The Verdict

The Decision of the Jury May 27th 1856

The Jurors Retiring Room from the Times Report of the Trial of William Palmer
The Jurors Retiring Room from the Times Report of the Trial of William Palmer

The jury was, as was the custom at that time, made up of twelve men. They were largely respectable City tradesmen.

After an extremely complex trial lasting twelve days with much conflicting evidence, most of which was circumstantial, the jury took just one hour seventeen minutes to reach their verdict of guilty.

The Illustrated Life and Career of William Palmer of Rugeley published in 1856 refers to a letter from one of the jurymen published in the “Times”. In the letter the juryman states that on reaching the jury room there was dead silence for twenty minutes, followed by a discussion of the facts presented to them lasting for about ten minutes. Then each juryman took pen and paper and wrote his decision and signed his name, it having been decide that no one should pronounce his opinion in case they might influence others. The papers were laid on the table and the foreman opened them and read them aloud. Guilty was the unanimous verdict. There then followed an earnest conversation having no relation to William Palmer. He further stated that it was quite untrue that they were absent a long time for the mere sake of appearance.

Does just one hour seventeen minutes seem long enough to make a decision when the verdict was certain to bring with it the death penalty?

The Jurors

A criminal broadside printed in Bristol in 1856 gives us some detail about ten of the twelve jurors.

William Fletcher named as foreman of the jury. Later it is stated that their verdict was given by the foreman William Mavor (a vetinary surgeon). The other names given were Richard Dumbrell, William Newman (bootmaker), George Miller, George Oakshott, William Eccleston (grocer), Samuel Mullin, John Over (grocer) and William Nash.

Mr. Mason was chosen but released when he said that he felt prejudiced against palmer and the reporter could not catch the name of his replacement. The broadside also states that the jury retired at 2.45 p.m. and the verdict was delivered at 3.35 p.m. just 50 minutes later. This is different to Fletcher’s versions that states the jury retired to consider their verdict at 2.18 p.m.

In the Verbatim Report of the Trial of William Palmer published by J. Allen, London in 1856, listed all twelve jurors and gave the road in which they lived. The 12 were: Thomas Knight of Leytonstone; Richard Dumbrell, Fore Street; Wm. Mavor, Park Street; Wm. Newman, Coleshill Street; George Miller, Duke Street; George Oakshott, Ham Lane, West Ham; Charles Bates, Borough Road; Wm. Ecclestone, Ham Lane; Samuel Mullett (rather than Mullin in the broadside), Great Portland Street; John Over, Grosvenor Road, Pimlico; Wm. Nash, Conduit Street and Wm. Fletcher, Fore Street.

Palmer’s Own Verdict

Before leaving the court Palmer wrote a note to his solicitor which said, “It was the riding that did it”. Later Palmer’s phrase caused a great deal of discussion as to the exact meaning of the words. Some believe that it was not the strong circumstantial evidence that resulted in him being found guilty but the masterly way in which the Attorney-general arranged and presented the evidence. Others think he meant that Judge Campbell’s summing up was the decisive factor against him. There was also the opinion that Palmer was referring to both the Attorney-General’s powerful speeches and Judge Campbell’s hostility in his summing up. The final suggestion is that Cook had in fact died from tetanus caused by a wound that Cook got when he fell from a horse.

When he had left the court and went to a cell where he complained to the Under-Sheriff that, “I did not receive a fair trial”. The Under-Sheriff pointed out to that all the judges agreed with the verdict of the jury but palmer replied, “Well, Sir, but that don’t satisfy me”.


The Staffordshire Advertiser 14th June 1856, under the heading of “PALMER’S TRIAL – ANOTHER SPORTING VICTIM”, carried the following report from the Leeds Intelligencer:-

Information was received in Wakefield on Thursday, that a person named Fisher , coachman to Colonel Smyth, M.P. for York, had committed suicide, in consequence of having lost a large sum of money betting on the probable acquittal of Palmer. He has left a wife and four children, who are living in this town.