The Arkendale Poisoner


William Knightson, a Yorkshire farm worker, attempted to murder his brother-in-law, Joseph Dodsworth, in 1818.

The trouble started when Dodsworth married in January that year. He brought his new wife to live with him in his father Thomas's house in the village of Arkendale, at which point Knightson and his wife had to move out. Thomas Dodsworth, a wheelwright, owned the house and some land, which at his death was to go to his son Joseph; or, if Joseph had no sons, to his daughter, Mary Knightson.

Once Joseph had married, the only way to ensure that he had no sons was to murder him, which Knightson tried several times to do between mid February and mid April, each time using arsenic mixed with food. On being apprized of the investigation into the poisoning, Knightson absconded and though a reward for his apprehension was immediately offered by advertisement, he was not apprended for some three weeks, being taken at Guisely, near Otley.

Although several family members became ill no one died, but attempted murder was then a capital crime and Knightson, aged twenty-seven, was convicted and hanged.

Escape from justice - 13th April 1818

William Knightson, otherwise William Bayley, of the township of Arkendale, labourer, around 30 years of age. Five feet nine inches, stout made, dark complexion, had on a brown and red waistcoat, and rough great coat, was seen at a public house in East Keswick, near Harewood on the 4th inst., where he left his great coat. Whoever will apprehend the above person and bring him to me will be handsomely rewarded. William Leaf, constable of Arkendale, near Knaresborough


Committed to York Castle - William Knightson, charged upon oath with having, in February last, willfully and maliciously administered poison to Thomas and Joseph Dodsworth, of Arkendale, in the West-Riding; and particularly with having, in March last, administered, on the highway, poison to the said Joseph Dodsworth, and with subsequently, and at various times, committing the same felonies against the said Joseph Dodsworth; and with having, on the 1st of April instant, at Arkendale aforesaid, maliciously administered poison to the said Thomas Dodsworth, Joseph Dodsworth and Ann his wife, and John Haw, an infant, with intent to murder them.
[Newspaper report - 21st April 1818]
The Trial


Thursday, July 16 - The trial of WILLIAM KNIGHTSON came on this morning at nine o'clock, and occupied nearly the whole day. The Court was uncommonly crowded.

Counsel for the prosecution, Mr. WILLIAMS and Mr. GRAY - for the prisoner, Mr. MAUDE and Mr. CROSS.

The prisoner was charged with maliciously administering a quantity of deadly poison, viz. arsenic, with an intent to murder Joseph Dodsworth, of Arkendale, on Thursday, the 28th of March last.

Mr. WILLIAMS opened the case on the part of the prosecution. The first witness called was

JOSEPH DODSWORTH, who was so ill, in consequence of the poison which. had been administered to him, that he was unable to stand, and he gave his evidence seated in the Grand Jury box. He stated that he was living, in March last, at Arkendale - he lived with his father, Thomas Dodsworth, who has two children, himself and his sister, who is married to the prisoner. His father was possessed of some land, freehold and copyhold, consisting in the whole of about eleven acres - witness was not in possession of any of the land. Witness was married the last Christmas, and subsequent to his marriage the prisoner and his wife lived with his father, but they quitted the house on his marriage.

On the 25th of March. witness and the prisoner went to Boroughbridge for some coals: - on their return they called at a public-house at Minskip, where they had some beer: - after leaving the public-house the prisoner took out of his pocket a penny roll, from which he broke a small piece, and gave the remainder to the witness, who observed upon the broken part something which had the appearance of flour; on his remarking this to the prisoner, he said the roll had not been properly baked: - witness then eat the bread. After proceeding a short distance the prisoner and the witness parted, the former going to Arkendale, and the latter to Knaresbro'. Witness had not proceeded far before he was taken extremely ill, his stomach swelled and he became very sick, and he vomited repeatedly. When he arrived at Knaresbro' he was so ill that he was obliged to lay down in the stable, and he had to be conveyed part of the way from. Knaresboro' to Arkendale in a cart: - when he got home he went immediately to bed, and the prisoner soon after came to visit him: he seemed much concerned for him: - shortly after the prisoner fetched some mint water, which was given to him by his wife, and which he immediately quitted from his stomach.

Thomas Haw was sent to Boroughbridge for Mr Sedgwick, a surgeon of that place, who did him good: Mr. Sedgwick visited him in the morning, and ordered him some medicine, which they were to send for to Boroughbridge; and Wm Knightson, the prisoner said he had to go to Boroughbridge, and he would bring the medicine to Westfield Gate, from which it was to be fetched by his father-in-law. About half past 11 o'clock the medicine was brought by his father-in-law, who gave it to his wife. The medicine was shaken up before it was given to him. As soon as he had taken it his sickness was increased. The medicine was given to him three times, and each time it was attended with increased pain and vomiting. On the following day another medicine was received which did him good. His illness was severe and and produced delirium. Witness, on his cross-examination, said he had given the prisoner a promissory note for £60, but which was not payable until the death of the witness's father. Witness had not been in an infirm state of health previous to the 25th of March.

MRS DODSWORTH is wife of the last witness. On the 25th of March her husband was brought home ill, about five o'clock and was immediately put to bed. She saw the prisoner about an hour and a half afterwards: - Her father-in-law desired him to fetch some mint-water, which he did, and brought it in a small pitcher. Witness put it into a tea-cup, and told the prisoner that it looked very thick and muddy; to which he replied, that he had got it at Mrs. Webster's, who said that it was all she had, and poured it from the bottom of what she had it in. Prisoner went up into the room: he desired her to put some sugar in it, and to stir it well, and he was sure it would do him good. Witness then gave it to her husband, who drank it: it made him very sick, and he ejected it almost immediately. A doctor was sent for after the prisoner was gone. Thomas Haw was sent for Mr. Sedgwick, of Boroughbridge: he did not come, but Haw brought back a draught and a bolus, which were given to her husband: they appeared to settle his stomach, and give him a little ease. Mr. Sedgwick came the next morning by seven o'clock, who said some person must fetch the medicine from Boroughbridge.

Prisoner came in soon after, and witness told him they had some person to send to Boroughbridge for the medicine: he said he was going, and would bring it as far as Westfield Gate: - his father was to meet him there, as he was going to Knaresbro' with coals. Her father-in-law brought a bottle and six small powders about half past eleven o'clock, and gave them to the witness. There was a label that two table spoonfuls and one of the powders should be taken every four hours. It was a clear medicine, of a pink colour, with some white powder at the bottom, which reached about half an inch: the cork was not tied, nor was there any paper over it. Her father-in-law directed her to shake the bottle she did so, and then gave her husband two table spoonfuls of the liquid, and a powder mixed with it. She repeated the medicine three times, the effect of which was her husband was sick each time. Witness put the remainder of the medicine in a small drawer in the room - nearly half remained. Some other medicine was brought that day by Thomas Steel; it consisted of a small bottle, which was given to her husband; it was a draught, to be given all at once: this medicine gave her husband ease. Witness saw Knightson when he returned from Knaresbro' in the evening after her husband had taken the draught: he asked her how her husband was, and she told him that he had been very ill all that day, after taking the medicine brought by him, and that she had not given him any more of it; - when the prisoner said they had done wrong; they ought to have continued it, for changing the medicine always made persons worse, and this was the cause of his being so very ill. Her husband has continued ill ever since.

On the first of April she prepared some veal broth for her husband's supper: it was intended only for her husband. It was put on the fire, in the kitchen, between six and seven in the evening. Wm Knightson came into the house whilst the broth was on the fire: she saw him there. The room in which her husband was is over the kitchen and she heard the prisoner ask her father what was in the pan; to which her father replied, that she (the witness) was making some veal broth for Joseph's supper. Witness went down to the kitchen, and found her father, John Haw, and the prisoner there. Knightson asked her how her husband was. She got a candle, and looked into the pan at the broth; saw a white scum, which she took off: she then tasted the broth, and it affected her mouth very much, but she did not mention it to her father or any person then, supposing that she had taken a spoon which had been used with the medicine. She changed the spoon, and got some oatmeal to thicken the broth with. Wm. Knightson went out at this time. Witness put the oatmeal in and let it boil; she them tasted it again, and it had the same, effect upon her month as before. She asked her father to taste the broth; he did so, as did also John Haw. Witness was much affected with sickness and. pain in her stomach, though she did not take a tablespoonful of it. Witness was ill several hours. Her father and John Haw also complained. The broth was put into a dish, and preserved for Mr. Sedgwick to look at it; it was put in a closet in the kitchen - it was not locked.

Mary Haw came into the kitchen, and looked at the broth in the closet. The broth was found the next morning in the same situation in which it had been left the night before, and witness showed it to Mr. Sedgwick; when, in consequence of what Mr. S. said to her, she took it to Mr. Lambert of Knaresbro', druggist, and left it with him - she delivered it to Mr. Lambert himself. Witness showed the bottle of medicine to Mr. Sedgwick, on the following day, (the 3rd of April); the drawer from which she took it was in her husband's bed-room and she found the drawer in the same situation in which she had left it. She gave the bottle to Mr. Sedgwick - it was nearly half full. No other persons had been in the room except Mary Haw, Thomas Haw, her father, and Wm. Knightson, and none of these persons had been left alone in the room. Witness received a parcel from John Haw sealed with two seals, a few days after she had delivered the medicine to Mr. Sedgwick, directed to Dr. Murray, of Knaresbro', and sent it the next morning, by John Haw, to Knaresbro'. Witness was cross-examined by Mr. MAUDE - She lived with her sister about two months before she was married; had lived at Hull two years, but was not in service all the time; had lived in York before she lived in Hull, was in service all that time; did not receive the mint water from her father, but from the prisoner; observed a white skim at the top of the broth; her father and John Haw were sitting over the fire; her sister came back with her, but was not left in the house a moment alone; there is a small kitchen, but the witness had no occasion to go into it. Her sister was sent away about ten o'clock - Witness admitted that it was possible some persons might have come into the house in her occasional absence; the prisoner always expressed sorrow at the illness of her husband; the prisoner lived a short distance from them, his wife never visited her husband.

THOMAS DODSWORTH, the father of Joseph Dodsworth, swore that Knightson delivered a bottle of medicine to him on the 28th of March for his son, and told him that it was to be shaken a little before the medicine was given, This bottle he delivered to his daughter-in-law, for the use of her husband. In answer to a question from the Judge he said the prisoner was in the room when the broth was making, but he believed that he did not put anything in it.

MR SEDGWICK, a surgeon at Boroughbridge, attended Joseph Dodsworth on the morning of the 28th of March, and found him labouring under such symptoms as the taking of arsenic would have produced - He sent him a saline mixture by the prisoner, but there was nothing in it which could either produce sickness or a sediment. On a subsequent visit, the bottle in which he had sent the medicine was shewn to him, and he found by experiments, that arsenic had been mixed with the medicine.

DR MURRAY of Knaresbro', confirmed the evidence of Mr. Sedgwick, and Mr. Mark Lambert, a druggist at Knaresbro' swore that he sold the prisoner a quarter of a pound of arsenic, which he said was for his father to destroy rats. A person of the name of Gee, who accompanied the prisoner to the druggist's shop, confirmed this evidence. Mrs. Webster, the person who sold the mint-water, said it was perfectly clear and transparent when she gave it to the prisoner. Jane Hardy, John Haw, and Ambrose Heath, were called to trace the transfer of the bottle to Dr. Murray, of Knaresbrough.

MRS WEBSTER lives at Arkendale, near to Dodsworth's. She stated that the mint-water which she gave to the prisoner, was perfectly clear and transparent, she tasted of it and it was perfectly good; she had about three quarts in the bottle, from which she poured it out.

This witness finished the case on the part of the prosecution.

The prisoner being called upon for his defence said he had nothing to say - he should leave his defence to his counsel. On the part of the prisoner, the following witnesses were examined:

WILLIAM EMSLEY, farmer, Stainburn, knows the prisoner. who gave him a small parcel in the latter end of March, on a Saturday, to carry to his father, who lives at that place, and which he delivered to him.

EDMUND KNIGHTSON, the father of the prisoner, stated he desired his son to buy him something that would kill rats, and that he received by the last witness, a parcel, containing some powder for that purpose. - He could not say positively on what day he received it; but it was, to the best of his recollection, on a. Tuesday.

Six neighbours of the prisoner, all very respectable persons, gave him a remarkably good character. His Lordship summed up the evidence with great care and perspicuity, dwelling upon every circumstance favourable to the prisoner, and strongly charged; the jury to dismiss from .their minds any previous opinion they might have formed on the subject.

The jury retired for about half an hour and. on their return, pronounced the fatal verdict of Guilty.

MR JUSTICE BATLEY, in the most impressive tone, immediately passed sentence of death on the prisoner, who seemed less effected by the awful ceremony than most of the spectators, or than the humane Judge who had this painful duty to perform. His Lordship said the sentence would be carried into full effect.

The prisoner is a good looking young man. No motive, but that of avarice, can be assigned for these diabolical attacks upon the life of his brother-in-law, by whose death his wife would have succeeded to a small freehold and copyhold property belonging to old Dodsworth, and which he possessed only a life interest in.
[Newspaper report - 18th July 1818]
The Execution

On Saturday at half-past eleven in the forenoon, Wm Knightson was executed at the drop behind York Castle, pursuant to his sentence at the last assizes for administering a quantity of arsenic to his brother-in-law, Joseph Dodsworth of Arkendale, near Boroughbridge, with intent to poison and murder him.
[Newspaper report - 18th August 1818]