The 1865 case of the defaulting bank accountant, part 7

In last week’s Chronicle, Dr. Trimble and two of George Cruickshank’s "keepers," a neighbour and a friend, testified as to his mental state while he awaited trial on a charge of having stolen $5,000 in gold coin from his employer, the Bank of British Columbia.

This is 1865, we must remember, when a defence of insanity at the time he allegedly took the gold and/or later when he confessed, was, in effect, breaking new legal ground. D.B. Ring is his counsel and Att.-Gen. George Cary is prosecutor.

Today, it’s Cary’s turn to question Walter Edwards who’d just testified that Cruickshank, whom he’d known for three years as a loving and affectionate husband and father, had confessed to forgery and murder, removed all his clothes at one point, and threatened his wife and servant with a chair. His mental state had become so bad, in fact, that Mrs. Cruickshank had been urged to leave the house.

Cary confined his examination to establishing that Cruickshank had never discussed the bank affair with Edwards. Then Dr. Davie stated that he’d attended to Cruickshank once at the request of Dr. Trimble; the accountant, he said, was "suffering from hallucinations, misconceptions [and] self-accusations" but hadn’t mentioned the bank embezzlement specifically.

Cary: "His mind and brain were effected [sic] by his illness; a person so suffering cannot be depended upon. If the statements made by the patient were proved by subsequent evidence, I would not call them hallucinations."

Mrs. King, the Cruickshanks’ servant, then testified that her employer had accused her of having tried to poison him, "of wanting to roast his wife alive, and that I was constantly tipsy. He frequently got up at night and went into the other room. He accused himself of murder and forgery and all kinds of things. He appeared to hate his wife and often shook his fist at her. He was not very violent. One day, [he] waved a box of lit fuses over his head. He was very ill when I left on March 16th."

Cary established that the fuses incident occurred a fortnight before she quit.

Dr. Powell had also attended Cruickshank in consultation with Dr. Trimble, a week after the preliminary hearing. "I have heard Dr. Trimble’s evidence and quite agree with it." In answer to Cary: "Mr. Cruickshank might recover his mind in three days;" he’d heard of other such cases.

Dr. Helmcken had found Cruickshank "labouring from congestion of the brain" and he concurred with the medical evidence presented in court. He believed Cruickshank to be "more or less insane".

This concluded the defence. Cary proposed to call contradictory medical testimony. Ring: "Pray don’t let indiscretion overrule your judgement." Cary: "Oh, but I will, though. I will prove it to be incorrect."

Apothecary David Lang: "I frequently had interviews with Dr. Trimble after the first illness of Mr. Cruickshank; he told me what was the matter with Mr.

Cruickshank." When Ring interjected, Cary said he wanted to explore "a point upon which Dr. Trimble was unable to speak positively, and to explain a fact that he could not remember". When Chief Justice Cameron ruled this to be immaterial, Cary tacked by having Lang describe his own dealings with Cruickshank. At least once, "He was in a state of complete composure, not in any way excited. I had several interviews with him. The first time I saw him was on the morning after his illness at the Colonial Hotel [the first reference to this-TW]; he was then composed. I conversed with him but not on the subject of his confession. He spoke very earnestly and naturally on matters of business. He said these things [sic] were pressing strongly on his mind… He spoke to me several times afterwards on business matters. I saw him nearly every day, sometimes oftener," once at Cruickshank’s home; he was composed and they’d discussed the bank affair.

This brought an objection from Mr. Ring "to this question at the present stage" and Justice Cameron concurred.

Cary: "What was your opinion of Mr. Cruickshank’s state of mind?" Lang: "My opinion was that Mr. Cruickshank was labouring under some kind of depression, but his conversation was rational."

(To be continued)

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