letter published written by Spolasco on 31st January 1839.
While being questioned by Mr Chilton regarding the claim that Spolasco was able to diagnose Susannah's illness by looking into her eyes, Dr Llewellyn stated: “It is not possible to know the state of a person's health, who is able to walk out, by looking at their eyes.” 

The next witness brought to the stand was Dr Abraham Verity (Snr).  He began by telling of how he was called upon by the Coroner to make a post-mortem. He the examination took place on the day after Susannah's death (26th of January) He was assisted by his son and Mr Wood. 
  
"We found the peritoneum had been affected with inflammation and near the stomach were marks of gangrene... The inner lining of the stomach was very much thickened, contracted and gangrenous, about the middle there appeared a perforation or rupture through which liquid contents had escaped into the cavity of the abdomen. 

I attribute the death to acute inflammation by causing gangrene. The person could live at most four or five hours after the rupture."

Fredrick Verity, son of Dr Abraham Verity was brought to the stand. He made it clear that he could not say whether or not the contents of the stomach was the very contents that Dr Abraham Verity examined. 

The last witness to take the stand was Dr William Henry Wood, nephew of  Dr Abraham Verity. 

“I am of opinion that the medicine administered was not the cause of death. I am of the opinion that the medicine administered might have accelerated death – not specifically as a medicine – but by producing nausea and consequent vomiting.” 

His Lordship then referred the case to the jury, who unanimously returned the verdict of Not Guilty.

The Glamorgan Monmouth and Brecon Gazette and Merthyr Guardian: 9th March 1839.


(Sources: LLGC - Dr. Randall - Bridgend and Cowbridge Union Workhouse - BritishNewspaperArchive - The Lancet London)

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