James Lee of Sandford, and the Suicide of Anna Partridge of Kennerleigh

On 14th Jan 1845 Anna Maria Partridge, aged about 16, was “assaulted and grossly insulted” by James Lee (17) of Sandford on her way home from work in Crediton. Lee was arrested and sentenced to 3 months’ imprisonment at the February Devon County Sessions.


Anna was one of nine children of Thomas and Elizabeth Partridge. Her father was a road worker who lived in the Toll House half a mile north of Kennerleigh, a small parish to the north of Sandford. At one time she had been in the service of Rev Wellington of Upton Hellions.

At the time of the assault she was living at Long Barn (Creedy Manor) in Sandford with her aunt, Ann Geachsias whose husband was coachman to Sir Humphrey Davie. For several months she had been working as a dress maker in Crediton but had been noticed to be depressed since the assault.

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Turnpike Gate - the toll house - where Anna and her family were living in 1841. Kennerleigh is off towards the right.


On Monday 12 May 1845 at about 8 p.m. she purchased one ounce of oxalic acid from Miss Ann Wreford, druggist of Crediton. The powder was dispensed in a small envelope labelled “POISON”. (Oxalic acid was commonly used by milliners to bleach straw bonnets.)


Ann then started walking back towards Sandford, meeting her aunt as usual by the Horse and Jockey Inn on Jockey Hill in Crediton at about 9 o’clock. She seemed in low spirits, did not eat her supper and went to bed at 10 o’clock.

She was heard moving around between 5 and 6 a.m. and then her aunt heard her groaning in her bedroom, rushed upstairs and found her collapsed. She called a neighbour and Mr Thomas Howell Stevens, one of the Crediton doctors, who found her dead. He tasted the remains of some clear liquid in a tea cup which he found very bitter and surmised she had died of poisoning.

The inquest was held at Long Barn Farmhouse two days later. Witnesses stated that Anna had been very nervous since the assault. Mr Stevens found two letters in a cupboard, one of which, to her younger sister, is reproduced below.

The jury returned a verdict “…that the deceased died from the effects of oxalic acid, administered by herself.”

Long Barn, May 12, 1845


My dearest Mary Ann,—Do not grieve to examine these few lines from me, your unworthy sister. But rather pity me, and console the hearts of my dearest parents. Had I not these intentions this morning, when my dear Father left? - yet did I not secretly keep them from him, and with a false tongue say 'I hope to see you in Autumn?' what must I endure for my weakness? Do not blame me nor reflect but I pray the Lord to keep you and all dear brothers and sisters from all evil. Tread in the path that is just and right in the sight of the Lord, and he will be your Comforter. The cause of my misfortune is a sad broken heart, known to none but myself. I must, as misery is just at my hand, just say in a brief way, what I wish, that is you to console my dear parents, and be a comfort to them in their old age, should they require it, and you spared to do so. I have just to add, if it is possible, do come up to my funeral. The few pounds I have will come to bury my unworthy body, which I should wish to be buried at Hellins [Upton Hellions], as that place has been my home. I can scarcely express how kind Mrs. Wellington has been to me, and I hoped to have shewn to her my gratefulness for it. I hope God will pardon me for my weakness, and also I further ask pardon of my dear parents and relations all; and with sorrowing heart, I now remain,

Your affectionate Sister,

Good bye, God bless you all.     Nancy Partridge.



James Lee, who had been convicted of assaulting Anna, was born and brought up in Sandford. His father James was a farmhand, and his mother, Susanna nee Mortimore was the widow of William Holsgrove. In 1841 the Lee family were living at Venn, less than a mile from Long Barn.


 In October 1847 James, now 19, was sentenced to be transported seven years for “stealing at Upton Hellions on 19th June various articles the property of John Beer”.

He did not leave the country until 1849, when he was put on board the convict ship “Adelaide”, destined for Tasmania, however the residents of Tasmania decided they had had enough criminals dumped on their shores, so the ship had to carry on to Sydney where the convicts were disembarked, and given their tickets of leave.


James made his way up to Brisbane, now in Queensland, where in 1852 he married Ann Lyon, a settler recently arrived from Cranford near Kettering in Northamptonshire. They had several children.

In May 1886, aged 58, he left his home in Moggill, Queensland to search for his boat which was missing from its mooring on the Brisbane River. He didn’t return and a few days later his boat and then his body was found in the river opposite the asylum at Wolston, he having drowned.