THE MARSDEN SISTERS MOVE SOUTH
This is an extension of The Water Doctor’s Daughters’ original literary walk around the town of Great Malvern, Worcestershire.
In 1876 Dr James Marsden separated from his second wife Mary to pursue an affair with Sabina Welch, a servant girl from Malvern. Emily, the eldest of the surviving Marsden sisters was now 36. She set up home with her stepmother in Bournemouth, on the English south coast. The two younger girls took lodgings at various seaside towns further east. They were living in reduced circumstances, obsessed with their health and becoming socially isolated.
In September 1877 Rosa (34) and Alice (32) moved from Hastings to No. 1 St Margaret’s Terrace in St Leonards-on-Sea. However, as Christmas approached they were packing ready for yet another move. On December 19th, Emily arrived from Bournemouth by train to spend the festive season with them.
Today, we can follow in Emily’s footsteps. The railway station was built in the 1850’s, and still stands.
We cross Warrior Square and walk up to St Margaret’s Terrace, located on the right of the photo below. It’s a steep climb, which may be why Alice and Rose wanted to move. Alice suffered from asthma and rheumatism.
On the way (in Church Street) we can visit the Greek Orthodox Church. In 1878 it was St Mary Magdalene’s Anglican church, and was where the Marsden sisters worshipped.
A few more steps brings us to St Margaret’s Terrace, and what used to be a lodging house. Rosa and Alice Marsden took rooms on the top floor. The landlady’s niece, Mary Kerry, provided the young ladies with domestic help.
THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF ROSA MARSDEN
On the evening of Emily’s arrival, Rosa retired to bed first. Fifteen minutes later her sisters heard her cry out. She could barely speak, but managed to tell Emily that she had taken indigestion medicine that was ‘bad’. Medical assistance was sought, but by the next morning she was dead. It was not ‘bad’ medicine, she had taken, but deadly ABC liniment; a combination of aconite, belladonna and chloroform. Her death certificate spelled out the mystery;
Note cause of death; ‘Deceased came to her death by taking a quantity of belladonna and aconite liniment in mistake for medicine, which was placed in a mixture bottle, but how the liniment came to be replaced, there is no evidence to show.’
There was no post mortem, as the attending doctor stated that Rosa Marsden had ingested enough poison to kill a dozen people. An inquest was hastily convened at The Norman Hotel, back down in Warrior Square. Was the death an accident, or something more sinister?
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