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School of History, Philosophy and Culture
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
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Katherine D. (Cassie) Watson was educated at the Universities of Western Ontario and Leeds before completing her DPhil in modern history at the University of Oxford. Her work has been supported by grants and fellowships from the Wellcome Trust, British Academy, and Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. She has been teaching at Oxford Brookes since 2004.
Dr Watson is a historian of forensic medicine and crime in Britain, focusing on the period between 1700 and the First World War. Her research is interdisciplinary, drawing on law, medicine and social history of crime. She is currently writing a monograph on medico-legal practice in England and Wales 1700-1914, drawing on case reports of interpersonal violence. Her research interests are reflected in much of her teaching.
History of crime in Britain; Western forensic medicine and science in the post-medieval period.
Katherine Watson's doctoral thesis investigated the role of scientific expertise in the late Victorian period. The theme of ‘expertise’ recurs in her current work, which focuses on topics where medicine, crime and the law intersect. Her main areas of research are:
She is currently working on a project funded by the Wellcome Trust: 'Medicine and Justice: medico-legal practice in England and Wales 1700-1914', and on the history of acid throwing, an unusual form of assault. This strand of her research will be expanded and developed in future work, which will include further detailed study of assault as a form of interpersonal violence.
Her research interests have been reflected in appearances in television documentaries since 2005, most recently in A Town and Country Murder (S3 Ep4, 2015).
You can listen to a podcast - Moments In Medicine #9: Before CSI: The Origins of Forensic Medicine and Science. And she blogs with two colleagues in North America - you can read our posts on the history of law, crime and justice at Legal History Miscellany.
In the summer of 1826, Hannah Russell was tried for petty treason, viz. the murder of her husband, Benjamin Russell, by poisoning. Their lodger, Daniel Leney, was indicted as her accomplice. The exact circumstances surrounding the death were unclear but Hannah was known to have purchased white arsenic (arsenious oxide). A local surgeon, Thomas Evans, supported at the post-mortem examination by two further surgeons, not only reported severe corrosion of the gastrointestinal tract, but also the recovery of nearly an eighth of an ounce of arsenic from the victim's stomach. Both accused were convicted and sentenced to death. Leney was executed, but Hannah Russell was respited because the trial judge, Sir Robert Graham, had doubts as to a direction he had given to the jury. The surgeon and paleontologist Gideon Mantell took up her case, stressing that death from arsenic could not have taken place as quickly as was alleged and maintaining that the chemical evidence of arsenic poisoning was inconclusive. He gained the support of some eminent chemists and physicians. Subsequently, forensic toxicologists [Sir] Robert Christison and Alfred Swaine Taylor pointed out that Mantell's arguments as to the possible time to death in arsenic poisoning were quite wrong. Moreover, Evans gave details of the analyses he and his colleagues had undertaken to Christison, who pronounced the findings sound, as indeed did Mantell after Evans and his colleagues published details of their investigations in the Sussex Advertiser. Papers in The National Archives show that Hannah was pardoned for the offence for which she was indicted, leaving it open to prefer a lesser charge. That this was never done may have been due to Mantell's campaign, at least in part, but the pardon she did receive was due to the concern of the trial judge as to the implications of the evidence presented at trial.
This special issue focuses on the crime of infanticide in three of the four constituent nations of the British Isles: England, Scotland and Ireland. The papers collectively point to the fact that although families and communities could be a source of support for women in crisis, they were also the route by which many instances of infanticide were revealed. In addition, the evidence here suggests that the signifi cance of religious cohesiveness to family and community relations may, in some contexts, have encouraged infanticide to occur, due to a pressure to maintain respectability in religiously observant communities. The fact that the crime occurred regardless of the moral climate in each nation suggests that women faced with the reality of bearing a bastard weighed it against the possible consequences of committing infanticide and decided to take the risk. Thus the role of religious belief in the actions of married and unmarried infanticidal women emerges as a unifying contextual theme that is likely to stimulate further research.
Editorial Board Member, Law, Crime and History (e-journal) [http://www.pbs.plymouth.ac.uk/solon/journal.htm]
Find me on Twitter @DrKDWatson
I blog at Legal History Miscellany