When to Interfere between a man and his wife?

On Sunday 9 September 1900 around 3 am, Police Constable Barnett was on duty at New Denaby, Rotherham. It was very quiet, as one would expect at that time of a morning, when suddenly he heard the sound of a woman’s screams coming from the house of an elderly couple on Loversall Street. They were called Mr and Mrs William White and the constable knew that at that time they had their daughter and her husband staying with them. The cries of the woman screaming out ‘murder’ at the top of her voice penetrated the quiet streets, so he ran to the house. As he was approaching he could clearly hear the sound of heavy blows.

The officer hammered on the door and shouted out ‘Police’ until he could gradually hear the steps of someone coming down the stairs. A voice he recognised as Mrs White’s shouted out to enquire who was there, so he hammered on the door once more and demanded admittance. When the door opened, Police Constable Barnett identified himself and told the woman that he had heard screams coming from the house, but Mrs White denied there had been any screams or shouts of ‘murder.’ Then the officer heard Mrs White’s son-in-law, a man called William Henry Freestone telling someone upstairs ‘I’ll kill you, you bitch: I’ll murder you.’ However after that it all went quiet, so eventually the officer returned back to his duties.

However he was determined to keep an eye on the house for any more disturbances. Just a few minutes later PC Barnett once more heard screams coming from one of the upstairs rooms at the same house on Loversall Street. Once again he hammered on the door with his fists, but no one came to the door this time. Frustrated, but knowing that there was little he could do, the constable simply reported the incident to his sergeant when he returned back to the station at the end of his shift. He was relieved by Police Constable Kilner, who after his colleague’s report, made a mental note to check on the house at some point that morning to see if there had been any trouble.

Accordingly around 10.30 am he found himself in the area of Loversall Street, so he proceeded to the house. The door was opened by Mrs White and she invited the officer inside. In the main room was Mr White, smoking his pipe and their daughter, Mary Elizabeth Freestone lying on a sofa before the fire. The woman appeared to be badly hurt and she seemed to be having difficulty in speaking. PC Kilner insisted that she see a doctor immediately and he summoned Dr McClure to the house. The surgeon examined the injured woman and told her husband categorically that his wife had received a beating from someone. However William didn’t reply, although he hung his head.

Dr McClure told the constable that he would need another opinion and he called for the services of his assistant. When he too agreed that Mary Elizabeth had been badly injured by someone, William Henry Freestone was arrested and taken into custody. Dr McClure instructed Mrs White to not allow her daughter be moved from the sofa, and said it would be best to leave her there. On the way back to the station, William Henry asked PC Kilner what he was going to be charged with, the officer replied that he would be charged with unlawfully wounding his wife. The prisoner pointed to his heavy black work boots and admitted that he had kicked her with those same boots. Freestone added: ‘if she had given me the bottle of rum I should not have done it.’

On Monday 10 September 1900 William Henry Freestone was brought in front of the Doncaster West Riding magistrates charged with the violent assault on his wife. Mary Elizabeth was not in attendance as she was still under the direction of Dr McClure. However her mother Hannah Maria was the first witness and she told the court that her daughter and son-in-law had been living with them for some time. She described being aroused from her sleep by her daughters screams the night before. Mary Elizabeth was crying out ‘Mother, mother come here, or I shall die: murder, murder.’ Her husband refused to interfere between his daughter and her husband, so the witness said she got up and lit a candle before going into her daughters bedroom.

Hannah said that when she opened the door, she saw her daughter was lying on the bed and William Henry was standing over her and ‘thumping her on the head with his fists.’ The witness told the court that as a result there was blood on the sheets, the blankets and the bedroom floor. An argument followed before Hannah said she left the couple alone, telling them to go to sleep and ‘let the house rest.’ She got back into bed, but it was not long before she and her husband were roused by another disturbance coming from the bedroom again. Once again the poor woman lit the candle and went back into her daughters bedroom.

Once again she saw the prisoner beating his wife and saw that her daughters head and body were black with bruises. After listening to her account, one of the magistrates questioned her as to why she would not let Police Constable Barnett enter the house on the first occasion when her daughter was being attacked. Hannah told him that she hoped by doing so, her son-in-law might become quiet, as he had done on previous occasions. However she claimed that she had not heard the officer knock the second time, but said that if she had heard him knock she would have let him enter. After some discussion, the magistrates ordered the prisoner to be remanded in custody for a week, in the hope that his wife would be well enough to attend the court.

Accordingly William Henry Freestone was brought back into court on Monday 17 September 1900 and thankfully this time Mary Elizabeth was present. She described the attack at her fathers house which had started around 3 am. The poor woman said that she had awoke to find her husband leaning over her to reach a bottle of rum which was on a side table. The witness said that she tried to stop him, but he pushed her roughly away. Mary Elizabeth said that after drinking heavily from the bottle, he commenced to beat her for no reason at all and she screamed out for her mother. Mary Elizabeth then went on to describe in horrific details how the prisoner had thumped her in the face, jumped on her body with his knees before telling her ‘next time I will murder you.’

There was silence in the courtroom as the witness described how her husband had struck her on the face, shoulders and in her sides. She said that at one point she managed to get away from him and run downstairs. However on reaching the living room she fell down and he picked her up and threw her onto the sofa. Mary Elizabeth told the court that at that point she thankfully became unconscious. Finally she admitted that she had been cared for most assiduously by Dr McClure. After hearing all this terrible evidence, the magistrates found William Henry Freestone guilty of the charge of the unlawful wounding of his wife. Accordingly he was sentenced to just three months imprisonment.

Thankfully Mary Elizabeth had the courage to apply to the magistrates for a separation order which was granted. As a final humiliation the prisoner was ordered by the magistrates to pay his wife 7s 6d a week maintenance. However throughout the recording of this account it was clear that at no time did her father interfere. It was a prevalent belief at that time that no one should come between a man and his wife, even when Mr White could see for himself, his own daughter being treated so cruelly.

Highway robbery at Sheffield.

This weeks case is that of highway robbery which took place in Sheffield Park. When the two guilty men were found and punished, no one expected the grisly end they would experience at the hands of so called ‘friends.’. It is hard to reconcile that this actually happened in a place like Sheffield.

On the night of Tuesday 5 October 1830 a man called Henry Youle from Handsworth was on his way home through Sheffield Park when he passed the toll bar at Intake. It was around 8 pm when he saw what he presumed to be a drunk lying on the ground, and was about to pass him when he heard the man say ‘don’t leave me.’ Youle, stopped and got closer and saw that he was not a drunk, but was bleeding badly and had some terrible injuries to his head and face. Youle went over and managed to get him into a sitting position. The man told him that he had been assaulted by three men. He gave his name as Jonathon Habershaw and said that earlier that night, around 5.30 pm he had gone to Sheffield and had been returning home.

Suddenly he heard three men coming up behind him. They were about to pass him when he felt a terrible blow to the back of his head and was felled to his knees. The injured man told his rescuer that as he lay prone on the ground, he received several more heavy blows which soon left him unconscious. When he finally recovered his senses, he could not get up. Youle willingly help the badly injured man to his feet and the two of them managed to get Habershaw to his home. Once there, he searched his pockets and found that his silver watch as well as some money was missing from his pockets.

A neighbour called Joseph Hunter went to fetch a local surgeon Mr James Ray and as he went along the same footpath in which his neighbour had been injured, he came upon a large pool of blood. A large hedge stick also lay on the ground which he picked up and he placed it over the hedge with the intention of collecting it on his way back. Hunter then alerted Mr Ray who stated that he would soon be at Mr Habershaw’s house and the neighbour returned back to his house, picking up the hedge stake as he did. Meanwhile back at Habershaw’s house, Constable Wilde had been called and he took details of the stolen items which the injured man described. The injured man said that the robbers had taken a watch with a chain seal attached, two sets of keys and £1.6s 10d in change.

When Hunter returned with the hedge stick they examined it by candlelight and saw that the end was all bloody. Constable Wilde took the weapon away with him as evidence. The next day he heard a report that two men had been seen offering a silver watch and seal for sale. They were both aged nineteen and were called Charles Turner and James Twibel. The officer was told that he would find them at the Green Man public house in Sheffield Park. Constable Wilde went immediately to the public house and asked the men where they had got the watch from. Turner immediately said that he had bought it from a travelling man at the Rotherham Races, which had been held in September.

The constable searched the two prisoners and although Twibel had nothing in his possession, Turner had a silver watch, a seal and two sets of keys. The two men were quickly arrested and charged with being concerned in the robbery. Consequently they were brought before the magistrates on Friday 8 October. The room was crowded to excess as witnesses and curiosity seeker gathered to hear details of the case. Constable Wilde told the bench that the injured man was the underground steward at the Deep Pit Colliery at Manor Fields Park. The two men were charged with ‘assaulting him in a manner so ferocious as to endanger his life.’ Wilde produced some clothing which he held up to show the large amount of blood which the victim had sustained.

He also showed the bench the heavy hedge stick which had been found near the pool of blood and was presumed to be the weapon used in the attack. The surgeon Mr Ray stated to the court that he had visited the injured man, who he could see was in a very dangerous condition. He said that he had received several violent contused wounds on his head and face which had been inflicted and had left his face very swollen and bruised. The poor man could barely see as his eyes were so swollen that he could not open them. The surgeon admitted that even three days later, his patient was still not out of danger from his injuries.

Constable Wilde showed the surgeon the hedge stick used in the attack which was still covered in the victims blood. Mr Ray stated that it was in all probability the same weapon which had been used by the robbers in the attack. Mrs Habershaw also gave evidence and identified the stolen watch as one that had previously been owned by her husband. Other witnesses gave evidence of seeing the prisoners near the place where the attack had been carried out. The two prisoners were then remanded in custody until Saturday 16 October 1830. By the time they were brought into court they had been joined by a third man, called George Sidney Priestley aged 18.

It seems that the prisoner Charles Turner had been taken to the bedside of Jonathan Habershaw for the purpose of identification. The injured man readily confirmed that the prisoner was one of the men who had attacked him. At this point, Turner told the constable whose custody he was in, that he wanted ‘to tell him all about it.’ He then proceeded to make a statement blaming James Twibel for hitting the man with a piece of iron in such a savage manner. Turner said that on the day of the robbery, he had been with Priestley and Twibel for most of the day. Later that evening they had got to a place called Manor Lane, when they saw Mr Habershaw approaching.

His two companions had some grudge against the underground steward and Turner muttered something to the effect that he would like to see the man ‘felled like a great sheep.’ Turner confessed that he pulled up a large hedge stake and hit the man on his head so hard that he was knocked to the ground. Then Priestly held him down whilst Twibel attacked him several more time with a weapon, which he described as the piece of iron. Turner said that he wanted to leave at that point, but the other two prisoners would not let him go. He stated clearly that there had no intention of robbing the man to begin with, but just because his two friends had held some grudge against him.

Turner then told the court that afterwards he became sick every time he thought of being involved in the vicious attack. He said that it had affected him so much that he took to his bed. His father had gone to his bedside and asked him what was the matter, and he had confessed it all to his father. He said that he had decided to confess after having a conversation in the cells of the Town Hall with Constable Wilde’s assistant, a man called Benjamin Jackson. He had informed the prisoner that he could redeem himself by turning Kings Evidence against the other two men, and stating that after all it had been Twibel who had delivered the first blow.

The prisoner Twibel was also questioned, but he still maintained that he ‘knew nothing at all about it.’ After hearing all the evidence, the magistrates ordered that the prisoners be sent to take their trial at the next York Assizes. Charles Turner and James Twibell appeared before the judge Mr Justice Parke on Monday 21 March 1831. However it would seem that the third prisoner George Sidney Priestly was going to be tried separately. Mr Emsley was the prosecution and he gave the jury the details of the case. He said that Mr Habershaw’s injuries were so severe that he had been confined to bed for a fortnight, and had been unable to leave his house for three weeks.

Mr James Ray gave the medical evidence and when shown a piece of iron rail which had been found on the prisoner Twibel, he confirmed that it might well have been used as the weapon with which he had attacked the injured man. Three other witnesses gave evidence that all the prisoners had been seen in the vicinity of the attack on the night in question. Then Priestly was brought before the judge to give his evidence. Despite the fact that he had already admitted his part in the robbery, he now denied everything. Mr Justice Parkes ordered that he would be charged with being involved himself and he was removed from the court by constables.

The two remaining prisoners now said nothing in their own defence before the judge summed up for the jury. The remainder of the trial was captured vividly by a reporter of the Sheffield Independent dated Saturday 26 March 1831.

The report read:

His Lordship immediately put on the black cap, and after an address, in which he precluded all hopes of mercy being extended to them, and implored them by penitence and prayer, during the short period that would be allotted to then in this world, to endeavour to make their peace with their offended God, he then proceeded to pass the awful sentence of death in the usual terms. During the judge’s address, the prisoners wept aloud and cried out for mercy.’

George Sidney Priestly was brought back before the judge on Friday 1 April 1831 charged with cruelly assaulting Jonathan Habershaw, robbing him of his watch and some silver. Once again Mr Emsley acted for the prosecution and he read out the previous statement made by the prisoner confirming that he had witnessed Turner and Twibell beating the victim and robbing him. Several witnesses were brought before the jury stating once again that he had been seen near the spot at the time when the attack had been carried out. However none of them could swear positively that it was the man in the dock they saw that night, owing to the darkness of the night.

When Priestly was asked if he had anything to say in his own defence, he stated that the statement he had made at the magistrates court was true. However when he appeared at the Assizes before the judge he had retracted his statement due to pressure from the other two prisoners. They had sworn to take his life if he gave evidence against them. There was also another friend of theirs in the cells who was a witness called Butcher and he added his threats to the two prisoners. The man Butcher was recalled, but he denied threatening the prisoner in any way. Due to the lack of identification the jury brought in a verdict of ‘not guilty’ and Priestly was discharged.

However the gruesome fate of his two compatriots did not end quite so well. On Saturday 13 April 1831 Charles Turner and James Twibell were executed at York according to the justice of the time. As was usual their bodies were left hanging for a full hour to make sure that life was extinct before they were taken down. Usually the remains would have been handed over to surgeons for dissection, but if, as in this case, they had been applications from relatives or friends for burial, their bodies were handed over to them. However in the case of Charles Turner and James Twibel, their friends had other ideas.

The Sheffield Independent dated Saturday 30 April 1831 simply reported that:

We regret to state that on Monday and Tuesday the friends of these unhappy youths made a public exhibition of their bodies in Sheffield. The price of admission to the room where the bodies were exposed, varied according to the means of the applicant.’

Thankfully by the following day the demands of the more respectable citizens of Sheffield were taken notice of, and the remains of the two men were finally buried in the Old Church Yard in the town. However due to the great publicity given to the case, large groups of curious people still gathered at the grave yard, just to watch the internment of the bodies of the two hanged felons.

The Interrogation of Julia Newton

During this hiatus when I am unable to access facebook, I have used the time to good effect. Facebook are now requiring me to send a ‘selfie’ in order to rectify whatever contravention I have been found guilty of. However not having a mobile, I am unable to do it myself and once more am relying on my son Chris to help me do this at the weekend.

However I am, at the present time making the final proof reading of a new Rotherham book, which is, as yet, untitled. (Any suggestions will be gratefully received) I came upon a most intriguing case, which once again illustrates the way that women were treated during the nineteenth century. However this young girl had her youth and beauty to defend herself with, which resulted in a judge becoming her shining knight, who thankfully came to her rescue.

In most cases of concealment of birth, the police were integral in establishing who the mother of the child had been. Needless to say their opinions were always taken very seriously by local coroners and judges. However in this case, a police officer was castigated for his brutality in his questioning of the young woman concerned, shortly after she had given birth.

Julia Newton was a twenty one year old domestic servant, who by October of 1877 had worked for the past six years for a widow called Mrs Elizabeth Harris. She lived in a house on Mountenoy Road, off Moorgate Road, Rotherham, in a most select part of the town and Mrs Harris was reputed to be a very respectable woman. So when news got about that a dead, illegitimate baby had been found in the house, it caused quite a sensation in the town. On Thursday 4 October 1877 Julia had gone to see her mistress and complained of feeling ill.

Mrs Harris allowed her to go to bed early, but the next day the girl was still in bed and she complained of feeling much worse. A surgeon, Dr Knight was quickly sent for and he examined the girl carefully. To Mrs Harris’s great shock he told her that her servant had recently been confined of a child. Sternly, and in the presence of her mistress, Dr Knight asked Julia where the child was. The terrified girl, at first denied anything of the sort, until the surgeon told her that therefore he would have to call in the police.

As a result she was almost hysterical by the time Inspector Parker arrived, but if she thought he would deal more carefully with her, she was very much mistaken. He promptly informed her that in view of the doctors conclusions, he would have to search her room. With that pronouncement, he proceeded to open drawers and inspect all her clothes for signs that she had indeed given birth. At first her employer Elizabeth Harris stood in the bed room with the Inspector and her servant, but as he started to search, she withdrew and stood just outside the door.

Meanwhile Inspector Parker was busy opening one of the girls own personal boxes, which was standing by the bedroom fireplace. Inside he soon found the dead body of a newly born male child, wrapped in a piece of calico. Roughly he lifted it up by the shoulders and, it was alleged, shoved it into Julia’s face. Only then did she break down and admit that the baby was hers and that it had been born the previous night, dead. Mrs Harris who had been within earshot of what was happening, then came back into the room. Seeing the officer holding the dead child, Mrs Harris was clearly shocked at the sight of it.

Julia immediately broke down once again as she told her mistress ‘its mine: I just did not know what to do with it.’ After her confession, Inspector Parker had no option but to call a cab and take Julia Newton into custody charged with concealing a birth. She was removed to the Inspectors own house, which was attached to the police station in the town centre. Once there, he left her in the custody of his wife, who gently attended to the distraught girl. Eventually she was placed in one of the police cells and surgeon Mr W A Garrard, a partner to Dr Knight, was asked by Inspector Parker to examine her and confirm that she had indeed given birth.

The Coroner Mr Wightman was informed and he requested Mr Garrard to also undertake the post mortem on the body along with Dr Knight. As a result of their findings, Julia was brought in front of the Rotherham Magistrates two days later on Saturday 6 October 1877, where she pleaded guilty. However little could be established until after both the post mortem and the inquest had been carried out, so the prisoner was simply remanded in custody. The inquest itself was held at the College Inn on Monday 8 October and the first witness was Inspector Parker himself.

He told the coroner and the jury that the prisoner had finally admitted to him that she had been confined of the child in the early hours on the morning of Friday 5 October. Surgeon Mr Garrard then stated that he had carried out the post mortem, however his conclusions were unclear as he had not been able to establish if the child had breathed separately from its mother after birth. The surgeon told the inquest that proving a child had led a separate existence was very difficult due to the size of the tiny lungs. The jury retired for a short while before returning a verdict that the child had died at birth or immediately afterwards, but the cause of death was unknown.

As a result, Julia Newton was brought back before the bench on Thursday 18 October 1877 where, thankfully she was defended by a Mr Hoyland. Mr Peagram prosecuted and he gave the details of the discovery of the little body to the court. In Julia’s defence, Mr Hoyland pointed out that his client had never tried to hide the fact that she had given birth when challenged, and instead had readily admitted it when confronted with the body. Nevertheless she was found guilty and ordered to take her trial at the next Assizes.

However when the Spring Assizes for the West Riding of Yorkshire took place on Monday 1 April of the following year, the judge Mr Justice Hawkins was particularly scathing of the principal witnesses. He demanded to know from Mrs Harris, how she could have treated her servant in such a brutal and abrupt manner, after she had given her six years of faithful service? The poor woman hardly knew how to answer. Nevertheless the main part of Mr Justice Hawkins’ disgust was held for Inspector Parker who admitted what he had done, after finding the body of the child.

The officer told the judge that he had asked the prisoner if she had given birth to the baby? Surprisingly, the judge asked him what right he had to ask a most indecent and improper question without the least authority? The officer was clearly nonplussed as he answered ‘I simply asked it’. Mr Justice Hawkins told him that he had no right to ask such a question. The Inspector then began to describe how he had continued to search Julia’s room after her confession. Once again the judge looked appalled as he demanded to know why he did that, before enquiring ‘was he hoping to find another child?’

Inspector Parker stated that he had not, but he quite properly said that he was looking for a sign that any preparation had been made for the birth, such as baby clothes for example. Then the surgeon Mr Garrard gave the medical evidence and described how he had carried out the post mortem. He stated that he had externally examined the little body carefully, but there were no signs of violence upon it that he could see. The surgeon again repeated that he could not say with any confidence whether or not the child had been born alive or not.

However he admitted that when he found the little body, he had lifted it up and showed it to the prisoner. Mr Justice Hawkins asked him ‘what right he had to do such a thing.’ He pointed out the fact that after giving birth under such traumatic circumstances, the girl must have been evidently quite ill? The Inspector looked most surprised at this attack, as he too struggled to answer the question. Not surprisingly at this point, the judge in summing up for the jury proceeded to deliver such a scathing and unexpected attack on the witnesses, that the court was silent in shock.

He told the jury:

What on earth could have induced Mrs Harris to act in the way she did, disgusts me. This poor girl, having respectably conducted herself for six years and who she had keep her in her service, did not deserve such treatment. When she got into trouble, instead of giving her friendly consolation in her trouble, to have turned into her room a policemen to cross examine her and ransack her boxes, I simply cannot understand.’

Mr Justice Hawkins then, in turn attacked Inspector Parker for doing what he did, whilst she was in such a critical condition after having given birth. He told him:

I must say that such conduct discloses a heartlessness and want of feeling which, unless I had heard it sworn to in the witness box, I would not have believed. What was the girl to do with the body? Was she to leave it exposed in the room or to put it away from the gaze of anyone who might come in?’

Then the judge attacked the absent Dr Knight who, for some unknown reason was not in attendance at the trial, for taking it upon his own authority to send for the police. He suggested to the jury that the girl might have confessed to the surgeon, but they could not know ‘as he was not in court to tell them.’ Finally he vented the main part of his wrath at Inspector Parker for, as he put it:

He took the little body and with an inhumanity which was incredible, held it up by the shoulders, as if to taunt the poor girl, and to show what a wonderful and astute officer he was. But the girl had answered before he had left the room and admitted that it was her baby. Therefore there was no concealment of birth.’

The judge concluded his diatribe by stating that was the whole of the evidence, but he could not resist adding:

I do not know what you think of such treatment. The fact that in her miserable condition, she should have been dragged into a police cell, has shocked me beyond the power of description.’

Mr Justice Hawkins words had some powerful effect on the men of the jury. The foreman, after delivering a verdict of not guilty, added that the jury ‘hoped that Inspector Parker would be spoken to with respect to his conduct.’ Mr Justice Hawkins agreed, and ordered that the girl be instantly discharged. Julia Newton looked very relieved as she was allowed out of the dock. The next day the judge was still very irate, as before the trial of the next prisoner, he stated that he would disallow any costs to the Rotherham witnesses who had attended the trial of Julie Newton.

Although the case was covered most assiduously by the newspapers, what they did not report were possibly the real reason why the judge had castigated the police officer so unmercifully, for merely doing his duty. It had been reported at the beginning of the trial that Julia was a very beautiful, young girl. Had that melted the heart of the judge? Was that the reason why he had been so hard on Inspector Parker? A column in the Sheffield Independent dated 6 April 1878 from someone who called himself ‘A Spectator in Hallamshire’ also criticised the judge. He stated:

I have good grounds for believing that the strictures of Mr Justice Hawkins on the conduct of Inspector Parker of Rotherham were founded on an entire misconception of the facts. His indignation savoured too much of the Old Bailey and too little of the calm dignity, which is an important qualification for an impartial judge. Those who are acquainted with the circumstances, know that the prisoner was treated with the greatest kindness and attention by Inspector Parker and his wife.

The cell to which she was taken, by order of the doctor, was previously thoroughly warmed, Six rugs were put on her bed and the prisoner had everything she desired.

It was also untrue that the Inspector had to find the body in order to do his duty, as he had already been informed by the doctor and the girls mistress that she had been confined. It was not true that he held up the body of the dead child to taunt her.

All he actually did was to turn the body over to ascertain its fate and then cover it up, without being aware that she had observed him. It was also true that when he entered the room she smiled at him. The next morning she was visited by the Mayor, a gentleman who is known to be sympathetic and humane. She also had several friends visit her, all of them saw that the greatest care had been taken of her. Later she was allowed to sit in the Inspectors private house, where she expressed great satisfaction with her treatment.’

So ended this sad tale of Julia Newton. Did her youth and beauty save her? If she had been older and quite plain would the conclusion have been any different? Sadly we will never know!

Three loaves of bread and some bacon.

Police Constable Mitchell was on night duty in Rotherham on Wednesday 21 February 1872, and it was around midnight when he saw a man lying face down in the gutter on Westgate. This was an area which, at that time was known to be one of the lowest areas of the town, with its many beer shops and overcrowded lodging houses. Sadly it was not unusual for officers to find drunken people insensible on the ground, so PC Mitchell simply sighed before trying to rouse the man in order to send him on his way. He finally managed to wake him, but it was only with the greatest difficulty.

As the man finally gained consciousness and leaned against a wall, the officer asked him his name. He replied that his name was Thomas Higgins and he had come to Rotherham looking for work. As he was slurring his words, PC Mitchell assumed that he was drunk and therefore thought the best place for him was in one of the cells at the police station. There he could safely ‘sleep it off’ until the morning. He tried pulling him to his feet, but Higgins was most unresponsive. In the end the officer had the greatest difficulty in getting him to move at all. Higgins appeared to be so drunk that he kept falling down.

Finally PC Mitchell succeeded in getting the man back to the station and Higgins was given a drink of water by Sergeant Lee. After the drink, Higgins seemed to recover somewhat, and that was where he told a completely different story. He claimed that he had been walking peacefully along Westgate, when he had been assaulted by two men. One of them had brutally knocked him to the ground for no reason at all. The second had roughly gone through his pockets, robbing him of a shilling and a bundle he had been carrying at the time.

When asked what was in the bundle, Higgins told the two officers that it was three loaves of bread and some bacon. He admitted that it might not sound a lot to them, but it was his food for the next three days. As proof he indicated a wound on his temple from which blood was still seeping and stated that one of the men had kicked him as he lay on the floor. Constable Mitchell was still convinced that the man had been drinking and so he escorted Higgins to one of the cells where he was locked up for the night.

Mitchell then continued with his rounds back in the town centre. Also on duty that night was another Rotherham officer called Police Constable Hepburn. About an hour or so later, Hepburn was patrolling along Howard Street, when he saw a man loitering about. He looked most suspicious and after observing him for a while, the officer approached him. The constable asked what he was doing abroad at that time of night, and the man replied that he was on his way to Sheffield to look for work. The officer noted that he was carrying a bundle under his arm and he asked him to open it.

Inside he saw inside three loaves of bread and a small packet of bacon. When he asked the man his name and where he had come from, he replied that he was Thomas Clark and was twenty four years of age. He claimed that he had walked from Doncaster that very day, and admitted that he was ‘on the tramp’. However because he had been acting suspiciously, Hepburn decided to lock him up for the night. Consequently Clark was taken to the police station where he was booked in by Sergeant Lee.

As the man surrendered the bundle, the sergeant opened it to reveal the bread and bacon inside. The sergeant knew that the prisoner Higgins had reported that his own stolen bundle had contained bread and bacon. So he aroused Higgins from his sleep in order to identify the bundle. He immediately recognised, not only the bundle, but Clark as being one of the men who had attacked him earlier that evening in Westgate. Higgins described how Clark had been the one who held him down, while the other man had taken the bundle away from him.

Higgins said that when he attempted to get up, Clark had been the one who had kicked him viciously in the face. The prisoner, who was present denied this and after offering some rambling story about finding the bundle in the street, he too was arrested. The two men were placed in their respective cells for the night and the following morning were brought before the Rotherham magistrates. Both men were reported to be looking bedraggled and shabbily dressed, as the Superintendent of Rotherham Police, Mr Gillott prosecuted the case.

He gave the bench the details of them being brought into the station the night before. The magistrates decided to deal with the case against Thomas Clark first. He was charged with the highway robbery of Thomas Higgins, who was the first witness. Thankfully he appeared to have fully recovered from the recent attack on him. Higgins told the bench that he had bought the bread and bacon earlier in the evening, before he then had looked for lodgings. Knowing that there were several cheap lodging houses on Westgate, Higgins had gone into some of them trying to find a bed for the night.

At one point he said that two men approached him who he didn’t know. As they passed, he heard Clark say his companion ‘this looks like a navvy who has got plenty of money.’ At the time there were many such men earning good wages in Rotherham working on the canals and railways. When the magistrate Mr Chambers asked the witness what he thought the man meant, Higgins said that he could only presume it was because of the bundle he was carrying close to his chest. He said that though it had only contained food for the next three days, the men might have assumed that it held something more valuable.

Higgins then described how the two men knocked him onto the floor and took the parcel away from him. Then, without any provocation, Clark had viciously kicked at him until he became insensible, still lying on the ground. The prisoner Clark was then questioned by the Mayor and asked to give an account of himself. In reply he gave rambling replies as to how the bundle had come into his possession the previous night. Once again he claimed that he had simply found it lying in Westgate. Clark was asked about the second man who had been with him that night, but he stated that he didn’t know his name as they had only just met.

Constable Mitchell then gave details of arresting the prisoner, which was corroborated by Sergeant Lee. Superintendent Mr Gillott told the court that he had another witness who he would like to bring into court. She gave her name as Ann Smith, and said that she ran a provision’s shop on the High Street, Rotherham. She confirmed that the prisoner called Higgins had bought three loaves of bread and some bacon from her earlier on the previous evening. When the witness had finished with her testimony, the Mayor asked Thomas Clark if he had anything to say.

The prisoner denied taken part in any assault, but simply replied that he had been simply walking along Westgate with another man, when they found Higgins face down in the gutter. Clark stated that he thought that the man was unconscious, but nevertheless he admitted stealing the bundle which lay by his side. However he denied taking part in any attack or kicking the man while he was on the ground.
The Mayor, who clearly disbelieved his story, told Clark that he would be remanded in custody before being sent to take his trial at the next Sheffield Sessions.

The prisoner was then removed from the courtroom. Thomas Clark was brought before the Sheffield Christmas Intermediate Sessions at the Town Hall on Thursday 28 February 1872. He was charged with the robbery of the three loaves, the bacon and a shilling from Thomas Higgins on 21 February of that year. After listening to all the evidence, the prisoner was found guilty of the charge. Despite that fact that he had stolen just trifling items, Thomas Clark was sentenced to six months imprisonment.

The Wickersley Farmer.

During the Victorian period the courts had to judge whether a man was temporarily insane through drink, and whether that might be a reason to excuse him from his crimes. Such a case was brought before the magistrates at Doncaster on 1 January 1856, when a very respectable farmer from Wickersley was charged with common theft. Twenty nine year old Thomas Wilson was charged with stealing a shawl, a gown, an apron, a child’s dress, two dust sheets, three towels and two umbrellas to the value of 13s. These objects were the property of Alexander Milner the landlord of the Wood Street Hotel, Doncaster and they had all been stolen from the hotel bedrooms.

It seems that on 16 December of the previous year Police Constable Theobald of the Doncaster Police force had spotted the prisoner acting suspiciously outside the hotel. Later that evening about 5 pm, he met the farmer again carrying a bundle under one arm and two umbrella’s under the other. Wilson could give no explanation for having the articles, and so he was taken to the lock up where his pockets were searched. To the constables complete astonishment, he found the farmer also carried a watch as well as two promissory notes, one for £500 and the other for £200.

At first Wilson tried to tell Sergeant Pawson that he had a brother-in-law living on Garden Street, Doncaster and had obtained the objects from him, but the Sergeant knew well that there was no Garden Street in the town. Subsequently Wilson was brought before the Doncaster court and one of the magistrates asked Sergeant Pawson if the prisoner had been drunk at the time of the arrest. But the officer replied that he was fresh [intoxicated] when he was brought into the station, but certainly not drunk. Thankfully the social position of Thomas Wilson was such that he was able to afford to employ a barrister to defend him, and at this point Mr R N Phillips rose to defend his client.

He stated that Thomas Wilson had always been respectable farmer, as well as being elected as an overseer of the poor in Wickersley. He had a wife, a very comfortable home, and at the time of the offence, a considerable amount of money in notes upon his person. However the barrister told the court that he was unable to account for his clients very strange conduct. Mr. Phillips admitted Wilson’s guilt, before pointing out that on the day of the robbery he had gone to Doncaster to sell a horse at the fair. The magistrates therefore had no option, but to examine Wilson’s state of mind at the time he committed the offence.

Mr Phillips, using very forceful language, stated that he would bring witnesses to prove that his client, although he was very respectable, was a man soon excited by indulging in even the smallest amount of liquor. Therefore the claim that he had made about a mythical brother-in-law must be viewed as a result of labouring under temporary insanity. The barrister claimed that in this condition Wilson did not know what he was saying or doing. He concluded by pointing out that his actions were more of an act of folly, rather than of felonious intent. Mr Phillips therefore asked the court for an acquittal, which would allow his client to leave the court cleared of all criminal charges.

The barrister concluded that if the court was in agreement, Wilson ‘could then atone for his for his conduct by striving again to occupy that respectable position from which he had so quickly fallen.’ The first witness he produced was a Benjamin Robinson who worked for the prisoner. He claimed that his master had always been honest in his dealings, although he had been drinking on 16 December. He stated that he had been drunk at 5 pm when Robinson left him in Doncaster and that he had been acting ‘wild and strange.’ However, when cross-examined, Robinson admitted that his master had committed a similar offence at Rotherham some years previously.

Mr. Phillips told the bench that on that occasion, Wilson had been acquitted on the grounds of intoxication adding ‘and therefore he was as innocent as ever he was before’. However, the prosecution Mr. Marratt challenged that. He said that from the defence’s argument, it would seem that a man had to do nothing but get extremely drunk, commit a felony and then plead drunkenness simply to escape justice. The next witness Mr Phillips called was Mr. Charles Lowe a respectable quarry owner of Wickersley. He told the court that he had known Thomas Wilson for some years and was convinced that he was not right in his head when he was under the influence of liquor.

Other witnesses gave similar evidence, which proved that Wilson was ‘more of a madman than a thief.’ From the evidence it would seem that even the smallest amount of liquor affected Thomas Wilson’s brain, so much that he was not aware of what he was doing. Mr Marratt stated the case for the prosecution and read out the conversation between the prisoner and the police officers in which he mentioned the fictitious brother-in-law after he was charged. His statements made no sense and he queried that if Wilson had been so intoxicated, then was this considered to be the conduct of a man who was perfectly insensible to what he was doing?

The prisoners defence, Mr Phillips told the court he did not go so far as to say that his client was insane, for he knew that if it amounted to insanity, that the court had the power to order the prisoners confinement. However he stated that he did not want to go that way, therefore he had not dwelt much upon it. The jury listened to both accounts before returning a verdict that they found Thomas Wilson to be guilty, but with a recommendation to mercy. In passing sentence the chair of the magistrates stated that he felt that he agreed with the jury and added:

‘I do not consider the case calls for severe punishment and I would have thought the same if the prisoner had not been placed in such good circumstances as he was. It pains me to pass sentence, but I hope it would be a warning to the prisoner not to allow the temptations of drink to overcome him any more. I do not wish to see him among the felons at Wakefield prison. Therefore the sentence of the court is that he be imprisoned in the common gaol of the borough for the space of one week’.

It was reported that Wilson was so greatly excited during the delivery of the sentence that he sobbed aloud and appealed for mercy several times. However the leniency of the sentence was regarded with great satisfaction by a large number of the prisoner’s friends who were in the court.

I am no expert at diagnosis, but it does appear that Thomas Wilson was possibly a kleptomaniac which is now classified as ‘an impulse control disorder’ which is usually committed for reasons other than those of personal gain. Although it was little understood in those early years, now it can be treated with the use of drugs. However you do get the feeling from the accounts of the case, that it was only Thomas Wilson’s good standing in the community and the fact that he was wealthy enough to employ a barrister to defend him, which had, in the end set him free.

The Tragic Servant Girl

Elizabeth Ann Wright was just 16 years of age when she began working for Mr and Mrs Ebenezer Stacey, whose house was on Western Bank, Sheffield on 3 January 1894. However it was not long before she found out that she was working for a very demanding mistress. When Elizabeth started work, Mrs Stacey had had promised to pay her 4s a week. But her mistress kept a very wary eye on her servants and would fine them for any breakages. Not unnaturally this made the poor servant girl very nervous particularly when, the same week she started work, Elizabeth somehow managed to drop a coffee jug. Mrs Stacey told her that she would have to take 4s out of her first weeks wages in order to replace it.

In the second week of her employment, her mother Mrs Alice Ann Wright received another letter from her daughter outlining her disappointments in the new post. Elizabeth told her mother that even though she had not been working for the family for long, Mrs Stacey had already given her a months warning on the Tuesday of the second week. Her employers wife had told the girl that she was very disappointed in her and she would have to reduce her wages if she continued to do her work as badly as she had done previously. Elizabeth also complained that she was not allowed a light in her bedroom at night, so she had to grope her way into bed at the end of a very long day.

The very next day, Mrs Stacey gave Elizabeth two ugly print dresses to wear, because she did not like the clothes that her servant had brought with her from home. Matters continued to deteriorate and just three weeks into her service, Alice Wright received yet another complaining letter from her daughter, which outlined even more terrible treatment from her mistress. Elizabeth said that her employers were ‘always out’ leaving her to deal with their unruly children. She complained that they ‘tell tales about me and they do peek and pry.’ and ended the letter stating ‘I cannot say much as I have a lot of work to do before she comes back.’

On the night of Saturday 27 January 1894, it seems that Mr and Mrs Stacey had been invited to a supper party, consequently they did not arrive back at the house on Western Bank until around midnight. However they found that their servant Elizabeth was missing, although thankfully all the children were all still sleeping in their beds. Mrs Stacey was furious at her servants deception and decided to dismiss her in the morning, but her servant never returned that night. The next day, finding that the girl was still missing, she went to her parents house at High Green, Sheffield to complain about her leaving them without a word.

However she found that Elizabeth was not at home with her parents. Needless to say Mr and Mrs Wright were most worried at this news and had no option but to report her missing to the Sheffield police. A search was instigated and concerns deepened when some of Elizabeth’s clothing was found lying beside Howbrook Reservoir near to where they lived on Sunday 28 January. The reservoir was dragged by some police officers, but nothing was found until it had been completely drained altogether. There, on Tuesday 30 January at the very bottom, the body of Elizabeth Wright was found.

Needless to say, an inquest on the body of Elizabeth Ann Wright was convened by the Sheffield Coroner, Mr D Wightman. It was held at the Salutation Inn at High Green, Sheffield two days later. Also in attendance was Mr A S Fawcett, a solicitor for Mr and Mrs Stacey as well as Sergeant Burton of Chapeltown, who represented the West Riding Police. The deceased girls mother Eliza was the first witness, and she told the inquest that she was the wife of James Wright, who lived just a few doors away from the Salutation Inn. She told the coroner that her daughter had been a strong and healthy girl who had been looking forward to her first position as a domestic servant with the Stacey’s.

The witness described how her daughter had left home just over three weeks previously, and that she had not seen her daughter since. The coroner asked her if there had been any insanity in the family, but Mrs Wright quickly denied it. A member of the jury asked Mrs Wright if her daughter had been a timid girl, to which her mother replied that she was. Then the same juror her asked why her daughter should have gone to the reservoir to kill herself, instead of going home to her parents instead. He pointed out that the water was less than a quarter of a mile away from her own home. Sadly Mrs Wright had no answer to that vital question.

Another witness was a farmer of High Green called Charles Scholey, who told Mr Wightman that he knew the deceased and that on the Saturday night she disappeared, the girl had travelled in the same train compartment as himself. They had both travelled from Sheffield to Westwood Station, where they arrived around midnight. Given the late hour, the farmer had kindly offered to accompany her as far as his own house, which was on the way. The witness admitted however that they had little conversation as Elizabeth seemed to be reluctant to converse and the night itself was very windy. As they had walked however she did tell him that she had left her employment at the house in Western Bank.

Then she left him and she was heading in the direction of her own home, so he naturally assumed that was where she was going. The coroner at this point asked if the girl had seemed depressed at all, but the farmer said that she just appeared as she normally would. The next witness was another person who knew the family and he introduced himself as a miner called George Laycock of Mortemley. He described find a woman’s hat, jacket and umbrella in a field near the reservoir on Sunday 28 January 1894. He immediately sent for a police officer and within a short time Police Constable Brooke arrived.

He searched the clothing and found a note and a letter in the jacket pocket. The note simply said ‘Goodbye to all dear friends. Goodbye to the missus who made me do this.’ The letter was just a folded sheet of paper and was addressed to Elizabeths family. Inside she had written:

‘Dear mother and father, sisters and brothers,
I say good-bye to you. Missus has been a bad one to me, and I ran away tonight. I came home by the last train to drown myself, for I dare not come home. My dinner on Tuesday was nasty and I am sure they are trying to poison me. I am writing this sat on the grass. Never let Lucy go to such a place mother.’

There was silence in the room as the letter was read out. One of the jury cleared his throat before adding that it was evident from the letter that the deceased had fully intended to drown herself, even though no one had actually witnessed her going into the water. PC Brooks told the court that he knew the girls father James Wright and he had always been a straight man and a good father.

Mr Wright who was also present was then asked to give evidence. The coroner, Mr Wightman asked him if his daughter would take exception to being rebuked about her work, but he explained that this was not the first position his daughter had held. However he said that she had always got on well with her mistresses in the past. However he did admit that if he or his wife chastised Elizabeth for anything, that she would be very ‘cut up’ about it. The next witness was a keeper of the reservoir, a man called George Rogers. He stated that at first the police had dragged the reservoir with hooks on the same day that the clothing had been found. They found nothing and so he had to open the valves and drain the water out completely. Subsequently it had been two days later on the Tuesday before the body was discovered.

The keeper said that at the place where the body had finally been found, the water was about seventeen feet deep. The body had been found in a corner of the reservoir, so that accounted for the reason why it had not discovered earlier when the police were dragging the water. The coroner cross examined Mr Rogers as to whether the reservoir had been safely fenced off and the witness replied that it was his job to repair and replace any damage to the fencing around the water. He stated that the girl would have to be very determined, as she would have had to climb over a four foot high fence to get into the water. However it was the next witness which most of the people at the inquest wanted to hear from.

Consequently there was a distinct murmur in the room as the woman at the centre of the case introduced herself. Mrs Stacey told the inquest that the girl had proved to be completely incompetent, to the point where she had been forced to give her notice to leave the following Tuesday. Ironically, that was the very day in which Elizabeth’s dead body had been found. Mrs Stacey however didn’t hold back and she told the inquest that the girl was incapable of cleaning rooms properly or doing any task that was required of her. The witness then described how she and her husbands had return home on Saturday 27 January only to find the girl gone.

Mr Wightman asked her if she had told the girl that she would not pay her the promised wages of 4s a week, but the witness corrected him. She said that she had told Elizabeth that ‘she was not worth the 4s a week.’ To no ones surprise her employer also complained that her servant always looked sad and appeared to be quite depressed in spirits. Then, when asked by her own solicitor if Mrs Stacey had decided to take the servant back after giving her notice, the witness agreed that she had agreed to give her servant a second chance. Mrs Stacey maintained that she had always treated the deceased with consideration and kindness. She pointed out that the girl had never complained to her about being badly treated.

At this point the solicitor intervened again and asked the coroner if he could give evidence as to Mrs Stacey’s relations with a previous servant who had been with her for four years. However the coroner told him that it would serve no purpose as she had not been employed whilst the deceased girl had been working for the Stacey’s. Curiously, one of the jury asked Mr Wightman if he could judge what might be the cause for the girl’s depression, and the coroner answered that there could be many reasons. He said that a lot of people were suffering from depression and melancholy without ever knowing the reason for it. He stated that it was something which baffled even the best medical minds.

In his summing up, Mr Wightman told the jury that it was very clear that the girl had drowned herself. Therefore the jury had to decide on her state of mind at the time she did it. He stated that he would point them in the direction of the last letter to her parents, and suggested that anyone who felt that they were being poisoned suggests that she might not in her right mind. The coroner also noted the deceased comments regarding her ‘daring not to go home’ which he found to be equally mystifying to understand. Mr Wightman said that he had spoken to both parents and they were equally baffled.

Finally he directed the jury to remember that the deceased had not simply walked into the water by accident, as was proved by her clothes being found. The jury retired for a short while to deliberate, and a few moments later filed back into the room. The foreman gave the verdict which was that ‘the deceased had committed suicide whilst in a state of temporary insanity.’ Mr Wightman told the jury that he entirely concurred with their decision. He then told the inquest that Mrs Stacey had kindly offered to pay the girls funeral expenses, which had been gratefully accepted by the family. The inquest was then formally closed.

The Curious Death of Blanche Early

On Wednesday 11 December 1901, a pork butcher called Jesse Early, lived over the shop with his wife and daughters on Effingham Street, Rotherham. At the time, one of his girls was called Blanche Emily who was around nineteen years of age. Despite her youth however, she had seemed beset by illness for most of her life and was considered by her parents to be weak and fragile. Blanche shared a bed with her eldest sister, Florence Amy, who on that morning was told to get up by her mother around 7.30 am. She accordingly got up, leaving her sister, who had not been very well, still in bed.

It seems that as Florence went downstairs, she noted that her mother had left the Venetian blinds up in the bedroom next door to their own, which she shared with their father. Thinking nothing of it, the girl went downstairs to help her mother prepare breakfast for the family. Her father Jesse meanwhile also called in at at his youngest daughters bedroom door, urging Blanche to get up as it was almost 8 am. As he was descending the stairs, Jesse saw his daughter was up and walking along the landing, heading towards the back bedroom he had just left. He walked into the kitchen having no idea about what was just about to happen.

At the same time, in a house on the opposite side of the street was a servant girl who was employed in helping out in the Early household, serving in the butchers shop, as well as helping around the house. She was called Lily Woodhead and was getting ready for work when she glanced across to her employers house. To her complete astonishment she saw Blanche open the window of her parents bedroom and putting her legs out, sit on the sill. Lily watched in horror as Blanche, still in her nightdress seemed to be still for a moment, before plunging down into the yard below. Lily scream helplessly as she knew that the bedroom window was estimated to be twenty five feet from the window, and knew that Blanche would not survive the fall.

Blanche’s brother, Patrick by now was working in the butchers shop and he also heard someone open his parents bedroom window above. To his horror a couple of minutes afterwards he saw his sister fall past the shop window, and rushing outside found her seriously injured on the cobbles. Picking Blanche up as gently as he could, he carried her through the shop and into the family’s living quarters behind. A local doctor, Dr Baldwin was immediately called out and he quickly attended the girl, but there was little he could do. Just two days afterwards on 14 December Blanche Early died. It seems that although she had soon re-covered consciousness, Blanch was unable to remember anything about the incident or what had prompted her to take such desperate actions.

Needless to say the family was distraught and the only conclusion that they could come to was that Blanche had walked in her sleep and had somehow jumped out of the window by mistake. Needless to say an inquest was arranged for Monday 16 December 1901 by the deputy coroner, Mr Benjamin Bagshawe at the Rotherham Infirmary. Blanche’s father was the first witness who told the jury that his daughter had never been a healthy girl, even from her birth. However Jesse said that he had thought that there had been some improvement in her over the last few years. The butcher also stated that Blanche had, for many years, been subject to walking in her sleep but that appeared to have ceased around six years previously.

The witness said that his daughter had seemed normal and the night before had gone to bed at the usual time and appeared to him to be in her usual health and spirits. He said that the next time he had seen her however was when she was unconscious in the arms of her brother, after he found her in the yard. When the butcher was asked if he could account for his daughters death, Jesse simply shook his head. He said that he had looked long and hard at what had happened and could only conclude that in lifting the Venetian blinds, the brightness of the day must have startled Blanche.

He presumed that his daughter had been heading towards the bathroom but instead had found herself in her parents bedroom. He suggested that perhaps in a state of some confusion that she had for some unknown reason fallen out of the window. One of the jury asked the witness if he thought Blanche could have known exactly what she was doing, but her father could only suggest that she might have been dazed and not fully awake. Then it was time for Blanche’s sister Florence to give her evidence and she told the inquest that she was in the kitchen downstairs when she heard her sister go into the back bedroom above. She thought she had probably gone in there to fetch some clean clothes so also thought little of it. That was until she heard her brother shouting that Blanche had fallen into the yard.

Florence recalled how her sister was unconscious at first, but that she revived after about an hour or so later. However she could give no account of what had happened as she didn’t even remember getting out of bed. The coroner asked the witness if she and her sister were close, to which Florence agreed that they were. He then asked her if her sister had been particularly worried about anything at the time, but Florence stated that Blanche did not appear to be worried, not was she in any trouble within the family as far as she knew. The servant girl who worked for the family and the only witness to the girl’s death was the next to give evidence, and gave her name as Lily Woodhead.

She described how her employers daughter had come to the window and sat on the sill for a minute before jumping. The servant related how the girl had appeared to be talking to herself ‘because her mouth was moving’ but she could hear nothing. The witness said that only when Blanche opened the window did she, herself experience some alarm so Lily called out to her, but at the same time, the girl jumped into the yard below. The coroner summed up for the jury and he told them that sadly they could only come to one conclusion. Mr Bagshawe repeated the fathers assertion that his daughter had previously been a sleep walker, which he said was common for girls of that age.

He pointed out that according to the witness’s evidence, the girl had gone to bed quite cheerful and therefore the family had no reason to suspect that she might have intended to kill herself. They had no reason to feel concerned or to suspect that she might do what she had done. The coroner therefore suggested that the jury’s verdict should be something along the lines of ‘that the deceased had died from the effects of falling through a bedroom window, whilst probably in a semi-conscious or somnolent condition’. A verdict to that effect was given by the jury.

The coroner added his deep sympathy for the family before closing the enquiry. However this most peculiar and mysterious death of their daughter no doubt puzzled Blanche’s family for many years to come.

The Italian Musician.

In the evening of Tuesday 27 September 1836, around 7pm, an Italian musician called Joseph Romasarte was plying his trade in Furnival Street, Sheffield. He was earning pennies by playing tunes on a little pipe organ in the street. Suddenly he was approached by a man outside the public house called ‘The Swan with Two Necks.’ The man was a coachman called Levi Roebuck, who had come to collect his hackney carriage and horses which were stabled at the public house. Nevertheless it was clear to the young musician that Roebuck had been drinking.

However the man seemed pleasant enough as he told the Italian that he had enjoyed listening to him and his music and offered him sixpence to play another tune. Romasarte delightedly obliged and played another tune, but when he had finished the coachman refused to pay him. The two men started to argue in the street, before Roebuck slapped the musician hard across his face. Hearing the debacle, his common-law-wife Ann Clay intervened and sent Roebuck back into the stables of the Swan to calm down. She paid Romasarte the money her paramour had promised him, before leaving him still muttering about what he would do to the coachman if he saw him again.

After watering his horses, Roebuck was leading them out into Furnival Street and was probably thinking that was the end of the matter. However as he was leaving the stables, the Italian came from behind a corner and stabbed Roebuck low down in the stomach before running away. The blow was so violent that he left the coachman with his bowels protruding from his stomach. Within minutes the man was unconscious and was brought back inside the Swan, where he was conveyed up to one of the bedrooms there. A surgeon, Mr Wilson was called and he found that the wound suffered by the injured man was so severe that he was convinced that Roebuck’s life was in some danger.

The police were also informed about the stabbing and a description of the perpetrator was given to the watchmen as they were mustering for night duty. As a result, one of the watch, a man called William Wolstenholme was following his beat along Pond Street later that evening when he saw a crowd of boys annoying a man in their midst. Upon seeing the watchman, the boys told him that he was indeed the Italian who had carried out the stabbing earlier that evening. As a result Romasarte was taken into custody at the Town Hall and brought before the magistrates the next morning.

The surgeon, Mr Knoulton Wilson told the court that he feared that Roebucks life was in some danger and he could not possibly be brought to court to give evidence for some weeks. So the prisoner was simply remanded. Subsequently it was not until Friday 14 October before Roebuck appeared before the Sheffield magistrates and recounted what had happened on the night in question. Romasarte’s defence, Mr Palfreyman asked Roebuck what was his state of mind at the time and the coachman admitted to being been quite drunk. Ann Clay gave evidence that after Roebuck had slapped the musician across the face, that she had offered Romasarte three pence to take no notice of ‘a drunken man.’

Instead he had replied in a sinister voice that ‘he would be paid another way.’ Only when she went outside five minutes later did she later find that Roebuck had been stabbed. The next witness was the surgeon Mr Knoulton Wilson, who told the court that he had examined Roebuck after being summoned to help him and had found a perpendicular wound about an inch and a half long. It appeared to have been produced by a very long, sharp knife and, at the time he felt doubtful that Roebuck would recover. The watchman Wolstenholme stated that he had been ordered to watch out for the Italian on his rounds and described how he had found him in Pond Street.

He was trying to get away from a group of people that had followed him and they called out to the watchman to arrest the man. When the prisoner was asked what he had done, he replied ‘not much.’ The keeper of the Sheffield gaol, Aaron Cooper stated that when Joseph Romasarte was brought into custody he had a black eye. The prisoners defence Mr Palfreyman jumped on this information, and questioned the witness as to whether it was just the redness from a slap on the face or it was indeed a black eye. Cooper confirmed that it was definitely a black eye.

The prisoner defence pointed out that he felt that the attack on Roebuck had not been pre-meditated and had simply been as a result of an assault on his client. He stated that therefore the charge should have been listed under manslaughter not murder. He said that to his mind it was more a case of common assault. The magistrates discussed the case between themselves and it was not long before it was decided to send the prisoner to the next York Assizes. Joseph Romasarte was brought before judge Sir Gregory Lewin at the Yorkshire Spring Assizes on 20 March 1837. The prisoner was charged with cutting and stabbing Levi Roebuck on 27 September 1836 with intent to kill and murder him.

An unnamed prosecutor cross-examined the various witnesses and it was reported that their evidence showed that Roebuck ‘was a man of very dissipated habits, and of an extremely quarrelsome disposition.’ The coachman himself admitted to the court that he had once before been convicted of an assault and had also been brought before the magistrates charged with cruelty to his animals. However a witness for the Italian musician, a woman with whom he had lodged for some time in Sheffield, gave him a very good character reference. She stated that in all the time she had known him, he had always been a quiet and peaceful man.

The judge summed up for the jury and condemned Roebuck for having used some provocation towards the prisoner by slapping him. The court was cleared whilst the jury made their deliberations, which took just a few moments. They found Joseph Romasarte not guilty of the charge. It might be said that the coachman Levi Roebuck aptly deserved his violent reputation as events proved that he had learned nothing from his earlier escape. Just ten months later on Friday 20 January 1838 he was again hauled before magistrate, Mr Hugh Parker charged with another assault. This time he had attacked a vestry clerk called Mr Crossland, for which he was found guilty and fined 30s.