In 1875, Adelaide de la Tremoille de Thouars d’Escury became simply ‘Mrs Adelaide Bartlett’ - aka ‘Mrs Edwin Bartlett’ – but there was nothing straightforward about her life, the marriage, her husband’s demise. Edwin’s end came at 85 Claverton Street, Pimlico, London on 31 December 1885 or on New Year’s Day, 1886. His death was found to have been from a poison. Adelaide was tried at the Old Bailey in April 1886 – the first murder trial for the alleged misuse of the drug chloroform. The ingredients of the case caused a sensation inside the court, among the excited crowds on the streets and even around the world. Not least because it included a love triangle involving Adelaide and a young Methodist Reverend George Dyson, to whom Edwin had also grown close in 1885.
For September that year, Edwin rented a house on the English Channel coast in Kent, to spend some rare leisure time with Adelaide and their Saint Bernard dogs. They would have travelled down from London by train to stay at 14, St James Street, Dover. The town became the scene of scheming and secrecy between Adelaide and George - when Edwin was not around. Edwin was a man of work and more work: on most weekdays, alongside the travellers from France, he commuted to London on the ‘tidal train’ or the ‘boat express’ into the city by 6 a.m; he was in the tea trade as part of a grocery business. Adelaide was frequently seen around Dover town and on top of the white cliffs with the huge beloved dogs. In all likelihood she was never happier than when striding along, enjoying the freedom and fresh air. And her mind may have strayed to France and to Belgium, as she gazed across the Channel and thought about her days on the continent during childhood and as a young woman.
Edwin Senior made several day trips to Dover to visit his son and Adelaide - but by these Dover days, both Bartletts addressed Dyson as their ‘Georgius Rex’ and he was the favoured one. He stayed with them in Dover, two or three visits totalling six to nine days – he could not remember how many when asked in court in 1886. Edwin took him for a day trip to Calais, France, paying for that and also for the cash-strapped curate’s various train fares to and fro, plus around London that autumn.
Edwin Senior (who knew nothing of Dyson, never met the man) could have told Dyson about Edwin’s kindnesses to him. Paying the fares of this new friend was probably typical behaviour towards someone he admired and trusted.
Georgius Rex Dyson returned to London to a new abode, 18, Parkfields, Putney and started a new job. Promoted, he was in charge of a large parish. On 20 September Edwin travelled up from Doverto Putney, to tell the trusted friend about his new Will. Edwin was leaving all his assets to Adelaide – and told Dyson he had made him an Executor.
Edwin sent a telegram and money for Dyson’s next visit the following week. In response George’s letter gushed: ‘Thus far I have been able to stave off any work, and trust to be able to keep it clear. Dear old Dover, it will ever possess a pleasant memory for me in my mind and a warm place in my heart. With very kind regards, believe me yours affectionately George.’
Dyson probably had unchaperoned time alone at 14 St James’ Street with Adelaide, who told stories to elicit his sympathy and galvanise him into action. Feeding Dyson with shocking morsels about Edwin’s alleged ill health, she tested his reactions and gave a credible context for her husband’s enthusiasm for a deepening relationship between them. According to Dyson Adelaide confided that Edwin had a growth in his abdomen and that a Dr Nichols said Edwin had less than a year to live. Dyson alleged Adelaide told him that a nurse ‘had brought’ her chloroform, that Edwin was in great pain while in Dover, knew the seriousness of his condition – and that Edwin swore his wife to secrecy about his plight.
From 8 December Edwin became ill and he had no idea why. Christmas was a terrible time for him but by 28 December his doctor thought he was rallying. However that same day Dyson made visits to three chemists and purchased pure chloroform – at two of them using the rehearsed embellishment that he needed the poison to remove stains from clothing. On New Year’s morning 1886, Adelaide tapped at the Doggett’s bedroom door and called out ‘Come down, I think Mr Bartlett is dead’…
Both Adelaide and Dyson were arrested, but at the start of the trial the charges against Dyson were dropped by the prosecution’s request. While the foreman of the jury noted that ‘grave suspicion’ attached to Adelaide Bartlett, the prosecution was unable to establish the means by which murder could have been committed and she was acquitted. Alfred Hitchcock described the Pimlico Mystery as one of ‘the strangest stories’ he had ever heard and crime writer Julian Symons fictionalised the case in Sweet Adelaide (1980). Edwin Bartlett’s death by chloroform poisoning still attracts speculation and a range of theories. Murder, accident or self-killing? But Adelaide’s backstory, her heritage and multi-generational family secrets came to light only recently, forming the subject of Oh Damn The Chloroform! Adelaide Bartlett’s Family of Secrets and The Pimlico Mystery.