Mrs Caroline Norton nee Sheridan. Born in London on the 22nd of March 1808. English Author.
First unhappily married to the Tory member of parliament for Guildford George Norton. Caroline went through a very trying divorce after George accused her of adultery and proceeded to prevent her from seeing her three children.
Caroline would proceed to marry William Stirling-Maxwell, Politician and Art-Historian before her death.
How does Caroline fit into the ‘Square Mile of Murder’ in Glasgow?
You may have known Caroline Norton was quite well known for her pursuit of Women’s rights. She after having had her children stripped from her by her husband had a hand in the Infant Custody Bill of 1839, and later in 1857 the Marriage and Divorce Act of 1857.
Caroline however was not a fan of Jessie McLachlan, or so it would appear if you believe the newspapers who ‘Outed’ Caroline as the anonymous writer who wrote a letter to the Scotsman which was printed on the 28th of October 1863. The letter was said to be from –
“the pen of one of the most distinguished literary personages of England”
The letter accuses those who are assisting Jessie McLachlan of abetting her and assisting her in two murders. For both, the murder of Jessie McPherson and the murder of James Fleming whom the writer believes is condemned should the investigations by the home office and private inquiry by Mr. Young be fruitful. Mrs. Norton also mentions Jessie’s unfortunate statement which she ‘confessed’ I shall say more on this later. The letter among other harsh criticisms of Jessie named her a habitual dram drinker and a woman of falsehoods. Taylor calls for Jessie to be hanged by ending her letter by saying
“Mercy is beautiful, and justice is grand, but it is not mercy to the innocent and helpless to spare the guilty; and whoever may be guilty of this murder, and suffer hanging for it, will not even then have endured a tithe of the terror and agony of pain of pain inflicted on that poor victim …”
In response to the publication of the letter the ‘Daily Review (Edinburgh)’ within its publication dated 6th November 1863 wrote that the letter had been publicly attributed to the Honourable and unhappy Mrs. Norton. The Daily review accuses Norton of taking part with a man and going against her own sex.
“The last thing learned by an unforgiven woman is to forgive another woman: the last thing learned by a female who herself has been severely judged is to avoid the severity of judgment when another female is concerned.”
The Daily review states that Jessie McLachlan was not a habitual dram drinker, stating that Mrs. Norton is guilty of wilful falsification. However, I must say that there was so much written on the case in the newspapers it is very easy to get bogged down and I imagine it would have been very easy to get lost in the mass number of publications regarding the case. The paper proceeds to argue that Mrs. Norton would have known that the facts of the case had been reinvestigated by the date her letter was written, she possibly missed out on reading them though when writing her criticisms, she should have ensured she had all the up to date facts.
So eager says the paper was Mrs. Norton to cast a stone at the ‘sinner’ she cast that stone on the very morning on which Jessie did receive respite.
Jessie may have had a urinary tract infection on the day she is said to have confessed, this was highlighted in the Glasgow Free Press publication on the 11th of July 1963. During the interview, which was conducted by Mr. Dixon, he says that Jessie was labored, and acting hysterically. Laughing and giggling and at times crying. Later claiming to have no knowledge of the confession. Mrs. Norton may again not have been aware of those circumstances regarding the alleged confession.
It should however be mentioned that Caroline’s husband William Stirling Maxwell was a member of the parliament which investigated the McLachlan case.
I shall finish by saying I hope to take the above quote regarding the unforgiven women and judgment and run with it by attempting to adopt it into my own life. We should all be just a little nicer. Though we should be able to have our own opinions on matters. Just as Mrs. Norton was entitled to her own opinions, whether or not she had all the facts. She may very well have altered them after reading the daily reviews response.
That is of course if it was indeed Mrs. Norton who wrote the anonymous letter!