Christiana Edmunds


Christiana Edmunds ( 1829-1907)

The most celebrated Victorian patient at Broadmoor is remembered, as most high profile patients are, for the cause of her admission rather than her treatment and progression under medical supervision. Satisfying the voyeuristic needs of Victorian society, she was christened Christiana ‘the Chocolate Cream Poisoner’ by the tabloids.

‘She was a scheming, image-obsessed, murdering minx who in her younger days laced sweets with strychnine to see off the wife of the married man she desired’.

Mad, bad and dangerous to know, she was one of the most notorious inmates of Broadmoor in Victorian times, her name a byword for something that hidebound era found impossible to comprehend or forgive — a woman’s unbridled lust. ‘Sex pest, stalker, compulsive liar, manipulator, trouble-maker, murderess — there is something uncannily modern about her case, though the crimes for which she was locked up were committed almost a century and a half ago’

An attractive woman, she lived with her elderly mother in lodgings at 16 Gloucester Place, Brighton. In 1869 she met and fell for Dr Arthur Beard who lived almost opposite at 64 Grand Parade. Although married, the good doctor and Christiana had some sort of affair or flirtation. Whatever the case Christiana and Arthur began exchanging passionate letters and she began to devise ways of removing Mrs Emily Beard from the marital bed. Somewhat lacking in imagination in September 1871 Christiana visited the Beards and presented Emily with some lovely chocolates with a little added extra. Not surprisingly the following day Mrs Beard fell seriously ill. Unfortunately Christiana’s plans called for something more terminal.


Christiana had purchased the strychnine poison quite legally from Isaac Garreta, a chemist at 10 Queens Road explaining that she needed the poison to get rid of stray cats and she bought the chocolates from J.G Maynard’s  39-41 West Street. All she needed to do was inject the chocolates with a sufficiently lethal dose of the strychnine. This she had singly failed to do and Beard accused her of poisoning his wife. Christiana complained that the same chocolates had also made her sick. Beard withdrew his accusation but banished Christiana from his household and his life.
For reasons known only to herself Christiana embarked on a campaign of lacing chocolates with strychnine and returning them to the unwary confectioner who exchanged them for others she seemingly preferred. He unwittingly sold them on to unsuspecting members of the public who unsurprisingly fell ill. So as not to arouse suspicion she began to use young boys to buy chocolates from Maynards which she then poisoned and got the boys to return to Maynards in exchange for smaller sweets. Why Maynards or the chemists appeared oblivious to her activities and seemingly suspected nothing is quite beyond me!

Sidney Albert Baker

 Unfortunately in June 1871 poor little Sidney Albert Baker, whose family were only on a day trip to Brighton, ate one of the poisoned chocolates and died. He was just four years old. A verdict of ‘accidental death’ was recorded. The shop owner was exonerated and destroyed all his stock. Dr Beard kept any suspicions he may still have harboured strictly to himself.
Despite these events the poisonings continued. Six prominent women received parcels of poisoned fruits and sweets including Mrs Beard. This time two of her servants became ill after eating poisoned plum cake. Christiana claimed that she too had been one of the victims and visited John Maynard to complain that she and her friends had become ill after eating sweets from his store. She also reported to the police that she had received one of the poisoners parcels. A sense of fear crept through the streets – where and who would the poisoner strike next? With no leads and no way of protecting the public the Chief Constable placed an advert in the local newspaper offering a reward for any information which led to the arrest of the poisoner. Up stepped our good doctor and voiced his suspicions to the police. Within a week Christiana was arrested and shortly after the police had enough evidence to charge her with the attempted murder of Mrs Beard.


 Her first trial began in Brighton on 24th August 1871. Legal proceedings  came to a halt when it was decided that it was impossible for her to receive a fair trial in Brighton and she was transferred to Newgate Prison and tried at the Old Bailey in January 1872, solely for the murder of Sidney Baker. The jury found her guilty of murder and did not recommend mercy.
Christaina faced the gallows and her immediate response was to claim that she was pregnant as expectant mothers could not be hanged until after they had given birth. Not a good bet as a long term strategy and immediately a jury of matrons chosen from amongst the spectators examined her in an ante room and quickly unravelled the truth. An un- pregnant Christiana was returned to Lewes Prison for execution.


 Eventually she was committed to Broadmoor secure Hospital for the Criminally Insane. To what extent she was insane is debatable, however she escaped the noose and spent the remainder of her years there. There was clearly insanity in her family. Her father was apparently mad, her sister reportedly committed suicide and a brother seemingly died in Earlsfield  Asylum in London. During her trial her mother told of a long history of insanity both sides of the family. The papers argued that she was a ‘poor mad creature’.
Now, though, she appeared perfectly harmless as, in her dotage, she preened herself for her last attempt to entrap a man.
‘Are my eyebrows all right?’ the temptress asked a fellow inmate at Broadmoor as she prepared for a Christmas dance at the institution in 1906. ‘I was a Venus before,’ she declared, the years of her incarceration seemingly forgotten, ‘and I shall be a Venus again!’
The male doctors and staff could expect her full-on, sexually-charged attention, even if, in her late 70s, Christiana Edmunds’s man-mesmerising days were long over.
Christiana died in 1907 leaving behind a sense of mystery. Throughout her years of incarceration she never denied her actions, offered up any explanation or showed any remorse.

Learn more about poisons

Pain, Pus & Poison – The Search For Modern Medicines 3

Historical consultant David Rowland David – Rowland


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