elizabeth-brownrigg

Elizabeth Brownrigg (1720 – 14 September 1767) was an 18th-century murderer. Her victim, Mary Clifford, was one of her domestic servants, who died from cumulative injuries and associated infected wounds. As a result of witness testimony and medical evidence at her trial, Brownrigg was hanged at Tyburn on 14 September 1767.

Little biographical information is available to explain her subsequent behaviour. However, Elizabeth Brownrigg proved ill-suited to the task of caring for her foundling domestic servants and soon began to engage in severe physical abuse. This often involved stripping her young charges naked, chaining them to wooden beams or pipes, and then whipping them severely with switches, bullwhip handles and other implements for the slightest infraction of her rules. Mary Jones, one of her earlier charges, ran away from her house and sought sanctuary with the London Foundling Hospital. After a medical examination, the Governors of the London Foundling Hospital demanded that James Brownrigg keep his wife’s abusive tendencies in check, but enforced no further action.

Heedless of this reprimand, Brownrigg also severely abused two other domestic servants, Mary Mitchell and Mary Clifford. Like Jones before her, Mitchell sought refuge from the abusive behaviour of her employer, but John Brownrigg forced her to return to Flower de Luce Road. Clifford was entrusted to Brownrigg’s care, despite the Governors’ earlier concerns about her abusive behaviour towards her charges. As a result, Brownrigg engaged in more excessive punishment towards Clifford. She was kept naked, forced to sleep on a mat inside a coal hole, and when she forced open cupboards for food because she was fed only bread and water, Elizabeth Brownrigg repeatedly beat her for a day’s duration, chained to a roof beam in her kitchen.

By June 1767 Mitchell and Clifford were experiencing infection of their untreated wounds, and Brownrigg’s repeated assaults gave them no time to heal. However, Brownrigg’s neighbours were beginning to suspect something was awry within her household, and resultantly, they asked the London Foundling Hospital to further investigate the premises. As a result, Brownrigg yielded Mary Mitchell, but Foundling Hospital Inspector Grundy then demanded to know where Clifford was, and took James Brownrigg prisoner, although Elizabeth and John Brownrigg escaped.

Public feeling ran high against the Brownriggs, ensuring their capture would be swift. In Wandsworth, a chandler recognised the fugitives, and the trio stood trial in the Old Bailey in August 1767.