Florence Ricardo, nee Campbell
Florence Ricardo, nee Campbell; probably taken in her late twenties.
Dr Gully of Great Malvern, a suspect in the Bravo case.
Charles Bravo


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 residence as it is today.
The Bravo residence as it is today.

The Bravo Household, shortly before Charles Bravo's death.
The Bravo Household, shortly before Charles Bravo’s death. Florence is seated far right. Charles is third from left.

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.  

Balham hotel
The old billiard room of The Bedford Hotel, setting for the inquest.

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.

  1. So who did it? I feel Mrs Cox had most to lose from Florence’s remarriages and Charlie was talking about letting her go. It was further back up by the senior Bravos. Florence was genuinely appalled at her husband’s sudden illness and death and the inquest ruined her. Mrs Cox calmly walked away to
    the boy’s inheritance and lived to a ripe old age unlike her previous mistress. Please write a book about the case!

    • Pauline

      I think Mrs Cox was the most likely one too Fiz, for the reasons you mention. Poor Florence had such a sad life afterwards.

  2. She didn’t long survive it either. She died of alcoholism in Southsea in 1878 or 1879, I believe

  3. Oh, the tangles people get their lives into! Or are drawn into. I’m sure there are thousands of unsolved cases like this, and it makes you wonder what happened to the murderers afterwards. People’s lives are destroyed and they go scott free. Thank you for another story from history, Pauline. I get a different kind of education reading your posts. 🙂

    • Pauline

      Yes, Florence ended up an alcoholic and died in her thirties.

  4. I’m just about to reread “Dr. Gully’s Story” by Elizabeth Jenkins, written in 1972. I wanted to go online to see if there were pictures of these people, knowing the book was written from a true incident. Thank you for the pictures. Also thank you to the people who point to MRs. Cox as a possible guilty party. I’ll keep that in mind as I read this book again.

    • Pauline

      Oh, do let me know what conclusion you come to. I read that book myself many years ago.

      • Hi Pauline, that book is really good, isn’t it?
        There must have been a different standard of beauty back in the 1870’s because I didn’t think Florence Ricardo’s picture online was all that beautiful. I wish there were more of her. Thank you for including more interesting pictures. The one of the Bravo family, unfortunately because cameras weren’t too good back then, doesn’t allow me to see Florence’s face too well. I wonder who the tall woman is next to her? Mrs. Cox???
        Your website is very interesting.

        • Pauline

          Hi Roseann, Mrs Cox is seated at far left in the photo. The women standing are domestic servants. Glad you enjoy the website.

  5. I’ve found this photograph of Florence. I hope it posts.

  6. There’s another too but it was taken two years before she died and she looks puffy and dazed. It’s too sad.

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