Rotherham’s Railway Navvies.

It has to be said that a navvy’s life was long, hard and dangerous. The men who worked on these canals and railways were called navvies after the term of ‘canal navigators.’ The working condition were basic, as there was no sick pay and if the weather was bad then the men simply just didn’t work. Frequently, when they could not work they drank for the whole of the day. In Rotherham, some of them lived in the many lodging houses of the town, whilst others lived in hastily built cabins or huts erected near to their work. Sometimes these cabins only had two rooms shared sometimes by six to eight men.

They had no basic amenities such as toilets or washing facilities. Yet often the navvies would be accompanied by their wives and families, also sharing such terrible conditions. Needless to say, these navvies quickly gained a reputation, which was promoted through the newspapers of the period, as being drunken and unruly men. Three such navigators were brought before the Rotherham magistrates on Tuesday 3 October 1837. They were brothers William and James Pennington aged 19 and 28 respectively, and another man called John Harrison. The men were charged with committing ‘a desperate and violent attack on the police’.

The report from the Sheffield Independent dated 7 October 1827 simply described them as ‘three rough looking men employed by the railways.’ They were escorted into the court by the Superintendent of Rotherham Police, Mr John Bland. The first witness was William Bagnall who kept a grocers shop and beer house at Masbrough. He told the court that the previous night about 11 pm, he had closed up the shop and had been making preparations for bed. Suddenly, and without warning, the three prisoners broke open the shop door and accompanied by several other men, poured into the premises.

They then proceeded to threaten to kill the witness if he did not serve them all with a gallon of ale. Bagnall quite rightly refused, so without any further provocation the men attacked him, knocking him to the floor and kicking him viciously when he was down. The witness stated that thankfully his wife and his family were in the back room, so upon hearing the attack, they fled out of the door to the safety of a neighbouring house. Eventually Bagnall described how he also managed to escape and leaving his shop, the stock and the men inside, he also fled through the back door. Bagnall said that he ran to find the nearest police constable in the area and on Masbrough Street he found Police Constable Henry Womack on duty.

The two men returned back to the shop, which they found smashed up and the contents scattered all over the floor. When Bagnall was asked if he had identified any of the men involved, he mentioned the two Pennington’s and Harrison, who had been in the shop several times before. PC Womack was the next witness and he told the bench that after he had reported the robbery to his Superintendent, he and three other officers were sent to arrest the two Pennington’s at Masbrough later that same night. As they entered the lodging house where the brothers lived they found a number of other navvies also in the kitchen. The officer stated that they managed to arrest the two brothers, but at that time could see no sign of Harrison.

However as the police tried to take the three prisoners back to the cells at the station, a shout went up from some of the other lodgers to rescue them. Going outside, the four officers readied themselves as they were immediately surrounded by 20 or 30 other navvies who also lived in the same area of Masbrough. A general melee then ensued, which resulted in all the police officers being knocked down and kicked. The two brothers and Harrison were jubilantly rescued and taken off by some of the mob. Constable Womack told the magistrates that the attack was so vicious that he and his assistants were obliged to flee from the rest of the assembled navvies to save their own lives.

On his return back to the station, the witness said that he immediate reported the offence to Mr Bland. The Superintendent was the next witness and he told the court that after hearing the statement made by his officers, he and four other officers went back to Masbrough to the same lodging house as the Pennington brothers. There the two brothers were pointed out to him by PC Womack and so the superintendent told them that he was here to arrest them. Once again a general fight took place and the witness told the court that he was struck on the head with a heavy bludgeon, wielded by William Pennington.

Only after a most determined assault, did the officers manage to finally arrest the two men and bring them kicking and punching back to the station. The following day, even more officers were sent to Masbrough where John Harrison was finally captured and arrested. One of the magistrates on the bench, Henry Walker Esq., hearing this statement, vowed that the magistrates were determined to cut out such behaviour in Rotherham. He said that at that time such men employed as navvies on the railway were becoming ‘a complete menace.’ Speaking for the other members of the bench, he told the court that:

‘The disturbances by these men were now becoming so serious that people would soon scarcely feel safe in their own houses. We are determined to visit all such persons as the prisoners with the full penalty of the law. In particular where the constables’ lives were actually attacked, as in this case’.

The prisoners were quickly found guilty and were ordered to take their trial at the next West Riding Sessions which were due to be held at Sheffield later that month. When the subject of bail came up, none of the men were able to provide sureties and so bail was denied. On Saturday 28 October 1837 the two Pennington’s and John Harrison were brought before Lord Wharnecliffe at the Sheffield Sessions. James Pennington pleaded guilty to assaulting two of the constables, Thomas Darnally and George Marshall in the execution of their duty. His brother also pleaded guilty to assaulting John Bland and other constables, also in the execution of their duty.

The court sentenced them both to imprisonment for fourteen days and to enter into sureties of £10 each to keep the peace for 12 months. When it came to the third prisoner however, the Grand Jury found that John Harrison’s identification during the assault had not been fully established. Therefore they had to ignore the charge against him of aiding and abetting the last two prisoners, and he was discharged.

Now, modern historians are much more sympathetic towards these navvies and recognise the excellent work these men carried out under the most terrible conditions. It is a matter of fact that hundreds of these men were killed or injured undertaking the dangerous work of building canals and railways. Thankfully because of them, the South Yorkshire Navigation Canal had been opened in Rotherham in 1780. It brought trade and prosperity to Rotherham, as did the Rotherham Westgate Railway Station which opened on 31 October 1838.

The Crimes of Mary Ann Cowl

On Monday 29 October 1917 a woman called Mrs Thomas Franklin left her house on Ash Street, Sheffield to undertaken some business in the town centre. In her absence she left her eleven-year old daughter Gladys in charge. She made sure that her daughter locked and bolted the back door first and then listened carefully from outside whilst she heard her lock and bolt the front door too. Secure that the house was safe, Mrs Franklin carried on with her business. She had trained her daughter well in what she had to do. The arrangement was that when her daughter needed to go out herself, the child would leave the key on a mangle in the back yard.

She had carefully instructed her daughter to place it on the mangle in the back yard, under a cloth and then to put a large stone over it. Consequently when Gladys needed to do some shopping herself, she accordingly left the key on the mangle. However when the girl returned from her shopping she went into the back yard and lifted the stone and the cloth, only to find the key missing. For a moment or two the girl remained stunned, as she knew she had left it there just a short time before. Still puzzling over what had gone wrong she went to the back door and was even more surprised when a strange woman opened the door.

The woman, who was later identified as Mary Ann Cowl, was almost as surprised as Gladys had been. Gladys in fright, shouted at the woman and demanded to know what she was doing inside her mother’s house. Thankfully a neighbour heard the girl shouting and he intervened. He caught hold of the woman and took her next door to his own house, whilst the police were summoned. Once a constable arrived, the woman gave her name and admitted that she was a munitions worker who lived on Kenyon Street, Sheffield. Mary Ann was searched and several items were found on her.

When Mrs Franklin returned home later, she identified the items as being the property of her husband and daughter. Mary Ann Cowl was arrested but by the time she appeared in the Sheffield Police Court on Thursday 1 November, she was charged with a second count of housebreaking.
The second charge was that of breaking into a house belonging to a Private Pickard of the Royal Engineers, who was at the time away serving in the war. He and his wife lived on Oxford Street, Sheffield and on the same day as Mary Ann Cowl had broken into Mrs Franklin’s house, she had also stolen money and cigars from the house on Oxford Street.

The first witness was the eleven year old girl Gladys Franklin and she described being very careful at leaving the house secure in her mothers absence. After she had given her evidence in a clear and concise manner, she was complimented by the Lord Mayor, Counsellor Appleyard and Counsellor Blanchard. The girl was told that she should be very proud of herself, in the way she had made her statement and thanked for her help in catching the prisoner. The second witness was the wife of Private Pickard and she told the court that on the same day she had missed £6.18s from a cash box which had been in a drawer in her bedroom.

She had also missed some cigars of her husbands. She too told the bench that she had locked up the house carefully before leaving, but on her return found the door unlocked. However the chief evidence against the prisoner was the testimony of her own eight year old daughter. She told the court how her mother had visited both houses on the day in question. When Counsellor Blanchard asked the prisoner if she had anything to say in her own defence, she blamed it on ‘taking drink, which had been the ruin of me.’ The Lord Mayor told the court that the prisoner had a record of many such offences and consequently Mary Ann Cowl was ordered to take her trial at the next assizes. However before the prisoner could be sent to take her trial, just two days on Saturday 3 November she was to appear once again in court for an incredible third housebreaking offence.

Mary Ann was charged once more with breaking and entering a house belonging to Thomas Hudson of Sutton Street, Sheffield. His wife, Mrs Annie Hudson was the first witness and she told the court that on the afternoon of 16 June around 2.30 pm she left the house, making sure that everywhere was secure. As usual she had locked the door and put the key inside a window before pulling the window closed as she left. Upon her return around 5 pm she found the window open. The key was still in its usual place and she picked it up only to find that the door was already open. Mrs Hudson was completely dumbfounded when a strange woman walked downstairs.

The woman asked her ‘you’re Mrs Hudson aren’t you?’ The witness replied ‘yes’ before asking the prisoner ‘who are you and what are you doing up my stairs.’ At that time the firm of Cammells in Sheffield were collecting money for the families of serving soldiers, so the woman told her that she had been awarded 6s 5d from that fund. When Mrs Hudson pointed out that she did not work for Cammells, the prisoner apologised before making some excuse and left. Only after she had gone did the witness make a search of the house and found that a cash box she had kept in one of the bedrooms had been broken open and the money was gone.

After hearing this evidence, once again Mary Ann asked if she had anything to say. Once again the prisoner blamed it on her love of alcohol. Subsequently Mary Ann Cowl was brought before the judge at the Autumn Assizes at York on Thursday 29 November 1917. She pleaded guilty to the three charges of breaking and entering and stealing a total of £6.18s in money, two cigars, a pair of woollen gloves and a rolled gold bangle. An unnamed Detective officer told the judge, Mr Justice Roche that every opportunity to change had been given to the prisoner, who was a confirmed thief. He said that after a previous trial at the Assizes in York a local clergyman had taken an interest in her.

He had found her a situation, and Mary Ann had gone straight for a while, but then she was arrested again on a housebreaking charge. Once more the same clergyman found her yet another position after she had been discharged from prison. This time it was in London in the expectation of getting her away from Sheffield and her former associates. Once again the clergyman had hoped that it would help Mary Ann to stay on the straight and narrow. However as soon as she could, the woman returned back to Sheffield and carried on with her nefarious career. Mary Ann’s husband, Mr John Cowl was called and he confirmed that his wife was virtually an alcoholic.

He said that since she had an accident at the Admiralty Testing Works in Sheffield, where she had been employed a few years previously ‘she could not leave the drink alone.’ Mr Justice Roche heard all the evidence, before telling Mary Ann Cowl that he was determined to put an end to her criminal career. He ordered that she serve fifteen months imprisonment with hard labour for the three charges before him. After that he warned her, that she would be subject to careful police supervision for three years afterwards.

The Gentleman Thief

On Friday 22 September 1893 Richard Buttenshaw left the works around 10.30 am and shortly afterwards appeared at the Sheffield and Rotherham Bank on the High Street, as was his custom. There he drew out the cash for the men’s wages which totalled £760. The bank clerk Mr James Chislett asked him how he would like the money and he replied that he would take it all in gold as he had around £100 in silver to make up the remainder. As was usual the cash was paid to him without anyone suspecting anything irregular, and he placed in it a small leather bag. That was where his usual behaviour ended and he simply disappeared. Around 3.30 pm Mr Tozer himself wanted to speak to Richard and it was only at that point that his absence was noted.

When it became known that the cashier had not returned from his visit to the bank, it was suspected that he might have been attacked and robbed. The Rotherham Police force were notified, but no reports of any robbery had come to their attention. It was only after an examination of his books, that more large sums of money were found to be missing. A warrant for Richard Buttenshaw’s arrest was immediately issued. Enquiries soon established that far from being a victim, Richard had got on a train at the Rotherham Station on Westgate. There he had boarded one of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire trains for Doncaster which left at 11.42 am that day.

Telegrams giving his description and his crimes were dispatched to all the major cities and seaside towns and the police were issued with orders to look out for the wanted man. The local people of the town were absolutely stunned as this news circulated. Richard had been a person of good social standing in the town where he had been a well known figure. Railway men were questioned at various places and it was soon established that he had gone to the town of Ely in Cambridgeshire on the 1.40 pm train from Doncaster. Almost immediately the Chief Constable of Rotherham, Mr J Enwright spoke to the Ely Constabulary and photographs and a fuller description was given and distributed.

Meanwhile all other leads were followed up in an attempt to arrest the once familiar Rotherham figure. One such lead was that Richard had been spotted leaving from a port at Dover, but this was later found to be false. By Monday 25 September rumours were circulating in Rotherham that Richard Buttenshaw had been found in the Isle of Ely and identified. It was also established that he still had the larger part of £700 in his possession at the time he was arrested. A communication was sent by Mr Enright and arrangements were made for the prisoners return back to Rotherham. It appeared that Richard had been found at the Bell Hotel at Ely where he had given the name John Calvert and had indicated to the hotel staff that he was a gentleman of means.

In the meantime, he had spent a lot of time and money travelling to all the beauty spots in the area, hiring carriages to take him to all the different places. Richard had spent part of his time at the seaside town of Hunstanton and had also attended religious services in Ely Cathedral. It was also rumoured that he had impressed people at the Ely Conservative Club with his political opinions. Nevertheless despite his ‘respectable’ appearance, some suspicion had been aroused which had come to the attention of Ely police and they dispatched Sergeant Parker to investigate. He found the man purporting to be John Calvert sitting in the lounge of the Bell Hotel.

In the presence of the manager, the sergeant challenged him that he had assumed a name which was not his own. The man hotly denied it. Sergeant Parker told Richard that he would have to accompany him to the police station at Ely in order to prove his identity. At that point the man stated that he wanted to change his clothes and so the sergeant and himself went to the bedroom which he had recently occupied. Once there and in the absence of the manager, Richard admitted that he was the wanted man and he was arrested. He admitted his regret for the act of dishonesty which had led to him leaving Rotherham. As a result, two officers from the Rotherham police, Chief Clerk Baylis and Detective Sergeant Ross also travelled down to Cambridgeshire on Tuesday 10 October 1893.

Once there they took the prisoner into their custody from the Isle of Ely Police. When they read the warrant over to him, Richard made no reply. Then they escorted the prisoner to Ely station in order to catch the train back to Rotherham. They returned him back to the Central Station at Rotherham from where he had taken flight, eighteen days earlier. It was reported that at the time of his capture that Richard still had the sum of £695.9s.3d still in his possession. Richard James Buttenshaw was brought before the magistrates court the next morning, where he was found guilty and ordered to take his trial at the Autumn Assizes held at Leeds. The prisoner appeared there on Tuesday 5 December 1893 in front of judge, Mr Baron Pollock where he pleaded guilty to having stolen £760.

The prosecution Mr Ellison stated that the prisoner had been in a position of great trust within the firm of Steel, Peach and Tozer and that he had abused that trust when he robbed the company. He stated that after the prisoners disappearance from Rotherham, the cash books of the firm had been examined and other large sums of money had been missing. It was noted that in total over the last seventeen years a sum of £3,100 had vanished. Mr Ellison said that there has been a shortfall of £1,931 on one account, £226 missing from the accident club at the works and the hospital fund was short by £208 as well as £48 from the cash box.

The prisoners defence Mr Kershaw stated that it was hopeless to try to struggle against the charge against his client and added that this was an extremely sad case. The notoriety of the charge had fallen not only on the prisoner, but also on his wife and children. He asked the judge to forget the fact that these thefts had occurred over several years and to take all the different amounts and to deal with them as one charge. Mr Kershaw added that when a man gives way to dishonesty in such a way as the prisoner had, all the other acts follow in natural sequence. One fact purporting this theory was that the man had given way completely to drink and when arrested he was found to be in the early stages of delirium tremens.

The judge disagreed with him and stated that as far as he was concerned for seventeen years the prisoner had been consistently stealing from his employers. He had broken their trust and that of other people who had also been employed at the same firm. The judge told the prisoner that the sentence of the court was that he would be sent to prison for a term of six years. Richard Buttenshaw was then removed to the cells to begin his sentence.

James Swift

One man who had been taken before the Sheffield magistrates for such an omission was called James Swift. He was a blacksmith from Ecclesfield, who had neglected to pay a bastardy account. Consequently on 7 December 1835, Swift was arrested and placed in a prison cell at the Town Hall, Sheffield. Although he was only confined in the cell for one night, it appeared that he had learned his lesson, however reluctantly. The next morning Swift paid the expenses he owed to to Mr James Machin a vestry clerk and a tax collector of Sheffield. Consequently, he begrudgingly paid over the arrears which amounted to 30s.

However Swift loathed being forced to pay the amount, and he silently decided to take his revenge, and the person he chose for his target was the vestry clerk himself. On the evening of 15 December, the clerk James Machin returned home from his role at the workhouse. As he opened the door of his house, a letter which had been stuck in the door jamb, fell to the floor. This letter looked as if it had been written by someone illiterate, and in it the writer threatened to kill Machin, ending on an ominous note stating ‘surcharge for surcharge’. Two days later on 17 December 1835, Machin, who had been away from home all day on parish business, returned home and being tired went straight to bed.

In the morning, he found to his shock that a heifer which had belonging to him had been shot. The heifer had been left out in a field overnight and it was when Machin went to feed it the next morning, that he found the body of the dead animal. Alongside the heifer was another letter with a stone placed on top of it. It was written in the same hand as the previous one, only this time the letter was a bit more explicit, as the writer described how he intended to kill the vestry clerk. Almost immediately Machin suspected that the animal had been killed by James Swift, who he knew had bitterly resented being imprisoned for the non-payment of the maintenance payments.

The police were notified and following their investigations, it seems that Machin had been right in his suspicions. Consequently on Friday 8 January 1836, James Swift was brought before Sheffield magistrates Mr H Parker and Henry Walker Esquires at the Town Hall. The first witness was Machin himself and he described the events leading up to his receiving the letter. He reminded the court that he had been obliged to summon the prisoner for non-payment of maintenance that was due for his illegitimate child. The clerk described the contents of the two letters and pointed out that the prisoner had a history of blaming other people for his own misdeeds.

The next witness was a man called Thomas Wilkinson who claimed that five months previously Swift had accused him of depriving himself of doing some work he was supposed to carry out at the Sheffield workhouse. He said that Swift had been contracted by the Workhouse Guardians to make some iron stanchions for some of the windows. However when he was late starting the work, he found that Wilkinson had been engaged in his place. Wilkinson, who was a big man, told him that he had done no such thing before Swift backed down, saying something about he must have been mistaken in the matter

Another witness was a surveyor of the roads called Mr Butler, who gave evidence that he had various bills in his possession, which were in the prisoners handwriting for work that he had undertaken for him. He produced the letters in court, which confirmed the threatening letters were written in the same handwriting. This was also confirmed by a cabinet case maker called William Adams of Crooksmoor. He said that he was the treasurer of a new Chapel there, and the prisoner had done some work for him at the chapel. He too produced several receipts which had been signed by James Swift.

Both these letters had been compared with the letter sent to James Machin and it was agreed that they were all written by the same hand. Other witnesses also gave similar evidence before the prisoner was found guilty and ordered to be sent to the West Riding Sessions that same month to be held at Doncaster. Subsequently, James Swift was brought before the Rev. W Alderson on Wednesday 13 January 1836 charged with having sent two anonymous letters threatening to kill and murder James Machen. The prosecution stated that the law of the time was quite clear on the punishment for such offences. It declared that:

Any person who should send any writing without a signature or with a fictitious name, demanding money or threatening in any way, should be transported for life or imprisoned for seven years with hard labour.’

However James Swift’s defence pointed out that it had been impossible for any of the witnesses to prove for definite that the letters had been written in the prisoners handwriting. All they could say was that they believed it to be his. Therefore he requested that if the jury had any doubts at all of the prisoners guilt, that they must give the prisoner the benefit of those doubts. Thankfully, after hearing all the evidence, the Grand Jury took a merciful view of the whole matter. After a long conversation between themselves, the jury found James Swift to be not guilty and he was released.

Andrew Halliday Carmichael

In May of 1857, Harriet Atkinson was a 23 year old young woman who worked as a housekeeper for a surgeon called Andrew Halliday Carmichael in Mexborough. Naturally given the young age of the couple concerned, there had been plenty of rumours flying around the little village about the exact nature of the relationship between the pair. They had met a few months previously when Carmichael had attended Harriet’s aunt, Mrs Sarah Twigg in a professional capacity. Harriet, who was a single woman living with her parents at Swinton Bridge, had been on a visit with her aunt when she fell ill and the surgeon was called out. Needless to say Harriet was immediately taken with the young surgeon.

Carmichael too was smitten with the attractive girl and when she told him that she was looking for a position, he persuaded her to come and be his housekeeper. On the 25 May, Harriet agreed and went to live with him at Mexborough. The surgeon was a very personable young man and so it did not take long for him to entice her into his bed and succumb to his advances. Not surprisingly by July of that year Harriet found herself pregnant by the young surgeon. She was frantic knowing what her parents would say, but he reassured her that he would ‘take care of the problem.’ However he did nothing about it and by September Harriet was visibly putting on weight.

On 12 September 1857 after she had reminded him of his promise several times, he told her that he would deal with it that very night, before instructing her to go to lie down on her bed. The surgeon then proceeded to use an instrument to bring on a miscarriage. In great pain the girl begged him several times to desist, but he had to remind her ‘that will never do for me or for you.’ Finally after what must have seemed several hours, the aim of the ordeal was realised. Harriet remained bedridden for many days afterwards, and at one time Carmichael felt that her life was in grave danger.

A neighbour at Mexborough called Elizabeth Lewis was asked by the young surgeon to tend to the girl during the day, whilst he was working to which she agreed. In Carmichael’s absence Harriet told Elizabeth that she had taken cold whilst doing some washing and it had brought on a stomach inflammation. However Elizabeth, who had children of her own, very quickly realised the reason for Harriet ‘illness’. It soon became common knowledge and was reported to the police and the surgeon was arrested and charged with using an instrument with intent to procure a miscarriage. Frustratingly the prisoner was simply remanded several times, due to Harriet’s continued indisposition.

The local newspaper the Sheffield Daily Telegraph dated Monday 2 November 1857 spoke for much of the population at the constant delays. The reporter complained that Carmichael had been brought into court four times and on each occasion, the woman concerned was not able to attend, so yet another adjournment had to be made. Crucially it was reported that in court the prisoner appeared to be suffering under severe mental anguish. When Harriet did finally appear the following week, she was so unwell that she was unable to stand. Nevertheless the enquiry, which lasted five hours, was conducted completely in private and the surgeon was found guilty.

Andrew Halliday Carmichael was brought before judge, Mr Justice Williams at the Yorkshire Winter Assizes on Tuesday 14 December 1857. Mr Blanchard prosecuted and Mr Overend defended the prisoner. Mr Blanchard opened the case and gave the jury the basic outline, however it was pointed out that many of the details were ‘unfit for publication.’ The first witness was Harriet herself who still looked very frail after her ordeal. However she had a strong voice and answered all the prosecutions questions. It became obvious that the defence was aiming to destroy the good name of the witness and she was forced, very reluctantly to admit that she had given birth to another baby three years earlier. Elizabeth Lewis was also a witness and by critical nature of the questioning by the prosecution, she referred to Harriet as being ‘a girl of light character’.

The prisoners defence, Mr Overend stated that the charge against the prisoner was one which was easily suggested, but very difficult to answer. He criticised the Rotherham police for their tardiness in taking up the case, until more than a month after the alleged miscarriage. He also condemned the medical evidence which, he claimed did not prove to his satisfaction that the girl had suffered a miscarriage at all. He then called some hand highly respectable witnesses who gave excellent character references for the prisoner and which cast doubt on Harriet’s evidence. Mr Overend concluded that the prisoners reputation had remained completely unsullied until, this malicious charge had been brought against him.

The jury were only absent for thirty minutes before they returned a verdict of not guilty and the prisoner was discharged. Andrew Halliday Carmichael returned in triumph to Mexborough on Wednesday 16 December 1857. When his train pulled into the station, he was amazed to see a crowd of local people waiting to greet him. It seems that many of them, mainly women, had gone to meet the 10 am train only to find that the young surgeon was not on it. So many people were waiting for him, that the town crier was sent around the villages of Mexborough and Swinton letting people know that he would be on the 1.30 pm train.

It was reported that the surgeon was clearly bemused at the loud cheer which arose as he stepped down from the carriage. Carmichael then found a cab waiting for him and when the cab reached the outskirts of Mexborough, a party of females insisted on dragging it bodily through the village and up to his own residence. Upon arrival at his surgery, Carmichael found a band of musicians waiting for him and bunting and flags had been erected in his garden. As for Harriet Atkinson she did not fair so well. She had to face accusations of making up the story which had succeeded in casting doubt on an eminent and professional young man.

Was it Manslaughter?

In September of 1878 a man called John Hawksworth was the landlord of the public house called the Golden Ball Inn at Hesley Bar, near Chapeltown, Sheffield. He was a quite hospitable man and was quite happy to serve drinks and food during opening hours, but he grew irate when customers refused to leave the premises after being ordered to. One man in particular was becoming a real nuisance. He was a mason’s labourer called Francis Laverty who lived on Ecclesfield Common. Sure enough he appeared on the night of Saturday 28 September. Laverty was already drunk nevertheless he demanded more ale, but Hawksworth refused to serve him and ordered him off the premises.

However, Laverty knew that his employer, Mr Dowson was holding a supper party in another room at the Inn. Therefore he tried to get inside the room where the party was being held. However the landlord refused him entry. Ignoring him, Laverty opened the door of the supper room and shouted to Mr Dowson. However once he saw the state of his employee, Dowson himself took him by the shoulders and escorted him outside the Golden Ball Inn. Hawksworth was therefore relieved to see Dowson coming back inside the Golden Ball on his own, but if the landlord thought that was the end of the unpleasantness he was wrong. Very soon afterwards Laverty walked back into the Inn and once again tried to get inside the room where his master was.

Hawksworth had enough at this point and so he grabbed him roughly by the collar and tried to eject him outside. Laverty just would not listen and tried again to get back inside the Inn. When the landlord stood before him at the Inn door he refused yet again, so Laverty kicked him hard on the shins. By this time Hawksworth had enough and so he literally shoved Laverty out of the public house. He saw him fall on his face and in temper he kicked the prone man viciously in his side, threatening what he would do to him if he tried once more to come back inside the Golden Ball. Then wiping his hands on his apron the landlord went back into the Inn and continued with his duties.

He could not believe it when 30 minutes later, another man came in and reported that there was a dead body outside lying on the pavement. Hawksworth and several of his customers rushed outside to find Laverty still lying face down on the floor where he had left him. A doctor was instantly summoned, but there was little he could do as the man was already dead. The police were called to the scene and John Hawksworth was taken into custody charged with causing the death of Francis Laverty. Consequently, the landlord was brought before the magistrates at the West Riding Court in Sheffield on Monday 30 September 1878.

The Superintendent of Sheffield Police, Mr Gill gave an outline of the case for the bench before Hawksworth was asked if he had used much violence in ejecting the man from his house. He claimed that he had not used any excessive force. However he was forced to admit that he was very annoyed with the deceased man as he was so insistent, and would not stay outside. Reluctantly Hawksworth admitted that he had struck Laverty and kicked him when he was fighting to get back inside the public house. At this point the magistrates simply remanded the prisoner until Tuesday October 8 knowing that in the meantime an inquest would be held on the deceased man.

Accordingly the inquest was opened on Tuesday 1 October, where Dr Spowart told the coroner that he had completed the post mortem on the body. He stated that although it was obvious that the death of Francis Laverty had been caused by the violence inflicted on him, he had found that it was actually suffocation which had killed him. The surgeon explained that this was caused when the lungs filled with blood after violence. The coroner summed up for the jury who returned an open verdict. However if John Hawksworth thought for a moment that he had managed to get away with it, he was sadly mistaken. When he was brought back into court on the following Tuesday, he found that the magistrates were determined to take a much more serious attitude to Laverty’s death.

The landlord virtually condemned himself when Superintendent Gill gave evidence as to the prisoners answer when he had been arrested. Hawksworth admitted that he had struck and kicked out at Laverty more harder than was needed, but he claimed that it had all been done in self defence. After hearing all the evidence, the magistrates found him guilty and he was committed for trial at the next Assizes charged with manslaughter. John Hawksworth appeared at the Leeds Assizes the following year on Friday 7 February 1879. The judge was Mr Justice Lopes and Mr Clegg acted for the prosecution. He opened the case and stated from the start that he did not think that the facts were very much in dispute.

The prosecution described the disturbance at the Golden Ball Inn, as the deceased man repeatedly tried to get someone to buy him a drink, and how the prisoner had finally ejected him. Mr Clegg then read out the landlord’s statement when he was arrested by the police officer, which described how Laverty had tried to force himself on the private party and how his employer had finally thrown him out. Hawksworth admitted that he might have been more forceful than he should have been, as because the man was Irish, he suspected he might have a weapon on him. Mr Clegg said that the prisoner admitted therefore that he had given him a ‘pretty stiff’ kick in the back when he shoved Laverty out the door.

However his statement concluded that he regretted very much what had happened, but that he had done it all in self defence. Then the results of Mr Spowart’s post mortem was read out, where the medical evidence had shown that there had been some pressure on the deceased man’s windpipe. The prosecution put forward a theory that in the struggle the prisoner must have at some point, seized the deceased around the throat. The surgeon explained that as the deceased man was irate and violent as he tried to free himself, the prisoner might easily have inevitably tightened his grasp more than he intended to. Dr Spowart said that if a man was drunk and fell heavily on his face, he would not be surprised to find that death had resulted from suffocation.

Other witnesses were called but none of them said they saw Hawksworth grabbing the deceased man around the throat. When the prisoner defence Mr Chambers rose to make his case, he brought the bench’s attention to the fact that the same evidence had been given to the inquest and that the indecision of the jury had resulted in an open verdict. The jury debated for a few minutes before giving a verdict that they found the prisoner guilty, but they still thought that undue violence had been used. The judge, in order to clarify matters, said that the question the jury had to answer was did they think that the prisoner was guilty of manslaughter? Eventually, and after some discussion, they found John Hawksworth to be not guilty and the prisoner was discharged.

But if John Hawksworth celebrated his victory over Frances Laverty, it did him no good at all. The death preyed on the landlord’s mind to such an extent that a year later he died on Tuesday 23 September 1879 aged just 55 years.

Highway Robbery at Rawmarsh.

The crime of highway robbery had been around since the middle ages, but around the 18th and 19th century the numbers of criminal committing such crimes in Rotherham increased rapidly. Rawmarsh was at that time, surrounded by vast wasteland, making people travelling on such roads easy targets for robbers. One such case took place on Saturday 19 December 1840 when a man called Isaac Fields who lived at Nether Haugh, went into Rawmarsh to do his weekly shopping. As was his usual habit he called into the Star Inn, around 6 pm where he had a pint of ale before doing his shopping, returning back to the Inn about 9 pm having completed all his chores.

Seating himself in the tap room area, he noted a man called John Brown aged 22 in the kitchen of the Inn. He knew the man vaguely and so he nodded to him as he took his seat near the fire, relishing the warmth. Fields had another two pints of ale before he noticed that the man Brown had left the public house. As he stood at the bar and paid for a third pint of ale, he took the money out of a tobacco box he was carrying, in which he kept his money. Fields noted that he had 15s in the box as he took out a shilling to pay for the ale. He also noticed another man called George Dickinson aged 18, who was stood opposite him, was also watching him as he replaced the change in the box and put it back in his pocket.

Tired from his shopping exertions, and lulled by the fire in the pub tap room, Fields fell asleep only to be awoken by the landlord, Mr Beck at 11.30 pm who told him the Star Inn was now closing for the night. Therefore he put the tobacco box into his pocket and then went on his way. Fields had gone about 300 – 400 yards out of the village before he noted three men standing on the opposite side of the road. He passed them without speaking, but had not gone far when he heard the sound of someone behind him. He turned and saw Dickinson who greeted him amiably enough, but stated that he ‘was lost for a bit of tobacco’. Fields generously offered him a twist of paper containing some tobacco from his pocket and the pair walked off together.

Suddenly as the two men were walking and talking together, Fields claimed that Dickinson pushed him hard into the hedge bottom. Then almost immediately two other men appeared and Fields recognised one of them as John Brown and another man who he did not recognise. Brown grabbed Fields from behind, and pulling him backwards, held one hand over his mouth and the other firmly around his body. Dickinson then searched Fields’s pockets before finding the tobacco box, which after doing all his shopping amounted to around 14s in silver. Finally all three men ran off in the direction of Rawmarsh. Fields managed to get home somehow, although he was very battered and bruised.

Thankfully on Monday 21 December 1840 Fields had re-covered sufficiently from his injuries to give information on the robbery to the police. They took note of his descriptions and a warrant was issued for the arrest of John Brown and George Dickinson as being two of the robbers that he had identified. They were arrested and brought before magistrate Mr H Walker Esq., at Rotherham Courthouse charged with highway robbery on Monday 28 December 1840. The first witness was Isaac Fields himself and he told the police that he had known Dickinson for about ten years and Brown from between 2 to 3 years.

Questioned as to the identification of the two prisoners, the witness told the magistrates that there was no doubting that they were the same men who had robbed him on the night in question. However he could not describe or identify the third man in the robbery. Fields was asked how much drink he had consumed at the time. He maintained that although he had drunk two pints of ale, that he was quite sober at the time at the time of the assault. Although he admitted that he was tired, as his previous nights sleep had been disturbed by a barking dog. When questioned again as to whether or not his identification was accurate. The witness also commented that it had been a clear night with a full moon. Therefore he was absolutely positive in that the two prisoners had been the men who had robbed him.

Fields also stated that he thought at the time, that he knew who they were, but hesitated to acknowledge it, as he was in fear of his life if he did so. Two other witnesses, who had also been in the Star Inn that night, also confirmed his story. One of them was a barmaid called Dinah Downend who had served the two men with ale on that Saturday night. The second was a man called John Johnson and he too stated that the two men had been in the Star that night. Johnson also stated that he had seen the two prisoners with a third man called John Harley drinking together. He said that after only drinking for about 25 minutes, the three men went out of the Star, and he later saw all three standing in conversation together on the road to Nether Haugh.

The next witness was Constable Thomas Wilson of Rawmarsh. He gave evidence of the arrest of George Dickenson on Wednesday 23 December 1840. He had been searching for the man for a while before he finally found the prisoner talking to some other men on Swinton Common. However when Dickenson saw Wilson, he knew immediately what he wanted him for, and made off. Thankfully he was captured by two bystanders who grabbed him and gave him into the custody of PC Wilson. On the way into Rotherham, the officer asked the prisoner why he had done it. Dickenson told him that it was ‘a bad job and he had only done it out of complete want’. He told PC Wilson that he had been unable to find employment since he had done time at Wakefield Gaol.

Upon reaching the town Wilson said that he then surrendered Dickenson up at Rotherham Police Station. The next witness was Constable Henry Womack who told the court that he had arrested John Brown on Tuesday 22 December. When he had been charged, Brown said that he knew nothing of the robbery, but admitted to seeing Isaac Fields putting his money in a tobacco box at the Star the previous Saturday night. A warrant had also been issued for the man called John Harley, but it was found that he had since absconded and his present whereabouts was unknown. John Brown and George Dickinson were found guilty of the charge of highway robbery and ordered to be sent to take their trial at the next York Assizes.

On 12 March 1841 the two prisoners were brought before judge, Mr Baron Rolfe. The prosecution was conducted by Sir Gregory Lewin, but the prisoners were undefended. This was quite normal for many Assize prisoners at that time. Needless to say it was reported that ‘they made no sort of defence’ which is not surprising under the circumstances. They both claimed that all the witnesses had lied about them and stated that the same witnesses had all been ‘drilled’ by the police to all tell the same story against them. Nevertheless His Lordship showed little sympathy and in his summing up stated that he had no doubt but the prisoners had committed the robbery they were both charged with.

However he concluded that the robbery had been carried out without any real personal violence and therefore he was prepared to look more leniently on it. Mr Baron Rolfe then ordered John Brown and George Dickinson to be imprisoned for 18 months with hard labour. Despite the fact that he had made a comment about there being no personal violence used in the attack, the judge told the men before they were removed, was that ‘he had great doubt as to whether or not he should have sent them for transportation out of the country.

Child Cruelty at Conisborough

On the morning of Saturday 23 February 1895 a man called Alfred Birkin and his wife. Mary Elizabeth were summoned before the Doncaster Magistrates Court charged with neglecting two children at Conisborough. The prosecution, Mr Baddiley related how one of their children, a four month old unnamed boy had previously died, and the couple were then left with two children, a son Ernest aged 3 years and a girl Anne was just fourteen weeks old. Mr Baddiley, was prosecuting the case on behalf of the NSPCC and he stated that the unnamed boy who had died 10 weeks previously after being severely burnt, had been attended by a Dr Gilchrist of Conisborough.

Mr Baddiley said that as time went on, it appeared that the orders that the doctor had given to the mother had not been carried out and the boy had subsequently died. It was only after his death, that it came to the attention of the authorities that their son’s life had been insured by its parents. Since that time a new Act had been passed for preventing such cases of cruelty to children. The Act provided that:

If any persons, over the age of 16 years, having custody of any child, wilfully neglects such child so as to cause it unnecessary suffering, such persons shall be liable to be fined a penalty not over £25.’

Now, nearly three months later, both parents were in the dock before the Doncaster Magistrates where once more, they had been charged with neglect. The NSPCC had become involved and Mr Baddiley told the court that the parents had been brought before the magistrates, because their youngest child was now also suffering from similar burns to her deceased brother. The same doctor who had attended to the previous child, Dr Gilchrist had been involved once more and he was the first witness, He stated that in his opinion there had been great neglect from the two prisoners in the dock.

He related how ten weeks previously one of their children had also suffered from burns. Dr Gilchrist said that he had been called to attend to his injuries, but the female prisoner had refused to carry out his directions to treat the child for his injuries. Instead she had cleaned the burns with dirty rags instead of clean ones. When Mary was asked if she had anything to say in her own defence, the prisoner claimed that she had been unable to care for the children or keep the house tidy properly because she suffered from fits. The witness stated that what’s more she had been having a fit when the child was actually burned and it had all been a terrible accident.

Mr Baddiley interjected at this point to mention that she had since been examined and medical evidence showed that the female prisoner, despite her fits was quite capable of attending to the children’s needs and keeping the house clean. However the prosecution pointed out that the state of the house where the family lived in Conisborough was disgusting, and the only furniture consisted of two chairs, a table and a bedstead. At this point the male prisoner interrupted and stated that there were four chairs in the house, to which there was laughter in the courtroom, until the clerk to the court intervened and ordered silence.

Mr Baddiley continued and said that when the officer from the NSPCC visited the house with a police officer, they found it in such a very dirty condition that they were forced to leave immediately. They reported that the bed itself ‘stunk to high heaven and was not fit for purpose.’ At this point Mr Baddiley was asked by one of the magistrates if Alfred Birkin was working. He replied that he was, but he claimed that he only earned 4s to 5s a day. An Inspector for the NSPCC called James Gibson was the next witness, and he told the court that he had been informed of the house conditions, and subsequently visited with a police officer on 18 February 1895.

There they found the mother with her eldest child, Ernest. He asked her where the youngest child, Anne was and she pointed upstairs. The witness said he found the little girl lying in the filthy sheets on the bed. He picked her up and saw that she was dressed only in rags and was extremely neglected. Going back downstairs, he told the woman that he was removing Anne as in his opinion she was in a state of unnecessary suffering. The child was then removed. When asked if he had anything to say, Alfred Birkin told the court that he had been out of work in the past, but had recently gained new employment. Once again he claimed that his wife suffered from fits, which had prevented her from attending to the children properly.

However the next witness PC Trueman told the court that he suspected that her inability was due more to the woman being constantly inebriated, rather than being subject to having fits. However it was the next witness that that made the most impact on the bench. He was an insurance agent, a man called Thomas Radcliffe. He gave evidence about the amount of insurance which had been taken out on the first child which had died. He also stated that the two remaining children’s lives were also insured. Then the male prisoner was asked if he had anything to say in his own defence, but he simply repeated the reason that the children and the house was so neglected was simply due to his wife’s fits.

However he told the court that he had ordered a new bed and called a witness called Mary Jones, who confirmed she was at that time making a new bed for the family. This witness claimed that she had known the family for many years and to her knowledge, the children were always fed well and cared for. Another witness was a man called James Williams who also stated that he too had known the family for many years. He claimed that the prisoners house had previously contained furniture, but since Alfred had lost his job, they had been forced to pawn most of it for food for themselves and the children. However he stated that Alfred was now working again and was in a better state to care for his children and his wife.

After hearing the evidence, one of the magistrates called Mr Yarborough addressed the two prisoners. He told them:

There is no doubt that the children have been shamefully neglected, and the other child might have lived if it had been properly attended to. The case will be adjourned for two weeks, during which time the house will be inspected. The children will also be carefully examined during that time.’

When the case was heard two weeks later on Saturday 9 March 1895, Mr Baddiley told the court that sadly the youngest child, Anne had since died. However he was forced to admit that the cause of death was due to bronchitis and asthma. Although he added that medical opinion was such that if she had not been so weakened by neglect, she might have been saved. A doctors certificate was produced to that effect. A Government Inspector, Mr Gibson gave evidence of the great improvement in the conditions in the house at Conisborough, and concluded that it was now deemed to be ‘satisfactory.’ As a consequence the parents were fined 20s each which also included courts costs.

Mrs Collins Dilemma

On Friday 29 December 1911, Mr Fred Collins of Moor Street, Sheffield followed his usual routine of kissing his wife, Sarah Jane before he left for work as an engine fitter. Mrs Collins proceeded with her housework as well as serving in the little shop she run with her forty six year old husband. She was a contented little woman having been married to Fred for just over eighteen months at that time. They had been married the previous year on 16 May 1910 at the Registry Office at Ecclesall, Sheffield. The morning passed quite quickly until dinnertime, when her husband failed to arrive for his lunch.

Sarah Jane was not particularly perturbed as he was often kept late at work, so she cleared away the dishes and carried out with her routine. Consequently it was almost teatime before a knock came to the door and she opened it to find a strange man on her doorstep. To both her shock and horror he told her he was a detective and had some bad news to impart. Clutching at her heart and thinking something bad had happened to Fred, Mrs Collins said to him ‘tell me quickly’ and he did so, but it was not what she expected to hear. He told her that Fred was in custody on a charge of bigamy!

It seems that in 1901 he had gone through a marriage ceremony with a woman called Ellinor at Sheffield, but the couple only lived together for just over two months, before she left him in August of that same year. A reporter from the Sheffield Daily Telegraph was quickly dispatched to the scene where he interviewed Sarah Jane, who was still visibly shocked from the news. She told him how hearing about her husbands first marriage, which had disturbed her so much that ‘Its a wonder that I didn’t drop dead of shock, I felt so faint.’ Neighbours that were also interviewed, told the reporter that the couple had always appear to have been very happy together, so that they could hardly credit what had happened. Another neighbour reported the couple seemed to be ‘as comfortable with one another as a pair of old shoes.’

The next morning Fred Collins was brought before the Sheffield magistrates and Sarah Jane was also in the court. After hearing the details of his first marriage, Sarah Jane took the stand and reported that she had been a widow named Sarah Jane Gilchrist when she married the prisoner. She produced her wedding certificate which stated that Fred Collins had listed himself as a widower. Sarah Jane said that he was honest about being married before, but said that his wife had died. When asked by the prisoners defence if it had been a happy marriage she replied that he had been a good husband to her, and they had lived very happily together.

The witness claimed that she had heard some gossip about her husband being married once before, and she had taxed him with it. Fred told her that he had led a dogs life with his first wife and had been most unhappy. Therefore he had not complained too much when she left him and went off to live in Liverpool. Taking Sarah Jane in his arms he had told her at the time that ‘in Gods sight we are man and wife and always will be.’ Sarah Jane told the court that she still believed that. Nevertheless Fred Collins was found guilty and was ordered to take his trial at the next Leeds Assizes, although bail was allowed. It was to be a long wait for the couple, as it was March the following year before the prisoner was brought before judge Mr Justice Avory.

On Wednesday 13 March 1912 Fred Collins pleaded not guilty to the charge. The prosecution was Mr Leader, who went through the details of the case for the bench. He told the court that the prisoner had married his first wife who then deserted him after just two months of marriage. When he had made a statement after being taken into custody, Fred Collins had stated that he had not heard from his wife in over seven years. Therefore he concluded that she was dead and he was free to marry again. However Mr Leader stated that about five years afterwards in 1906, the prisoner had engaged a man to make enquiries in Liverpool where he heard that his wife was now living with another man. Therefore he could not claim that he had heard nothing about his wife for that period of time.

Despite the prosecutions statement, and after hearing all the evidence, Mr Justice Avory told the prisoner that he had every sympathy with him. Therefore he urged the jury to bring in a verdict of ‘not guilty’ which they did. Mr and Mrs Collins were no doubt very thankful, as they left the court hand in hand.


The legal authorities saw transportation at the time as a two-fold blessing in that it served as a deterrent as well as the criminal being removed from society, simply for the cost of the journey. At first it was hoped that they would prove useful as workers in the new colonies of America and Australia, but the reality was that they were not wanted by their new country. Most convicts sent for transportation found that if they wanted to return back to the land of their birth they had to pay the cost of the passage. As a result many never returned back to Britain, unless they could work their passage on a ship.

Rotherham magistrates were no different to the legal authorities in other towns and cities. They would indiscriminately dispose of their unwanted law breakers, as the old adage goes ‘out of sight is out of mind.’ Incredibly it seems that no exceptions were made, not even for a woman. One of these was a woman called Jane Balf (aka Sarah Pennington) who beguiled a man in June 1846 called William Bowling, a farm servant of Thorpe Hesley. The pair met when the summer fair came to the village. Fairs of any kind attracted lots of people and this was no exception. The fairground was quite crowded on 16 June when Bowling arrived. All around him were tents where goods were on sale, selling all kinds of sweetmeats and foodstuffs.

The farm servant was feeling in a generous mood and had taken four sovereigns and ten shillings in change with him to the fair, which he had saved up over the last few weeks. Bowling placed the money in a purse which he thrust into his pocket for later. Once at the fair, he bumped into a young woman, who introduced himself as Sarah. She told him she was 21 years of age and she appeared to be very friendly. After buying her several drinks from a nearby public house, the couple were standing in a passage just outside the building when Bowling put his hand inside his trousers and felt for his money. He could not believe it when he realised that his purse had gone.

The young man immediately grabbed hold of Sarah’s wrist, and accused her of stealing his money and warned her that he wanted it back. The girls screams attracted two constables to the passage, and after the farm servant had told them his tale, they searched the girl and found the purse hidden in her bosom. The next day Sarah, now convicted under her real name of Jane Balf was brought before the Rotherham magistrates. After hearing all the evidence, they ordered the prisoner to take her trial at the next Midsummer Quarter Sessions to be held at Rotherham. Jane was brought before the Sessions on Friday 10 July 1846 charged with stealing four sovereigns, a purse and some silver from William Bowling at Thorpe Hesley.

Police enquiries soon established that she had also been convicted of a similar offence a few years before at Huddersfield, for which she had been imprisoned. The first witness was William Bowling himself who described the robbery. After hearing all the evidence the chair of the magistrates, Joshua Ingham Esq., told the prisoner that they had considered her case and the sentence was that she should be transported for ten years. Almost immediately Jane turned to Bowling and shouted at him ‘Bad luck to you, I hope you follow me before twelve months are over.’ Bowling was stood by the door, which led to the dock where the prisoner had been standing, when he heard the magistrate tell the officers to ‘take her down.’

Jane turned to leave, but she had not finished yet. As she came out of the dock with an officer by her side, she took the opportunity to render Bowling a stinging blow under his right ear, the sound of which was reported as ‘echoing through the court’. The prisoner was then hustled away and placed in a cell to await her journey to an unknown land. Convict records show that Jane Balf was placed on board the convict ship the Elizabeth and Henry on 14 September 1836 along with another 169 female convicts. The journey took four long months, before the ship put into port at Van Diemans Land [now known as Tasmania] on 4 January 1847.

No doubt the women were pleased to get off the crowded conditions on board ship. An addition to the convict records shows that 21 year old Jane Balf had a long life ahead of her as a convict in the land to which she had been transported to from Rotherham. She died there on 22 September 1907 at the age of 82 years. Another Rotherham transportee was a young man called Charles Taylor. On 31 December 1848 most local people were celebrating bringing in the New Year. For those people gathered in the Sun Inn at Masbrough, it was about to be a night they would long remember. When the clock arrived at the hour to welcome in 1849, two friends were drinking together in the public house that night.

They were two local men called Daniel Cresswell aged 21 and Charles Taylor aged 23. The two men not only lived next door to each other, but both worked at the Masbrough Iron Works. They had been drinking in the Sun Inn since 10.30 pm, so both were more than a little ‘tipsy’. It was around 7 pm when they paid for a quart of ale each, and then in fun agreed to toss for who would pay for the next round. Daniel won and Charles paid up. They agreed once more to toss again for the next round and Daniel won again, but at this point Charles refused to pay and accused his companion of cheating. When the two men started to argue the landlord, James Massey told them that they both had too much to drink and he would not serve them with any more ale.

Reluctantly they were going out of the pub, when Charles became more confrontational. He asked ‘Daniel can you fight’ and when his friend replied in the negative, he told him ‘I will make you fight then or I will cut your head off’. Daniel asked him incredulously ‘what for’ but Charles simply told him ‘pull your jacket off and come and fight’. To his complete disbelief his former friend said to him ‘I will be the death of you tonight; face me now and we will have a round’. Daniel who still did not want to fight, received a couple of blows on his arm and his chest. He was about to retaliate when he felt a sharp cut on his left arm. When he saw blood, he told Charles ‘if this is the way you are going to fight, I will go home’.

Charles again told him ‘I will stop you from going home, I will cut your head off’. Daniel shook his head and walked away, but he had only gone about ten yards when he heard Charles sharpening his knife on a wall as he shouted at him ‘I will take your life from you tonight’. At that point Charles rushed towards Daniel, and struck at him again with the knife, saying he was going to cut his throat. Daniel fell down and Charles threw himself on top of his former friend and workmate. As Daniel felt the knife at his throat, he called out to two men, who were coming out of the public house, ‘Oh Lord pull him off, he is cutting my throat’. Thankfully the two men managed to drag Charles away.

Daniel still shocked by the encounter, went and gave information at the Rotherham police station. Charles Taylor was later arrested by night watchman Jonathon Shillito in Bridgegate. The constable arrested him for cutting and maiming Daniel Cresswell with intent to do grievous bodily harm. Charles was determined not to be arrested and he made a great resistance as he fell to the floor, but another night watchman, William Hudson helped his colleague and finally he was taken to the police cells. When arrested, Charles denied the charge, and said that he didn’t have a knife in his possession and he was searched, but there was no evidence of a knife.

However the two night watchmen remembered the struggle they had when they found him in Bridgegate, and when they returned to where Charles had fallen whilst resisting arrest, they found the knife which was produced and identified. When the crime was reported in the local newspaper it was noted that ‘a great consternation prevailed in Masbrough and Rotherham on Sunday morning last, in consequence of the reported attempted murder’. On Monday morning 8 January 1849, Charles Taylor was due to appear before the magistrates in the Police Court, but the bench was informed that the depositions were not ready, so the case was adjourned to be held later that same evening at 7 pm at the house of the local JP, Mr G W Chambers Esq.

The first witness was Daniel Cresswell and he appeared to be still mystified at the events of the night as they had unfolded. The landlord of the Sun Inn, at Masbrough, James Massey corroborated the account of the two men tossing for who was to pay for the ale, but he told Mr Chambers that when the men commenced wrangling, he refused to serve them any more beer. Massey stated that when he had followed the two men outside, he saw Charles Taylor had something in his right pocket and even then suspected the worse. He told Daniel Cresswell not to fight any more before walking back inside the public house. As he was about to enter the Inn, he heard Cresswell say ‘where’s the landlord gone?’ before hearing him scream.

Massey turned around and went over to where Cresswell now lay on the floor and saw his arm, which was bleeding profusely. William Bailey, a lodger at the Sun Inn, also confirmed the evidence of what had happened in the pub. He said that he was enjoying a quiet drink in the bar when the two men started to argue. He followed the landlord outside and after seeing that Taylor was intent on fighting, he even offered to hold Cresswell’s coat. He too warned Cresswell that Taylor had something in his hand. Bailey told the court that he had been one of the men who had helped to pull Taylor away from Cresswell after he had been stabbed.

Surgeon, Mr George Hopper was the next witness and stated that he had been called up to attend to Cresswell in the early hours of Sunday morning. He had put some stitches in the slight wound in the injured man’s throat, which in his opinion he considered was not a dangerous one. The knife was produced in the court room, and the surgeon identified as the weapon most likely to be the one which had inflicted the cut. He also pointed out that it looked like it had just recently been sharpened. The prisoner was committed to take his trial at the York Assizes and he was removed to York Castle prison on Wednesday 10 January 1849 to await his trial.

On Thursday 15 March Charles Taylor appeared before Mr Justice Coleridge, who heard the evidence of the affray which had taken place at the Sun Inn, Masbrough on New Years Eve. Due to the lack of provocation and the violence that had been used, the judge had no compunction in sentencing the prisoner to transportation for ten years. Subsequently Taylor was one of 290 convicts on board the convict ship Lady Montagu which set sail on the 31 July 1852 bound for Van Diemen’s Land. They reached their destination on 9 December 1852, where the 23 year old Rotherham man began his sentence. Sadly there is no record of Taylor’s life in Australia, but it is probable that he was set to work digging roads or other kind of hard manual labour.

The men were usually kept in gangs and discipline was harsh and cruel. He would have mixed with more hardened criminals, supervised by guards during the day and sleeping in rough huts behind stockades at night. Convict life was unrelentingly cruel and back breaking. No doubt he would have had plenty of time to reflect on his life in Rotherham and to wonder how the events had accelerated so quickly that New Years Eve in the Sun Inn at Masbrough. Thankfully the system of transportation finally ended in Britain around the middle of the nineteenth century. Now men and women who committed crimes would be sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment in this country, rather then sent away for what, for most of them, would be the remainder of their natural lives.