The George Edalji Case
Who was George Edalji ?
George Edalji was the eldest of the three children of Shapurji Edalji and Charlotte Stoneham. His father was South Asian (from Bombay) and his mother an English woman. At Law School he proved to be an outstanding student and won prizes from the Law Society. He became a solicitor in Birmingham in 1899. He wrote the book Railway Law for the Man in the Train which was, "intended as a guide for the Travelling Public."
George Edalji's father was brought up as a Parsi. He converted to Christianity in 1876 when he became the Vicar of Great Wyrley in Staffordshire. There is evidence that some of the people of Great Wyrley did not accept him because they did not understand how an Asian man could be a minister of a Christian church. In October 1903 George was convicted on a charge of maliciously wounding a pony and received a seven year sentence of penal servitude. There were rumours that he had sacrificed horses to his alien gods but the the evidence against him was threadbare and distorted. The fact that the Edalji family were Christians also made it seem unlikely that he would have been guilty of such an act. The police appear to have dedicated most of their effort to proving that George Edalji was guilty instead of trying to find the real culprit. When the incident occurred, the police went straight to George Edalji's house from the field where the injured animal was found before carrying out any other investigation.
Letter by George Edalji's mother Please click on this link to view a larger version. Letter Written by Charlotte Stoneham on Her Son's Behalf
Harassment and Suspicion
In 1888 and 1892-5, the Edalji family had received abusive anonymous letters and were harassed in other ways. However, the chief constable of the Staffordshire police did not display a sympathetic attitude towards the family, perhaps at least, because of racial prejudice. He believed that George Edalji was responsible for writing the letters abusing his own family, and he was therefore ready to believe that George wrote further anonymous letters in 1903 seemingly incriminating himself in a series of outrages against animals in Great Wyrley in that year. However, the attacks on animals continued during George's period of imprisonment, and there was a further series of anonymous letters too.
He was eventually released from prison in 1906 after efforts to prove his innocence by R.D. Yelverton, who had worked as Chief Justice in the Bahamas, and by others. He had not been pardoned and had to report regularly to the police. He appealed to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to help him, and in 1907 Conan Doyle threw himself into a great public campaign to have George’s conviction overturned. He proved to most people’s satisfaction that George Edalji could not have been guilty. The findings from his investigation were sent to the Daily Telegraph and the Home Office. This resulted in the Home Office appointing a Committee to re-examine the case. The Committee, consisting of the Rt. Hon Sir Arthur Wilson, the Rt. Hon John Lloyd Wharton and Sir Albert De Rutzen, concluded that George Edalji had been wrongly convicted. However, they still accused him of bringing the troubles upon himself by writing the anonymous letters, though no court had ever said that he did. The Committee’s report provides a detailed outline of the evidence that was used against George Edalji and of its weaknesses. It was sent to the Secretary of State at the Home Office, H. J. Gladstone, who stated in his response that although he was willing to offer Mr Edalji a pardon he did not think that the case warranted the provision of any compensation.
Suggestions for further reading on the George Edalji case are:
A Miscarriage of Justice: The Case of George Edalji (1905). This book was written by his father Rev. S. Edalji, in which he endeavours to present the facts to support his son's innocence.
Letters and papers, 1902 - 1904, collected by Sir Benjamin Stone concerning the trial of George Edalji located in the Archives and Heritage Service (Floor 6) of the Birmingham Central Library - 370797 [IIR 89], ff. 163 -168.
Parliamentary Report - Papers relating to the case of George Edalji located in the Social Sciences Section (Floor 4) of the Birmingham Central Library - Cd 3503 M/F LXVII, pp 403 - 410.
Roger Oldfield, Outrage: The Edalji Five and the Shadow of Sherlock Holmes, Vanguard Press. See www.outrage-rogeroldfield.co.uk.