The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Elizabeth Goodwin

Elizabeth Goodwin

A carte-de-visite portrait of Elizabeth (‘Bessie’) Goodwin, who was murdered by her fiancé on 21 August 1863 when she attempted to break off their engagement.

The twenty-two-year old Bessie lived near Wirksworth in Derbyshire with her grandfather, a local magistrate. She had been engaged to George Victor Townley but had broken off their engagement when she met a clergyman whom she preferred. Townley called at her home, Wigwell Grange, begging for one final meeting. This began in the hall, continued for half-an-hour in the garden, and ended in a lane near the house, which is where Townley pulled out a pocket-knife and stabbed his lover three times, including a fatal blow to her throat. Some passing labourers, together with Townley, attempted to carry Bessie home but she had bled to death before they got there.

Needless to say, the newspapers had a field day, filling many column inches with much purple prose about how she’d been cut down ‘in all the bloom and beauty of opening womanhood, […] her spirits elastic with the buoyancy of youth.’ Apart from the victim’s age, the case also attracted interest because she was a member of the gentry. Although some reports described Townley as ‘a cotton weaver,’ according to other accounts he was also of good family, and it was supposedly their money and influence that affected the outcome of the case.

Townley pleaded guilty at his trial and was sentenced to death, but – much to the disapproval of many commentators and despite the convicted murderer’s assertions to the contrary – this was subsequently commuted to life imprisonment on the grounds of insanity. Admitted to Bethlehem Asylum in Carmarthenshire on 11 January 1864, he was judged ‘well’ only a year later and transferred to Pentonville in February 1864. The following February he committed suicide by throwing himself headfirst off an interior balcony onto a stone floor below.

A pencilled inscription verso in a period hand identifies the photographer only as ‘Green.’


Code: 126607
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© Paul Frecker 2019