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Poisoned Lives


John Simkin
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Those who study Crime and Punishment might be interested in a new book that has just been published. Katherine Watson’s book, Poisoned Lives: English Poisoners and Their Victims, is a study of poisoning in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is a fascinating study of social history. The most shocking fact from the book is that the most likely victim of this crime was a child under the age of five. Most were murdered for insurance. Apparently, mothers insured and poisoned children too young to work. Rebecca Smith poisoned eight of her babies. In 1849 she became the last woman to be hanged in England for infanticide.

Most gave children arsenic as it was the cheapest poison available (you could buy an ounce for twopence). It was a terrible death. Arsenic victims would suffer pain like rats gnawing at their insides, a thirst impossible to quench, vomiting and diarrhoea.

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