Hearts Through History Romance Writers

The Bermondsey Horror

by | May 14, 2013 | 7 comments

At times there is a suddenness in the manner of Mademoiselle Hortense so like a bodily spring upon the subject of it that such subject involuntarily starts and fails back. It is Mr. Tulkinghorn’s case at present, though Mademoiselle Hortense, with her eyes almost shut up (but still looking out sideways), is only smiling contemptuously and shaking her head.

“Now, mistress,” says the lawyer, tapping the key hastily upon the chimney-piece. “If you have anything to say, say it, say it.”

“Sir, you have not use me well. You have been mean and shabby.”

Bleak House, by Charles Dickens (1852) The Bermondsey Murder

The character of Lady Dedlock’s grim French maid was inspired, it is said, by a female hanged for her lover’s murder in 1849. The case excited a great interest in England and abroad. How could that flower of the Victorian Age–Woman–do such a horrible thing?

Marie de Roux left Switzerland to find employment as an English lady’s maid. She was hired by Lady Palk, who, along with her husband, were active in society, frequently journeying from their Devonshire estate to London. It was believed Marie met her future husband Manning, who was a railroad worker, on one of these visits to the metropolis. The relationship between the two ripened when Marie came to London permanently, to become lady’s maid to Lady Blantyre, daughter of the Duchess of Sutherland, then living at Lancaster House.  

Now a permanent resident of London, Marie soon attracted the attentions of another man, Patrick O’Connor, a money-lender in the London Docks. She chose Manning in the end, and soon had cause to regret it. Her husband was a profligate spender and drunkard, with shady associates who drove away the business from their nascent hotel venture.

Meanwhile, O’Connor, having invested his cash in railway shares, was becoming quite wealthy.

Neighbors soon noticed O’Connor at the Manning residence in Minerva Place. He would often stay long into the night, smoking and chatting, as he was averse to drinking alcohol. He would come at other times, when Manning was away.

August 9th, 1849 was the last time he was seen alive.

O’Connor’s friends, anxious as to his whereabouts, made a novel decision. They hired two constables, Barnes and Burton, to make inquiries. A visit to Minerva Place revealed the house was stripped of everything. The Mannings had fled.

The detective work that followed was remarkable. Barnes and Burton carefully searched the entire Manning residence and found fresh mortar around the large York flagstones in the back kitchen. Immediately beneath the stones they found a stocking, a layer of lime, and a human toe. O’Connor was identified only by his false teeth and prominent chin, the lime having done quick work in decomposing his body.

“From the evidence collected, it appears that hole was dug for the body, and the lime purchased to consume it, some three weeks before the actual perpetration of the foul deed: so that the deceased must have sat nightly, in company with his murderers, over the grave prepared for him!” — The Terrific Record and Chronicle of Remarkable and Interesting Things, Volume 1 (February 10, 1849)

Manning was apprehended on the island of Jersey, demanding to know if the police had caught “the wretch,” meaning his wife. They had indeed, pouncing on Marie just as she was trying to exchange her lover’s railway shares in Edinburgh. They were brought to trial together, each accusing the other of shooting and then bludgeoning O’Connor to death.

They were both found guilty by a jury, whereupon Marie became very violent. She threw a handful of rue (a strong-smelling herb used in courtrooms against prisoner pestilence) at the barristers and shouted that England was a shameful place. Undaunted, the guards escorted her and her husband to the gaol where they were hanged together in full view of the public.

The spectacle of the Manning execution was so appalling that Dickens was moved to write to the editor of The Times:

“Sir — I was a witness of the execution at Horsemonger-lane this morning….I believe that a sight so inconceivably awful as the wickedness and levity of the immense crowd collected at that execution this morning could be imagined by no man, and could be presented in no heathen land under the sun. The horrors of the gibbet and of the crime which brought the wretched murderers to it, faded in my mind before the atrocious bearing, looks and language, of the assembled spectators.”


Dickens paid 10 guineas for a rooftop viewing spot of the execution, along with the illustrator of this cartoon from Punch.

Dickens paid 10 guineas for a rooftop viewing spot of the execution, along with the illustrator of this cartoon from Punch.


  1. Ally Broadfield

    Very interesting story, and I enjoyed the link to Dickens. This is one of my all-time favorite lines: “Sir, you have not used me well. You have been mean and shabby.”

    • Angelyn

      Bleak House is an enduring favorite of mine and that line is one of the best. Madamoiselle Hortense was an unlikely figure to challenge the malevolent Tulkinghorn. Then again, unlike poor Lady Dedlock, she had nothing to lose.

  2. nancy

    Was the horror because they killd a man who counted them as friends or because a woman was indicted? At least in this case she wasn’t able to make the excuse that she acted on her husbands orders.

    • Angelyn

      Both, I imagine. The two scenarios, O’Connor’s brutal killing and a woman’s culpability, challenged many Victorian notions. The story sure sold a lot of newspapers.

  3. Ella Quinn

    I want to know why they killed him. I wonder if it was only for the money.

    • Angelyn

      I’m glad you ask, Ella–the circumstances raise so many possibilities. After all, O’Connor was a successful money lender, who was known to charge exorbitant interest rates, and the Mannings were in debt. He might have threatened the couple with legal action or foreclosure. And then there’s the daughter of the Duchess of Sutherland, but I haven’t figured out that angle yet..

  4. Lynn K. Stephens

    On 9 August 1849, O’Connor dined with the Mannings at their house, 3 Miniver Place, Bermondsey . Husband and wife, according to a preconcerted plan, thereupon murdered their guest and buried his body under the flagstones in the kitchen. On the same day Mrs. Manning visited O’Connor’s lodgings, Greenwood Street, Mile End Road, and repeated the visit next day, stealing the dead man’s railway shares and money. However, it is apparent that the guilty couple were mutually planning a double cross on each other. Marie, being the smarter of the two, actually fled with most of the loot from the murder. Frederick took the smaller portion and fled as well.



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