The Fishtoft, Boston, arsenic poisoning 1875

by Veronica

A gruesome murder in Victorian Lincolnshire, England had people intrigued. Or was it suicide to punish an unfaithful wife? I have looked at court reports and leave you to decide.

Fishtoft, Boston just 48 miles south of Grimsby, a strange death of arsenic poisoning had the community spellbound in 1875. How did Thomas die of poisoning? Suicide or murder? I have summarised some of the court testimonies of some of the witnesses. Take a look and then, I leave this for you to decide.

The location : Fishtoft, Boston, Lincolnshire
The victim : Thomas Green aged 36. He was described as a hardworking man, well respected. He was a Cottager.
His son : George Green aged 12
The accused : Ellen Green aged 32 and her friend John Bonnett, a trolley man, railway worker
The Courts : Session House, Boston and Lincoln Court
The sister : Ellen’s sister, Sarah Stopper

The first trial

The Boston Sessions (in a hearing which lasted seven hours)

Ellen Green and John Bonnett were brought before magistrates charged with wilfully causing the murder of Ellen’s husband Thomas Green, by arsenic poisoning.

Boston, Lincolnshire

Forensic evidence 1875


There were huge quantities of arsenic in Thomas’s liver, kidneys, stomach, spleen and pancreas.

Fragments of paper and also a water bottle were found to have contained arsenic. There was arsenic in the kettle.

The arsenic in the large cup of tea would have been sufficient to destroy Thomas’ life.


Witness depositions

Sarah Stopper

At Boston Sessions House, Sarah Stopper told how she worked for her sister and on arriving at her cottage to start the ironing she found her sister, Ellen, Ellen’s husband Thomas and son George all ill vomiting. Ellen sent Sarah for the doctor. Sarah stated that her sister and husband lived happily together.

Ellen was telling people there must have been something wrong with the tea to make them sick.

Esmeranda Rowson deposed that she had seen the Green family who were all 3 of them, quite ill being sick. She had seen Ellen in the company of John Bonnett on previous occasions. Ellen was very sick on the afternoon and night of May 13th.

Boston sessions house
Boston sessions house

Witness Depositions continued

George Green

George deposed that he had breakfast with his father. He had part of a small cup of tea, his father had one and a half large cups and his mother part of a small cup but she told George not to drink any more because there was something wrong with it.  They started being sick at about the same time and Thomas died a few days later on May 17th 1875. George said that his mother often left the tea kettle outside the cottage at night by the water pump.

Dr Tuxford stated that he gave Thomas and George some emetics but he did not give Ellen any as she presented no symptoms. The doctor felt that Thomas had ingested some poisonous irritant. When Thomas died, Dr Tuxford did a post mortem and found the stomach was symptomatic of arsenic poisoning. The water in the kettle was full of arsenic. Ellen told him she had been sick but she had no symptoms and so he did not attend to her.


More from the witnesses including a death bed testimony

Thomas Green (the deceased)

During his last few days Thomas declared, “I am done. They have done for me.”

“I can’t understand how I could be poisoned on my own premises. I hope the right party will be found out and justly punished for what they have done for me.”

John Ostler, neighbour deposed that he had spoken to Ellen who told people that she often left the kettle outside at night by the water pump and there must have been arsenic put into the pump nozzle. He said the Green’s had had some arsenic a few months previously to get rid of mice.

Frederick Swain testified that Thomas Green when asked by his wife for a kiss, several times refused to kiss her but then did kiss her.  Frederick said that he had seen Ellen and John Bonnett together on steam boat rides in Boston while Thomas looked on drunk

Boston, Lincolnshire

Boston Lincolnshire
Boston Lincolnshire

Police Sgt Henson on Ellen's statement

Police Sgt Henson of Skirbeck took a statement from Ellen on her way to Spalding gaol.

“I saw my husband take a small parcel about two inches long and one thick out of the cupboard a few days before this happened. He said to me, “This stuff has no business here. It is poison.”  I said, “If it is poison you had better take it away or George might be getting it.”

On the Saturday morning before he died, he called her into the room and said, “I have done this to myself. I put the arsenic in the kettle when it was boiling on the fire. I done it once before. I put it in the pitcher but my heart misgave me and I threw it away. I have done it because I heard something at Boston that I could not bear.”

Sgt Henson heard Ellen say to her sister “Mind what you say and say that the kettle was left out every night.”  Similarly, she was overheard telling George, “Mind what you say and say we were all sick in the yard.”

Witness depositions

Elizabeth Wood deposed that she had invited Ellen to stay with her over New Year but she came with John Bonnett not her husband. They stayed over night and went home in the afternoon.

Dr George Lowe The Lincolnshire forensic analyst said that several particles of white powder had been thrown down the closet petty and under the flags near the petty were papers which had contained white powder.

After retiring, The Bench returned and John Bonnett was discharged for lack of evidence but Ellen was committed to Lincoln Court for murder.

Lincoln court
Lincoln court
c/o been there done that

Lincoln Court , Lincolnshire

Result at Lincoln

22nd July 1875, Ellen Green was tried at Lincoln Assizes for the murder of her husband and after two hours of deliberation, the evidence against her was found to be circumstantial. Ellen was acquitted. 

Did Ellen murder Thomas ?


Did Ellen murder her husband ? Did he commit suicide to try to punish her? or did someone poison their water pump during the night? 

What do you think ? 

Updated: 12/06/2018, Veronica
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Veronica on 12/18/2018

Good morning Derdriu

I have scoured the records and can't find what happened to them at all. Today is my last day working for the holidays so once Christmas is done I shall be on the trail.

Your sentiments are correct. I would have hated to have been on that jury and would have certainly decided with caution.

DerdriuMarriner on 12/17/2018

Veronica, Thank you for the history lesson and product lines. Certainly, I'd not want to have been on the jury for this one. It's a bit complicated, what with two different statements supposedly made by the victim, one implicating his wife and the other himself. Is there any indication anywhere as to what happened to Ellen, George and John afterwards?

Veronica on 12/07/2018

Thank you and yes indeed very good point. I think the number of possibilities made even Victorian " justice " have second thoughts.

Regardless, there are no winners in this situation and how the child grew up living with tis knowledge I have no idea.

blackspanielgallery on 12/07/2018

While the water is suspected as the source, so could be the tea. Perhaps the leaves had become tainted.

frankbeswick on 12/06/2018

That is because I ate heartily, as usual.

Veronica on 12/06/2018

I am a historian first, a travel writer second and a food writer third. :)

I didn't notice you not eating on Saturday evening. :)

frankbeswick on 12/06/2018

A food writer doing an article on poisoning! And to think, I dined at your house on Saturday! Only joking. A well-researched article.

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