Household tension almost ends in the tragic loss of two young lives

Tensions within households that live close together can always end in angry confrontations, harsh words and sometimes violence. In a period which valued honour (however misplaced that concept was on occasion) more than perhaps we do today these tensions could escalate with tragic consequences. Mostly this meant that quarrels between  men of the elite or upper middling sorts ended in pistol duels at dawn in a quiet park or other open space. In this case a slight to someone’s ‘good name’ ended in a full jury trial at Old Bailey.

in June 1833 Sarah Parry was a servant at Highgate but was staying with her sister in Hammersmith when a young man came to their house. He was Charles Reynolds and Sarah had known him when he also worked for the same employer, a Mr Wetherell, a few months ago. Charles had left, and it would seem he left under a cloud.

He entered the kitchen where the two women were and brandished a pistol. He pulled two more guns from his coat and told Sarah and her sister Elizabeth that they “had injured his character to his parents”  and that they would  “suffer for it”.

Quite what the nature of that injury was is not made clear but it was serious enough for Charles to threaten both their lives and his own. He told the terrified women that he was going to kill them both and then take his own life. A bell rang outside the house and Elizabeth told him to be quiet as people were coming. He shot Sarah and must then have shot himself.


St. George’s Hospital (c.1745)

The case came before the magistrate at Queen’s Square where the court was told that neither Charles nor Sarah could appear as they were both still recovering from wounds in St George’s hospital. Sarah was out of danger and able to ‘converse rationally’ although it was later revealed that she had lost the index finger of her left hand.

Reynolds was in a much worse state. He had tried to shoot himself in the head but the ball had glanced off and taken out his left eye. In despair he had tried jumping out of a window to finish himself off but only managed to bruise himself. In hospital he told his surgeon that he hoped “the wretch is dead” before adding: “You are trying to preserve me from one death, that I may suffer another.”

In that he was correct because the case eventually reached a jury who convicted him of wounding and attempted murder. The judge sentenced him to death but, at 19 years of age and a previous good character and in “the absence of malice or revengeful disposition” he was recommended to mercy.

[from The Morning Chronicle , Tuesday, July 2, 1833]


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