Horrid Murder

The Bonar Grave in St Nicholas churchyard, Chislehurst

Written for Chislehurst Chillers, with a pinch of salt, by Richard Warren

The following evidence was taken before the coroner of the County of Kent.

Mrs. Clark, the late Mrs. Bonar’s maid, who had lived two years in the family, stated that her mistress went to bed from one to two o’clock, and the last time she saw her master was at ten o’clock at prayers, and he went to bed about twelve. About twenty minutes past twelve, Mrs. Bonar left her library and rang the bell; witness met her upon the stairs, when the former said Philip (a footman with the family) had not fastened the door leading to the lawn, and witness said she would do it, but Mrs. Bonar said it was of no signification, as she had fastened the folding doors which led to the staircase.

Mr. and Mrs. Bonar slept in a double bed. Witness warmed her lady’s bed and retired to rest before two o’clock on Monday morning. The bedroom door was left open as was customary, as were also the door of the lady’s dressing-room, and that of the ante chamber at the top of the staircase. Witness went to bed with the housemaid.

Having been ordered by her mistress to call her at half past seven the next morning, witness was awakened by the housemaid at the time appointed, who informed her that there was a disagreeable smell from her mistress’s room. The housemaid found the door of the ante chamber leading from the staircase through the dressing room to the bedroom locked on the outside, and which witness left open. The housemaid added that there were traces of footsteps and blood from the staircase to the bedroom of Mr. and Mrs. Bonar, and that a rush light which had been left burning in the ante chamber had gone. Witness was so much agitated that she could not dress herself, and said that there was a murder committed.

The housemaid went with witness to the chamber door, but they were afraid of going in. The laundry maid was called and on opening the shutter a most dreadful spectacle presented itself; the lady was in the most shocking state, labouring for breath and senseless, and the unfortunate gentleman was a corpse on the floor severely wounded. His right wrist was much hurt, and it is conjectured this injury must have been sustained in attempting to defend himself and his lady.

A poker was lying near the body. Witness went downstairs into the servants’ hall, and she lost her recollection, but on recovering, she found herself in the arms of the coachman. – The footman had got a bloody sheet or sheets in his hands which he brought from the room of the deceased, and he took a sheet from off his own bed in the servants’ hall and wrapped that in his hand up in it. – There was only one sheet upon Nicholson’s bed.

Susan Curwick, the house maid, corroborated the last witness. This witness stated that the footman ran upstairs and when he brought down the bloody sheet or sheets he said Mrs. Bonar was still alive, and urged them all to give immediate assistance, and he insisted on going immediately to London for Mr. Astley Cooper, and to let Mr. Bonar’s partner in Bond Street know of the catastrophe. He went away soon after on Mr. Bonar’s horse. The front door of the house was found open in the morning when the housemaid got up, as was also one of the drawing room windows level with the lawn. The footman let the groom out to his bed over the stable at past twelve o’clock, and at four in the morning Mrs. Williams who came to the house to wash proved that the windows where he slept were open.

Penelope Folds had been laundry maid in the family fifteen years. She rose a little after four o’clock on the Monday morning and soon after the washerwoman came, who let herself in by the laundry door. About half past seven Mrs. Clarke came to witness in the laundry and said she was afraid something was amiss and asked witness to go up stairs with her. She did so, and went into the bedroom and opened part of one of the window shutters. She saw her master’s body lying on the floor, and blood on her mistress’s pillow. She came downstairs and went up again, when she saw the footman covering her master with a blanket, and then stopping as if meddling with the clothes on her master’s bed; she found her mistress still breathing; she afterwards saw the footman wrapping up the sheets taken from her master’s room in a sheet pulled from his own bed; he had not been desired by anyone to do so; he said that Mrs. Bonar was still alive; he was the first who made this remark; it was not made to him; he said he must go to town, though she desired him not to leave the house without a man in it.

William Evans, the groom deposed to the same effect as the last witness.

W. Randall had been coachman in the family for about eight years; slept over the stables; came to the house about half past seven, and went to call on Nicholson; found him sitting on his bed-side; almost immediately heard the cry of murder from the female servants. It was not long before he saw Nicholson come downstairs with bloody linen and wrapped it in a sheet in the servants’ hall. Nicholson was very anxious to go to London, and would have a horse. Coachman thought Nicholson wild looking when he went away; appeared as if he could not ride, though he had been in the dragoons.

Philip Shillington, the gardener, got up between three and four o’clock. About four o’clock observed the middle drawing room window open, which he did not shut.
Phillip Nicholson was then called, and asked what he had to state. He replied, nothing but what he had said before the Lord Mayor. The windows of his bedroom were shut when he went to bed. No further questions were asked of him and he was ordered into the custody of Lavender.

Lavender, the Bow Street officer, stated that he arrived on Monday about one o’clock. He found a pair of shoes by the side of the footman’s bed, which he compared with the traces in the ante room, and, as he thought, the impressions corresponded with the shoes; the shoes are not fellows; a nightcap was found on the footman’s bed, with some stains, apparently bloody.

Foy, of Marlborough Street, compared the shoes, which he had found in the morning in a closet in the servants’ hall, with the foot traces, and found they tallied; the shoes were odd; one common-heeled and worn at the toe; the other with a spring heel, as was the case with the shoes which Lavender found; there was blood both on the soles and the upper leather. He had just shown them to Nicholson, who acknowledged them to be his and said he believed one of them had slipped off in the room from which he fetched the sheets. Foy found them together in the cupboard. Nicholson had also acknowledged the night cap, and said he supposed the bloody stains came from the blood on the sheets.

The groom was called again, and said he found the shoes on Monday in the closet where he went to look for a stick to beat Mr. Bonar’s coat; he saw they were bloody, and showed them to King, and then put them back again.

King confirmed this statement.

The cook, who made the servants’ beds, and Nicholson’s among others, was called; she had seen the sheets in the custody of the officer, and believed them to be the same with those which she had put on the footman’s bed.

The laundry maid did not recollect seeing any sheet on the floor when she first went into her master’s room.

The poker was then produced; it is bent in the upper part; it has been new bitted, and seems never to have been used; the other part is old, and a new top has been riveted on; it is a common kitchen poker, about two feet four inches long, and the bit is about nine inches long.

Between twelve and one o’clock, just when the coroner was about to finish the evidence, Nicholson asked the officers who had him in care, to permit him to go into the yard which they refused, but suffered him to go to a water-closet, and although one of the Bow Street and one of the City officers went with him, he with a razor which he had contrived to conceal, in an instant cut his throat; but every assistance being directly afforded him by the medical gentlemen present, the wound was sewed up, and he is in a fair way of recovery.

The jury, after a long and patient investigation, found a verdict against Philip Nicholson OF THE WILFUL MURDER OF MR. AND MRS. BONAR.