29th May 1836
A jilted lover shoots his bride to be (or was she his wife?)
Mary Jane Williams moved to Jersey, from Guernsey, in mid-January 1836. Shortly after she’d arrived, she caught the eye of Francis Caillot, a town crier and boot maker.
Despite being a married man with a child, he asked Williams’ mother, who had come from Alderney with her (some sources say Guernsey), if he could marry Mary. The elder Mrs Williams refused to grant him permission, but it seems that this did little to deter Caillot, who already had a second wife in Newfoundland. Thus, Mary and her mother made plans to return to Alderney, apparently to get away from him.
A growing infatuation
By the end of May, his infatuation had become too much, and when Caillot caught Mary in bed with another man, it was the final straw. He told her that he was no longer interested in her, but when Mary said that she was pleased, he changed his mind. Once again demanding that she marry him, and once again being refused, he told a witness that he would kill her and gladly be hanged for it.
Although it seems unlikely that Mary Jane knew his full plans, she may well have been worried that Caillot would do something to harm her, for when he came back to his house, she went out into the street as a teenager called John Janvrin was walking past. He told police that she had brought him into the house to wait while she got ready to walk into town so they could go together, perhaps to keep her safe from Caillot, but that Caillot seemingly didn’t care if he was seen.
Caillot took a gun from his pocket and shot her in the chest, from just a couple of inches away. This didn’t kill her immediately, but she fell back onto the bed and as Caillot tucked the gun back into his pocket, she asked Janvrin to fetch her mother, who arrived just in time to see her die.
The inquest held that same afternoon delivered a verdict of wilful murder, but this was not enough to convict Caillot: he would stand trial that September.
Caillot is convicted
He was found “more guilty than innocent of the murder of Mary Jane Williams” and sentenced to death. His advocate immediately appealed, and the case was heard for a second time before the Royal Court. The advocate cited evidence that contradicted what Janvrin originally told police about being called in to walk to town with Williams, stating instead that Williams had been caressing him in front of Caillot, who had shot her in a fit of jealousy, not as the result of premeditation.
This was not the only fact that was disputed. There is a suggestion that Caillot and Mary Jane were already married at the point of the killing.
Guilty of murder
The bailiff was having none of it and, in his summing up, he told the jury that, in his opinion, Caillot was guilty of murder, not a lesser crime like manslaughter. Whether this swung the jury against Caillot or not is unknown, but the original verdict was affirmed, and the same sentence passed: death. Carrying it out was to be delayed by three weeks to give Caillot’s advocate time to appeal to the king for clemency.
During this time, Caillot started to show signs of becoming insane, and a further delay of two weeks was allowed, leading some papers to speculate that Caillot may be confined to an asylum rather than hanged.
In the end, he did escape the noose, but his punishment certainly wasn’t light: in late October the king commuted the death sentence in favour of transportation to Australia for life. He made the journey on a ship called Sarah, which left the mainland on 29 November the following year with 254 convicts on board. They came ashore at Tasmania, which was then called Van Diemen’s Land. Caillot was granted a conditional pardon in October 1847.
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