Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pritchard, Edward William

PRITCHARD, EDWARD WILLIAM (1825–1865), poisoner, son of John White Pritchard, captain R.N., was born at Southsea, Hampshire, in 1825. He was apprenticed in September 1840 to Edward John and Charles Henry Scott, surgeons of Portsmouth. On completing his apprenticeship he entered King's College as a hospital student of surgery in October 1843. He was admitted a member of the College of Surgeons on 29 May 1846, and was at once gazetted assistant-surgeon on board the steam-sloop Hecate, of 4 guns, in which he made a voyage to Pitcairn Island. On his return he was stationed with the ship at Shields, but when she was ordered to the Mediterranean in 1847 he resigned his commission, and decided to settle in England. He passed his examination as licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries in 1847, and purchased the degree of M.D. from the university of Erlangen, Germany. On 19 Sept. 1850 he married Mary Jane, daughter of Michael Taylor, a retired silk and lace merchant of Edinburgh. Establishing himself, with his father-in-law's aid, in practice, first at Hunmanby, Yorkshire, in the spring of 1851, he removed in 1854 to the neighbouring sea-coast village of Filey, in 1859 to Edinburgh, and in 1860 to Glasgow. He sought to force himself into notice by pamphlets on pathological subjects, by public lectures, and by actively aiding in the management of the Glasgow Athenæum ; but he never gained a high or lucrative position among Glasgow physicians.

Late on the night of 5 May 1868, while Pritchard was living at 11 Berkeley Terrace, Glasgow, his servant, Elizabeth McGirn, was found burnt to death in her bedroom. The fire insurance was not paid, and Pritchard was suspected, although no criminal charge was made, of causing the woman's death. In May 1864 he purchased the practice of Dr. Corbett, together with his house in Clarence Place, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. Pritchard's wife fell ill in December of that year, and her mother, Mrs. Taylor, came from Edinburgh on 9 Feb. 1865 to nurse her. On 26 Feb. Mrs. Taylor died after a few hours' sickness, her death being attributed to apoplexy. Mrs. Pritchard died on 17 March. Pritchard registered the cause of death as gastric fever.

A day or two afterwards he was arrested on the charge of murdering Mrs. Taylor and his wife. The trial began on Monday, 3 July 1865, and lasted for five days. Both bodies contained large quantities of antimony. It was proved that Pritchard, who was in debt and expected large sums of money on the deaths of the two women, administered antimony to his wife in food during four months, and to Mrs. Taylor, together with some aconite, in a preparation of opium known as Batley's sedative, which she was in the habit of taking. He was found guilty, was sentenced to death, confessed his guilt, and was executed in front of Glasgow gaol on 28 July 1865. This was the last public execution in Glasgow. Pritchard was five feet eleven inches in height, of well-proportioned figure, with a pleasing face, bald forehead, and flowing beard. He was reputed to be 'the prettiest liar of his time,' but a plausible and confident manner rendered liim a good platform lecturer.

His published works were : 1. 'A Visit to Pitcairn Island,' 1847. 2. 'Observations on Filey as a Watering Place,' 1853. 3. 'Guide to Filey and its Antiquities,' 1854. 4. 'Coast Lodgings for the Poorer Cities,' 1854 ; besides many papers on medical subjects in the 'Medical Times and Gazette, the 'Lancet,' and the 'Transactions' of the Pharmaceutical, the Obstetrical, and the King's College Medical Societies.

[Trial of Dr. E. W. Pritchard, 1865 ; Sheffield Telegraph, Glasgow Herald, North British Daily Mail, Scotsman, and Dundee Advertiser of July 1865.]

A. H. M.