The indictment of Edward and Sarah Lawrence for the murder of George and Catharine Andrewes on 8th March, 1677

On  16th March, 1677, a coroners jury found Edward Lawrence, a labourer living in  Nonington, and Sarah Lawrence, his wife, both guilty of assaulting Catharine Andrewes in the yard of her husband’s house in the parish of Nonington and jointly kicking and punching her to death. This deadly assault took place on 8th March, 1677,  and Catharine Andrewes died later the same day.

Edward and Sarah Lawrence were also charged with the murder of George Andrewes. It was charged that the Lawrences had attacked George Andrewes at the same place and on the same date as their fatal assault on Catharine Andrewes had taken place, but it is not clear whether the attack took place at the same time as the attack on Catharine Andrewes, or was prior or subsequent it. It was stated  that both of the Lawrences had attacked George Andrewes, and that during this alleged attack Edward Lawrence had struck  George Andrewes about the head and body  with a spade causing the injuries from which George had died on 27th of March, some three weeks after the alleged attack took place. The inquest into his death had been held on 30th March of 1677.

The coroner’s inquests into both deaths were almost certainly held in the White Horse , as at this time most inquests were held in alehouses.

A coroner holding an inquest circa 1660’s.

The following information regarding the coroner’s inquisition is taken from:- Calendar of Assize Records: Kent Indictments, Charles II, 1676-1688-edited by J. S. Cockburn.

“March 1677.
Indictment of Edward Lawrence, labourer, and Sarah Lawrence, his wife, of Nonington, for murder.
By an inquisition held at Nonington, 16th March 1677, before Thomas Turner, esq., coroner, on the body of Catherine  (Katharine) Andrewes, wife of George Andrewes of Nonington, a jury-Edward Wayton, William Paine, Thomas Ladd, James Dixon, Lawrence Neame, Simon Tucbe, Richard Fuller [?], John Warryn, Robert Stoavers [?[, James Batherst, Richard Maitam, William Hoyle, John Wilson, Henry Knott [one name lost]-found that on 8th March 1677 Edward and Sarah Lawrence assaulted Catherine Andrews in the yard of her husbands house at Nonington and punched and kicked her to death [damaged].

[indictment endorsed] George Andrewes (ill.) Stephen Hatcher, Ann Baykin, Elizabeth Ollard (?)”.

The coroners jury endorsed the bill as a true bill, whereby they certified it to be supported by sufficient evidence to warrant committing the accused to trial. However, at the resulting trail, the date of which is unknown, Edward and Sarah Lawrence were found not guilty of the murder of Catharine Andrewes. Possibly the trial took place prior to George Andrewes’ death from injuries received, hence the need for two trials.

“July 1677.
Indictment of Edward Lawrence, labourer, and Sarah Lawrence of Nonington for murder.

By an inquisition held at Nonington, 30th March 1677, before Thomas Turner, esq., coroner, on the body of George Andrewes of Nonington, a jury-Basil Harrison, Thomas Lad, Stephen Beane, George Lad, Thomas Heard, John Austen, Stephen Southee, Thomas Davis, Thomas Tappinden, William Beane, Alexander Smithson, Jeremy Hickes (?), John Emptage, Lawrence Neame, Robert Beane, found that on 8th March 1677 Edward and Sarah Lawrence assaulted George Andrewes in the yard of his house at Nonington and Edward Lawrence struck him on the head and body with a spade (6d) inflicting injuries from which he died on 27th March 1677 (damaged).
(indictment endorsed) Anne Andrewes, Sylvester Neame, Richard Tauten, Elizabeth Fennell.
True bill.
Not guilty”.

Again the coroner’s jury endorsed the bill as a true bill, and again the couple were found not guilty at the subsequent trial at the Assizes.

The Andrewes’ probate accounts list  the expenses of “prosecuting Laurence and his wife who were the death of the deceased”, but the parish register only records the dates of burial and the names of the deceased and offers no other comments regarding the cause of their deaths.

The value of the instrument which caused the death, in this case a spade valued at 6d [2 ½ pence], was included in indictments as a deodand forfeited to the Crown, and the township or parish involved was to be charged with the value if it was given to it. Before 1846 the common law of deodand (sometimes ‘deodant’) stated that if the property, including livestock, of one person caused death or injury to another person then it, or its value, was either forfeit to the Crown or a fine was levied on it. It was then supposed to be donated to some religious or charitable cause, such as alms for the poor.

By the early 19th century the property was rarely confiscated; usually a fine, often just a token sum, was imposed. This was to change with the arrival of the passenger railways which initially caused many deaths for which the railway companies had no legal responsibility and therefore no duty to make any reparation. To remedy this situation coroners’ juries revived the ancient law of deodand and began awarding deodands against rail companies they felt had been negligent. These fines were often large sums of money. The crusading journalist and social reformer Thomas Wakley (1785–1862) also used the law of deodand against negligent factory owners when he was coroner for the West Midlands.

To rectify the failings of the existing law the Fatal Accidents Act was passed in 1846 which allowed for claims for compensation for death and injury to be made. Deodans were abolished by the Deodans Act of the same year.


  • Sue Sutton

    What a fantastic website. As a lover of family history your website is interesting, informative and gives a wealth of information. Thank you so much for all your hard work.

    Sue Sutton.

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