Mary Ann Britland

Mary Ann Britland (née Hague, 1847 – 9 August 1886) was an English serial killer. She was the first woman to be executed by hanging at Strangeways Prison in Manchester by James Berry.

Mary Ann Britland
Mary Ann Hague

Bolton, Lancashire, England
Died9 August 1886 (aged 38–39)
Cause of deathExecution by hanging
Criminal penaltyDeath sentence
Span of crimes
March–May 1886
Date apprehended
July 1886

Early lifeEdit

Mary Ann Britland was born in 1847 in Bolton, Lancashire, the second eldest daughter of Joseph and Hannah (née Lees) Hague.[1] She married Thomas Britland at St Michael's Church, Ashton-under-Lyne in 1866.[2] They lived in a rented house at 133 Turner Lane, Ashton-under-Lyne with their two daughters Elizabeth Hannah and Susannah.[3] Britland held two jobs; she was a factory worker by day and barmaid by night.

Criminal careerEdit

In February 1886, Britland went to a nearby chemist's and, claiming to have had some mice infest her home, bought some packets of "Harrison's Vermin Killer". As this contained both strychnine and arsenic, she was required to sign the poison register.

Britland's first victim was her eldest daughter, 19-year-old Elizabeth Hannah, in March 1886. Elizabeth's death was attributed to natural causes by the doctor who was called to attend the teenager. Mary Ann Britland then claimed £10 on Elizabeth's life insurance policy. Her next victim was her husband, Thomas, aged 44. His death on 3 May was diagnosed as epilepsy, and once again Mary Ann claimed on the insurance.[4]

Mary Ann had been having an affair with her neighbour, Thomas Dixon, and after her own husband's death was invited to stay at the Dixons' house just across the street at number 128 by Thomas's 29-year-old wife, Mary. On 14 May, Mary Dixon was to become Britland's third and final victim.

Trial and sentencingEdit

The three deaths, all with their near identical and somewhat unusual symptoms, raised suspicion; Mary Ann Britland was finally interviewed by the police in connection with Mary Dixon's death and her body was examined by a pathologist. It was found to contain a lethal quantity of the two poisons and Britland was immediately arrested along with Thomas Dixon. She confessed to Ashton Police that she had wanted to marry Dixon and that she had first poisoned her daughter, Elizabeth, because she believed that she suspected her intentions. She then killed her husband, and finally Mary Dixon.

Britland was charged with the murder of the three victims, but Thomas Dixon was found to have played no part in the murder of his wife. Britland came to trial on 22 July 1886, before Mr. Justice Cave at Manchester Assizes.[5] Since there was an absence of motive, in her defence she argued that the small sum of money from the insurance payouts were in no way compensation for the loss of her husband and daughter. According to an eyewitness[6] at the trial:

The case lasted two days...The evidence was overwhelming. The three deceased persons had been poisoned by strychnine. Mrs. Britland had purchased 'mouse powder' in sufficient quantities to kill them all, and there was no evidence of any mice on whom it could have been legitimately used. The case of the poisoning of Mrs. Dixon was the one actually tried, but the deaths of the others were proved to show 'system' and rebut the defence of accident. Even if there had not been sufficient evidence to secure a conviction, Mrs. Britland had many indiscreet conversations about 'mouse powder' and poisoning, and had been anxious to discover whether such poisoning could be traced after death...

It took the jury some time to convict her, although eventually they found her guilty. After she was sentenced, she declared to the court: "I am quite innocent, I am not guilty at all."[4]


Strangeways Prison

On the morning of 9 August 1886, Britland was in a state of collapse and had to be heavily assisted to the gallows by two female wardens. Britland was screaming and asking for mercy.[7] The women who held her on the trapdoors while James Berry prepared her for execution. Two male wardens then took the place of the female wardens. On signal from the executioner they quickly stepped back, the trap door released and Britland dropped.[8]

She was the first woman to be executed at Strangeways Prison in Manchester.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "England and Wales Birth Registration Index". FamilySearch. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. p. Vol 21; P 86; Line 16. Retrieved 3 August 2015.
  2. ^ "England Marriages, 1538–1973". FamilySearch. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Retrieved 3 August 2015.
  3. ^ Census Returns of England and Wales, 1881. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1881.Class: RG11; Piece: 4038; Folio: 68; Page: 8; GSU roll: 1341965; 133, Turner Lane, Ashton under Lyne, Lancashire, England; BRITLAND Thomas, Mary Ann, Elizabeth, Susannah.
  4. ^ a b "Mary Ann Britland". Capital Punishment UK. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  5. ^ Home Office: Calendar of Prisoners; HO 140 piece 89; National Archives; Britland Mary Ann, 3 victims, 22 July 1866, Manchester, Lancashire
  6. ^ What The Judge Saw by Edward Abbott Parry. Smith, Elder & Co., 15, Waterloo Place. 1912
  7. ^ "New Zealand Herald, 2 Oct 1886". National Library of New Zealand, Papers Past, Newspapers. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  8. ^ Berry, James. My Experiences as an Executioner. London : P. Lund, (1892). p. 76. Retrieved 3 August 2015.

External linksEdit