Arsenic | A Terrifying True Story from Victorian England

Arsenic | A Terrifying True Story from Victorian England

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Arsenic | A Terrifying True Story from Victorian England

The 3rd August 2020 – 3rd August 2021 was Stephen and Yhana‘s first year on YouTube – To celebrate they are sharing one video a day across all of their favourite social media platforms – Facebook Page, Twitter and Website, as well as a daily shout out on their youtube community page. – So please check often incase you missed any of their videos during that first year.

They have also published their very first youtube almanac – Which was released 3rd august 2021.

The book will be available to buy via Amazon shortly – Although you can get a free signed copy by signing up and supporting their journey on Patreon

All Patreon‘s will get a regular mention on YouTube and on their channel publications – As your support is very much appreciated and will help to purchase filming equipment and trips to historical sites, so they can keep their films coming.

Stephen and Yhana - History and Adventure Hunters Almanac - OUT NOW
Stephen and Yhana – History and Adventure Hunters Almanac – OUT NOW

Arsenic | A Terrifying True Story from Victorian England

13 Terrifying True Stories For Halloween | Story Three | Arsenic

When saints were disinterred and the remains of kings and queens disturbed from their places of burial, it was often remarked that the bodies were in a perfect state of preservation. These bodies ‘in most cases’, were treated with the upmost dignity and often removed for worship or to be placed in a new burial. The perfect mummified remains of even centuries old saints were regarded as sanctity.

But not in the case of Mary Hounsell, she was no Queen, no saint. Just an ordinary woman of ordinary means, that lived in an ordinary village in Dorset, England.

However, when Mary Hounsell of Powerstock was disinterred in 1839, three months after her death. To the surprise of those in attendance her body was completely preserved.

Was there some higher means involved or something much darker.

Welcome to the third of our 13 terrifying stories for Halloween, today we are going to take a deep dive into the murder of Mary Hounsell, wife of a cattle-doctor and victim of infatuation and love.

This is a true story, and makes up just one of the dark and twisted tales that exist in my family history.

Mrs Mary Hounsell (Nee: Legg) was born around the year 1802 in Powerstock, Dorset, England, she married on the 18th September 1827 in Saint Mary’s Church, Beaminster to a local village rogue who was often in trouble and often found himself on the wrong side of the law.

His name was John Hounsell, he served for a short time as a soldier, but was court marshalled for leaving his service early. His punishment was 7 days hard labour.

His appearance was well recorded, he was 5.4 1/2 with light brown hair and light hazel greyish eyes. His face was freckled and he had a distinguishable large wart inside his forefinger.

After his marriage to Mary they settled down in the village of Powerstock whilst John procured a job as a cattle-doctor. The married couple were never graced with children and I can imagine their life was less than ordinary.

But things changed by 1838, John grew restless and their relationship more distant.

Then the autumn arrived and Mary Hounsell grew gravely ill, her illness lasted for nearly three weeks, she had gastric pain and vomited constantly. Twice a local doctor was called to her aid.

But it was with no avail as she died on the 16th November and was buried shortly afterwards.

During her illness Mary was often attended by a neighbour, Elizabeth Gale who prepared herbal medicines for her, as well as encouraging her to eat a little food,

This kindly neighbour was herself widowed soon afterwards when her husband, James Gale, died the following January. There was no suspicion into the deaths of these two neighbours and everyone continued their lives as normal.

But two weeks after the burial of James Gale, Elizabeth Gale, Widow and the widower, John Hounsell, approached the vicar of Powerstock, Rev. George Cookson, with the request that he publish the banns of their forthcoming marriage. Apart from causing immediate local gossip, their indecent haste to remarry also seriously disturbed the vicar. So much so that he took it upon himself to employ someone to forbid the banns at the second publication, in order that a proper investigation might be made.

The Reverend, laid the matter before the County Coroner. Who in-turn ordered the disinterment of both bodies.

On the night of 19/20 November 1839, the coffins of both the deceased spouses were dug up from the churchyard at Powerstock ready for the inquest and post mortem examination. The latter was particularly gruesome, not just from the nature of its findings, but from the manner in which it was conducted and in particular the site where it took place. The autopsy room was the Chancel of the adjacent Parish Church and the dissecting table was the Communion Table. Among those present in the Church, apart from the Coroner, the Jury of local men, and a Sexton, were half a dozen doctors from the area, most of whom had come out of the pure curiosity to watch their two colleagues perform a post mortem. In addition there were several onlookers who watched the proceedings through the Chancel window.

It can be imagined what a shock it must have been to everyone present when the sexton, after much persuasion, finally opened the first coffin and the body of Mary Hounsell was found in a complete state of preservation, even after three months in the ground. It was therefore with virtual disbelief that the second coffin, that of James Gale, revealed the horrific sight of a decomposed body consistent with its three weeks burial. Even when the perfectly preserved body of Mary Hounsell left no one in any doubt that she had been poisoned by arsenic, the adjoining inquest had to await the official analysis of the organ removed at the post mortem examination. These confirmed that Mary Hounsell had received many times the dose of arsenic needed to kill her, and without a moments hesitation the Coroners jury brought in a verdict of “wilful Murder” against her husband John Hounsell.

The second body, that of James Gale, confounded everyone’s suspicions, for not only did it show the expected amount of decay, but the subsequent analysis revealed not a trace of arsenic. The local people and perhaps the authorities also remained convinced that he had been poisoned by some untraceable poison, but in the absence of any direct evidence, no charges could be bought against his widow.

John Hounsell was brought to trial at the summer assizes at Dorchester. It was clearly established that he had made repeated purchases of arsenic, but this was shown by the defence – with supportive evidence – to be a common medicine used in the treatment of diseases in cattle as part of Hounsell’s work. After a straightforward but weak case for the prosecution, the defence set to work to show that there was an alternative explanation for Mary Hounsell’s death. Himself and his wife kept the arsenic, together with other drugs and medicines used by Hounsell, on a shelf above the bed occupied by himself and his wife. It was suggested that Mary Hounsell herself had taken the arsenic to save herself from a lingering death. When combined with the fact there was no direct evidence to connect the husband with the administration of the arsenic, this alternative explanation threw enough doubt into the minds of the jurors, that they returned a verdict of “Not Guilty. ”

Much to everyone’s surprise, the remaining banns of the marriage between Elizabeth Gale and John Hounsell were read in the Church at Powerstock, but there is no record that the marriage subsequently went ahead.

Inside the body of Mary Hounsell, her oesophagus, stomach and intestines showed horrific signs of high inflammation and deep inside the tissue they discovered gritty particles in the upper and lower orifice of the stomach. Mary Hounsell died in horrific circumstances and with lots of pain. Whether she swallowed arsenic in an attempt to commit suicide, or whether her husband and his lover Elizabeth Mintern truly were poisoning her is a truth that only those involved will ever know.

Mary Hounsell and James Gale were reburied in the churchyard at Powerstock, and they remain there to this day.

Elizabeth Minton died aged 78 and was later buried in Saint Georges Church, Fordington, she did remarry but to a Thomas Winzar, who she remained with until the day he died.

As for John Hounsell, he died aged 62 – and was never able to keep himself out of trouble. He appeared at the assizes on many occasions usually for poaching and shooting his gun at unexpected people.

He married a kinswoman, Charlotte Hounsell on the 6th September 1853 in Wyke Regis, nine years later he died there. If your ever passing by Wyke Regis parish church burial ground stop for a moment and look inwards.

Maybe you will see him, and his light grey hazel eyes looking back at you.

  • Published: 21 October 2020
  • Location: Powerstock, Dorset
  • Duration: 15:05
  • Photography – Stephen Robert Kuta / Yhana Kuta
  • Written by – Stephen Robert Kuta

Music –

  • A Murder Story by Mary Riddle

Music Licensed by Epidemic Sound

Arsenic | A Terrifying True Story from Victorian England

​Stephen and Yhana – History and Adventure Hunters Almanac

Stephen and Yhana - History and Adventure Hunters Almanac - OUT NOW
Stephen and Yhana – History and Adventure Hunters Almanac – OUT NOW

Support us on Patreon / Stephen and Yhana YouTube Channel

Become a Patron!

On the 30th of January, 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). In the following weeks, the virus quickly spread worldwide, forcing the governments of affected countries to implement lockdown measures to decrease transmission rates and prevent the overload of hospital emergency rooms.

The United Kingdom implemented lockdown on the 16th of March, 2020 and from this date and up until the 3rd August, 2021 the UK had suffered three national lockdowns which all included Restrictive measures on border controls, closing of schools, markets, restaurants, nonessential shops, bars, entertainment and leisure facilities, as well as a ban on all public and private events and gatherings. In between these lockdowns we saw tier systems and heavy restrictions on how we all lived our lives.

We all decided on different approaches on how we spent that free time as many people were on Furlough as their businesses were shut, only key-workers carried out their working duties. Although I continued working as a key-worker, I still had a lot more free time as Yhana was not at school.

Both Yhana and I spent those first few months experimenting with tiktok and photography, we explored our home village of Great Leighs and took some incredible photographs as spring and eventually summer took hold.

Tiktok was a short-lived adventure for us, although we enjoyed it all the same — tiktok like so many Social Media platforms had exploded during the pandemic but none more so then YouTube.

In 2020 alone YouTube had more than 9 billion views globally

66% of people used YouTube to develop a new hobby in 2020, and a whopping 94% of people in India used YouTube to learn to do things themselves, Whilst Globally, 82% used YouTube to the same. What were they learning to do, exactly?

• Views of beauty tutorials increased nearly 50% in 2020.

• There was a 90% increase in bike maintenance and repair videos.

• Daily views of videos with “raising chickens” in the title increased 160%.

• Videos related to learning guitar saw 160 million views from mid-March to mid-April.

• Videos about container gardening saw 6 million views in the same period.

• There was a 215% increase in daily uploads of videos related to self-care.

• There was a 458% increase in daily views of videos about making sourdough bread and a 200% increase in daily views of recipe videos for bubble tea.

• Videos of how-to videos for home haircuts also spiked in April.

Even though these giant increases in YouTube views began as early as March 2020, it took Yhana and I up until August of that year to begin our own channel, and Yhana’s encouragement certainly helped on that matter.

So it began, 3 August 2020 – We went out and filmed our very first video. To be honest I wasn’t sure what our plan would be for our channel, I had a rough idea of what kind of content I would like Yhana and I to make and as a historian I looked at the channel as a way to record at least one year of our life, not just any year either, but our life during the Covid-19 Pandemic. So for me, it was a great way to record a piece of social history.

This book in front of you developed from that period of our lives also, and is a showcase / diary / almanac of all the videos we created, many of the photographs we took, the treasure hunts we went on and some of the incredible finds we discovered just a short walk from where we lived. In truth, those finds would never have been discovered if it wasn’t for lockdown.

So for prosperity, social history, a window into our lives during the Covid-19 pandemic and a transparent visual look at what its like to create a YouTube channel in that first year including channelytics, descriptions of videos, thumbnail artwork, viewer comments and more.

We have written this full guide, our first joint book –

Stephen and Yhana – History and Adventure Hunters Almanac.

Stephen and Yhana - History and Adventure Hunters Almanac - OUT NOW
Stephen and Yhana – History and Adventure Hunters Almanac – OUT NOW

The book is available to buy through Amazon and via all good bookshops.



Support us on Patreon / Stephen and Yhana YouTube Channel

Become a Patron!

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