Who has been the world’s most influential woodturner? I nominate Scottish woodturner Daniel M’Naughten, born in Glasgow in 1813. Daniel’s father, who had the same name, was also a woodturner, and son Daniel was duly apprenticed to his father. In 1835 Daniel started his own woodturning business. It seems to have been successful, and in 1840 he sold it and was able to travel. However by this time the first signs of paranoid delusion had become apparent. One manifestation was that Daniel, whose political views were quite radical, believed that the conservative Tory party was persecuting him.

On 20 January 1843 Daniel shot Arthur Drummond in the back. Drummond died five days later. It’s thought that Daniel believed that he was shooting the then Conservative British prime minister Sir Robert Peel whose private secretary Drummond was.

Daniel’s trial for the “wilful murder of Mr Drummond” took place at the Old Bailey, on 2 and 3 March 1843, before Chief Justice Tindal. Both the prosecution and the defence agreed that Daniel suffered from delusions of persecution. Summing up Tindal stated that the medical evidence confirmed that Daniel was mentally ill. Tindale also reminded the jury that if they found Daniel not guilty because of insanity, he would be proper cared for. The jury agreed with Tindale’s reminder, and Daniel was committed to the State Criminal Lunatic Asylum at Bethlem Hospital. In 1864, Daniel was transferred to the newly opened Broadmoor Asylum, He died there on 3 May 1865.

But why was Daniel so influential?

The verdict provoked an outcry from those who thought that Daniel should be hanged. The House of Lords was subsequently able to question twelve judges of the Court of Common Pleas about crimes committed by individuals with delusions. Chief Justice Tindal’s answer to one of the questions became enshrined in law as the M’Naughten Rules and stated:

“To establish a defence on the ground of insanity it must be clearly proved, that, at the time of committing the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or if he did know it, that he did not know that what he was doing was wrong.”

The rules dominated the law on criminal responsibility in England and Wales, the United States and many countries in the British Commonwealth for over 100 years, and remain influential today.

This article appeared in The November/December issue of The Australian Woodworker magazine. The illustrations were sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Daniel McNaughten in 1843 pictured in the Illustrated London News.

McNaughten in 1856.