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The Evidence of Mrs. Elizabeth Armstrong

The Old Bailey (October 23, 1885). Quoted in Alison Plowden, The Case of Eliza Armstrong: A Child of 13 Bought for £5 (1974)

Mr. Russell: Were you a particular friend of Mrs. Broughton?

Mrs. Armstrong: I bade her "good morning" when I saw her. That was the extent of our intimacy. We were not in the habit of going into each other's houses. She was never in my room, and I was never in hers until I saw Jarrett there. We were not in the habit of going out drinking together, and I had never seen Jarrett before this Tuesday, June 2nd.

Mr. Russell: You knew nothing about Jarrett?

Mrs. Armstrong: No.

Mr. Russell: You did not even know her name then?

Mrs. Armstrong: I did not. I went over to Mrs. Broughton's on June 2nd, in consequence of something my child said to me. I had heard from other sources that there was a strange woman there who wanted a little girl. When I went over I asked Jarrett where she lived, and she replied at Croydon, I believe. If it was Wimbledon, it is my mistake. My strong belief is that it was Croydon. I asked her," Why can't you get a servant at Croydon? Isn't there a registry office there?" I thought it strange that she should come all the way from Croydon to a street like ours for a servant. To tell you the truth, I did not care for the look of the woman at all; and I said, rather sharply, "You shan't have my child", and went away. On the Wednesday I went to see Jarrett at Mrs. Broughton's, of my own motion. Mrs. Broughton said, "Becky is come again, and I should like to get her a girl before she leaves." Jarrett told me she was living in a small four-roomed house.

Mr. Russell: Did she say she was living with a man ?

Mrs. Armstrong: She said she was married to a commercial traveller, and was very comfortable.

Mr. Russell: Did she ask if Eliza was a pure child?

Mrs. Armstrong: Yes, she did. I asked her what she meant by that. She said, "Well, is she a forward girl?" I replied, "Oh dear, no, far from it."

Mr. Russell: Did she ask if Eliza had been in the habit of romping about the streets with boys?

Mrs. Armstrong: No, she did not. I never allow it.

Justice Lopes: Did she ask you, that is the question?

Mrs. Armstrong: No.

Mr. Russell: Did she ask if the girl was well-behaved?

Mrs. Armstrong: Yes, and I replied that she was.

Mr. Russell: Did she say that the gentleman was a very particular man?

Mrs. Armstrong: She said that her husband was a very particular man.

Mr. Russell: I put it to you—"the gentleman" ?

Mrs. Armstrong: No, she said husband. After she informed me what she wanted a girl for, I told her that I was willing to let Eliza go. I then left and went to my own house, but came back in a few minutes. My mouth was then bleeding, my husband having struck me, because he did not want me to go to a funeral I wished to attend. I did not tell him about the child going, because I was very cross with him. I do not think I saw him again until night, though I will not swear. At all events, it is a fact that I did not tell him, because he leaves everything to me.

Mr. Russell: Then, if he leaves everything to you, how is it that he struck you when you told him that Eliza had gone?

Mrs. Armstrong: He asked for Eliza, and I said she had gone into service. He enquired who with, and I said with a friend of Mrs. Broughton.

Mr. Russell: You could not tell him any more?

Mrs. Armstrong: No. He asked what made me let the child go with a strange woman, and I replied, "Oh, it's all right. Mrs. Broughton gives her a very good character. They used to live together as servants." After that we had a few words.

Mr. Russell: How were you as to drink then?

Mrs. Armstrong: I did not have a drop until my husband struck me.

Mr. Russell: What time were you taken into custody?

Mrs. Armstrong: About ten at night.

Justice Lopes: What were you taken into custody for?

Mrs. Armstrong: For having a few words with a person I know.

(Laughter)

Mr. Russell: Were you charged with being drunk and disorderly?

Mrs. Armstrong: Well, they put down disorderly. (Laughter) I was bailed out.

Mr. Russell: You say that you had one shilling from Jarrett?

Mrs. Armstrong: Yes.

Mr. Russell: In addition to the shilling, did you have a sovereign put into your hand by this strange woman?

Mrs. Armstrong: No, sir; not one farthing more.

Mr. Russell: To that you will pledge your oath?

Mrs. Armstrong: To that I will swear before my Maker.

Mr. Russell: You know, of course, that you are sworn?

Mrs. Armstrong: Yes. I will call the Lord as witness to that, sir.

Mr. Russell: Were you struck with the fact that this strange woman offered to supply your child with clothes?

Mrs. Armstrong: No, sir, I was not; when the child returned with the clothes on, I understood they were to be her Sunday suit.

Mr. Russell: She did not want such clothes to work in?

Mrs. Armstrong: No; she had good strong working clothes.

Mr. Russell: Were you not surprised at Jarrett rigging your daughter out so?

Mrs. Armstrong: No, I was not, because they were not showy clothes; but very quiet and neat.

Mr. Russell: Neat, not gaudy?

Mrs. Armstrong: Just so, sir.

(Laughter)

Mr. Russell: Nothing was said about wages?

Mrs. Armstrong: No. I thought the wages were to be agreed upon when the child had been in the service a week. She was to go a week on trial. The word wages was not mentioned.

Mr. Russell: Now, if Eliza has sworn you told her that what was wanted was a child just over thirteen years old, is that correct?

Mrs. Armstrong: Perhaps I have told her that since her return.

Mr. Russell: I am not asking that. I mean on the Tuesday or Wednesday, when the strange woman came first?

Mrs. Armstrong: No, but I knew as a fact that a girl of that age was wanted.

Mr. Russell: Did it not strike you as odd that a girl of fourteen or fifteen would not do?

Mrs. Armstrong: No, I do not know that it did. It was Jarrett who said she wanted a girl just over thirteen.

Mr. Russell: In the very week Eliza went away, did not your neighbours accuse you and Mrs. Broughton of having sold the child?

Mrs. Armstrong: Not the same week. That was not until the article appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette.

Mr. Russell: Did they make the accusation against you then?

Mrs. Armstrong: Yes. The article was published on Monday, July 6th, and I heard of it on the following Thursday.

Mr. Russell: Do you swear that until then your neighbours did not complain that you had improperly parted with your child?

Mrs. Armstrong: Not until the article was published. They used to speak to me about Eliza not writing.

Mr. Russell: You saw it stated in the article that the child had been sold?

Mrs. Armstrong: Yes, and I knew that I had not sold my child.

Mr. Russell: Did you not swear at Bow Street that before the publication of the article in the Pall Mall Gazette, the neighbours spoke to you about the disappearance of your child, saying it looked as though you had sold her, and that your seeing the article increased your uneasiness?

Mrs. Armstrong: It was after the article that the neighbours spoke to me.

Mr. Russell: Is the statement I have read true or false?

Mrs. Armstrong: If I said it, it is a mistake.

Mr. Russell: You know, Mrs. Armstrong, it is a serious mistake. Your saying that the article increased your uneasiness makes it clear. How came you to swear to that if it was not true?

Mrs. Armstrong: It was a mistake of mine if I said it.

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