Monday, July 28, 2008

Murder Most English - Florence Bravo and the Balham Mystery

It was a mystery that has baffled people for over a century, even Agatha Christie couldn't solve it. Who murdered Charles Bravo that dark April night in 1876? Leading doctors, including Queen Victoria's physician, Sir William Gull, were called in to try and save his life but to no avail. The only thing they could agree on was that he had been poisoned by antimony. Bravo suffered for three days in excruciating agony but gave no indication of who he thought might have wanted to cause him harm.

At the time of the inquest, the news reports eclipsed even government and international news. And at the center was Bravo's wife, Florence Campbell Bravo. What was it about this case that made it so interesting to mystery writers over the past hundred years or so? And what made it so scandalous that people are still interested to this day?

Florence Campbell was born in 1845, the second of seven children. Her father Robert Campbell had made his fortune in Australia where the family lived for several years before moving to England, where they bought Buscot Park in Berkshire, while also maintaining a house in Lowndes Square in Knightsbridge, London. Her childhood was idyllic by anyone's standards, surrounded by servants, with holidays abroad. She was her father's favorite child, and he had spoiled her. Florence grew up to be a beautiful woman, with auburn curls, grey eyes, and a lush figure, determined to have her own way in all things. As a child, she would sulk for days if she was thwarted. While she was beautiful and vivacious, there was also an air of fragility in her, that called out to a man's instinct to protect. She loved animals, her mother noted that she was inconsolable on her 18th birthday, because a family pet had died.

At the age of 19, while on a trip to Canada, she met Alexander Ricardo, where he was stationed in the Grenadier Guards. He was tall, dark and handsome in his grey-green uniform, Byronic she called him. Florence saw him across the proverbial crowded room at a party. Years later Florence could recall in minute detail the exact moment she saw him. She managed to effect an introduction, they danced 3 times that night, and then slipped out to the balcony to talk. It was love at first sight, and Florence couldn't wait to tell her father about the man she had met. Her father was impressed by Ricardo's lineage. Alexander's father, John Ricardo was a Liberal MP who had also founded the International Telegraph Company, and Ricardo's mother was sister to the Duke of Fife. When the time came for the Campbell's to leave Canada, Ricardo arranged a three month leave to England to court Florence. Within six weeks of his arrival, they were engaged. By the end of the 3 months they were married. Her father settled a thousand pounds a year on her, not an inconsiderable sum.


The old saying 'marry in haste, repent in leisure' certainly was true in Florence's case with her first marriage. Florence had no intention of being an army wife, it was only a few years after the devastating war in the Crimea and she worried that he would be sent to India or Africa where he might be killed. She pressured him to quit, which left him dangling at loose ends. The army was all her knew, he had no desire to go into business. He missed the discipline and structure of the army, not to mention the camraderie of his fellow officers. He tried to go into business with his father, and he also worked for awhile for Florence's father, but he would lose interest after a few months which gave him plenty of time to drink and carouse, and soon there were rumors of other women. Florence discovered that she was married to a full blown alcoholic who became verbally abusive after a few drinks, accusing her of trapping him, of ruining his life. At first Florence tried to ignore what was going on, but then she took to spending weeks alone at her father's cottage in Brighton or touring the coast with her friends to get away from him. After six years of marriage, Ricardo was rarely sober.


Matters finally came to ahead one night one Christmas when Florence chastized her husband for insulting her sister. Ricardo struck her three times in the face. Florence fled to her parents, pouring out her story. She begged them to let her stay. Her father was appalled at the idea of seperation, finding it morally repugnant. Florence had married Ricardo, and it was up to her to make the marriage work, no matter what. The next morning, he insisted that she return to her husband. Florence refused, if her parents would not allow her to stay with them, she would find someplace else, but returning to Ricardo was not an option. Her mother suggested a compromise, that Florence spend some time at the Hydro, a fashionable sanitorium run by James Gully, in Great Malvern. Once she felt better, then she could make a decision.


The Hydro at Great Malvern was run by Dr. James Gully, a friend of her family. Florence had known him since childhood when he had treated her for a throat infection. Gully was 63 at the time, well known for practising hydrotherapy or the "water cure." Along with his partner, James Wilson, he had founded the clinic at Malvern in Worcestershire, where many notable Victorians sayed, including Charles Darwin and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Gully, like many of the participants in this little drama, was born in Jamaica, the son of a wealthy coffee planter. He left Jamaica at an early age to attend school in England as most of the sons of the Empire did. While in school, his family lost their fortune when slavery was abolished in the British colonies. Although they were recompensed for the loss of their 'property,' Gully now faced the fact that he would have to work for a living. He later told Florence that it had been a good thing because it forced him to make something of himself. In 1825, he entered the University of Edinburgh to study medicine along with one Charles Darwin, gaining his MD in 1829. Dissastified with the medical treatment of the time, he made the acquaintance of Wilson who itnroduced him to the idea of hydrotherapy. Gully wrote several papers on the treatment, and became a member of the British Homeopathic Society in 1848. Soon he and the clinic became well known among the well to do, leading to the opening of two more clinics in Malvern to handle the increasing number of patients who were flocking to be treated. Of course, along with fame, comes criticism and Gully and Wilson came in for their fair share.

Gully surprised her by taking her side in the matter of her seperation from her husband. In fact he went one better and offered to help her by becoming her legal guardian. He instructed his lawyers to have the papers drawn up, including an annual alimony payment for Florence, and he offered to allow her to stay at the Hydro for free. Of course, when Ricardo heard the news, he flooded her with letters pleading his case. Like most abusers, he was now contrite. But they fell on deaf ears, Florence refused to either see him or to read the letters and telegrams he sent her.

When Gully told Florence she was well enough to leave, she protested that she had no where to go, but the truth was that she didn't want to leave Gully. She was totally infatuated with him. Gully arranged for her to rent a house in Malvern. They had spent increasing time together at the Hydro, and Gully had told her about his life, his marriage, his work. He invited her to join him on a trip to Kissingen, in Bavaria. It was there that they became lovers for the first time.


It almost seems inevitable that Florence and Gully should develop a relationship. Gully was a firm believer in causes like women's suffrage. He also advocated temperance which would have appealed to Florence having been saddled with an alcoholic husband. While most Victorian men believed that women were frail creatures that needed to be protected, Gully believed that the pyschological problems that many Victorian women suffered were due to the pressures they were under to remain on a pedestal as chaste virtuous women who never had sexual desire or a thought in their head that wasn't put their by their husbands or fathers.


Gully was married, to an older woman who he had been seperated from for over thirty years, she now lived in an asylum. He wasn't exactly the image of a lothario, he was bald, wore a monacle, and he was slightly rotund. Florence, at 26, fell under the spell of this kindly man who seemed to provide the care and attention that she never received from her husband. Unlike most Victorian men, Gully believed that women had sexual needs, and he took the care to make sure that Florence had pleasure in bed.

In April of 1871, Florence learned that she was now a widow. Alexander Ricardo had died in a hotel room in Cologne from drink. Since he had not changed his will, Florence inherited his entire estate, to the tune of forty thousand pounds. Not only was she free, but she was also a wealthy woman in her own right. No longe would she have to rely on her parents for support. Immediately Florence made plans to leave Malvern and move to London where the action was, and she convinced Gully to join her. Gully took some convincing but he didn't want to be away from Florence. This wasn't just a love affair, they were secretly engaged, waiting for the day when Gully's wife was no longer living, and they could be married. He bought a house less than five minutes walk from Florence's in Balham.

Florence bought a mansion called the Priory in Balham and soon after she hired a companion, a woman named Jane Cox. Jane Cox had been born in England but had spent several years in Jamaica after she married. After her husband's death, she had returned to England, with her three sons so they could attend school. She borrowed money from her husband's former employer, so that she could buy a small house in Notting Hill which she let out, while living in a small furnished room. She had worked as a nanny for a curate and a solicitor, where she interviewed with Florence for the post of companion. Florence was impressed by the older woman's qualities. Cox was the perfect companion, she loyal, hardworking and cheerful. She had perfected the fine art of being invisible, with a quiet voice that one had to strain to hear. Before long, Florence offered her the job of her companion, and Jane Cox moved into the Priory. The two women soon became close friends, and Florence began to rely on Jane increasingly. They called each other 'Florrie' and 'Janie', and Cox began to look on Florence as the daughter she never had.


Soon after Florence and Gully moved to Balham, their passion for each led to them to make a serious mistake. While staying with her solicitor and his wife in Surrey, Florence and Gully were caught in flagrante delicto on the couch by them, when they came back to the house early from a walk. The solicitor and his wife were horrified and appalled, not only that the two were having an adulterous affair, but that they had been so crass as to abuse their hospitality by openly fornicating on their sofa. Gossip about the affair spread like wildfire via the servant grapevine. Soon everyone, including Florence's parents knew about the relationship. And they were not happy about it. Not only had Gully transgressed the doctor/patient relationship, but the idea that there daughter would have an adulterous affair with a man old enough to be her grandfather was beyond the pale. This coming so soon after the disaster of her marriage to Ricardo was too much for the Campbell's and they cut off all contact with Florence. Her letters and telegrams were returned unopened. Even Florence's sister refused to see her.

Despite the ostracism of society, the relationship continued. However, the end came when Florence accidentally became pregnant while on holiday with Gully in Austria, the primative forms of birth control that they had used had failed. This was a disaster, an illegitimate child would have ruined Florence permanently, and damaged Gully's reputation further. There was no alternative but for Gully to perform an abortion on Florence which he reluctantly did. There were complications after the surgery and Florence almost died. From that moment, the relationship changed and became platonic, although Gully was still clearly in love with Florence.

Jane Cox nursed Florence through her illness after the abortion, keeping the truth from the servants but she could see how the social ostracism was beginning to effect her. Florence was a social creature, it wounded her terribly that the doors to society were now shut to her. It became Jane Cox's mission to find Florence another husband. Perhaps if she were respectably married, things might change.


It was through Jane Cox that Florence Ricardo met Charles Bravo. Cox's late husband had worked for Bravo's partner in Jamaica. Mrs. Cox had only met Charles on a few occasions but he seemed exactly what Florence needed. While shopping in London, the two women called upon the Bravo house, where Charles and Florence met for the first time. Several days later, Mrs. Cox stopped by again, this time to sell Florence to Charles's parents.

It was in Brighton while attending the sports day for Mrs. Cox's eldest son that Florence met Bravo again while strolling along the sea front a meeting engineered once again by Mrs. Cox. Charles told Florence he was there on business. He danced almost constant attendance on Florence which she found flattering. It was soon clear that Charles was interested in more than just making her acquaintance, he was serious about her.

On the surface, Charles seemed like the perfect man, he was witty, urbane, and cynical. A man who had a zest for life, who could talk knowledgeably about politics as well as literature. He was somewhat attractive, but looking at this picture, his eyes are mean, his expression somewhat sullen and cruel. The same age as Florence, he was born in 1845, the only son of Augustus and Mary Turner. When Charles was a small boy, his father died, and his mother later remarried Joseph Bravo, a wealthy merchant from Jamaica. Educated at King's College, London and at Oxford, Charles had trained to be a barrister. He was called to the bar in 1868, and set up a small practice with a friend Edward Hope, in the Temple. He was ambitious, with plans to eventually stand for Parliament. He was also a typical Victorian gentleman, with memberships in private clubs such as Boodles and Whites. Unfortunately, he only made two hundred pounds a year, not exactly a princely sum for a man of his ambitions. His biggest flaw, was that he had no sense of a common humanity. As far as he was concerned the world was divided into 'us' and 'them.'


Back home, they began to spend a great deal of time together, when they were apart, they kept up a steady correspondance. Soon Charles proposed marriage. The only sticking point was Dr. Gully. Although their relationship was now platonic, Florence still had warm feelings towards him. Before she could make a fresh start with Charles, she would have to break things off with Gully. Not only that, but Florence felt the need to confess to Bravo about the affair. Jane Cox tried to warn Florence not to do it, that she could be ruining her chance with Bravo. But Florence decided to risk it. After all there was a very good chance that Bravo might have heard the rumors about her relationship with Gully from someone else who might put an entirely different spin on the affair.

To her great surprise, Bravo took the news with ease. He confessed that he was not blameless, he had kept a mistress and there was a child. They agreed that they would break off both liaisons and never mention them again. Bravo asked Florence to marry him again and she agreed. Florence send Gully the Victorian equivalent of a 'Dear John' letter. When Gully heard the news, he advised Florence to take her time and not rush into anything, so that she could get to know Charles and his family properly. Once again, Florence ignored the well meaning advice. And Bravo was just as eager to get the show on the road so to speak. The wedding was set for December 14, 1875. Gully was upset, even more so when Florence asked him to move away from the area. He had sacrificied a great deal for his relationship with Florence, leaving the clinic at Malvern to be with her. His reputation had suffered as well when the news of their affair had gotten out. Gully refused to move, instead he cut off all communication with Florence.


The first sign of trouble occurred before the marriage. Bravo was enraged that Florence planned to keep her fortune in her name, which was now her right since the Married Woman's Property Act. It was revealed that Charles had debts of over 500 pounds, which was a huge sum at the time. 'I cannot contemplate a marraige which doesn't make me master in my own house.' Florence turned to Gully for advice. He suggested that she make ownership of the Priory to Bravo. Florence reluctantly agreed. But that was not the only disagreement. Florence suspected that their temperments didn't suit and wrote Bravo a letter to that effect. Why after suspecting that Bravo was after her money, did Florence decided to go through with the marriage? According to James Ruddick in his book, Death at the Priory, Charles had gotten Florence pregnant before the wedding. He was known to have spent nights at The Priory (Florence later told the inquest that his mother worried about him catching a chill in the late night air if he returned home), it would have been a simple matter for Bravo to demand his marital rights beforehand. After all, why shouldn't he taste what Gully already had? The dye was cast, things had gone to far, what assurances had she that any other man would have wanted to marry her once he found out about Gully? Marriage to Charles Bravo would give her back the veneer of respectability.


After a short honeymoon in Brighton, the newlyweds returned to the Priory. Slowly Florence found that society was beginning to open its doors to her again. She threw a party at Christmas for 30 guests including the Mayor of Streatham. For a brief moment they were happy. Charles would write to Florence when he was away at Sessions. 'Apart from the beginning of my first marriage, this was the happiest time of my life,' she later said. But cracks began to appear before the ink was even dry on the marriage license. Bravo received several anonymous letters accusing him of marrying Florence for her money. He suspected Dr. Gully of being the culprit. Far from refraining from ever mentioning his name, now it appeared that Bravo was obsessed with Gully.


Charles soon proved that he was the model of a Victorian husband in more ways than one. He expected total obedience from his wife in all things, after all he was the man, and she was just a woman. Wives in Victorian England for the most part were treated like domestic animals to be petted but kept in line with a firm hand. Most women knew this, accepted and found ways around it. While Florence was no suffragette, she was not the type of woman to pretend to be meek and submissive just because it was expected behavior. After the failure of her first marriage, she no longer believed in complete obedience to a man just because of his sex. Soon after the New Year, Bravo told Florence that things would have to change at the Priory. She was living too extravagantly, and he needed to curb her spendthrift ways. He insisted that she dismiss her personal maid, and use the housemaid. And that was just the beginning, he also wanted her to dismiss one of the gardeners, as well as get rid of her horses. Florence refused and Bravo exploded in rage. The struggle between them had just begun. He would threaten to leave her if he didn't get his way, storming out of the house. Florence would not submit, after all she held the purse strings. The only place that Bravo could force Florence to submit was in the bedchamber. Apparently it wasn't above him to force her into practices that she considered degrading including sodomy.


Soon Florence was pregnant. Although she fled to her parents for a few days, the reality was that now that she was with child, she had no choice but to go back to Bravo. In the meantime, Charles like Alexander before him, flooded her with pleading letters. The only difference being that Charles refused to admit that he was wrong. While Florence was at her parents, Bravo determined that Mrs. Cox had to go. It was not only the expense but the closeness between the two women. Instead of turning to her husband, Florence depended on Mrs. Cox for advice, and Mrs. Cox inevitably took Florence's side. Mrs. Cox was distraught, she had many debts, including a mortgage on her house, and she'd taken out a loan in 1868 to start a school which had failed. She desperately needed the job, and although Florence promised to protect her, Mrs. Cox worried that Charles increasing need to have control would force Florence to capitulate just to keep the peace.


Shortly after her return, Florence miscarried. Bravo showed his complete insensivity by striking her when Florence told him that she had planned on a trip to Worthing to recover. He also insisted that they try again only three weeks after she lost their child. He took no notice of how depressed and ill she was after the miscarriage. Florence was afraid, she doubted that she could carry a child to fruition, and if she did, that it might kill her. Besides the abortion, Florence had had other gynecological problems. While she could conceive easily enough, carrying a child seemed to be a problem. But there was nothing she could do. Two weeks after they resumed relations, she was pregnant again. This pregnancy didn't last long either, less than a month later, Florence miscarried while working in the garden. Soon after she discovered that she was pregnant, Bravo was struck down briefly by a mysterious illness one day on his way to work in London. He was hit by a wave of nausea, and was violently ill, but by the end of the day, he felt better.


By April of 1876, things were tense in the Bravo household. On that day of April 18th, Bravo went out riding. He returned to the house so badly shaken that he had to be helped into a chair, his horse spooked by something had run away with him. After a presumably long hot bath, Bravo joined Florence and Jane Cox for dinner. During dinner, he received a letter from his stepfather, Joseph Bravo, with a stockbroker's report which he had received by mistake. It appeared that Charles had suffered some losses in the market. Bravo was furious at his gambling. Florence said later that 'His face worked the whole of dinner and he had such a strange yellow look. I thought he would go mad at any moment.' Bravo's bad mood didn't abate, he accused Florence of having too much drink, after hearing her ask her maid to bring her a glass of Marsala wine to drink before bed. That night Bravo slept in his own room down the hall, as Florence insisted that Jane spent the night with her, pleading that she hadn't yet recovered from her last miscarriage.

Charles went to bed. A few minutes later, he opened his door and cried out for hot water. The maid Mary Anne heard his cry and came to see what was the matter. Bravo's face was hot and sweaty, he shrieked again for hot water, and then opened the window and threw up on the roof. Mary Anne immediately knocked on Florence's door and found Mrs. Cox sitting in a chair calmly knitting. As soon as she was told about Bravo's illness, Mrs. Cox called for coffee and mustard in the hopes of bringing up whatever was making him sick. Bravo threw up again, this time in a basin. Mrs. Cox gave the basin to a servant to wash out. She then sent for Florence's personal physician despite the fact that he was over in Streatham.


Now Florence was awakened by all the commotion. She sprang into action, sending a servant to go out and fetch the nearest doctor, that they couldn't wait for Dr. Harrison, her personal physician to arrive. By this time, Charles Bravo had lost consciousness. Both doctors, once they arrived, came to the same diagnosis, Bravo had been poisoneed but by what they had no idea and the patient wasn't in any shape to help them. Florence suggested that they call Bravo's cousin, Royes Bell, who was also a doctor. When Bell arrived early that morning, he brought along another doctor, Dr. George Johnson. Now awake, Bravo was questioned about what had made him ill. Bravo told them that he had taken laudanum for a tooth ache, and that he may have swallowed some. But his symptons didn't suggest an overdose. This was when Mrs. Cox pulled the doctors aside and told them that Bravo had revealed to her when she first went to him to help, that he had told her, 'I've taken some of that poison; don't tell Florence.' Mrs. Cox admitted that he hadn't told her exactly what poison it was.


The next afternoon, Bravo managed to make out a will, leaving everything to Florence. Doctors questioned him again, but he still stuck to his story, that he had taken laudanum and only laudanum. In the morning of the third day, Dr. Johnson took some fresh vomit with him for analysis. After examining the specimen, Dr. Johnson could find nothing. On Thursday, April 20th, Sir William Gull, Queen Victoria's personal physician showed up after being sent for by Florenec. He had treated her father once. In the meantime, Mrs. Cox had asked Dr. Gully for a homeopathic treatment. Finally, Dr. Henry Smith showed up completing the sextuplet of doctors. After examining him, Sir William Gull was blunt and to the point. Bravo was dying and needed to tell them what had transpired. If he did not speak out, someone might be accused of poisoning him. Once again, Bravo repeated his story about taking the laudanum. More vomit was collected as a specimen to be tested. Finally on Friday morning, April 21st at 5:30 a.m. Bravo died.


The police were ill-equipped to deal with a crime of this nature, in fact it took them 8 days after Bravo's death to question Florence and Mrs. Cox. The majority of the crimes they dealt with involved property theft. And this crime involved the upper classes, most of the police were not used to dealing with their 'betters' as it were. And the upper classes weren't used to being questioned by the police either. Florence's father had been a Justice of the Peace, as well as a High Sheriff. He dismissed the police inquiries by boasting that he could get a verdict of suicide in five minutes. As a preventative measure, he retained the services of Sir Henry James, a one of William Gladstone's closest friends, as a barrister as well as arranging for Queen Victoria's personal physician to give evidence on Florence's behalf. An autopsy showed that Charles had been poisoned by tarter emetic, made from antimony, a rather harsh poison. A dose of more than 4 grains was poisonous, Charles had more than 30 in his stomach. But how would someone slip him the tartar emetic? It could not be tolerated in food or wine. After further research, it was discovered that Charles had been in the habit of drinking water before bed. Tartar emetic could be dissolved into water, making it both soluble and tasteless.


An inquest was held at the Priory after Florence offered it as a venue, providing refreshments for the jury. The coroner took pains to keep unwanted exposure to a minimum, no press was notified and he didn't call Florence as a witness. He saw no reason not to uphold the initial diagnosis that Bravo had committed suicide. However his family protested, his stepfather Joseph Bravo went to the trouble of hiring a Scotland Yard inspector to investigate. It came out that George Griffiths, one of the grooms at the Priory, had been sacked soon after Florence and Charles were married. Not only was he sacked, but there were witnesses who overheard him state that Bravo would not live four months. He had also purchased a quanity of antimony to use on the horses. Florence put up a reward for 500 pounds to anyone who could give information, and on the 2nd of June, both she and Jane Cox gave voluntary statements to their solicitors. Florence detailed Charle's meanness, she also admitted to her relationship with Gully for the first time. Jane Cox, however, changed her statement. She now said that Bravo had told her that "I have taken poison for Gully, don't tell Florence," hinting that Bravo's motive for commmiting suicide was his jealousy of Gully.


The public hue and cry led to a second inquest was held at the Bedford Hotel in Balham. Suspicion soon fell on both Florence Bravo and Jane Cox. Poison has long had a reputation as a women's weapon. The case of Madeleine Smith came to mind, and Lucrezia Borgia (wrongly) had the reputation of using poison on her enemies, the reason being that poison doesn't require any brute strength, and its also convenient. Most households have some form of poison lying around in their kitchens. It's a quick matter of taking that rat poison or in the case Charles Bravo, antimony from the stables. The sickroom was another place to find poisons, particularly in the Victorian era with its plethora of medicines, many of which contained poisons. It would have been very easy to accidentally on purpose give someone an overdose.

Outside the hotel, crowds swelled in the hot summer air, trying to get a glimpse into the proceedings. One of the first witnesses called was the groom George Griffith. Griffith confessed that his famous proclamation that Bravo would be dead in four months came because he had heard that Bravo had been bitten by a dog. His new employer also vouched for his whereabouts. It soon came out that his real motive was collecting the 500 pound reward for evidence.

During the inquest, it was revealed that Dr. Gully and Mrs. Cox had been in contact with each other before Bravo's death. Mrs. Cox explained that they had met at the train station to London quite by accident. During the next several weeks they were seen together in public a total of five times. Mrs. Cox asked Dr. Gully to prescribe a medicine for Florence who was having trouble sleeping. Dr. Gully agreed and suggested that he leave it at her house in Notting Hill for her to pick up. When one of her tenants signed for it, he noticed that the bottle had a small poison label. However, Florence never received the medicine, in fact she hadn't known that Mrs. Cox and the Doctor had been in contact. When the time came to produce the bottle, Mrs. Cox declared that she had thrown it out because Florence hadn't required the medicine after all.


The inquest took 32 days. During that time Florence was questioned repeatedly about her relationship with Dr. Gully. It seemed as if George Lewis cared more about their relationship than Bravo's death. Three times during her testimony, she broke down. At one point, she demanded that the coroner protect her from the intrusive questions asked by Joseph Bravo's solicitor. "I refuse to answer any more questions about Dr. Gully. This inquiry is about the death of my husband, and I appeal to the jury, as men and as Britons, to protect me." Gully too found the questions a bit much but he was better able to control himself. "I don't see the relevance of these questions," he said. Despite the testimony of Florence and Jane Cox, and their own suspicions, the jury had no hard evidence. On Friday, August 11, a verdict was reached. 'We find that Mr. Charles Delauney Turner Bravo did not commit sucide; that he did not meet his death by misadventure; that he was willfully murdered by the administration of tartar emetic; but there is not sufficient evidence to fix the guilt upon any person or persons.'


Florence and Jane Cox were free to go but the second inquest was devastating to Florence. With the press in attendance, there was no way to keep the news of her affair with Gully out of the papers. The public ate up every salacious word. The Saturday Review described it as 'one of the most disgusting public exhibitions which has been witnessed in this generation.' The Evening Standard complained that 'She was a miserable woman who indulged in a disgraceful connection.' And the venerable Times wrote 'She was an adulteress and an inebriate, selfish and self-willed, a a bad daughter and worse wife.' Not only her reputation was besmirched but Gully's as well. All his hard work was nothing compared to the sensationalist news that he had been sleeping with a woman young enough to be his granddaughter. After the inquest was over, Florence's brother William, the only one of her siblings to keep in touch after her family cut off ties with her after the revelation about her affair with Gully, begged her to join the family in Australia to get away, make a fresh start but Florence declined. Her father became ill, devastated by the press, and the effort to protect his daughter. The family business went bankrupt and Buscot Park and all their property abroad had to be sold to pay off the debts. Florence moved to Southsea on the coast, where she drank herself to death, at the age of 33 in 1878. Gully didn't live much longer, he lived with his widowed sisters, estranged from his only daughter, finally dying of in 1883. To this day, his descendants refuse to talk about that period in Gully's life. Mrs. Cox went back to Jamaica to claim the inheritance left to her and her sons by her husband's aunt. She eventually moved back to England, dying in 1913.


Who really did kill Bravo? Was it Florence? And if she did, why? Florence Bravo was unique in Victorian England in that she had more control over her life than most women. She had run her own household, managed her own money. It was she who chose the men in her life, not the other way around. Ricardo was her choice not her father's, and it was she who who initiated the relationship with Gully and then ended it when it suited her purpose. And she also chose to marry Bravo, instead of perhaps going abroad for a few years, until the scandal of her relationship with Gully had perhaps subsided. But even though she had more choices, it didn't necessarily mean that she had the tools to make the right ones. One could almost say that Florence Bravo could be the Victorian poster girl for Smart Women, Foolish Choices. Like Isabel Archer in Henry Jame's masterpiece, Portrait of a Lady, an independent fortune did not keep Florence from making a huge mistake. So is it so far-fetched to come to the conclusion that Florence would choose poison to get rid of her husband?

After one terrible and abusive marriage, Florence was now trapped in another. "I told him that he had no right to treat me in such a way," Florence said in her Treasury statement. Divorce was not an option, it would have effectively ruined her already damaged reputation. Although it no longer required a special act of Parliament, Florence would have had to proven that Bravo committed adultery, not just mental cruelty and abuse. Yes, seperation was a possibility but Florence had already gone through one seperation and Bravo would never have let her go. Her only other option would have been to find someone to act as her legal guardian, which Gully had done for her to facilitate her seperation from Ricardo, but there was no one to step up to the plate this time. Her relationship with her parents had already been damaged by her relationship with Gully, and her father had let her know that he would not support her decision to leave Bravo.

Still was that a reason for murder? Maybe not, but Florence had suffered two devastating miscarriages in five months of marriage, and Bravo was determined to have an heir. Chances were she would not have been able to put off for much longer, even though getting pregnant again could have killed her. Florence had been drinking, it is probable that she had just planned on making Bravo sick, but instead she ended up giving him too much of the antinomy. I don't think that she was thinking clearly at the time, she just wanted it to end. If women suffer from post-partum psychosis, it's not unreasonable to believe, that suffering two miscarriages back to back practically, might not have left her dealing with some form of it.

And perhaps she thought she would get away with it. Charles had hurt his back earlier in the day, how easy it would have been to suggest that he had mixed together too much medicine, claim it was an accident. If he had died quickly, instead of lingering, no one might ever have known. As far as Florence was concerned, it was a matter of either her survival or Bravo's and she chose to her life over his. Florence had the motive, and she had the means. She knew about antimony, and had the access to it. Tartar emetic had been known to be used by women who were trying to curb their husband's drinking. It was entirely possible that Florence had tried this method with her first husband, Alexander Ricardo.

And what of Jane Cox, Florence's devoted companion? Despite the fact that Bravo dearly wanted to fire her, would have that been a motive? James Ruddick suggests in his book Death at the Priory, that Jane Cox already knew that she was due to inherit a fortune from a relative. Why would she have risked killing Bravo when financial independence was right around the corner?
Still it is clear that Jane Cox's actions the night that Bravo took ill suggest that she suspected that Florence might have poisoned him, or Florence had confessed to her what she had done. She threw out the rest of the water in the jug and rinsed it out, she had the vomit on the roof cleaned up, had Bravo's bloodstained nightshirt removed and burned, it was she who told the Doctors and the police that Bravo had said that he had tried to commit suicide.

There are other theories, in the television program, A Most Mysterious Murder, writer and actor Julian Fellowes put forth the theory that Charles took the antimony by accident, that the bottles of laudanum and antimony looked a great deal alike. Other writers suspected that Gully was the culprit? But what would have been his motive? He was resigned to the fact that his relationship with Florence was over, she hadn't confided in him about her relationship with Bravo, and if he had poisoned Bravo, he wouldn't have chosen antimony. As a medical doctor, he would have known far more effective ways to poison Bravo.

The story of Florence Bravo and the Balham Mystery is another illustration of the constraints that Victorian women labored under. For many women, marriage turned into little better than a prison sentence. Women were expected to endure no matter what, whether the marriage was abusive, constant pregnancies year after year. Even upper class women had little recourse, there were no battered women's shelters, most Victorian fathers would have insisted like Florence's, that she make the best of it. Florence Bravo, if she indeed murdered Bravo, unlike her Victorian sisters was not about to stand by and let another man continue to abuse her. Her sex was also what saved her from being charged with murder. The police, the coroner, the lawyers, and the jury, despite feeling that Florence was perhaps guilty, were reluctant to condemn an upper class woman to the gallows or to long-term imprisonment. But Florence paid a heavy price for her actions. The years of abuse and guilt lead to her turning to drink, the same that killed her first husband, and her death.



Sources include: Wikipedia

Death at the Priory: Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England - James Ruddick
Victorian Murderesses - Mary S. Hartman
Victorian Sensation - Michael Diamond
Murder Casebook No. 107 : Traces of Poison

TV:
A Most Mysterious Murder: The Case of Charles Bravo

20 comments:

Laura said...

You sum up this complex and fascinating case beautifully! It is one that continues to intrigue me - I liked James Ruddick's book in particular, and I tend to agree with him (and you) that it was Florence who put the antimony in the water. But that she may not have meant to kill Charles. She was not a clear-thinking person even at her best.

Ruddick suggests that Ricardo's death was a little iffy, I seem to recall - and that there may have been a bit of antimony involced (ahem)...it was often given in small doses as a cure for alcoholism, at that time.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

James Ruddick does say that Florence may have been in the habit of giving Ricardo antimony to keep him from drinking excessively. He quotes Florence's mother as saying that Ricardo, at one point, was throwing up twenty times a day. That may have been where she got the idea of poisoning Bravo. I agree with you that Florence either just wanted to make Bravo sick, or once she poisoned him, she thought better of it. I believe the miscarriages unhinged her a bit. If women suffer from post-partum psychosis, it's not unreasonable to believe, that suffering two miscarriages in 5 months, might not have left her suffering some form of it.

Leanna Renee Hieber said...

Oh what a time in the world, it's so rife, no wonder I'm obsessed with the era. It's indeed so complex, and just about every taboo plays into this case. Great context included in the entry, m'dear.

afeatheradrift said...

Gosh, it's always worth waiting for your posts. So well done. I can't wait for the one on Lillian Helman, a real favorite of mine!

La Belle Americaine said...

HA! I was just reading about this case on wikipedia!

I love the Victorian era. Definitely NOT the "repressed and prudish" era everyone thinks it is (that was the middle class).

Eliza Knight said...

Fabulous!!!! Yet another riveting real life scandal. I was glued to my computer.

I think you are completely right that she may have been suffering from some form of psychosis either brought on by the miscarriages or PTSD from an abusive relationship. She was obviously self medicating with alcholol,perhpas to her ending her husband's life was the only way to go.

I also agree that Mrs. Cox in all likelyhood tried to help cover it up.

Great job!

dave hambidge said...

May a mere man leave a comment?

I stumbled on your blog some weeks ago and have been fascinated by the content. You tell a good story really well! A beguiling combination of characters and language. Well done.

KUTGW

dave

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Hi Dave, and welcome to the blog. Just because the blog is womencentric doesn't mean that the male point of view is disregarded!

Laura, James Ruddick's book was so informative. And I agree that she was not thinking clearly, she just wanted an end to the pain and the abuse. I think she just wanted to make him really sick and then panicked when it turned out he was dying. She was the one who called in all the best surgeons, including Gull, so she must have hoped that something could be done.
I definitely don't think she killed Ricardo because he was in Cologne at the time and Florence was in England, but I suspect that she might have used the antimony on him to try and stop him drinking (which is also Ruddick's theory).

I agree La Belle, it was only the middle class who were so rigid, the upper class was having a grand ole time. I'm sure there might have been some prudes in the bunch, but things hadn't really changed all that much from the Georgian and Regency period.

Leanna, I too am becoming obsessed with the Victorians and Edwardians.

Eliza, thanks for the comment. I hadn't thought about post-traumatic stress, but clearly she was traumatized, particularly if he was sodomizing her as Ruddick suggests in his book.

Bearded Lady said...

Ooooh I love a good Victorian murder mystery. You have tons of great research again. I had heard of this case but never read anything with this much detail.

Florence definitely seems to have had a motive. But then again antimony was so commonly used as a medicine that Charles could have easily poisoned himself. (Louis XIV was almost poisoned by his doctors on several occasions. They fed him large does of antimony wine otherwise known as monks’ bane. yum!)

And looking at cold hard evidence, I don’t think buying antimony for the stables can be seen as a motive because many stables used antimony on pigs and horses.

We will never know…

Great post again!

Stargazer said...

Hello, love your blog! The women are very interesting reads! I'll be back

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Hi Bearded Lady, it is entirely possible that Bravo could have poisoned himself by accident, or perhaps he wanted to make himself sick to gain Florence's sympathy and it backfired. We will of course never know for certain.

Welcome Stargazer! Glad that you found the blog, I hope you do come back. There are many more stories to come.

Linda Banche said...

I felt sorry for her. In many ways she was a victim of her times. Her husband treats her badly and her father tells her to live with it.

Your blog is great. Must take a lot of effort.

And thanks for coming around to my blog and for the congrats.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Thanks Linda. Yes, it does take a lot of effort, but it is a labor of love frankly. I get so caught up in the stories of these women, that I hate to leave them, although I have so many other women whose stories are crying out to be told.

evision said...

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Lady Marion said...

Has anyone done research on Charles Ricardo to determine who his bastard child was, to the woman he was keeping when he met Florence? How would you be, with such a central murder case victim being your father you may never have known!

Pauline Conolly said...

I have a book coming out in Feb. 2013 that deals with some interesting aspects of this case. It is called The Water Doctor's Daughters, and will be published by Robart Hale.

Garreth Westwood said...

I can't believe you got this book published! Your sentence structure is often cumbersome and ungrammatical, not to mention the spelling mistakes.

Pauline Conolly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pauline Conolly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pauline Conolly said...


Hi Garreth, I removed my original comments because I was unsure whether or not you were referring to The Water Doctor's Daughters. However, if you were, I should point out that the book has recently been long-listed for a prestigious literary prize. This may help explain why it was published!
It has also received excellent reviews and I would be interested to know which spelling errors you refer to.