1848 Mary Ann Newman Murder

From Historical Hastings

In 1838, John Pearson, a Stableman who had been in the employ of the owners of the property murdered Mary Newman at Catherina Villa, the details being reported in the Brighton Gazette as follows[1];

On Sunday [the 12th of November] Miss Moore, her brother, James Gray (the footman), and Henry Mitchell (the coachman who succeeded the prisoner), went in their carriage to the Baptist Chapel at Hastings, leaving at home the cook, who was a very old servant in the family, and also Jane Cannon, the housemaid, who was on the point of setting out to attend divine service at St. Leonards church, and where she went accordingly. On the return of the carriage from chapel, no one answered the door bell; and on looking through the window, Mr Moore observed that there was no fire in the room where he and his sister were to dine at two o'clock. The footman then entered the house through a window, when it was discovered that the house had been ransacked, watches, jewels and plate to the value of about £100 bad been carried off, and the cook was found insensible, and weltering in her blood from wounds apparently inflicted by a spade which was standing near, the spade being covered with blood. Some of these wounds had penetrated the skull, so that the brains protruded. Mr R. B. Cumming, was summonsed to attend to unfortunate woman, who lingered till Tuesday [the 14th], and then died.

At the inquest held at the St. Leonards Assembly Rooms on the 15th of November, it was heard that Mary must have heard an intruder and, upon entering the passageway from the kitchen encountered the intruder. Here the intruder, taking a spade from the knife room struck a number of fatal blows to Mary's head, leaving a spatter of blood up the wall and Mary, lying mortally wounded in a pool of blood. The intruder then ransacked the rooms of the property-owners taking various items of jewellery and value. The inquest found there was insufficient evidence to lay charges against any person at that time. The intruder was believed to have gained access to the premises by means of waiting in the Archery Gardens adjoining Catherina Villa's grounds until the coast was clear, then jumping over a dwarf wall and gaining access to the house via the stables[2].

Sketch of the murderer at court

At the examination and committal hearing of the prisoner, held at the Town Hall on November 24th, the court-room was packed. In front of the Mayor, A. Burton and a panel made up of F. Ticehurst, W. Crake, Dr. MacCabe, J. Manington, F. Smith, Dr. Rankin and F. W. Staines, the first witness was Mark Mepham who gave evidence to the effect that he was employed at the Tivoli Mill and on the day in question, he had been drinking at Jesse Hack's public house. After walking part-way towards Catsfield with his drinking-companion, he returned back down Battle Road and just after passing the public house in which he had recently been drinking, saw Pearson walking towards Hastings, passing him near to the Tivoli Gate. He had not previously seen the prisoner on his outbound journey[3].

Sarah Daw then gave evidence that she was the wife of the keeper of the Tivoli Gate and, that about 1 o'clock, the prisoner had stopped at the premises for some water. She noticed that Pearson was dressed normally, other than wearing Wellington Boots and his trousers were turned up[3].

There were no further witnesses, the Mayor addressed the prisoner stating that the evidence against him was so strong that the magistrates had decided to commit him for trial at the Lewes Assizes. A number of depositions were read out by the Clerk (J. G. Shorter) as follows[3]:-

John Moore - I am not in any business, and reside with my sister at Catherina Villa, St. Leonards. On the 11th instant, our establishment consisted of Henry Mitchell, the coachman; James Gray, the footman; Jane Cannons, the housemaid; and Mary Ann Newman, the cook, since deceased. The deceased had been in the family for 28 years, Miss Moore had resided at Catherina Villa about two years last Sept. The house was built by her. The premises include a dwelling-house, coach-house and stable, the latter about. twenty yards from the dwelling, and all enclosed by a stone wall. The house is situated on the West Hill, and is not over-looked by any other house, though there are several lower down the road. The deceased was much attached to her mistress, and slept in a room adjoining her mistress's bed-room. The house has two doors on the eastern side. The principal door has a spring lock but the lock of the area door has no spring, and fastens with a key on the inside, The entrance to the premises is through a pair of carriage gates at the entrance, which fastens on the inside. Of late, my sister and I have attended morning divine service at the Baptist chapel, Wellington square, Hastings, service commencing at a quarter to eleven, On Sunday, Nov. 12th, I and my sister went thither in our carriage as usual, attended by the coachman and footman. On the Sunday before that, we started for the chapel, but did not get so far, owing to an accident with the carriage. On the 18th we left the cook and housemaid at home, with the understanding that the latter should shortly go to church. After service was over at the Baptist chapel, I and my sister returned home, attended by the coachman and footman. On reaching the entrance gates, we rang both bells five or six times, expecting the cook to answer; as she did not do so, I told the footman to get over the wall and open the gates, which he did. After we had got into the grounds, I looked in at the kitchen window, and saw that the fire was out. We were to have dined at two o’clock. I saw my sister and the footman standing and talking through my sister's bed room window, which was wide open, my sister being in the garden and the footman in the room. The footman went and opened the front door and let us in. On going into my sister’s room, I found it all in confusion; a jewel casket was lying open, and a mahogany pedestal cabinet had been forced open and bore marks of a chisel. On going into my room, I found that a portmanteau had been removed, but not opened. I sent the footman down stairs to look for the cook. I went down stairs myself, and found a spade lying against a hamper at the foot of the stairs, and farther on, on the floor of the passage, we saw the cook, Mary Ann Newman, lying rather on her back, her head against the scullery wall, and her feet towards the coal cellar. There was a patch of blood on the wall opposite to where she was lying and another close by her head, the blood at this last place being spattered on the wall up as high as the ceilings. The deceased breathed heavily when I found her and never spoke afterwards. We removed her into the kitchen and put her to bed. We did not allow any visitors to the kitchen. I have examined the silver spoons produced by James Ashdown, jun.; they are my property. The prisoner left our service on November last, and I never saw him afterwards till now. The window on the staircase landing was shut when we left home, but was open on our return.


Mary Ann Catherine Moore — I reside at Catherina Villa, St Leonards. The deceased, Mary Ann Newman was my cook. On my returning from the Baptist Chapel, on Sunday morning, November 12th, we could not get the entrance gates opened, as no one answered the bell. The footman got over the wall and opened them, after which he got in at my bedroom window and let us in at the front door. On entering my bedroom, I found it in great confusion, and discovered that it had been robbed. Among other things, some biscuits had been taken out of my basket. I afterwards found that the cook had been cruelly beaten, On examining my jewellery, I found that the following articles had been stolen. (Here followed a list of the various articles enumerated in the first handbill that was published concerning the murder and robbery, including watches, necklaces, seals, keys, brooches, and other articles of value). On the 17th instant, having made a further examination, I missed more things, I have examined the articles now produced by James Ashdown, jun., and find them to be my property. The prisoner left my service on the 31st of last month, and I have not seen him since till this day.

Jane Cannons — I am housemaid in the service of Miss Moore, and have been so for five or six weeks. On the 12th instant, while dressing for church in the morning, I looked through my bedroom window and saw the carriage go out at the gates. Having dressed I went and put my mistress’s bedroom to rights, and left the window about an inch up. There is a window on the staircase, which was shut when I left. I went out at the area door, and left the cook in the kitchen, believing her to be the only person in the house; it was then about ten minutes past eleven. I went to St Leonard's church, and sat in the front seats. When the service was over, I returned straight home. I rang the bell at the entrance gate, and the footman let me in, telling me what had happened. I assisted in removing the cook from the passage into the kitchen. She was insensible, I afterwards saw her stripped, when I observed two wounds on her right shoulder, and a bandage on her leg. I did not go to the stable door before I went to church. Have not seen the prisoner since he left my mistress’s service till today. I remember his using a blue cotton pocket handkerchief like the one now produced.

James Grey — I am footman in the service of Miss Moore, and have been so ever since October 2nd. On the 12th instant I attended the carriage to the Baptist chapel, and left Jane Cannons in the house. While the carriage was standing at the door, the cook came out and put the salamander into the carriage, after which she returned into the house by the front door, which she shut after her. On Saturday, November 11th, I dug up some Jerusalem artichokes in the garden with a spade, which I afterwards cleaned, and put by in a corner of the knife room, in such a position that any one entering by the area door must see it. On the afternoon of the following day, I saw the spade covered with blood as it is now, and bent at one corner. The last time I saw it previous to this was on Saturday night, November 11th. When we returned from church on the following Sunday, we could not get in at the entrance gates. At my master’s request I got over the wall and opened the gates. In going round the house, I saw my mistress’s bed room window open. I got into the house through that window, and went and opened the front door to let the family in, On going down stairs I saw the cook lying in the passage. I did not move her; my master saw her in the same position; I saw a spade standing against a hamper in the passage, being the spade now produced, and in the same state, only the blood was then wet and it is row dry, When Pearson was at our house, he had a cotton pocket handkerchief like the one now produced. The boots now produced by P.C. Sheather are the same as Pearson wore at our house.

Henry Mitchell — I am coachman to Miss Moore. I drove the carriage to the Baptist chapel on Sunday, November 12th, and put it up at some Mews in Hastings. I left the stable door at home shut, but found it open on my return. I never saw the prisoner till the previous examination, last week. Never saw any one go up or down the clay bank near the stable.

Robert Cummings - I am a surgeon at St Leonards. On November 12th, at about twenty minutes past one I went up to Miss Moore’s house, and found the deceased lying insensible in the passage, She was re-moved into the kitchen, and on examination I found one gash on the left side of the head, and six on the right side, two of which went very deep, cutting through the ear and skull, and laying bare the brain, part of which oozed out. Great violence must have been used to inflict such wounds. I have examined the spade now produced, and fitted it to the wounds. I believe the wounds to have been effected by that instrument. I attended the cook to the time of her death, which was about 8 o'clock on the morning of the 14th. She remained insensible from the time I first attended her til her death.

John Campbell. — I am Inspector of police at Hastings. I produce a spade which I found at the house of Miss Moore, at St Leonards on November 12th. I apprehended the prisoner at the Hastings Arms Inn, on that night, He then had on the boots now produced. I called him aside and to him, "I suppose you have heard of this affair at St Leonard's". He said "Yes, but I don’t know anything about it — Griffin told me about it." He said that he lett London at five o'clock on Saturday afternoon. and slept at Tonbridge, after which he started on foot for Hastings, calling at Jesse Hack’s and the Tivoli gate on his road home, and had dinner at home. I then took him into custody.

Letitia Pearson — I am the mother of John Pearson. He left the service of Miss Moore on October 31st, or November 1st. I did not see him from the day following until Sunday, November 12th, at my husband’s house, Wellington Mews, near the Gas Fields, Hastings. I was taking up my husband's dinner, when the prisoner came in, and said he came from Tunbridge Wells, He might have said Tunbridge. He had on the same coat he now has, a dark coat with velvet collar, and also a white neckerchief. His boots were dirty. and he asked for the blacking and brushes. I supplied him with a clean shirt, stockings, neckerchief, and pocket handkerchief. All his dirty clothes I received from him. I afterwards gave to Inspector Campbell, namely, a shirt, shirt front, stockings, and neck kerchief. The prisoner did not give me any pocket handkerchief. He asked me for a clean pocket handkerchief. After he had dressed and dined in the he came into our room, and shortly went out. He asked me if I had a penny, and I said no.

Henry Sheather - I am a constable in the East Sussex Constabulary, No. 16, Footmarks have been under my notice for many years, On Monday, the 13th inst., I was searching at Miss Moore's. Examined a stiff loam bank near the stable. I saw where some one had got over a kind of rattle fence and down the bank backwards, one small rail was pulled off near the bottom, The point of the left foot grazed down the bank backwards, so that I could see the marks of a pelt on the heel, On the Tuesday I went up round by Jesse Hack’s. I went into the lane leading from Hollington corner to Tivoli gate. I came up by Hanning’s shaw into the three-cornered field. I got up into the gapway between cricketing field and. three-cornered field, in one corner of which is a nook that leads into the shaw, there I saw a footmark leaving the footpath and leading into the shaw. I followed the mark about twelve yards into the shaw, and then lost it. I kept through the shaw to Hack's house. When in the turnpike road, I turned into Knight's garden, when I found the same footmarks again, leading towards Hacks house, I backed them for about 13 yards, and on entering the shaw again, found the same marks as jumping out from the shaw into the garden. I went again to Miss Moore's house, and was satisfied that the footprint on the hank was the same as those in the shaw. On the 15th inst., I took the boots I now produce, from the feet of the prisoner. They match exactly with the footprints I have spoken of. The impression of the half clip was perfect, Last Saturday night I fitted the ash pole produced by Hack, to the stump in the shaw. I traced the foot prints close by the said ashen, round which there were dead leaves which would take no footmark. I think the distance from Jesse Hack’s to Miss Moore’s house is about two miles.

Thomas Skinner. — I am a riding-master at St Leonards, and know the prisoner. He was in my service a few days before he went to Miss Moore’s. He left me through illness. On Sunday, the 12th inst., I was at Jesse Hack’s, called the Victoria Inn. Their clock was at about twenty-two minutes to one. I left before ten minutes to one. While there, I saw the prisoner come in at the front door. I spoke to him as he passed me, but he did not reply. In less than two minutes he went out again by the same door. He looked tired.

George Burgess. - I am a police constable at Hastings, No. 13. On the 15th inst., in the morning, I accompanied Sheather to Hollington, and saw him fit the boots now produced to some footmarks in the three-cornered field opposite Jesse Hack's house.

James Wellerd. — I am keeper of Hastings prison. The boots now produced by Sheather are the same as those worn by the prisoner when he came into my custody on the 13th inst.

James Ashdown, jun. — I am a sawyer at Hollington. On Friday the 15th inst., at about 12 yards from the gap on the north side of the shaw, near Jesse Hack’s inn, I observed a mark on an ash pole growing there, as if a person had bitten the rind. On searching closely I found, concealed under an old whitethorn stubb, a dark handkerchief, which I now produce, containing a quantity of jewellery, which I also produce, and which correspond to those described as lost by Miss Moore. The ash pole which was bitten is now in the possession of Jesse Hack.

Jesse Hack — I keep the Victoria Inn at Hollington. On Sunday the 12th inst., at about half-past twelve o'clock, the prisoner entered by my front door and asked for some water. He was dressed in a dark frock coat, dark striped trousers, and black hat. On Wednesday, the 15th instant, I went with Sheather, who shewed me some footprints in a field near my house leading into a shaw. Sheather had a pair of Wellington boots now produced which corresponded to the footmarks. I know the spot where James Ashdown found the marked ash pole, and sawed it off to preserve it on the 18th instant. I now produce it.

Maria Hack — I am the wife of Jesse Hack. I was in the passage of our house at about half past 12 o’clock on Sunday the 12th instant, when the prisoner came in and asked for some water, which I gave him, and he drank nearly a pint, saying that he had had a long walk that morning and had got no money. He went away directly.

James Daw. — I keep the Tivoli gate, on the Hastings and Battle road, about half a mile from Jesse Hack’s house. At about a quarter to one on the afternoon of Sunday the 12th inst, the prisoner called at the gate and asked for some water. I sent my little girl to the spring for some. I know the prisoner. He said he had been living in London, and that he came down from London to Tonbridge by the train. He went on towards Hastings.

Hannah Killett. — I am a laundress living at No. 6, Fulham bridge yard, London. I knew the prisoner from his having been in the service of Miss Moore when she lodged in a family for whom I washed in London. For the week previous to the 11th inst, the prisoner was often at my house, and took his meals there. He often complained of his boots drawing his feet. He wore Wellington boots like those produced. On the week previous to the 11th inst, I washed his front and white cravat. He washed his pocket handkerchief himself. It was a blue cotton handkerchief spotted with white like that produced. He had only one to my knowledge. On Saturday the 11th inst, he was at my house at about two o’clock in the afternoon, and said he was going to meet the train at London bridge and go to Hastings. He then had on Wellington boots.

William Laurence — I am postman between Mountfield and Hurstgreen. On the evening of Saturday the 11th instant, I left the Post office at Hurstgreen, and proceeded towards Robertsbridge; on passing Sir Peckham’s gate I overtook a man dressed in a dark jacket coat, the collar standing up; it was moonlight; I walked on with him towards Silverhill; he asked me how far it was to Hastings I told him 14 1/2 miles — then how far to Seven Oaks; I told him 27 miles from Robertsbridge; he said he was tired, and had walked from London since the previous day at one o’clock, and complained that his shoes hurt his feet; he said be had only got one halfpenny; I treated him in the kitchen at the White Horse Inn, Silver hill; Henry Whyborn Reed, now present, came in there shortly after me. this stranger refused to have anything to eat, but drank some beer; Reed sung a song; the stranger said it was a very good one; we left Brookers together I offered to be answerable for a bed for him at the Eight Bells, Robertsbridge; he said that he should go on to Hastings, and get there by four o'clock; I then proposed a ride by the mail, but he declined; I parted with him at Robertsbridge at about a quarter past 11, and left him walking on; he had a little parcel in a handkerchief under his arm, and a stick; I have no doubt that the prisoner is the man I thus met with, but. I should not like to swear to him.

Henry Whyborn Reed — I am a bricklayer and labourer under Sir Peckham Micklethwait, at Hurst-green. On Saturday the 11th instant, at about ten o‘clock at night, I walked from Hurstgreen to the White Horse, Silver hill. I saw the former witness, William Lawrence and the prisoner go into the kitchen together, and after stopping about three quarters of an hour, go out together again. Laurence treated the prisoner and myself. I sung a song, and the prisoner said it was a very good one. He had a small parcel and a stick.

Following the above depositions, the Clerk asked the prisoner if he had anything to say, whilst giving him the usual caution, to which the prisoner replied in a calm, clear voice, albeit loudly "Not at present — not till another time". The proceedings concluded at 12:30 pm, the various witnesses - some 20 in number being severally bound over in the sum of £40 to appear at the next Lewes Assizes. On the Saturday, 25th of November, Pearson was transferred by the 1:30 pm train from St. Leonards Station (at that time near Bo=Peep) to Lewes, accompanied by the Governor of Hastings Gaol, Mr. Weller. Pearson was manacled hands and feet. At Lewes, a crowd had gathered, awaiting the arrival of the eleven o'clock train, hoping to see the prisoner. This crowd grew larger as the prisoner's train approached, requiring the Police to attend to keep back curious members of the public[3].

References & Notes

  1. British Newspaper Archive Brighton Gazette 30 November 1848 Pg. 0007
  2. British Newspaper Archive Sussex Advertiser 21 November 1848 Pg. 0006
  3. a b c d British Newspaper Archive Sussex Advertiser 28 November 1848 Pg. 0006