The Damnation of John Donellan by Elizabeth Cooke

This is a shocking tale of greed and family betrayal. In August 1780 Sir Theodosius Boughton, a dissolute Old Etonian twenty-year-old and heir to a Warwickshire fortune, died in painful convulsions after taking his medicine. The following year after an inquest and trial which became a cause celebre, his brother-in-law, Captain John ‘Diamond’ Donellan, Irish soldier of fortune and man about town, was hanged for his murder. The trial was a shambles. And was Donellan guilty? Based on extensive research and the engrossing trial transcripts, Elizabeth Cooke’s book shows the dark and violent underside of the society of Mansfield Park.

On Wednesday, August 30, 1780 at around 8.00am on a hot morning, 20 year old Theodosius Edward Allesley Boughton, the seventh Baronet Boughton died in abject agony at his family home, Lawford Hall in Warwickshire. The police were called to the scene and it was announced that his death was in fact murder. Boughton was not loved by many in life and had suffered from syphilis since the age of 15 years old. A womaniser throughout his young life, he had been prescribed many different quack potions but an hour before his death his own mother had given him a dose which evidently made him very sick. A few hours later he was dead.

As the police examined his life and who would have disliked the baronet enough to want to kill him, three suspects emerged. At first glance their eyes fell upon his mother, Anna Maria who stood to gain the family estate and had indeed given him the fateful potion that ended his life. Boughton’s sister Theodosia would inherit the estate once the mother had died but she had an alibi on the morning on his death. And the final suspicion lay on her husband, Captain John Donellan. He had eloped with Boughton’s sister while she was under age and without the consent of the family. Donellan was considered “common” and “not one of us” and in a vindictive statement by Anna Maria he was to be arrested, tried and hanged.

Elizabeth Cooke re-examines events and old transcripts to recreate an old murder mystery with the gravitas of an Agatha Christie novel.

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