Francoise Archenaux: Poisoner

Who put the rat poison in the wine? Françoise Archenaux, who on Saturday sennight was convicted by the Royal Court of having attempted to poison the family of Mr Daniel Grut LE MASURIER, underwent a part of her sentence by being placed in the cage in the public Market from half-past eleven to half-past twelve. On the four squares of the cage was fastened a printed label signifying the crime for which she was punished, it read thus, namely, Empoisonneuse. There was a multitude of both sexes present to witness the exhibition, whom she addressed at some length, but of the purport of her harangue we know nothing.

A much fuller account of this trial and the months that led up to it can be found in The Comet of Monday, October 27, 1834. The Bailiff was 'morally convinced' she was guilty, 'but there remained another question, whether enough had appeared in evidence against her, to condemn her.' Advocate MacCulloch did not think so, and produced witnesses to testify to her good character. However, in words that echo a contemporary cause célèbre, 'the levity manifested by Archenaux during the trial' caused a rebuke from the bench, 'who told her, that she ought to have shewn a very different conduct whilst labouring under the accusation of so heinous an offence, even admitting she was innocent.'

The Star, November 3, 1834

FRANCOISE ARCHENAUX,1 the French girl who on Saturday sennight, after being convicted of having attempted to poison the family of Mr D G LE MASURIER, in which she lived as a servant, was sentenced to three months’ solitary confinement, on bread and water, and to be twice exhibited in the cage on market days, was brought down from the jail on Saturday and exposed for the first time in said cage, for the space of one hour. The obduracy and daring which she has throughout manifested, did not forsake her here. She walked about the cage, protesting her innocence, and inveighing against her judges.

Perhaps it is not generally known that Mr Le MASURIER’s was not the first family which this hardened wretch attempted to poison. Previous to her going to Mr LE MASURIER she lived with a Mr and Mrs ELWOOD, who some two or three months since left the island. One evening a Mr SHAW, who has also left the island, took tea with Mr and MRs ELWOOD; FRANCOISE ARCHENAUX, who had on more than one occasion given proofs of the irritability of her temper, was chided before tea by her mistress for passing and repassing through the sitting room when she might have gone some other way. She soon after served the tea. In the evening Mr SHAW left the house feeling exceeding unwell. Mr ELWOOD accompanied him home, but was himself suddenly taken ill on the way. He returned home and found Mrs ELWOOD likewise ailing. They were all three dreadfully ill the whole night, suffering acutely from griping pains accompanied with vomiting. They thought the water with which the tea was made must have been affected, but still did not suspect the girl had put poison into it. On her leaving the family some time after, her box was examined, in order that it might be ascertained she took nothing that did not belong to her, - and among other articles of her own, a small paper containing white powder was found in it. Still it was not suspected that it was arsenic, nor was the circumstance much thought of until the attempt to poison Mr LE MASURIER’s family was detected, when Mr and MRs ELWOOD immediately brought it to mind, and concluded that the powder they had seen was the arsenic that was afterwards introduced in to a bottle of wine at Mr LE MASURIER’s. The depositions of Mr and Mrs ELWOOD were taken in writing to serve on the trial, but their examination not being completed before they left the island, those depositions could not be read.

The Comet, Monday November 24, 1834

From the Times of Friday


In our Tuesday’s publication, we gave accounts of several serious robberies that had been committed within the last few days, and if we had the space to give to the subject we should have enlarged more on the defective state of the Island police. Far be it from us to deny to every member of the present voluntary system from the Constable downwards, the best intentions in the execution of their offices, and so far as we are acquainted with the Constables of the different parishes, we readily concede to them, the talents and respectability suited to their callings as chefs de police. But can it be said, that the police which was considered effective to the wants of the Island several centuries past, is sufficient at the present day, or that the laws which were then a restraint upon crime, would have that operation upon the existing heterogeneous population.

We recently reported a case from the Royal Court of Guernsey, of a prosecution by the King’s Law Officers against a maidservant, for an attempt to poison the family in whose service she was then engaged. Fortunately the attempt failed in its diabolical object, but we need not add, that as affects the moral guilt of the prisoner, it was tantamount to a case of murder. And by the law of the United Kingdom, being convicted on the clearest evidence she would have suffered the extreme sentence of the law. The sentence of the Royal Court was imprisonment with hard labour [Not hard labour, but solitary confinement for three months,—ed. Comet] (we forget the term of the sentence, but it was not what would be considered elsewhere a long one) and exposure on the cage or pillory;—and this sentence was to be followed up by what would be considered an act of favour, and was in fact an act of charity to the convict: BANISHMENT FROM THE ISLAND. We report this case from Guernsey, from a disposition to avoid any unnecessarily severe remarks on the judicial system of Jersey, and from an understanding that there is much greater attention paid to matters of police in the Sister Island than here.

Opposed as we are to capital punishments, except in the extremest cases, we do not complain that in the instance cited, the convicted felon was not punished by death, but surely for so serious an offence, a short imprisonment and a useless exposure in the public streets, is not all that should have been enforced for the sake of public example; - that part of the sentence which imposed banishment from the island, in many instances would be anything but a punishment, and we apprehend would not be so considered by the female prisoner in question. She had by her offence forfeited all chance of employment in the Island, and could have no hope of maintaining herself but in being sent back to her own country, where the heinousness of her crime would not be known, and she could have recourse to her relatives or country for some other service. We have dwelled on this case, as applicable to many instances that have come under our observation in Jersey. It is of frequent occurrence to send out of the Island, not only suspected but convicted criminals, and they are conveyed to England at the public expense. The moment they land, they are out of control of all authority—left to select whatever locality they please, and being without characters or means of support they are almost driven as a necessity to dishonest ways to supply the common necessaries of life.

But there is in our opinion, a still stronger objection to this practice of banishing reputed thieves or disreputable vagabonds from the Island, thereby the mischief we may thereby throw upon our fellow subjects across the Channel, without any effectual security to the inhabitants here. It has happened within our experience, and is in all probability of frequent occurrence, that a banished offender, after exercising his vocation for a time in the country to which he has been kindly conveyed, finds his way back to Jersey, not alone but accompanied by confederates, to practise with fresh vigour and experience his former system of depradation. This assertion will be perfectly intelligible to, and its accuracy admitted by, the chief of the St Helier’s police, and we do once more recommend to the proper quarter a serious attention to these grave matters by the establishment of police magistrates with a paid constabulary force on the principle adopted in every populous district in the other parts of the Empire.

1 She could have been an Archenoul, a surname still in Guernsey, in origin from the St Malo area of Brittany.