THE THREE MAIN PLAYERS IN A VICTORIAN SCANDAL;
ONE OF THE MOST INFAMOUS ADDRESSES IN VICTORIAN ENGLAND.
In 1870, Dr James Gully, the eminent ‘water-cure’ physician from Great Malvern (Worcestershire) fell in love with a patient young enough to be his daughter.
She was the beautiful, Sydney born Florence Ricardo, whose husband Alexander was an alcoholic. By the time young Ricardo died the following year, the relationship between Dr Gully and Florence had became sexual. Florence soon found herself cut off from respectable society. Her well-to-do family disowned her.
For various reasons, the love affair cooled, at least on Florence’s part. On December 7, 1875 she married young lawyer Charles Bravo, finally re-establishing contact with her parents. The newlyweds moved into a handsome property known as The Priory, at Bedford Hill. Dr Gully was heartbroken.
The Bravo marriage was not happy. Florence had become a heavy drinker and her husband was a controlling bully. One evening, just four months after their wedding, Charles Bravo ingested a fatal dose of tartar emetic . He died in agony two days later.
An inquest was held in the billiard room of the nearby Bedford Hotel; now used for dance classes.
Every sordid detail of Florence’s affair with Dr Gully was revealed. Could jealousy over the elderly doctor have driven her husband to suicide, or was it murder? It was possible someone had added poison to the bottle of wine Bravo consumed at dinner, or placed it in his beside carafe of water. When dissolved, tartar emetic is almost odourless and tasteless. The case had all the elements to capture the imagination of the public; money, a mysterious death, and an upper-class sex scandal involving a charismatic doctor and a beautiful young woman. There was also the macabre spectacle of Bravo’s body being exhumed. The press published illustrations of jury members at Norwood Cemetery, viewing the dead man’s rotting torso through a glass sheet, inserted for the purpose in his coffin.
When Dr Gully’s was questioned at the inquest he was forced to admit having had a ‘criminal intimacy’ with Florence. Worse still, her companion Mrs Cox revealed that he had performed an abortion on his lover; ‘In November 1873, early in the month – it was after her return from Kissingen – she [Mrs Ricardo] had an illness, and Dr Gully attended her. I made an inquiry as to what that illness was, and was told by Mrs Ricardo that it was “an unusual natural illness”. Dr Gully said the illness arose from “a kind of tumour”, which, he said, was removed.’ Gully was cast as a possible murderer after details emerged that his coachman George Griffiths purchased tartar emetic at Malvern several years earlier
The Poison book kept by Mr Clark, the chemist at Great Malvern, was produced, showing an entry dated 11 July 1869;
Name of Purchaser – Dr Gully
Name and quantity of poison sold – 2 ozs emetic tartar
Purpose for which required – Horse medicine
Signature of purchaser – George Griffith 4
Griffith admitted that two ounces was enough for 400 doses. Asked why he purchased so much he said he originally intended keeping a supply on hand for several years. However, he said he used some and threw the rest away. He denied making the purchase at Dr Gully’s request, though when pressed he agreed he may have given the chemist a note from his employer.
The press had a field day. It did not escape notice that Dr Gully’s lawyer was Mr Sergeant Parry. In 1859 Parry had defended the water-cure doctor Thomas Smethurst, convicted of poisoning his lover with arsenic.
On August 11 the jury returned its verdict;
‘We find that Mr Charles Delauney Turner Bravo did not commit suicide; that he did not meet his death by misadventure; that he was willfully murdered by the administration of tartar emetic; but there is not sufficient evidence to fix the guilt upon any person or persons.’
The case was never solved.