The second inquest began on 11 July 1876 and lasted 5 weeks. It was a public sensation and finally ended Florence’s doomed attempt to regain her place in respectable society. Only men and boys were allowed into the inquest as the details revealed were considered to be so shocking.
Both Florence and Mrs Cox spoke of Bravo’s controlling and bullying nature which was countered by family and friends who described him as good-natured and happy.
The affair between Florence and Dr Gully became public knowledge because of the inquest and the papers of the day revelled in it while ostensibly taking a moral high ground. The fact that she had enjoyed it and that it had been common knowledge throughout the area enraged the public and she was soon being pilloried. Much was made of its adulterous nature and the disparity in their ages – he was 67 to her 25. The Times dubbed Gully as her ‘lean and senile seducer’ whereas in fact he was described as being charismatic with Charles Darwin calling him ‘a friend.’ He was quickly discounted as a suspect as he had not been anywhere near the scene at the time.
Florence was questioned repeatedly about the affair until she finally broke down and tried to demand that the Coroner protect her from what she called ‘the impertinent’ cross examining.
‘I refuse to answer any more questions about Dr Gully!’ she shouted at one point to Joseph Bravo’s solicitor. ‘This inquiry is about the death of my husband and I appeal to the jury as men and Britons to protect me.’
Dr Gully described the persistent questioning as ‘a gross impertinence’ and publicly denied any involvement or knowledge of Charles’ murder. Gully was now looking at the very likely destruction of all that he had built up – his good name, his practice and his clientele. The novelist George Eliot, who had been one of his patients, had described him as a ‘quack’. But Gully was very advanced for his time in his use of mesmerism to induce sleep and clairvoyance to diagnose internal conditions. These ideas may seem a little quaint to us today, as X-rays replaced clairvoyance, but they did indicate the way in which medicine might go. He had had a huge practice at Malvern between 1842-1871 but the inquest ruined him.
Joseph Bravo’s solicitor attempted to salvage Charles’ reputation by trying to prove that he had known nothing of Florence and Gully’s affair when he had married. Otherwise he would have been revealed as a mere fortune hunter who saw a wealthy widow with a dubious reputation as easy prey. But to no avail – Florence’s pre-nuptial confession proved otherwise.
The Times, somewhat sanctimoniously, declared the affair as ‘the most disgusting exhibition to have been witnessed in this generation.’ It was as if Florence and Gully were on trial and that Charles’ murder was a sideshow.
But the inquest was against the background of the role of women in Victorian society and Florence had been a rebel. At the time women had no rights and were expected to be only domestic goddesses; sexless, devoted to others and with no other outlets in their lives. However, thinkers such as William Acton thought differently and Gully himself saw womens neuroses as an unconscious response to the pressures of their lives and wrote ‘all these pressures are worsened by their boredom and lack of sexual satisfaction.’ This was very advanced for the time.
Florence, by contrast, ran her own household and managed her own financial affairs. She was independent of her parents and so could make choices which might have been denied to other women. She had been estranged from them when she left Ricardo and during her affair with Gully and seemed willing to accept this as the price of having her own life. However, her desire to be accepted into society again via marriage to Bravo was to bring about her downfall.
Middle-class Victorian women were fascinated by the sensational murder trials of the day and there were several prominent cases featuring wives who were accused of murdering their husbands or lovers – for example, Adelaide Bartlett, Madeline Smith and Florence Maybrick. They saw their own situations reflected in these women who had been driven to take action to take control of their lives.
At the end of the inquest the jury’s verdict was:
‘We find that Charles Delaunay Turner Bravo did not commit suicide, that he did not meet his death of misadventure, that he was wilfully murdered by the administration of tartar emetic. But there is insufficient evidence to fix the guilt upon any person or persons.’
The jury were all male and may have thought that a woman couldn’t be a murderess or there just wasn’t enough hard evidence to enable them to point the finger at anyone. No-one was ever charged with Charles Bravo’s murder although there has been much speculation even to this day.
Florence sold the Priory and parted with Mrs Cox. She died less than 2 years later at Southsea where she was living under the name of Florence Turner. She died of alcoholism although the verdict at her inquest was ‘Death by Misadventure’. Florence’s exact burial place at Challow is unknown.
Florence’s family of wealthy Scottish landowners were utterly ruined, both financially and socially, by the scandal.
Mrs Cox died in 1913 aged 90 from ‘exhaustion’. She returned to Jamaica after inheriting an estate and properties there valued at £7000 which was a large sum at the time. She returned to England and was buried in Hither Green Cemetery. However, her grave is unmarked although the plot is registered. She had received death threats during the second inquest so maybe someone thought that she knew more than she was saying.
Dr Gully survived Florence by 5 years and died on 5 March 1883. He stayed in Orwell Lodge near the Priory with his unmarried sisters. But Susanna, his daughter, refused to have anything more to do with him. The Malvern Clinic closed in 1913 and is now a hotel. Dr Gully’s grave location is unknown as he was buried in secret.
Mrs Bravo supervised the building of a large stone surround over Charles’ grave at West Norwood and died a year later of grief.
Griffiths the coachman was quickly discounted as a suspect and faded from events.
Now only Charles himself still has a tangible reminder of this case which continues to fascinate. But the inscription is now almost unreadable and, from the path, appears blank. It’s as if everyone involved with the case just wanted to vanish from the world, such was the scandal, and eventually even Bravo’s stone may vanish into thick, encroaching vegetation or fall by subsidence leaving no reminder of him.
My own theory is the one proposed by Professor Mary Hartman in which she proposes that Bravo’s death was a tragic accident. Florence was recovering from a second miscarriage and a third pregnancy could have killed her. Charles, however, wanted to resume marital relations as soon as possible as he wanted an heir and this determination does indicate a ruthless streak in him. Florence knew where the antimony was kept and may have slipped it into his water jug to make him unwell so as to avoid having sex with him. Unfortunately on this occasion she got the dosage wrong as 3-4 grains were sufficient to make him ill and he’d taken 30-40 grams which was 10 times the lethal dose. It was noted that Florence seemed extremely agitated on the night of 18 April 1876 as events unfolded – did she suddenly realise what she’d done? 9 years later Adelaide Bartlett used chloroform to avoid conjugal relations with her husband and it may have been a common method employed by wives but not usually with such lethal results.
I visited The Priory prior to writing this post and in Florence’s time it must have appeared very imposing. At the time of Bravo’s murder it would have been surrounded by fields and on its own plot but now it seemed to be almost cowering between the newer houses and car parking that have sprung up around it and the unappealing line of large rubbish bins lined up in front of it. The Priory’s white walls and battlements contrasted with the blue sky as I tried to imagine the chaos and terror on that April night in 1876 as Bravo lay there, dying in extreme pain, in the shadowy candlelit rooms.
It was a tragic event for all concerned and one can only hope that they all now rest in peace.
©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell unless otherwise stated.
Death at the Priory: Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England, James Ruddick, Atlantic Books, 2001
Dr Gully, Elizabeth Jenkins, Michael Joseph 1972