Page images
PDF
EPUB

great deal that passes off at once by absorption, and is carried out with the urine. I find by the experiments of Orfila, upon whom we are all inclined to rely, that in from four to seventeen hours antimony is found passing out by the urine. Q. Do you mean on your oath to say, from such traces of antimony as you found in Cook's body, you were justified in stating that your opinion was, that his death may have been caused by antimony? A. Positively and decidedly so; the amount found in his dead body affords not the slightest criterion of what he may have swallowed while living. I have sometimes found in a body less arsenic than would account for death. Q. But, if the amount found is not the slightest criterion of what may have been administered, how does that justify you, as an analytical chemist, in stating your opinion that so small a quantity may have caused death ? A. I have not said what quantity may have caused death. I have said a certain quantity was found in his body, which may have been the residue of what had caused death.'

“The fallacies connected with this line of examination must be apparent. In no death from antimony yet recorded, has such a quantity of this substance been found in a body as would su fice to kill another person! When given in divided dosesas the evidence proved that it had been given in the case of Cook --and there has been violent vomiting in the intervals, it is not probable that small doses would accumulate and remain in the stomach and intestines for a week. Such questions, therefore, were only calculated to conceal the truth and mislead the jury.

“ The fallacy based on this inquiry is not confined to lawyers. Some medical men, even of good professional standing, have puid so little attention to the subject of toxicology that if the quantity of poison remaining in a dead body were less than that which is usually described as a fatal dose, they would be prepared to say that death was not caused by poison. They expect either that the whole dose swallowed should remain in the body as evidence against the administrator, or that vomiting, purging, and absorption are so nicely adjusted, that, to meet their theory, these functions are wholly arrested when the quantity is reduced to a

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

minimum fatal dose. The half grain of antimony found in the body of Cook might, however, be taken to represent the residue (at the time of death) of ten, twenty, or one hundred grains of tartar emetic taken during life! In spite of this obvious inference, Serjeant Shee was allowed on this occasion to mystify the facts, and to place the matter before the jury as if the half grain found in the dead body was the whole quantity of antimony that deceased could have taken ; and, as this residue did not amount to a fatal dose for another person, it was insufficient to account for the deceased's death! Some of his medical advisers appear to have adopted the same view, since they represented it as a question whether half a grain of antimony could or could not account for the death of the deceased. Either ignorantly or designedly, they entirely overlooked the fact, that there had been severe vomiting at intervals some days before death, and that such vomiting could not take place without the expulsion and loss of a portion of the substance taken” (Pp. 196-8).

An excellent illustration of the important functions which an expert has to perform when civil rights of parties are concerned, is afforded in the case of Stephens v. Barwell, which was tried at Wells in the autumn of 1855. The plaintiff complained that the fumes of lead escaping from the chimney of the defendant's works had been deposited on the plaintiff's land, whereby his cattle feeding on its herbage were poisoned. Now, it was admitted that some of the animals had died of lead poison. And the question arose, whether the plaintiff's chimney theory was the right one, or whether the poison was derived from another cause.

Various circumstances suggested to the acute minds of Mr. Brand and Dr. Taylor, the improbability of the fumes of the chimney being the source of the mischief complained of. Other fields at different and long distances had also bad reputations for cattle being occasionally “moindered ;” and, before the defendant's lead-works were erected, it was ascertained that animals had been poisoned in the neighbourhood of the unwholesome fields. Points connected with the locality, and other matter, struck also the observant faculties of the two

VOL. VII. NO. XIII.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

M

scientific gentlemen, that the lead which poisoned the cattle came from some quarter. If it was not deposited by the fumes, could it be taken up by the tissues of the plant? The experts proceeded to examine the facts carefully. They found no lead on the outside of the herbage. A quantity of the grass and shrubs was then dried and burnt, and lead was found in the ashes; and further, the soil was discovered to consist of disentegrated slag of ancient lead-works, and the sediment of the pond water contained silicate of lead and arsenic. The water was free from poison, but the sediment stirred up by the cattle when drinking was impregnated with poison. Soil from the plaintiff's fields was brought up to London, and mustard and cress was sown on this Mendip lead earth and also on common garden mould ; lead was found in that grown on the former, and none in the latter. So far for the means adopted by the scientific men acting for the plaintiff

. The following paragraph relating to the evidence prepared by the defendant cannot be read without pain :—“As a proof that white lead from the flue was deposited on the surrounding vegetables, a branch of a tree was produced in court, the whole surface of which presented numerous white spots or stains, such as might have resulted from dipping it into the washings of white lead in water. That this had been the mode in which the stains were produced was rendered highly probable, among other matters, by the curious fact, that the cut surface of the branch presented in the fresh wood similar white stains ! This branch was very judiciously not produced in the evidence, although brought into court apparently for that purpose.” The author sums up the result of the trial as follows: “This case shows that a charge of poisoning cattle may be plausibly made, and even apparently sustained, by pseudoscientific evidence, when a proper examination of the facts may lead to the conclusion that the charge is wholly unfounded or unproved. As an 'expert,' and well acquainted with this locality, Mr. Herapath might have analysed the soil of the fields, and have tested by experiment the question-Whether growing plants would or would not imbibe lead from the earth ? instead of

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

a

[ocr errors]

denying a fact on which he had had no experience. Such an analysis was in every respect necessary, not merely for the sake of public justice; but, if the claim for damages were well-founded, for the interest of the client who retained him. In his evidence he stated that he had analysed the slag of the district, and he found it to contain 36 per cent. of carbonate of lead, the compound which he charged the defendant with diffusing over the plaintiff's grounds. This same slag was plainly visible in the plaintiff's fields, and the result of an analysis might have been unfortunate for his client's claim. Supposing, however, that he had analysed the mould of the field and found no lead, it would have been a strong point in favour of his client. He also stated in his evidence that he had examined the waters of the plaintiff's pond and brook, and found no lead dissolved in them; but he did

n not examine the sediment, although he very well knew that cattle do not drink filtered water, and that a fine lead sediment diffused through water may be just as poisonous to cattle as lead in a state of solution! The result of this analysis would have probably been highly inconvenient to the plaintiff's interests. In reference to the examination of three or four dead animals, he stated that he had found no lead in the liver! He believed they were poisoned in dry weather by drawing the lead dust through their nostrils into the lungs while pasturing, and in wet weather the lead would pass with the food into the stomach! He did not, however, find any powder or dust in the lungs. He confined his analysis to an examination of the outside of the plants only; he did not examine the tissues of the grass, as acids would act upon and destroy them. He believed that the lead was on the outside of the grass, and had been there deposited from the defendant's fue” (P. 511).

The above case is interesting in another particular, which the author, we believe, has elsewhere ingeniously suggested. The explanation of the phenomenon seems to solve an ancient mystery in a satisfactory manner.

The effects of leaden herbage on cattle are such as the witches of old were believed to produce by incantation. Cattle withered away and perished ; cows gave no

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

milk, and goats and sheep were victims of untimely births. These mysterious events occurred in one field and not in another. The old woman, whose evil eyes had rested on the unfortunate cattle, or whose black cat was known to steal wickedly over the impregnated pasture adjoining her cottage, was accordingly, under the sanction of the church, and with the approbation of the bench, and by the authority of the civil power, pricked with pins, drowned, or burnt, as the case may be.

We do not burn witches now. What the processes were by which we consented to abolish this penalty, applicable chiefly to the aged and infirm, a narrow examination of history would enable us to say. But history, if we were to speculate thereon in analogy with our own times and contemporary reforms, we should assume this alteration of the law occurred thus:--The few who had the power of independent thought, and began to disbelieve in witchcraft, were at first suspected of irreligion, disbelief in revelation, and generally accused of heresy and wicked presumption. The influence of the few then extended to a larger body of the public; by various stages the cabinets followed, at first with hesitation, afterwards more confidently; eventually the clerical body, having quoted scripture in support of the portion of their cherished creed till they could quote no longer, surrendered it as untenable, and the spiritual peers thereupon were induced, with many a misgiving and saddened anticipation of the future, to oppose no more, and witches were no longer burned, though the ignorant still held with the doubts of the aged orthodox and learned men who thus yielded their ancient opinions. The “Catholic Emancipation,” the Jew Bill, marriage with a deceased wife's sister, and the history of other legislatorial doings, will be found to afford parallels to this our contribution to parliamentary history.

We have said witches are not sent to the stake for exercising their supernatural powers either on animals or human beings. Progress of knowledge has saved them; and we now refer to scientific men to account for certain unexpected events. Strict education, carefully registered observation, and the wondrous discoveries of the

« PreviousContinue »