Jere Smith’s poor performance in the witness box harmed Palmer’s case

Jere Smith’s poor performance in the witness box harmed Palmer’s case

Jeremiah Smith should not be mixed up with John Smith Palmer’s solicitor for the trial. Called Jere by William Palmer, he was a family friend and the Palmer Family solicitor. In his testimony he gave Palmer an alibi for the time when Newton claimed that Palmer had bought strychnine.

The Times Report of the Trial of William Palmer published by Ward and Lock in 1856, gives us Smith’s words-

“. . . I know Mrs. Palmer the prisoner’s mother. In consequence of what passed between me and her on the Monday evening, I went about 9 o’clock to the prisoner’s house to see if he had arrived. I did not find him. About ten minutes past ten I saw him. He was coming in the direction from Stafford in a car. He said, “Have you seen Cook to-day?” I said, “No. I have been to Lichfield on business.” He said, “We had better run up and see him before I go to my mother’s, or it will be too late.” We then went up to Cook’s room together. Cook said, “You are late to-night, doctor, I did not expect you to look in. I have taken the medicine which you gave me.” We did not stay more than two or three minutes. I think he asked me why I had not called in earlier, and I told him I had been to Lichfield on business. He said he had taken the pills which Bamford had sent, intimating, as I thought that he should not have taken them if Palmer had called in.”

The Attorney-General did not question him about this evidence but sought to discredit Smith as a reliable witness. The Attorney-General questioned Jere Smith about his relationship with Palmer’s mother. In his book, The Life & Career of Dr. William Palmer of Rugeley, George Fletcher gave the following account of Smith suffering under cross-examination:

Smith accused of being Old Mrs. Palmer’s lover:

When in the witness-box this Jere Smith made a most sorry exhibition of himself at the hands of the Attorney-general, who, merciless in his attitude and language, found an easy prey in this man. After five minutes he shook like a leaf, trembling all over, with the perspiration running off his head, and stammered out his replies. Once he commenced an answer with:
“Mr. Attorney, I am — —”
“Don’t ‘Mr. Attorney’ me sir. But answer honestly, if you can, my questions. Where, in the course of 1854 or 1855 were you living? In Rugeley? — “In 1854 I think I resided partly with William Palmer; sometimes I was at his mother’s.”
“Did you sleep at his mother’s?” — “Sometimes.”
“When you slept at his mother’s, where did you sleep?” — “In a room.”
“Was it in hers?” — “No.”
“I ask you upon your oath, whether you were not intimate with her — you know what I mean?” — “I was not; no more intimate with her than the proper intimacy that ought to exist.”
“How often were you in the habit of sleeping at her house, having your own place of residence in Rugeley?” —
“Frequently I slept there; I cannot say the number of times, but frequently.”
“Two or three times a week?” — “Yes, I should say I did.”
“Having your own place of abode in Rugeley?” — “Yes. ”
“Are you a single or a married man?” — “Single.”
“How long did this habit and practice of sleeping two or three times a week at Mrs. Palmer’s continue?” — “Several years.”
“Had you your own lodgings at Rugeley at the time?” — “Yes, my own chambers at Rugeley at the time; I had chambers in Rugeley; lodgings.”
“Your own bedroom, I suppose?” — “Yes, I had a bedroom.”
“How far is your house from Mrs. Palmer’s?” — “I should say it is nearly a quarter of a mile.”
” Will you be so good as to explain how it happened that, having your own place of abode and your own bedroom, for several years you slept two or three times a week at Mrs Palmer’s house?” — “Sometimes some of the members of the family used to come and visit her; her sons.”
“It was too far, I suppose, when you went to see the members of the family, to dine and drink tea, to return a quarter of a mile?” — “I used to stop and have a glass or two of gin and water, and play cards.”
Lord Campbell: “You went to the mother’s to see them?” — “Yes.”
Attorney-General: “But you did not sleep at the mother’s to see them. How was it that you did not go home?” — “I had no particular reason why I did not.”
“Why did you not?” — “I used to have some gin and water and smoke, and if it was late they used to say’ ‘You had better stop all night.’ ”
“Did this go on three times a week for several years?” — “Yes; but I used to stop there frequently when there was no one there, neither the mother, nor the sons nor anyone.”

In the Times Report of the Trial of William Palmer published by Ward and Lock in 1856, we can see how the Attorney-General mercilessly switched his questioning of Jere Smith to his involvement with Palmer’s attempts to get money by insuring people. Jere’s answers were faltering and evasive:

The Attorney-General: “Now, I will turn to another subject. Were you called upon to attest another proposal for £13,000 by Walter Palmer in the Universal Office?” — “I cannot say; if you will let me see the proposal I shall know.”
“I ask you sir, as an attorney and a man of business, whether you cannot tell me whether you were applied to by William Palmer to attest a proposal for an assurance for £13,000 on the life of Walter Palmer?” — “If I could see any document on the subject I dare say I should remember it.”
“Do you remember getting a £5 note for attesting an assignment by Walter Palmer to his brother of such a policy?” — “Perhaps I might. I don’t recollect positively.”
The Attorney-General (handing a document to witness) – “Is this your signature?” — “It is very like my signature.”
“Have you any doubt about it?” — (After considerable hesitation) “I have some doubt.”
“Read the document, and tell me on your solemn oath, whether it is your signature?”—
“I have some doubt whether it is mine.”
“Read the document, sir. Was it prepared in your office?” — “It was not.”
“I will have an answer from you on your oath one way or another. Isn’t that your handwriting?” — “I believe that it is not my handwriting. I think that it is a very clever imitation of it.”
“Will you swear that it is not?” – “I will. I think that it is a very good imitation of my handwriting.”
Baron Alderson (one of the three judges): “Did you ever make such an attestation?” — “I don’t recollect my Lord”.
The Attorney-General: “Look at the other signature there, “Walter Palmer,” is that his signature?”—”I believe that is Walter Palmer’s.”
“Look at the attestation and the words “signed, sealed and delivered,” are they in Mr. Pratt’s handwriting?” — “They are.”
Did you receive it from Mr. Pratt? — “Most likely I did; but I can’t swear that I did. It might have been sent to William Palmer.”
“Did you receive it from William Palmer?” — “I don’t know; very likely I did.”
“Did William Palmer give you that document?” — “I have no doubt he did.”
“If that be the document he gave you, and those are the signatures of Walter Palmer and of Pratt, is not the other signature yours? — “I’ll tell you, Mr. Attorney —”
“Don’t “Mr. Attorney” me, sir! Answer my question. Isn’t that your handwriting?” — “I believe it not to be.”
“Will you swear that it isn’t?” — “I believe that it is not.”

The Attorney-General then went on to question Smith about the insurance proposal made on the life of George Bates and his visit to Walter Palmer’s widow.

Smith’s reputation was left in tatters

The Judge, Lord Chief Justice Campbell, in his summing up of the evidence against Palmer, said of Jere Smith –

“Can you believe a man who so disgraces himself in the witness-box? It is for you to say if you think Smith spoke the truth.”

The Attorney in his summing up said –

“Had we known what Smith was going to prove, we should have been able to meet him with contradictory evidence. I need not say that any would have been better than the evidence of that miserable man whom we saw exhibited today.”
“Such a spectacle I never saw in my recollection in any Court of Justice. He calls himself a member of the legal profession. I blush for it to number such a man upon its Rolls.”
“There was not one man who heard him to-day that is not satisfied he came here to tell a false tale. There cannot be a man who is not convinced he had been mixed up in many a villainy with Palmer which, if not perpetrated, has been attempted, and he comes here now to save, if he can, the life of his companion and friend, the son of the woman with whom he has had that intimacy which he sought to-day in vain to disguise.”

The Defence had left Jere Smith as their last witness and was relying upon his evidence to disprove Newton’s evidence that Palmer had bought strychnine from him. Smith’s poor performance did nothing to aid Palmer. What little reputation Smith had left was totally ruined by his performance in court.

Palmer wrote to Jere Smith from Gaol

In George Fletcher’s 1925 book he had copied two letters sent, by Palmer from his prison cell, to Jere Smith. The Prison Governor showed him the letters:

No man in the world ever committed a grosser case of Perjury than that vile wretch Newton – he positively swore last Friday 16th May, that he let me have 3grs. of Strychnine the Monday night before Cook’s death and that I went to Mr. Salt’s Surgery for it, and got it from him at 9 o’clock.
It is a base lie for I left London on that very night at 5 o’clock by Express and arrived at Stafford at 10 minutes to 9, brought a Fly from the Junction and arrived at Rugeley at Masters’ door about 10 o’clock.
Now as there is a God in Heaven (I am sure you can’t have forgotten it) you know that you were waiting for my coming and when I got out of the Fly you told me that my mother wanted to see me particularly, and after bidding Cook good night we walked together down to the YARD {Mrs. Palmer’s house}, and got a good brushing from the old Lady about a writ of Brown’s that Arminshaw had sent for; that Arminshaw told to George and George to my mother – and if you recollect she was very cross.
We then walked back to my house and you said, “Well let me have a glass of spirit.” I went to the cupboard and there was none — you said “Never mind” and bid me good night. This must have been after 11 o’clock — now I should like to know how I could get to Mr. Salt’s shop at 9 o’clock on that night. You can also prove this truth, that Cook dined with me (and you) at my house on the Friday before his death and that we had a quantity of wine. Cook then went with you and had a glass of Brandy and water — and that he was then the worse for liquor. You can further prove that Cook handed me some money on this day, for he told you so in my presence when he gave you the £10. He told you at the same time I had won over £1,000 on his mare at Shrewsbury, and lastly you can prove that he and I betted for each other, that we had “Pyrrhine” jointly, and that we had had bill transactions together. These are solemn truths and I am fully persuaded that they cannot have escaped your memory.
Therefore let it be your bounden duty to come forward and place yourself in the witness-box and on your oath speak these great truths. Then rest assured you will lie down on a downey pillow and go to sleep happy.
Bear in mind I only want the truth. I ask for no more.
Yours faithfully,

Newton no doubt calculated upon my coming by the luggage train, but this had been discontinued more than a month – thus my reason for going to Stafford.

And –

Do, for God’s sake tell the Truth — if you will only consider I am sure you will recollect meeting me at Masters’ steps the night Monday the 19th of Nov. I returned from London and you told me my mother wanted to see me. I replied, “Have you seen Cook? and how is he? You said, “No.” I then said, “We will go upstairs and see him.” We did so. When upstairs Cook said “Dr., you are late, Mr. Bamford has sent me two pills which I have taken,” and he said to you, “Damn you Jere, how is it you have never been to see me.” You replied that you had ben busy all the day settling Mr. Ingram’s affairs and we then wished him good night and went to my mothers.
Yours ever faithfully,


Do these letters prove that Palmer was innocent or were the letters telling Jere Smith what to say to provide Palmer with an alibi?

Smith died a short time after the trial

Smith didn’t live long after the trial in May 1856. Rugeley Parish Church Burial Records show that Smith, Jeremiah aged 47, solicitor, was buried on January 1st 1858.