Rex v. Hoolass Matre

Hoolass Matre (or Mehter), a servant in a British house, is accused of murdering his wife with a tulwar (sword). The first and second witnesses describe the wounds on the deceased. The third and fourth witnesses describe the verbal dispute that preceded the murder and the death blows. The fifth witness heard the prisoner bragging to others that he had killed his wife. Matre staged an active defense. He blamed his wife, saying she had committed suicide. He produced two witnesses to say that she had tried it before. The verdict was guilty of murder and the sentence hanging.

Sat 14 June 1788

Present Chambers, Hyde & Jones, Justices

The King
Hoolass Matre

The Prisoner is indicted for having feloniously willfully & of malice aforethought made an assault upon one Manick [a women] at Kidderpore in Bengal on the 17th of Apr 1788, and struck her on the back of the neck with a sword thereby giving her a mortal wound of which she then and there died, and so the Jurors say that he did feloniously &c kill and murder the said Manick. And they further present that at the time of committing said Murder the prisoner was in the service of Chas Grant who is a British Subject resident in Bengal and that therefore the said Hoolass Matre is subject to the Jurisdiction of this Court.

The prisoner having pleaded Not Guilty as mentioned Yesterday the following Jury is sworn to try him.

1. Robert Duncan.
2. William Myers.
3. Hugh Davley.
4. John Price.
5. William Watts.
6. John Casey.
7. Edmund Crossy
8. Joseph Harmer
9. Robert Hutchinson.
10. James Dennis
11. William Dolby
12. Robert Dowling.

1 Witness for the King
Mr. John Obeck

I have the management of Mr. Charles Grant’s house affairs, and pay the Servants their wages. I know the prisoner at the Bar he was Mehter in the Service of Mr. C. Grant at the time of the death of Manick, and had been so from October last. Manick was said to be the prisoner’s wife. I continually every day saw him doing the duty of a Mehter. I did not hire him, but I inserted his name in the Accts when he was hired & I paid his wages every month.

I believe Mr. Chas Grant to be a Scotchman. I think I have heard him say so. I am sure that he is a British Subject and a Company Servant.

I saw the corpse of Manick bleeding within a few minutes after her death. The head was almost cut off and one foot was cut off & she had several other wounds.

In Answer to the Prisoner.

He behaved well in Mr. Grant’s family till this affair happened, except that I have seen him a little in liquor & then he was passionate & beat his wife: but this did not happen often.

This fact was committed at Kedderpoor which is in Bengal but not in Calcutta.


I know nothing of Manick’s attempting to kill herself.

2d Witness for the King
Daniel Chambers

I attended as constable when the Coroner’s Inquest sat on the body of Manick. I observed the body The head was almost cut off. The blow seemed to have been given on the right side of the neck – the windpipe was cut through and the bone of the neck was cut through so that the head hung by a bit of the flesh & skin of the left side of the neck. There was a cut on the right cheek & another on the left – a wound on the right arm & the right foot cut quite off.

The prisoner was not before the Coroner.

It was the body of a women, and I understood from the witnesses who gave evidence before Mr. Hall that it was Manick.

In answr to the Prisoner

I am sure there was a wound on the right arm.

3d Witness for the King
Gungea a Hindoo Woman

I knew Manick I used to call her sister who she was no relation to me. She is dead. I know the prisoner he was the husband of Manick. Near two months ago, Manick & Prisoner went in the morning to the house of their master Mr. Grant, and about noon they went to their own cottage near Mr. Grant’s Garden. I lived with them & I stayed at their house while they went to Mr. Grant’s, & was there when they came back about noon. After they had eaten their breakfast, the prisoner went to the Bazar to buy some meat, he brought some gave it to the deceased & desired her to cook it. She refused because she was big with child, & said I can’t boil it, dress it yourself. He said he would. He then gave her some bad language, on which Manick got up from her Cot & said You love another women, You have no regard for me, (meaning a girl whom the prisoner had kept.)

He said You don’t choose to dress the victuals, You want me to do it. She answered if it was for another woman You would do it. Instead of Woman she used the word Mother. The prisoner replied she is as good as You. The deceased understood that he meant thereby to call her Mother She replied “Then if I am your mother you are my Son.” And other words passed between them. All this time he was boiling the meat; but when she said “If I am your mother You are my Son” He flew into a great passion

We were all in the open air where the fire was, & my back was towards the fire for I was grinding some spices to season the meat which the prisoner was dressing. The deceased just after speaking those words took up an earthen ware Hookah & went towards the fire. I did not take notice of the prisoner’s going into the room or coming out again; but he must have done So – for hearing the noise of a blow, I looked about & saw the prisoner giving a second blow, which at first I thought had been with a stick, but I immediately after saw that it was a Tulwar, or broad sword.

When I first turned my face towards Manick she was fallen to the ground. I then saw a third blow given by Prisoner with the Tulwar. I believe the first blow killed her. It was a cut on the left side of the face. The 2d blow was on the left side of the throat, and the third blow near the ankles. I saw the body afterwards before the gentlemen, (meaning the Coroner) but I cannot say whether I saw that man – (Daniel Chambers) there.

[D. C. being called says he remembers to have seen this Witness there. So they have been speaking of the same Corpur Delicti.]

The third blow which I Have mentioned cut off the left foot. The blow that I have mentd on the side of the throat, but through the windpipe and partly through the bone of the neck. I think the first blow must have killed her for I did not hear her speak. She was 6 or 7 months gone with child, I speak by guess.

There was another woman who used to sleep in the same cottage with us. Her name is Munnah. Munnah was at that time just gone to sleep in the house; and we were with out the door. From the place where she lay she might have seen what passed, & I think she did see the two last blows. There was no other cottage very near.

I did nothing – I was frightened. I did not hear prisoner say any things about it, but I was told he did say something to [ill] [ill] & other servants. Mr. Hall & other gentlemen came to the house and afterwards the body was buried.

Prisoner asks Did You see me fetch the Tulwar.

A. If you did not fetch it how came it there? I saw it in your hand. I saw you lift it up and give the 2d blow & the 3d.

I don’t know that ever she attempted to kill herself, I never saw her do so, but they quarreled almost every day. I had been but short time in the family.

4th Witness for the King
Munnah – a Hindoo woman
Ses and admonished.

I knew the deceased Manick. She was the prisoner’s wife and was killed by him. I was invited by the Prisoner that day. The Place is nigh Kidderpore.

A Quarrel happened between the Prisoner and his Wife for refusing to dress the dinner, she said the weather was hot and she was with Child and she could not bear the Fire. She said You grumble at being obliged to boil the Victuals one day, how came You to boil the Victuals every day for the girl you kept at Patna, I suppose she was Your Mother that You had more regard for her. The Prisoner replied You say she was my Mother, You are also my Mother. The deceased went to the fire with a Hookah. I was then asleep, I did not see the Prisoner take out the Tulwar, I was not asleep but I was lying down to sleep, I heard the words, I went out and laid down night the thatch before the wound was given. I saw the Tulwar in his hand. He wounded her on the right side of the Neck. The second wound was on the back of the Neck. She was wounded on the side of the face. She had her right foot cut off. She instantly died. The Second Blow cut through the bone of the Neck. She did not speak after the first blow.

In answer to Questions by the Prisoner, the Witness

Says you were dressing Victuals, I was without side of the House. The fire was on the outside of the House.

5th Witness for the King
Shaik Atchun.

I am Khansuman to Mr. C. Grant. I knew the prisoner’s wife who was killed. Above a month ago almost two months, one Thursday – the Prisoner came into my Bottle Khanah, & said I’ve killed Surty, go you & see. She used to go by that name because she was from Surat. Two of the servants went, & returned in a few minutes informed Mrs. Grant of the fact & she ordered us to bind the prisoner. I did not enter into conversation with the prisoner about it, but I heard him say in the presence of several of the servants that he did it because she had called him her son.

In answer to the Prisoner

There were several heard you say so beside me Mirza Mahd Ally, Mirza Bubbroo, (properly Babber Aly) Mungly Khan, Gopy & Mohun.

Qu: What is Babbroo?
A. He takes care of the youngest child.
Qu. Is not Mirza Ally in Calcutta
A. He lives in town but his business in the daytime is at Mr. Grant’s garden.

The Prisoner being called upon for his Defence says

In the morning my wife & I went to Mr. Grant’s & having finished our business went home at noon. Having breakfasted I went to buy meat (tho I don’t eat any myself,) for her & her Company. I bid her dress it, she answered that she could not & desired me to do it. I replied this was a woman’s business not mine. She abused me, & told me that I used to dress victuals for a girl at Patna & she used other provoking language.

I advised her not to to provoke me. But she went on & said I suppose the woman You kept before was your mother. I advised her not to use such improper words, & said I would dress the victuals. At last she said I look upon you as my Son. I think asked Gungea whether it was usual for Surat women to call their husbands son. I then attended to the cooking the victuals, when all at once I found yt my wife was behind me with a Talwar, & before I could hinder her she struck two blows at her own Neck; I then got it from her & threw it away whether in doing so it cut her leg I can’t tell.

I am falsely accused by the Khansuman &c I went to inform Mrs. G. that my wife had killed herself, & I told them so. If I had killed her I should have run away.

He then proposed to call Witnesses to prove that she had often attempted to kill herself.

1 Witness for Prisoner

I remember once about a 12 months ago, when the Govr. Genl went up the Country & while I was servant of Col. Cockerell, I heard a noise in the Stable about Noon, & I went out to see what was the matter, I saw the deceased with a Tulwar in her hand & the prisoner trying to take it from her. I assisted him & we got it from her & I parted them. I don’t know what she was going to do, but I think she was going to cut her own throat she was endeavoring to get it up to her throat.

2d Witness for the Prisoner
Buckshoo a Mahomn

I am a Khedmetgar of Colonel Cockerel. I remember a dispute between the Prisoner & his wife, & she attempted to cut her throat with a Tulwar, the time I mean is that spoken of by the last Witness. I saw Nerkoo take it out of her hands. I saw her put the Sword up to her throat to cut it. The prisoner hindered her by laying hold of the Sword, & then Nerkoo came up & took it from her. She said, while the prisoner was struggling with her, that she would cut her throat & she often threatened to destroy herself when she quarreled with Prisoner

Guilty of Murder


That You, Hoolass Mahter, be taken from here to the Jail from whence You were brought., and from thence on Monday next the 16 of this present month of June, to the place of Execution, and that You be there hanged by the neck until You are dead. And may God have mercy upon your Soul.