An ancient murder, 15 May, 1808

The murder of Olympe Mahy by 'a real rascal.' From The Star, June 30, 1927, written by Amias C Andros. The sculpted details on her tombstone are very worn now.

Assassin hanged at St Andrew.

Probably many persons who have visited the Vale Cemetery have noticed a tombstone which stands a short distance away on the North side of the Vale Church and wonder at the strange sculpture which is immediately over the following inscription:

'En mémoire perpetuelle, Ici repose le corps d'Olimphe Mahy, veuve du feu Nic. Henry, décédée au Seigneur le 15 Mai, 1808, âgée de 74 ans, 2 mois et 15 jours. Espérant en Dieu et Bienheureuse Résurrection.

Mon Dieu l'ennemi m'environne,
Et si ton secours m'abandonne,
Si ti ne vient m'assister,
Je ne puis plus le résister.

Délivre moi de mon adversaire,
Qui n'a de plaisir qu'à me faire mal,
Sauve moi des sanglantes mains,
De ce meutrier inhumain.'

The sculpture referred to is a representation of the unfortunate old lady sitting in a chair, with an open Bible before her, holding a pocket handkerchief to her eyes, and supposed to be reciting the appeal which is given above. The shutter of her cottage is seen to be burst open and a hand holding a formidable razor is directed in a menacing manner towards her. The cottage, we believe, still stands near the Vale Church. [See Trans. Soc. Guern. XI (1930) p. 23 for a photograph of the tombstone in which the details are clearer.]

The affair no doubt caused some sensation, but although the Gazette de Guernesey was published at that time, it did not think that the crime was worth recording, for the paper is silent on the subject. On the 4th June, however, the Gazette said: 'Last Saturday, Robert Wilson, Royal York Rangers, a native of London, aged 27, was charged and committed for introducing himself, between 7 and 8 o'clock in the morning, without the fear of God, and committed a murder on the person of Olimphe Mahy, aged 75, and cut her throat with a razor.' After hearing the conclusions of the Crown Officers he was sentenced to be hanged, the execution taking place on the 3d June, between 10 and 11 o'clock of that day. Continuing, the Gazette said: 'The monster, who had committed several other crimes in England, submitted to his sentence under the name of Wood. But he refused all religious exhortations, and finished his days on the scaffold with the sentiments which characterised a real rascal.' Wilson, or Wood, was executed in the field at St André, which is still called 'le Friquet du Gibet.'

After his arrest the man was incarcerated in Castle Cornet, which was then the island prison, and when under sentence of death was visited by the Reverend William J Chepmell, father of Mrs La Serre, who was living up to a few years ago. The man was determined to escape (the following details having been communicated to the writer some twenty or more years ago by Mrs La Serre herself); and having concealed a weapon, it was his intention to slay the rev. gentleman and get away to St Peter-Port. In those days Castle Cornet could only be approached on foot at low tide or by boat when the tide was high. However, the day on which Mr Chepmell was going to visit the felon happened to be exceedingly stormy, so Mr Chepmell was prevented from crossing. The next day the murderer was taken to St Andrew to expiate his punishment for the crime. As Mr Chepmell was trying to administer some religious consolation to the man, Wilson confessed that seeing no hope of avoiding punishment, he had determined to kill the minister when he came to see him, change into his clothes and thus disguised, escape. But from this fate Mr Chepmell was saved through the gale which prevented him paying his intended visit.

Elisha Dobrée noted Wilson's execution in his Diary. An editors' note in the published version in the Report and Transactions of the Société Guernesiaise 1959, p. 450 quotes the Livre des Crimes Vol. XX. p. 183: 'Robt. Wilson, alias James Wood of the City of London, soldier in the Regiment of York Rangers in garrison, prisoner in Castle Cornet. On the 15th May, 1808, in one of the rooms in Michael Perrin's house in the Parish and Clos du Valle, being deprived of the fear of God, feloniously killed and murdered Olimpe Mahy, widow of Nicholas Henry, having cut her throat with a razor or other cutting instrument. He stole a silver watch, coat, corset bleu, chapeau rond, and a pair of blue woollen stockings, all belonging to the said Michael Perrin, also a woman's chemise belonging to Olimpe Mahy, and money, amount unknown, belonging to the said Mahy.' Acte of Court 21 May 1808: 'The prisoner was condemned to be retaken to Castle Cornet (en basse fosse) &c.'

Nicolas Henry and Olympe Mahy had ten children between the years of 1764 and 1776. In the Livre de Perchage is listed the Courtil d'Aval, 'A Michel Perrin en sa maison et ménage, next to the Grande Marette.'