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Keywords and key domains … in the Trial of the "The Rugeley Poisoner" (William Palmer)

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Presentation on theme: "Keywords and key domains … in the Trial of the "The Rugeley Poisoner" (William Palmer)"— Presentation transcript:

1 Keywords and key domains … in the Trial of the "The Rugeley Poisoner" (William Palmer)

2 The Palmer Trial  Took place – May 1856 Note - a new Act of Parliament– The Palmer Act - was rushed through parliament so that the trial could be held at the Old Bailey in London (it was felt that he would not receive a fair trial at the Stafford Assizes).  Accused of: poisoning John Parsons Cook, and forgery  Outcome: “Guilty” Palmer was hanged at Stafford 14th June 1856  Subsequently convicted of murdering his wife, Anne, and his brother, Walter, by a Coroner’s jury (also rumoured to have murdered his child/children).  For more details, see: Dave Lewis’s website:

3 Exploration of opening speeches In particular,  Sir Alexander Cockburn (Attorney General)  Mr. Serjeant Shee, Q.C. (late replacement for Mr. Serjeant Wilkins) Why the Palmer trial?  First ever trial in Britain where someone was accused of murder by strychnine.  Came after the Prisoners’ Counsel Act (1836), which lifted the felony counsel restriction (i.e. defence counsel not being allowed to address the jury (May 2003: 87))  Fitzjames Stephen described it as “exhibit[ing] in its very best and strongest light the good side of English Criminal procedure” (1890: 269) Not looking at the closing speeches because:  The Defence was not permitted to make a closing speech summing up the case on behalf of the prisoner until the introduction of the Denham Act 1865

4 One truth – tetanus – but two explanations:  Both the Prosecution and the Defence agreed that Cook died from tetanic convulsions (or “tetanus” = a disorder of the nervous system) - but they did not agree upon what caused the tetanus.  At the time of the trial there were considered to be three main types of tetanus: idiopathic tetanus = the cause of a disease is not known. traumatic tetanus (or "lockjaw“) = caused by an infected wound. tetanus due to strychnine (now known not to be a form of tetanus).

5 Exploring “keyness” (Cockburn versus Shee) Cockburn – key words (13+) strychnine, cooks, oclock, Herring, fisher, named, ill, sickness, Cheshire, Dr Bamford, Tattersalls, replied, Dr, administered, Palmer, bilious, discounted, produce, same, became, found, prisoner, Padwick, proceeds, and, returned, Palmers, certain, sent, pills, finding, Bates, Hawkings, Mr. Stevens, declined, liabilities, offered, acceptance, continue Shee (13+) strychnia, Mr., Dr., not, ‘s, have, my, she, probably, submit, her, convulsions, we, is, I, crown, evidence, knew, Fisher, would, could, learned Cockburn – key domains (13+) Time, Money, medicines and medical treatment, numbers, moving, coming and going, anatomy and physiology, quantities, similar/different, geographical names, cause/connected, Open/closed; Hiding/Hidden; Finding; Showing, getting/giving (possession) Shee (13+) Unmatched, pronouns (etc.), definite (+ modals), evaluation (true/false), thought/belief, degree: boosters, knowledge, negative, learn, being, general ethics, speech (communicative), liking Both use “Cook” freq. – but they differ in respect to how …. Cluster with bills, forged, betted debt, turf …

6 Tracing the “crime narrative” throughout the rest of the trial … Attorney General:  Words that are “key” in the examinations as well as his opening speech – found, health, period, symptoms  Words that were not key in opening speech, but which nevertheless belong to (statistically) significant semantic fields – health, dose, muscles, tissues, pills, doctor (= medical), convulsions, convulsive, sickness, disease, fever, sick, vomiting (= the symptoms/outcome of sickness) fatal, deceased (= death) horse (= gambling) forged, commit, crime (= illegal activities) Bamford, Cheshire, Padwick, Bates, Hawkings, Newton, women, chambermaid, Boycott, Gardner, Tattersall, Shrewsbury (= people and places important to/involved in the crime narrative) Shee:  Words that are “key” in examinations – Cook’s, coroner, Dolly’s, mother, Stephens, Dutton, Barnes, Lavinia, Talbot (= people important to the crime narrative) yesterday, before, now, times (= (periods of) time) coroner, throat, vomited (= medical) swear, asked, talk, spoke, stated, complain (= verbal activity)

7 References  May, Allyson N The Bar and the Old Bailey Chapel Hill, NC: Univrsity of North Carolina Press.  Stephen, Fitzjames. 1863/1890. A General View of the Criminal Law. London.  Archer, Dawn Tracing the development of “advocacy” in two nineteenth century English trials. In M. Dossena and I. Taavitsainen (eds.) Diachronic Perspectives on Domain-Specific English. Bern: Peter Lang; Linguistic Insights series, pp


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