The Damnation of John Donellan: A Mysterious Case of Death and Scandal in Georgian England

Elizabeth Cooke, Author, Cooke, Author
Elizabeth Cooke. Walker, $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8027-7996-0
Reviewed on: 05/14/2012
Release date: 10/02/2012
Paperback - 289 pages - 978-1-84668-482-1
Paperback - 289 pages - 978-1-84668-483-8
Open Ebook - 978-0-8027-1143-4
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In this intriguing, if minutiae-heavy, account, novelist Cooke (The Ice Child as Elizabeth McGregor) retraces the circumstances surrounding the possible 1780 poisoning of 20-year-old Sir Theodosius Boughton, heir to a baronetcy in Warwickshire, England. Theodosius lived at the family’s home, Lawthorn Hall, with his widowed mother, Anna Maria; older sister, Theodosia; and her husband, John Donellan. The late Edward Broughton’s will, leaving his estate first to Theodosius, then Theodosia, made for chilly family relations. Theodosius’s health had recently declined, due to his various self-treatments with mercury for venereal disease (most likely syphilis). On August 30, he took a draught prescribed by the local apothecary, handed to him by his mother, who said it smelled of bitter almonds. Theodosius went into convulsions and died. Donellan allegedly then rinsed out the empty bottle, which strengthened the eventual court case charging him with poisoning his brother-in-law, despite inconclusive autopsy results, shaky witness testimony, and a weak motive. Cooke makes a strong case not necessarily for Donellan’s innocence but for a shoddy trial, though her conclusions come a bit late after the unnecessarily detailed account of Donellan’s trial. Agent: George Lucas, Inkwell Management. (Nov.)
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