There was never any peace in the Hutchings household. John Hutchings, 43, a cooper, was always arguing with his wife Mary and knocking her about, and their children lived in fear of him.

On August 26th, 1847, after being repeatedly punched by her husband, Mary walked out of the house. Curiously, she returned the following day to cook the family’s breakfast, and a few hours later became violently ill.

One of the children would say later that they saw their father open a drawer and take out a bottle. A little while after that he threw the contents of the bottle on the fire.

During the night Mary was in agony. To a neighbour who arrived to comfort her she said: “I’ve eaten nothing bad. And I’ve taken no medicine bar a little jalap.”

A post-mortem performed after she died an hour later revealed the true story – there were 15 grains of arsenic in her stomach.

Hutchings was tried at the Old Bailey for his wife’s murder, but there were plenty of people in court who believed his claim that she committed suicide. He was nonetheless convicted and sentenced to hang outside Maidstone Prison on Thursday, October 7th, 1847.

But just before the time, set for noon, the execution was sensationally postponed for two hours to give the Home Office more time to consider the case. Communications between Whitehall and the prison were conducted by the new-fangled “electric telegraph,” causing such consternation in the South-Eastern Railway company, responsible for the telegraph, that they refused to be held accountable for the messages unless they saw the signature of the Home Secretary, Sir George Grey himself.

When the order to continue with the execution was thus duly signed, the telegraph message was conveyed to officials waiting at the gallows, and John Hutchings was immediately hanged.