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    Illegibility of Glasgow postmark saves Madeleine Smith from the gallows

    Stampy Collecting Stamps LogoFor those of you who appreciated the articles I’ve posted on the blog relating to philately, I have yet another one to share. 🙂

    Mind you, I am not a fan of murder cases, as MairiUna would witness, but in this particular event, postal history is involved, so it strikes my fancy ! I cannot resist getting into the story to find out what happened 150 years ago and how a postmark triggered a sentence of ‘not proven’, therefore not guilty!

    Story background

    (Madeleine) Smith broke the strict Victorian conventions of the time when, as a young woman in early 1855, she began a secret love affair with Pierre Emile L’Angelier, an apprentice nurseryman who originally came from the Channel Islands.  The two met late at night at Smith’s bedroom window and also engaged in voluminous correspondence. During one of their infrequent meetings alone, she lost her virginity to L’Angelier.

    Smith’s parents, unaware of the affair with L’Angelier (whom Smith had promised to marry) found a suitable fiancé for her within the Glasgow upper-middle class – William Harper Minnoch.

    Smith attempted to break her connection with L’Angelier and, in February 1857, asked him to return the letters she had written to him. Instead, L’Angelier threatened to use the letters to expose her and force her to marry him. She was soon observed in a druggist’s office, ordering arsenic, which she signed for as M.H. Smith.

    Early in the morning of 23 March 1857, L’Angelier died from arsenic poisoning. He is buried in the Ramshorn Cemetery on Ingram Street in Glasgow. After his death, Madeleine Smith’s numerous letters were found in his lodging house, and she was arrested and charged with his murder.

    Source: Wikipedia

    Glasgow postmarks featured prominently in Scottish murder trial

    Postmarks Glasgow Madeleine Smith Murder Case

    The basis for the prosecution rested namely on a series of letters from Miss Madeleine Smith to her secret love, Pierre Emile L’Angelier. As the letters were undated the postmarks on the wrappers were of crucial importance .

    But if some of the rules of evidence in Scotland are loose and demand reform, much of their practice is also slovenly, and requires amendment. Great importance was attached by the prosecution to the tracing and custody of certain letters, and that their dates should be rightly fixed. This it was endeavoring to do through the postmarks on the envelopes, which were in general partially obliterated.


    Well, well, well…some wrappers not being postmarked properly and letters not matched properly to its own wrapper during examination, made it impossible to establish without a doubt that Madeleine Smith was the murderer.

    The Guiness Book of StampsI did find a reference to the Glasgow postmark inside James Mackay’s Guinness Book of Stamps. Here is an extract:

    ” To this day collectors name the experimental duplex stamps used in Glasgow, 1856-7 after Madeleine Smith who stood trial for the murder of her lover, Emile Langelier.  (….)  The verdict, incidentally, was Not Proven, that neat Scottish compromise which implies ‘We know you did it, but cannot prove it. Off you go and don’t do it again.’ Even the extremely rare experimental type which immediately preceeded this postmark is known as the pre-Madeleine Smith postmark.”

    Fastforward 150 years later…

    A Scottish murder rewriting the Madeleine Smith storyThursday, 9th July 1857: the atmosphere outside the High Court in Edinburgh is charged to fever pitch as the crowd awaits the verdict at the end of the most sensational trial of the century.

    Hanging in the balance is the life of Madeleine Smith, attractive 22-year-old daughter of a prosperous Glasgow architect. Over the preceding few days, salacious revelations of Madeleine’s secret romance had been making headlines throughout the world.

    By the end of the trial, in spite of widespread belief in her guilt, sympathy had swung towards Madeleine, and the crowds cheered when news of the ‘Not Proven’ verdict reached the street.

    Madeleine was free to leave the court, but she was never free from suspicion. Madeleine Smith’s murder trial was made famous by the shocking nature of her letters to the lover she was supposed to have poisoned with arsenic.

    She has always been thought guilty of the crime, despite the lack of enough evidence to convict her, but now, 150 years later, Jimmy Powdrell-Campbell’s amazing forensic discoveries and previously unpublished letters between Madeleine and her alleged victim turns the case on its head.

    In this myth-shattering new account, he proves the young Scot’s innocence beyond any doubt and rewrites one of the most intriguing murder trials of all time. Set in the prim world of Victorian Scotland, the murder of Madeleine’s lover shocked a nation, but this new look at the intricacies of the case is even more eye-opening, as the true tale of deception, lust and revenge is finally revealed.

    More on Jimmy Powdrell Campbell‘s website.

    I know which book I’ll be reading next 😉

    Hope you enjoyed!

    Talk soon,


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