The true story of a Scot from Wigtownshire who became a slave trader in Liverpool and was tried for murder. Set in the early years of the 19th century, it is the story of Charles Angus, a man who aspired to be a successful Liverpool merchant. Indeed, he appeared to have everything - a young wife, three healthy children, a plantation in Jamaica and a respectable income. When his wife Maria died of consumption at the age of 21, her half-sister Margaret Burns took over the care of the children in the capacity of governess. But Miss Burns was looking after far more than his domestic concerns. In those days society frowned on a man having a relationship with his deceased wife's sister. When Margaret Burns appeared to become pregnant, tongues started to wag. Then, over three days in March, Miss Burns fell violently ill with vomiting and diarrhoea. On the third day she dies under bizarre circumstances. Half an hour after suddenly feeling better and ordering lunch, she was found dead, crumpled in a corner of the room. The body lay in the house for another three days before any doctor was called. When the post-mortem finally took place, a trio of surgeons discovered that she had given birth to a child, yet there was no evidence of a baby in the house. When they cut open the body, they found a hole in the victim's stomach and concluded that a corrosive poison had been used. Angus was arrested and an atmosphere of strong prejudice prevailed. Only one man came to his defence - a Liverpool doctor called James Carson. Carson's defence was one of the major surprises of the trial and was to result in him being sent to the social pillory. After a sensational trial at Lancaster attended by nearly 1000 people, Angus was acquitted. But that wasn't the end of the story. One Liverpool surgeon was dispatched to London by stagecoach with the uterus of the victim in an attempt to get affidavits from as many London physicians as possible to the effect that Miss Burns had given birth. He returned, successful, and Angus suffered a retrial in the Liverpool coroner's court. Angry medical pamphlets were exchanged. For Angus, the assumption of his guilt was intolerable. He packed up and, pleading poverty, returned to his native Scotland. He took with him his brother, Alexander, who had been incarcerated for the past year in an asylum near Blackburn known locally as "the madhouse". Alexander was probably epileptic and had amassed a fortune of over 20,000 pounds. They retired to a lonely Scottish mansion where, early one morning, Alexander died of a fit. Drawing on archive material from Charles Angus's living descendants, this story of an unsolved murder case should also appeal to anyone with an interest in the history of Liverpool and the slave trade.
Used availability for Glenn Chandler's Burning Poison
September 2000 : UK Hardback