Victorian London - Crime - Violence, murders and assaults - The Stockwell Murder (Anne Watson)<

The Times, Thursday, Oct 12, 1871


    Yesterday afternoon, a murder was discovered to have been perpetrated in Stockwell, the murderer being the Rev. T. Selby Watson, M.A., a clergyman well known in London, having for upwards of 25 years filled the important position of Headmaster of Stockwell Grammar School. The victim of this lamentable crime was his wife, a lady of 62 or 63 years of age, and her body has been lying concealed in the house ever since Sunday night, when the murder must have been committed.
    Mr. Watson resided with his wife and a female servant, named Jane Pyne, who has lived with them for three years, in a large house in St. Martin's-road, at the back of Stockwell-crescent, and from the statement of the young woman it would seem that on Saturday evening last she left the house and did not return to it until nearly 10 o'clock. When she left, Mr. Watson and his wife were sitting in the library on the first-floor, which is situated between Mr. Watson's bedroom and a small bedroom unoccupied at the back. When she returned, Mr. Watson told her that her mistress had left for the country, and would be absent five or six days. She was a little surprised at this communication but made no comment, and from her statement did not seem to think much about it. Mr. Watson retired to rest at the usual time. No disorder was manifest in the room, but the next morning the girl called the attention of her master to a large dark stain on the carpet and the floor at the library door, when Mr. Watson replied with great coolness, "Oh, there was an accident last night. I spilt a decanter of port wine there, and wiped it up as well as I could." All that day he seemed busily engaged in putting his books in order and writing. This in no way surprised the servant, being in perfect consonance with his usual habits. On the Monday evening Mr. Watson retired to rest at his usual time, and the following day he seems to have spent like the preceding one, with the exception that he was seen walking in the Clapham-road. It is necessary to mention these facts to explain what follows. It now turns out that, having committed the murder, the course he had determined upon was to poison himself with prussic acid. At the first chymist's shop where he applied, the drug was refused, although he was well known; but he must have obtained some kind of mixture, for on his return home he told the girl that if anything happened to him in the night she was to send at once to Dr. Rugg. Whether he made any attempt on his life then is not known, but if he did it had no injurious effect, and yesterday he rose as usual, and wrote some letters, which he left upon the dressing-table, and which are now in the possession of the police, one of them being addressed, "To the Surgeon." He then retired to bed again, and about 11 o'clock the servant in great haste came to summon Dr. Rugg, saying that her master was in a fit of apoplexy. In a short time Dr. Rugg was at the house, and, on being admitted, the servant put the following letter into his hand:-
    "In a fit of fury I have killed my wife. Often and often I have endeavoured to restrain myself, but my rage overcame me, and I struck her down. Her body will be found in the little room off the library. I hope that she will be buried as becomes a lady of birth and position. She is an Irish lady, and her name is Anne. The key is in a letter on the table."
And then follows a word which has been erased but which is apparently a surname. On seeing this letter, Dr. Rugg immediately rushed upstairs to the bedside of Mr. Watson, whom he found very weak and speechless apparently suffering from some violent poison. He administered a sedative, and proceeded at once to the room indicated, in company with the servant girl. There they found the body of Mrs. Watson in a corner of the room, with her knees touching her chest, her hands convulsively clenched, and her clothes saturated with blood, which still seemed to ooze from the body in a dark, almost purple pool. On examining her, Dr. Rugg found there was, in addition to numerous other wounds, a fracture on the occiput sufficient, probably, to cause death. Both temples were beaten in, and there was a deep wound in the middle of the forehead.
    All this time the wretched man who had perpetrated this horrible murder lay on his bed half-insensible, though slowly recovering. Dr. Rugg, though a personal acquaintance of the murderer, at once saw that the police must be apprised of the sad occurrence. Under pretence of going to prepare some medicine, he went into the street, and meeting a person whom he knew sent him to Brixton police-station. Inspector Davis, who was on duty at the station, at once proceeded in company with Police-sergeant Hazell to the house. By the time they had arrived Mr. Watson had recovered both his faculties and, to some extent, his bodily strength. Dr. Rugg immediately told him that he had read the letter, and found the body of his wife, and that the officers of justice were below. He replied, "I suppose so; it must be so;" but he made no reference to the crime. . . .
    . . . It is impossible to speculate at present upon the motives of the crime. Mr. Watson himself says in his letter that he did it in a fit of fury, and those who are acquainted with the deceased lady concur in saying that she had a bad temper. On the other hand the servant girl, who has lived with them three years, says that she was never a witness to any quarrel between them.

Times, May, 1871