Surviving History

ADVENTURE, WAR, MURDER, SLAVERY, ESPIONAGE: from the internationally bestselling author of Nathaniel's Nutmeg and seven other history books. New post each Tuesday.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Double Murder: The Crime that Rocked Colonial India

The letter begins like many a private love letter.

‘Oh Harry, my own precious darling, your letter today is one long yearning cry for your little love.’
But within a few lines, a more sinister story begins to emerge. ‘Yesterday, I administered the powder you left me… the result? Nil.’

The powder - arsenic - had not worked.

The writer of the letter was an Edwardian housewife named Mrs Augusta Fullam, who lived in Agra in central north India. Her ‘precious darling’ was Lieutenant Henry Clark, a surgeon.

Mrs Fullam: never have tea with her
Together, in 1911, the two lovers decided to poison Augusta’s husband Edward. They would then dispatch Mrs Clark, Henry’s wife.

The murders were so terrible - and so meticulously planned - that they would rock colonial India.

The lovers faced a significant problem in killing Edward: he stubbornly refused to die. Each day, Augusta sprinkled arsenic on his supper - or slipped it into his tea - but to no avail. ‘My hubby returned the whole jug of tea…’ she wrote in one letter, ‘saying it tasted bad.’

On Friday 16 June, 1911, Augusta managed to administer a massive dose to her husband. But once again, it failed to kill him. ‘Since 4pm [he’s] vomited eight times… vomited ten times at a quarter to nine… vomited 12 times at ten pm.’

Augusta began to fear that he’d never succumb. ‘I give him half a tonic powder every day in his Sanatogen, lovie darling, because it lays on the top of the white powder quite unsuspiciously.’

For month after month, Edward clung to life. But eventually he fell seriously ill. This time, Lieutenant Clark decided to finish him off with a huge dose of poison, administering it himself. He then signed the death certificate: it recorded the cause of death as heart failure.

More arsenic, Mr Fullam?
The lovers were half way to their goal: now, they had to murder Mrs Clark. This time, they were far more brutal. Lieutenant Clark hired four assassins who broke into the house as planned and struck Louisa Clark with a sword, smashing her skull. The noise woke the Clarks’ daughter, Maud, who screamed, causing the robbers to flee.

Agra police’s suspicions immediately fell on the couple: their affair had not gone unnoticed in the local community. But they could find no proof.

None, that is, until Inspector Smith called at Augusta Fullam’s house and noticed a box hidden under the bed. When he asked what was in it, Augusta turned bright red ‘and fell like a heap into a chair.’

Inside, were 370 love letters, with every detail of how Augusta and Lieutenant Clark had planned their terrible crime.

The trial was a sensation: colonial India had never before seen such a spectacular double murder. Every sordid detail of the crime was covered by the Indian newspapers, as well as by the British ones.

Lieutenant Clark
'We'll never be caught'
The two lovers were tried separately and both were convicted. Lieutenant Clark was hanged on Wednesday, March 26th, 1913. Augusta Fullam, who was pregnant at the time of the trial, was sentenced to life. She served just 15 months before dying of heat-stroke the following year.

‘My very own precious lovie,’ she had written when she and Clark first started administering the arsenic, ‘don’t you think our correspondence rather risky?’

But Clark assured her it was fine; he said they’d never be caught.

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Blog compiled from: The Agra Double Murder, Sir Cecil Walsh, 1929, oup;
Khaki Mischief, Milly Whittington-Egan, 1990; and contemporary newspaper articles.

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