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The Damnation of John Donellan
on 2 May 2012
This is the fascinating story of the delightfully named Theodosius Boughton, heir to a vast fortune and the seventh Boughton baronetcy, who died at the age of only twenty - less than a year before he due to inherit. Theodosius was a young man who loved life - he fought in taverns, was known for his carousing, loved women and contracted VD whilst still a student at Eton. When we meet him he has been taking medication for his "condition", although he was not good about taking his medicine. On the morning of 30th August 1780 his mother, Lady Anna Maria Boughton, gave him his prescribed physic and insisted he take it, despite his disgust at the taste. Shortly after swallowing the mixture, he was dead.
What follows is a battle between Lady Anna Maria and her daughter's (the equally delightfully named Theodosia) husband John Donellan. Did somebody tamper with Theodosius's physick? Was Anna Maria attempting to blackmail Donellan into doing what she wanted within hours of her sons death? Did Donellan's refusal to do what Anna Maria wanted lead to his arrest on purely circumstantial evidence, or was he a fortune hunter who resented his younger brother in law? This book is full of scandal, gossip and sheer horror - including a ghoulish public autopsy where the corpse was reported to be, "a spectacle of horror scarce to be endured" and the death of a servant who may have had vital evidence.
Both the death and the trial are wonderfully recreated and the whole book, including the conclusion, well documented and interesting, if often sad. Whether Donellan was guilty or not, it is certain that he never had a fair trial, but read this yourself and make your own mind up. It is guaranteed you will be unable to put this down until you have finished it.