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Adelaide Blanche BARTLETT






The Pimlico Poisoning Mystery
Classification: Murderer?
Characteristics: Parricide - Poisoner
Number of victims: 1 ?
Date of murder: January 1, 1886
Date of birth: 1856
Victim profile: Thomas Edwin Bartlett, 40 (her husband)
Method of murder: Poisoning (chloroform)
Location: London, England, United Kingdom
Status: Found not guilty on April 17, 1886

photo gallery

The Trial of Adelaide Bartlett (11,5 Mb)

British Medical Journal

Adelaide Bartlett and the Pimlico Mystery by Michael Farrell (1,7 Mb)

Adelaide Blanche Bartlett

French-born Adelaide Blanche de la Tremoille married Thomas Edwin Bartlett in 1875, when she was nineteen and he was twenty-nine. He came from a close-knit family of prosperous grocers and Adelaide seemed resent the closeness that she had married into. Edwin seemed to have no interest in satisfying his young wife sexually and within a year of their marriage she had begun an affair with her brother-in-law.

In 1885 Mrs Bartlett became friendly with the Reverend George Dyson, a Wesleyan minister. Edwin approved of the relationship and even made a will leaving everything to Adelaide, with Dyson as the executor. The Bartletts moved to Pimlico in October 1885 and, within a matter of weeks, Edwin became ill with the doctor diagnosing subacute gastritis. On 1st January 1886, Adelaide called her landlord and asked him to "Come down; I think Mr Bartlett is dead."

Doctors found about a sixteenth of an ounce of chloroform in the dead man's stomach and deduced that a large dose must have been swallowed. The intriguing thing was that, although chloroform is a corrosive poison, no traces were found in his mouth or throat. Both Adelaide and Dyson were charged with the murder of Edwin, though the case against Dyson was withdrawn before it came to trial.

It was shown in court that Dyson had bought four small bottles of chloroform from various chemists, at the request of Adelaide but on Edwin's doctor's prescription. Adelaide admitted that she used it, sprinkled on a handkerchief, to help her husband to sleep during the period of his illness. The defence put forward the theory that Edwin had drunk the chloroform to commit suicide and, as there was no evidence to show how the poison had been administered, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

After the case one well-known doctor said that "in the interests of science, she should now say how she did it!"


The Pimlico Mystery or the Pimlico Poisoning Mystery is the name given to the circumstances surrounding the 1886 death of Thomas Edwin Bartlett, possibly at the hands of his wife, Adelaide Blanche Bartlett, in the Pimlico district of London.

A fatal quantity of chloroform was found in Mr Bartlett's stomach, despite having not caused any damage to his throat or windpipe, and no evidence of how it got there. Adelaide Bartlett was tried for her husband's murder and was acquitted. By the jury's own statement in court Mrs Bartlett's acquittal was partly secured because the prosecution could not prove how Mrs Bartlett could have committed the crime.


The heart of the Pimlico Mystery is the odd relationship between a wealthy grocer, Mr. Thomas Edwin Bartlett (1845–1886), his younger French-born wife Adelaide Blanche de la Tremoille (born 1855), and the Reverend George Dyson, Adelaide's tutor and the couple's spiritual counselor and friend.

Dyson was a Wesleyan minister, and (if the story Adelaide and Dyson told is true) was encouraged to openly romance Adelaide Bartlett by Edwin's permission. Edwin himself was suffering several unpleasant illnesses (including rotting teeth and possibly tapeworms). Edwin was supposedly something of a faddist, believing in animal magnetism as a key to health; but again, his reported eccentricities are partly based on what was learnt from Adelaide and Dyson, both of whom may have had reasons to lie. Adelaide's father was rumoured to be a wealthy and possibly even titled member of Queen Victoria's entourage, which had indeed visited France in 1855, possibly Adolphe Collot de la Tremouille, Comte de Thouars d'Escury. Adelaide is sometimes recorded as being born illegitimately in Orléans in 1855.

The marriage of a Clara Chamberlain and Adolphe Collot de Thomas (sic) d'Escury is recorded in the BMD index March quarter 1853, lending weight to the supposition that Adelaide was not illegitimate. BMD records Adolphe's death (under the surname De Escury) in the Pancras district of London in the June quarter of 1860. In the 1861 census, Clara is a widow and is living with children Henry (7), Adelaide (5), Frederick (3) and Clara (1), as well as her unmarried sister Ellen Chamberlain (17) RG9/163 Folio 97 Page 10 Havelock Road, South Hackney, where the three elder children are recorded as being born in France. BMD lists Clara's death at the age of 33, in the Pancras district also, in the December quarter of 1866. In the 1871 census the orphaned Adelaide (surname enumerated as de Thours) is adopted daughter to a William H and Ann Wellbeloved, William being a confectioner. Her brother Frederick (as Freddy) is a boarder in the same household (High Street, Hampton Wick, Middlesex RG10/866 Folio 7 Page 5). Adelaide is listed as being Assistant to the Confectioner, and born in St Cloud, a district of Paris, rather than Orleans (as is her brother Freddy).

Edwin and Adelaide were married in 1875. According to Adelaide, it was intended to be a platonic marriage, but in 1881 she had a stillborn baby by Edwin; Edwin had refused her (female) nurse's advice to call a (male) doctor during a difficult labour because he didn't want another man "to interfere with her".

Early in 1885, they met Dyson as the local Wesleyan minister and he became a frequent visitor. Edwin made Dyson executor of his will, in which he left his entire estate to Adelaide, on condition that she didn't remarry (a common stipulation in those days). Later Edwin redrew the will, four months before he died, removing the bar on Adelaide remarrying.

Towards the end of 1885 Adelaide asked Dyson to get some chloroform that was prescribed by the doctor treating Edwin, Dr. Alfred Leach. Leach would later admit that he prescribed it reluctantly, but at the insistence of his patient. Under the laws of the day regarding purchasing large amounts of potential medical poisons, one had to sign a book at chemist's pharmacy as a record - but not if the amounts purchased were small; Dyson bought four small bottles of chloroform instead of one large bottle, and bought them in several shops, claiming that he needed it to remove grease stains. Only after Edwin's death, did Dyson claim to suddenly realize how suspicious his actions were.

On New Year's Eve, December 31, 1885, Edwin Bartlett returned from a visit to the dentist and went to sleep alongside Adelaide in their Pimlico flat. Just before 4am the next morning Adelaide asked their maid to fetch Dr Leach, fearing Edwin was dead, before rousing the landlady. Edwin's stomach was filled with liquid chloroform. It is just possible that the stories of Edwin's alleged suicide may have been believed and his death considered free of foul play, except that his father, who had always detested Adelaide, indeed he had earlier accused Alelaide of having an affair with Edwin's younger brother, became extremely suspicious and convinced authorities to look into the death.

An inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder by Adelaide Bartlett, with George Dyson being an accessory before the fact, and they were both arrested.


The trial opened on 12 April 1886, attracting great press coverage both in the UK and abroad. At the opening of the trial charges were read out against both George Dyson and Adelaide, but the prosecution immediately asked for the charges against Dyson to be dropped and he was formally acquitted. This enabled the prosecution to call him as a prosecution witness, but also made it possible for the defence to take advantage of his testimony.

Adelaide Bartlett was extremely fortunate in her choice of barrister: Sir Edward Clarke, possibly the finest barrister of late Victorian England. His taking on the case was rumoured to be due to Adelaide's mysterious father's intervention. He was able to show sufficient ambiguities against the deceased to make the suicide theory barely possible. His tactics with Dr. Leach, the elder Bartlett (who was revealed to have a mercenary, ulterior motive towards his son's estate), and Reverend Dyson were sufficient to gain his client an acquittal. It should be pointed out that the prosecution in this classic poisoning case was in the hands (as was traditional in England and Wales until 1957) of the current Attorney General, Clarke's great rival Sir Charles Russell, but that the latter was involved with Liberal Party policies and politics connected to Parnell's Home Rule campaign for Ireland; therefore, Clarke did not have his rival at that rival's top legal game. The "suicide" theory gained ground, despite evidence given that on the last evening of his life, Edwin Bartlett told his maid to have a sumptuous dinner prepared for him on the next day - hardly the action of a man contemplating suicide.

Adelaide was not able to testify in her own defence (something not possible for defendants until the Criminal Evidence Act 1898) and the defence called no witnesses, although it did give a six hour closing statement to the court.

The main forensic aid to Mrs. Bartlett is that liquid chloroform burns. It cannot pass down to the stomach without burning the sides of the throat and the larynx. Edwin did not have such burns on his body; this suggests that he was actually able (somehow) to gulp the chloroform down quickly. It bolstered the suicide theory a little, for such rapid drinking suggested that the drinker rushed the poisoned drink down. When the jury returned to court after considering its verdict the foreman said: "although we think grave suspicion is attached to the prisoner, we do not think there is sufficient evidence to show how or by whom the chloroform was administered." The foreman then confirmed that the verdict was not guilty, which was greeted with "rapturous applause", public opinion having moved in Adelaide's favour during the course of the trial.

The issue of how the poison got into Edwin's stomach without burning him internally in the throat led the famous surgeon, Sir James Paget, to make his famous quip:

"Now that she has been acquitted for murder and cannot be tried again, she should tell us in the interest of science how she did it!"


After the trial both Adelaide Bartlett and Reverend George Dyson vanished from public notice. The authors of The Life of Sir Edward Clarke (1939) report that they had an "impression" that Adelaide Bartlett later married George Dyson, but that they had also heard a theory that the two never met again.

The novelist Julian Symons, in his novelization of the story, Sweet Adelaide, suggested that Mrs. Bartlett emigrated to the U.S., settled in Connecticut, and died there some time after 1933, although others regard her post-trial life as mysterious.

As for Dyson, Richard Whittington-Egan's study of William Roughead's life reported that a woman in Maryland claimed in 1939 that Dyson had come to New York, U.S., changed his name, and as a fortune hunter married and murdered a young bride, her sister, for her estate in 1916. Alternatively, Kate Clarke reports that Methodist church records state that Dyson emigrated to Australia.

The Bartlett case was dramatized on the BBC radio series The Black Museum in 1952 under the title of "Four Small Bottles." and in a four-part TV series, A Question of Guilt, in 1980.


The movie My Letter to George, or “Mesmerized”, with Jodie Foster was "... loosely based on that of Adelaide Bartlett, who, in 1886, went on trial for the chloroform poisoning of her husband."


Adelaide Bartlett

The New York Times

April 19 1886

“Adelaide Bartlett, aged 30, is accused of having, on the last night of 1885, murdered her husband, Frederick Bartlett, aged 40, by administering to him a huge dose of chloroform.   The Rev. George Dyson, a Wesleyan Minister, aged 27, is accused of being her accomplice in the crime…

She married Edwin Bartlett 14 years ago.  He was a grocer, 10 years her senior, with considerable money, a large business and a religo-metaphysical mind…. Immediately after their marriage he yielded to her desire for a deep education, and sent her to school…  Her schooling ended, the two began housekeeping at Herne Hill, a suburb of London, and were there some five years.  During this period, a child was born to them and died…

The Rev George Dyson, a pale, serious-looking clergyman, with close-cut little whiskers and a heavy black mustache, was preaching in the Wesleyan Chapel in Merton Abbey, in January of 1885, when the Bartletts appeared among the congregation… after that the acquaintance ripened swiftly to intimacy.  He was a BA of Dublin University, and Mr Bartlett invited him to assist Mrs Bartlett in her studies… The friendship between the two men became demonstrative.  There is in evidence a letter from Bartlett to Dyson, in September last, which demonstrates this:-

“14 St James Street, Dover, Monday: Dear George – Permit me to say I feel great pleasure in thus addressing you for the first time.   To me it is a privilege to think that I am allowed feel towards you as a brother, and hope our friendship may ripen as time goes on, without anything arising to mar its future brightness.  Would that I could find words to express thankfulness to you for the very beautiful, loving letter you sent Adelaide today.  It would have done anyone good to see her overflowing with joy as she read it when walking along the street, and afterward as she read it to me.  I felt my heart going out to you.  I long to tell you how proud I feel at the thought that I should soon be able to clasp the hand of the man who could from his heart pen such noble thoughts.  Who can help loving you?  I feel I must say to you two words “Thank you”, and my desire to do so is my excuse for troubling you with this.  Looking toward the future with joyfulness, I am, yours affectionately, Edwin.”

When the Bartletts moved into London the husband secured a continuance of this intimacy by buying a season railway ticket for Dyson, so that he might come to them freely.  He did come, very freely.

Late in the autumn Mr Bartlett had much trouble with decayed teeth, involving a lot of dentistry and threats of necrosis… A local physician attended him and believed him to be really very ill over the necrosis and insomnia… Two days after, at 4 o’clock on the morning of the New Year, Mrs Bartlett rapped on the door of the landlord, calling to him “Come down! Mr Bartlett is dead!”

The first intimation of foul play came from the dead man’s father, a crusty old party, to judge by the evidence.  He had come to London some three weeks before the tragical climax to visit his son on hearing of his illness.  He saw him once, but the following day the wife refused to allow him to go to the sick room.  The old man went off furious at this, declaring his indignation.   The father went again on Monday, and seemed to have been pleasantly enough received.  The son said he was much better, but he had snakes crawling up inside him. 

The next news the father had was of the son’s death.  He went at once to the house and was put in a rage by being kept waiting 26 minutes in the smoking room.   Then Mrs Bartlett came, put her arms around his neck and said: “Dear father, don’t fret.  I will never see you want. It shall be just the same as if Edwin was alive.  The old man returned her caress.  Then he went upstairs to the corpse.  His own testimony puts the thing thus: “I leaned over him and kissed him passionately, and smelt his corpse for prussic acid!”

The father, without any facts to verify his suspicions, insisted on a post-mortem examination, and one was held the following day, Jan 7.  The examination found the body healthy and a strong smell of chloroform in the stomach.  On this Government experts were called in, and the Coroner presently began an inquest.  The experts reported death by an excessive dose of chloroform.

But upon the heels of this came a tremendous sensation… The Rev George Dyson appeared as a witness against the woman.  His story was a strange on.  On the 27th of December Mrs Bartlett asked him if he could get some chloroform for her, and explained that she had used it before, in nursing her husband, as a means of inducing sleep.  Dyson devoted the next two days to procuring chloroform, going to four different druggists and getting a little from each, on the pretense that he wanted it to remove stains from clothes. In all he got four ounces, which he put in one bottle and gave to her on the 19th…

The day of the post-mortem examination, before he learned that there were suspicions of foul play, he went to Mrs Bartlett and asked her what she had done with the chloroform.  She answered: “I have never used it: the bottle lies there full and uncorked.  This is a very critical time for me, and you mustn’t worry me with questions.  Put away from your mind the fact that you ever gave me the chloroform.  Two days later, after he learned that suspicions was rife, he asked again what she had done with the chloroform, and she stamped her foot angrily, and said “Oh, damn the Chloroform!” 

He himself had thrown away his four little drug bottles the previous Sunday evening while he was walking over Wandsworth Common on his way to preach tat Tooting… and now she told him that she had thrown the big bottle away, contents and all, out of a railway carriage the previous day.  Later he told her that he should make a clean breast of it.  She answered: “If you don’t incriminate me, I don’t’ incriminate you.  The next day he went and told his story to a mutual acquaintance, and, a little later, to the Coroner’s jury.

It is already in evidence that Bartlett encouraged his wife and Dyson to love one another, and spoke with satisfaction of their marriage after his death… After the death of their child the Bartletts agreed to occupy [a] wholly platonic relationship towards one another… But in the last months of his life it seems that the husband…was moved to regain his abandoned privileges as a husband… Then it was, according to her story, that she had Dyson get the chloroform, and warned her husband that it was her intention to put some on her handkerchief, and wave it before his face whenever he was tempted to forget the duty he owed to the clergyman.  According to her story, she announced this determination to her husband on the last night of the old year – and of his life – and he seemed ‘grieved, but not cross’…

There is probably no use to contesting the proposition that the man died of chloroform.   There might be much said for the theory that he took it in a lump himself to complete his considerate renunciation and save his wife the trouble of waving pocket handkerchiefs before him…

[Note at end: The result of the trial of Mrs Bartlett was given in THE TIMES’ cable news yesterday.   The jury acquitted her after being out only a short time, and the verdict was applauded by the spectators.  Testimony for the defence shows that Mrs Bartlett retained the chloroform bottle for a long time after her husband’s death, and that she had been extremely anxious for a post-mortem examination in order to ascertain the exact cause of death.  Another point that weighed heavily by the jury was made by the judge in his summing up.  He said that Mr Dyson had taken advantage of the husband’s peculiar state of mind to supplant him in the affections of Mrs Bartlett, and he advised that no part of that gentleman’s testimony be trustworthy]”



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