25th August 1861


A young servant girl, named Elizabeth Cancell, was on Saturday admitted into Westminster Hospital, having received very severe injuries. Whilst engaged in cleaning the floor of the house in which she served, a steel point, which projected from a crinoline petticoat which she wore, entered her leg at different parts and inflicted several serious wounds, from the effects of which she remains in great suffering, and apprehensions have been expressed by the medical authorities as to the chances of saving the limb.


At the Sheriff Criminal Court, Dunfermline, William Beveridge, a pensioner, was charged with committing an indecent assault on the person of a child between four and five years of age.

The prisoner did not deny the charge; but the trial assumed a character different from it altogether—and went to proof on the sanity of the prisoner.

From the general evidence provided by witnesses it appeared that the prisoner Beveridge had been of weak intellect from his childhood, that he could not be kept at school when a boy, being incapable of receiving or retaining any kind of learning; and that, when a youth, he could not be got to stay and learn a trade, and went about stable-yards, strapping horses and running messages; but even in these tasks he was unsteady.

In 1854, he volunteered out of the Fife Artillery into the army, was sent to India, and was at the storming of Lucknow. After he came home from India, he was sent down to Dunfermline with one of his regiment as a guide to take care of him and, when landed, delivered into the keeping of the police.

“If he was weak-minded before he left,: said one of his brothers, “he was fifty times worse when he came from India.”

The prisoner states that, while in India, one of the regiment—he cannot name the individual, but he was a “high business man”—blew some poisonous stuff up his nose that set all his veins on fire, and that the same individual then placed him in the centre of the sun, where he kept him for six months. Since that time, his head has always been in flames; and he expresses a strong desire to get out to India again, that he may catch and cut the throat of that individual who played him such tricks. On this subject he never wearies of speaking.

The prisoner acknowledged that he had before this committed an offence of the same criminal nature with that with which he was now charged and that he had been guilty of other moral malpractices which will not bear repetition.

Drs Morris and Dewar believe that the prisoner is of unsound mind and would have no hesitation in committing the same offence if he were set at large.

The prisoner is a man of about thirty, and he sat at dock quite composed and to all appearance without the least sense of shame or any idea of having done anything criminal or uncommon.

The clerk read the sentence, which was to the effect that, due to the evident insanity of the prisoner, he should be recommitted to the prison of Dunfermline, there to remain until Her Majesty’s pleasure was made known.


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