All posts by magzdrin

William Kirkham

William Kirkham was a young man aged only 22 years who in June of 1852 lived in Rotherham with his wife to who he had been married for eight months. Nevertheless, even at this early age he had gained himself a reputation of being a dissolute person who preferred to go out drinking and carousing with his mates, instead of staying at home with his young wife. In reality it was his marriage which had proved to be a disaster and it was not long before he spent his wife’s dowry, which was said to have been a considerable amount of money. That same month his wife reported to her parents that she hadn’t actually seen her husband for the previous eleven weeks, as they no longer lived together.

All we know is that at some point William decided that he was going to put an end to his existence and on Sunday 29 May he picked up a gun he kept for shooting at birds and proceeded to Canklow Woods at Rotherham. In order to get to the wood he had to pass through a wheat field adjoining the Boston Castle plantation, where he was seen carrying the weapon with which he had chosen to end his life. He was spotted by none other than the Chief Constable of Sheffield, Mr Bland, who noted the young man was going into the wood. However he thought nothing of it, as many men went rabbiting in Canklow Wood at that early hour of the morning with a shot gun, so he simply proceeded on his way.

Shortly afterwards Mr Bland passed two men who were walking in the same direction as William Kirkham. He knew them, so he nodded curtly to them as he passed. It was just a few moments more before he heard a shot behind him, followed by a cry of alarm which had come from one of the men he had passed earlier. Mr Bland turned around and ran back into Canklow Woods where he quickly found the two men, who were now stopped in their tracks. They were gazing down looking at the body of William Kirkham who was lying on the ground on a pile of leaves. The muzzle of the gun was pointed towards his chest, where there was, what was described later as ‘a fearful gun shot wound in his chest.

Dropping to his knees Mr Bland looked closer at the body and he found that despite his terrible injuries, William Kirkham was still alive. A stretcher was found and three men carried the body towards a farm, where a cab was called to take him into the Rotherham Hospital and Dispensary. Once there, his terrible wound was quickly attended to. Sadly despite all the ministrations from the surgeons at the hospital, the young man died about twenty minutes later. As was usual in all unexpected deaths, the Coroner was informed and an inquest was held on the body at the Rotherham Workhouse.

A respectable jury was empanelled and they went to see the body, which was now in the mortuary of the workhouse before the witnesses evidence was heard. Mr Bland gave his evidence, before the young bride also appeared. However she could add little information as she had not seen her husband for some time. Nevertheless she identified the gun as being one which he had owned. She said had been an old one and that it had been given to him from a farmer at Catcliffe. Mrs Kirkham told the inquest that her husband usually kept it loaded in order to shoot birds. After hearing all the evidence, the jury returned a verdict that the deceased man had ‘taken his own life whilst suffering under temporary insanity.

The Stabbing on Howard Street, Rotherham

On Monday 25 May 1903 a 23 year old girl called Martha Parkin was on her way to work, being employed at the confectionery works of Messrs Kenyon Son and Parkin on Morpeth Street, Rotherham. She was about to begin on the morning shift which started at 7 am, so she didn’t want to be late. Martha was still thinking about an argument she had with her twenty four year old boyfriend, Richard Hattersley as she left the house. She had been going out with him for the last five months, but he had got very possessive and quarrelsome just recently and she had had enough. Two days earlier, Richard had come to the house she shared with her mother on Grieves Road, Rotherham, and that’s when she had finally told him that she wanted to break up with him.

Richard had not taken it well, yet Martha was determined that she would not give in and take him back. Nevertheless she was worried, as in the past he had shown signs of having a vicious temper. As Martha turned into Midland Road, her heart sank as she saw Richard Hattersley waiting for her outside the house he lived in with his parents. Seeing her approach, Richard came out from the doorway where he had stood waiting for her and joined his former lover. Martha reluctantly allowed him to walk with her to work, but she warned him that she had not changed her mind. She wanted, if at all possible, to keep the break-up as amicable as she could. Nevertheless he pleaded with her to take him back and promised to change, but the girl was obdurate as she tried to let him down gently.

Walking as quickly as she could, Martha had almost reached her destination as the couple turned into Howard Street. Now knowing that the confectioners works was not far away, she began to increase her pace. Suddenly Richard grabbed her arm and stopped her just outside the Rotherham Theatre. He said to her ‘If you wont have me, then you shan’t have anyone else’ before knocking her viciously to the ground. Martha screamed as he then started to stab at her with the knife he had drawn out of his pocket. Fortunately other people, including Police Constable Grimmer were not too far away. When that officer heard the girls screams he ran to the scene, just in time to see the girl on the floor and her attacker running away.

PC Grimmer immediately saw that she was bleeding and he judged the condition of the girl to be a serious one from the amount of blood that Martha was losing. It was pouring from injuries that she had received to her hands, head and arms. Grimmer blew on his police whistle and thankfully another police officer swiftly came to his aid. It was Police Constable Swain and he summoned a cab in which he was then able to take the injured girl to the hospital. Grimmer then tried to pursue the girls attacker, but he had long gone. Police enquiries soon established his identity however and on Tuesday 26 May Richard Hattersley was arrested and taken into custody on a charge of malicious wounding.

The prisoner was brought before the magistrate the next day and when asked if he had anything to say, Richard told the court ‘I did not intend anyone else to have her. I am very sorry, It was my temper that did it.’ He was defended by local solicitor Mr W M Gichard who brought the first witness to give his evidence. He was the surgeon at the Rotherham Hospital, Dr Harold Kerr who told the court the girl had been brought into the hospital around 7.30 am on Monday morning and he could immediately see that, despite the amount of blood, that her injuries were thankfully mostly superficial. Consequently after attending to them, the patient was allowed to go home.

He told the court that Martha had since become an outpatient and that he would continue to keep an eye on her for another week or so, but was expecting a full recovery. Mr Gichard asked him if the injuries could have been made worse by Martha attempting to defend herself, to which the surgeon was forced to agree that they might have been. The next witness was Martha herself and she appeared in the court with her hands and head bandaged. She was given a seat and allowed to give her evidence from a seated position. Martha gave an explanation of the cause of the attack and said that she had prevented the prisoner from stabbing her in the heart, only by trying to grab at the knife with her hands.

The witness related how thankfully her screams attracted other people, and Richard had then run off. When cross examined by the prisoners defence, Martha admitted that it was Richard’s usual custom to walk her to work some mornings. However she hotly denied his suggestion that she had told him that she wanted to go out with anyone else. When asked the reason why she had broken up with him, Martha replied because he would not leave her alone. She stated that ‘no matter where I went, he was after me.’ Her father was the next witness and Thomas Parkin told the court about a harrowing conversation he had with the prisoner just the day before. He said it was on the Sunday when Richard told him flatly that he would make sure that his daughter never went out with anyone else.

Parkin told him ‘If I know you put a hand on my daughter to harm her, I shall give you something with my fists’. However the prisoner remained unmoved and simply repeated that he would kill her. Mr Gichard asked the witness what had been his opinion of Richard up to the pair having the argument. Parkin was forced to admit that Richard had always come across as a decent and respectable man, who was hard working and attentive to his daughter. In addressing the court for the defence, Mr Gichard asked that the magistrates send the prisoner for trial at the local Quarter Sessions rather than the Assizes, as he knew they would deal more leniently with him. He made an effort to minimise the crime, pointing out that it was just an ordinary case of wounding, and therefore not serious enough to be sent to the Assizes.

Mr Gichard stated that the prisoners conduct had been extremely foolish, and he would need to be punished for it, but if he was sent before the Assizes, he would be unlikely to be able to pay for a defence counsel. The bench acceded to his request and Richard Hattersley was sent to take his trial and the Rotherham Quarter Sessions. Although he was allowed bail with sureties of £20 for himself and two other sureties of £10 each, Richard was unable to provide any sureties, so he was forced to remain in custody. Subsequently Richard Hattersley appeared before the Rotherham Midsummer Quarter Sessions on Tuesday 14 July 1903. It was reported that there were just two cases to be heard before the Recorder, Mr Harold Thomas that day and they were both for unlawful wounding.

Mr R Leader was the prosecution in the case of Richard Hattersley and he gave the jury an outline of the case so far. The prisoners defence was Mr T E Ellison who stated that before this had happened, Richard was known to be a man of extremely good character. He said that he had been very much in love with Martha, and therefore had been heartbroken when she said she didn’t wish to see him any more. The prisoners defence pointed out that medical evidence had proved that the wounds were all superficial in nature, which showed that Richard had no malicious intent. Mr Ellison claimed that he had simply lost his head and had probably just intended to frighten the girl if anything. The defence reminded the jury that Richard had already been in prison for two months.

The prisoners employer Mr Edward Sugden then also gave Richard Hattersley an excellent character, before the Recorder summed up for the jury. He told them:

It is the duty of every man to protect the woman he loved, and if she did not chose to love him, as her lover he had no right to take the law into his own hands, as the prisoner had done on this occasion. If the injuries had been serious, I would have been bound to pass upon hima more serious sentence of penal servitude. As it is, I sentence him to eighteen calendar months imprisonment with hard labour.’

The Clever Defence of Dick Balderson

In July of 1848 there was a spate of serious crime occupying the legal authorities in Rotherham. So much so, that the crime of stealing a horse seemed relatively unimportant. The horse, which was in foal, had been stolen on 12 July, and was the property of a woman called Mrs Elizabeth Trickett who lived in Wickersley. Nevertheless the need to put an end to this sort of crime, which becoming quite common in the area, led to local newspaper urging a need to put an end to ‘this lawless traffic.’ The matter was reported to the police. and an advertisement inserted in the police magazine the Hue and Cry the following month.

When there was no response to this however, another advertisement appeared in December 1848 again requesting that any information about the theft to be reported to the Rotherham Police. To begin with, it appeared once more to have no immediate response, but shortly afterwards another advertisement appeared in the Hue and Cry. It seems that a mare, who was in foal had been left at the stables attached to the Cross Keys Inn at Lawton, a village situated between Manchester and Liverpool. The advert stated that unless the owner came to collect the animal, it would be sold to offset the expenses it had accrued whilst it had been stabled there.

When Mrs Thickett’s attention was directed to the advert in December 1849, she sent her son to firstly report the matter at the Rotherham police office, and then to go to inspect the horse and determine whether it was the same one which had been stolen from her. When informed of this, the Chief Constable of Rotherham, Mr Bland dispatched Detective Officer Timms to accompany Mrs Thickett’s son. The two men found the mare who was in the possession of the Cross Keys innkeeper, a man called James Ryecroft. He told them that the horse had been brought by a man who said that he was employed by horse dealer, a man called Mr Hunter of Sheffield.

The man gained permission from Ryecroft to leave the horse in the stables attached to the public house. He said that either himself or Mr Hunter would collect the horse within the next few days. However no one turned up to claim the animal. The innkeeper said that consequently the horse had been stabled with him in July 1848, but he refused to give it up to Timms unless £8.4s was to be paid for the animals upkeep. Young Trickett knew that it was his mothers horse, and he offered the man £5 which was all he had in his possession, but the offer was refused. Consequently the young man and Timms returned back to Rotherham empty handed.

Mr Bland was having none of this and without delay he obtained a legal warrant for the horse, and once again accompanied by Mrs Trickett’s son, Timms returned back to the Cross Keys at Lawton. Upon production of the warrant, the two men finally succeeded in bring the horse back to Rotherham. Soon afterwards however, another horse was stolen from a field near the town and the thief turned out to be 31 year old Richard, or Dick Balderson of Laughton-en-le-Morthern. He was apprehended for the theft and brought before the magistrates, where he was quickly found guilty and sent to take his trial. However when the case was heard at the Assizes, it was dismissed through lack of evidence.

Nevertheless from the accurate description which had been given to Timms by the landlord of the Cross Keys, Detective Officer Timms was soon able to identify Richard Balderson as being the man who had probably stolen both horses. The following day Timms was in Wellgate when he saw a man he recognised, hawking glass objects in a basket. He saw the man was Dick Balderson himself and he was quickly seized and arrested for the theft of the horse belonging to Mrs Trickett and placed in the jail the same afternoon. The prisoner was brought before the magistrates the next day charged with the robbery and remanded until the following Monday in order for witnesses from Lancashire to reach Rotherham.

Balderson was identified by the innkeeper James Ryecroft and after hearing all the evidence against him, once again the prisoner was ordered to take his trial at the next Assizes. The case looked bad against him, however Dick Balderson was determined to make his own defence when he appeared before judge Mr Baron Alderson at the Yorkshire Assizes on Tuesday 6 March 1849. Several witnesses from Lawton were brought to give evidence who, to a man, identified Balderson as the person seen with the mare. However the prisoner had concocted a very good defence.

Balderson simply decided that he was going to lay the blame squarely on the innkeeper Ryecroft and to everyone’s surprise he did a very fine job. The prisoner cleverly cross questioned several of the witnesses on their statements, ensuring that even they began to doubt the evidence of their own eyes. In his conclusion, Dick claimed that Ryecroft:

‘had acted very much like a person who had guilty knowledge of the affair as he had not, during the six months he had the mare in his possession, either tried to find out whether there was such a man called Hunter, a horse dealer of Sheffield.’

Balderson concluded his attack on Ryecroft by claiming that therefore the man’s whole account needed to be dismissed by the jury as not being worthy of credit. Also in his defence the prisoner claimed that there had been a conspiracy between the police officers concerned in the case, and the witnesses involved. He stated that they had colluded against him in order to screen the innkeeper. However, despite his able defence, the jury were having none of it. They promptly found Dick Balderson guilty and following the first conviction for horse theft now being proved, he was sentenced by judge Mr Baron Alderson to be transported for fifteen years.

Consequently Dick Balderson boarded the convict ship Mermaid along with 208 other transportees on 30 December 1859. The ship was sailing for 134 days before landing in Western Australia on 13 May 1851. It is likely that soon afterwards he would start work, along with other British convicts building and mending roads in the heat of the Australian sun. I wonder if at any point, he thought back to his former life in Rotherham and if he ever regretted the two crimes of horse stealing which had brought him to that desolate country.

George Thomas

George Thomas was aged just 32 when he lived in Sheffield with his wife and three children. They were a very respectable family, who over the past year had simply been dogged with bad luck. George was a shoemaker by trade, but just a few months previously around Christmas time of 1823, he had found new employment in the cutlery business as a maker of shears. He liked the job and got on well with his workmates, but to his great dismay he only had the job a month before he, and the other men were superseded by a machine. Once again he found himself thrown out of work. This preyed on his mind dreadfully and he worried about being without employment and the effect it would have on his family.

It was said that his only enjoyment was in spending time with his three children, the youngest of which was a boy called William, aged just seven months old. The family gradually sold what effects they had to buy food, and on Saturday 6 March 1824, Mrs Thomas took some items once again to the market to sell. One of the kindly neighbours who was aware of the families problems, thought that George seemed more despondent than usual. So she took the little boy off his hands for a few hours, returning him back home around 5.30 pm. George took little William into his arms and kissed him affectionately. Nevertheless the neighbour noted that he seemed quite strange in his behaviour, but assuming his wife would soon be home from market, she left the little boy in his care.

Two hours later she saw George leave the house alone and knowing that Mrs Thomas was not back from market yet, she went to the house and opened the door, which he had left unlocked. The two older children were in bed and the house was quiet, but the neighbour could find no sign of the little baby. Now very worried she went to the market where she found Mrs Thomas preparing to go home. Returning back, the two woman searched the house from top to bottom. Sadly it was the child’s own mother who found little William dead in the cellar. He had been placed face down in a tub of water. His mother gave a loud scream when she found her baby, before falling into a dead faint.

A search was immediately put in place for George Thomas, but it was not until the next evening before he gave himself up to a police officer. The man seemed to be quite distracted and at a loss to know what to do with himself. When the officer asked him what he had done, George seemed confused and unable to answer. He just told the police officer that he did not know what he had done, but he just wanted to go home to his wife and family. The officer told him that he had killed his son and that now he must come with him to prison. George quietly acquiesced and went along with the officer quite peacefully. An inquest on little William Thomas was subsequently arranged to be held on Monday 8 March by Sheffield Coroner, Mr John Atkinson Esq.

George was in attendance in the custody of a couple of turnkey’s and throughout the enquiry he seemed to be very withdrawn and subdued. The neighbour gave evidence that he had always been a cheerful man, who would help anyone before he had all the concerns of losing his employment. After that he seemed to be just the opposite, as it had obviously preyed on his mind. Mrs Thomas gave confirmatory evidence and stated that lately her husband had become very melancholy and seemed to have lost the will to live. He worried all the time about how he could support his family and seemed to quite despair for the future. The jury took just 30 minutes deliberations before returning a verdict of guilty.

Mr Atkinson sent George Thomas to take his trial at the next Assizes to be held at York Castle. Consequently he was brought before the judge at the Yorkshire Spring Assizes on Saturday 3 April 1824 charged with the wilful murder of his son, William by drowning him in a tub. The judge and jury listened to all the evidence from witnesses and also from the Castle prison medical officer. Then it was time for his Lordship to sum up the case for the jury. After a short deliberation they found George Thomas to be ‘not guilty on the grounds of insanity’ and the judge ordered him to be held in prison indefinitely at the Kings pleasure.

Fatal Stone throwing at Rotherham

At sometime around the third week of January of 1887, a 10 year old lad called John Matthewman had gone out to play with some friends before their game was interrupted by some older boys. There had been a gang of them, but one in particular, a boy called Eddie Roberts started to throw his weight around with the younger boys. There was some jostling between them before someone started to throw stones and one of the missiles caught John on the forehead. It had been thrown by Eddie who immediately, seeing what he had done, ran away. Subsequently on Monday 24 January 1887 as Eddie was coming home from his employment as a clerk, he saw John Matthewman going home from school on Victoria Street, Masborough.

In retaliation for the earlier stone throwing episode, John picked up a stone and threw it hard at the older boy. It hit him square on his forehead and immediately began to bleed quite heavily. When Eddie arrived back at his home on Midland Road, Masborough, his mother bathed his head and put him to bed, but the next day her son’s condition had became worse. His father, also called Edward had reported the incident to the Rotherham police station and the family were soon visited by the Police Surgeon, Dr Cobban. He visited on Tuesday, but by then Eddie had lapsed into unconsciousness. To everyone’s shock including Dr Cobban’s, later that same day Eddie died from his injuries.

On Saturday 29 January an inquest was held by Coroner Mr D Wightman at the Woodman Inn at Masbrough on the body of fourteen year old Edward William Roberts. The boy John was present at the inquest and he was in the custody of a young constable. The first witness was the deceased boys father. He told the coroner that he had identified the body of his son, and said that young Eddie had always been delicate and sickly from birth. However it had never stopped him from joining in with games with his friends. The witness described how his son had come home from work on Monday and complained that a boy had thrown a stone at him. His father related how the boy was bleeding from the wound on his forehead and how he had died at 2 pm the next day.

The police surgeon told the court that the boy had died from concussion of the brain which he had no doubt had come from the wound on his head. The coroner asked John if he had anything to say and the boy admitted that he had thrown the stone which hit Eddie, but he had not intended to hurt him. He claimed that Eddie had started it a few days earlier when he had thrown a stone at him which had hit him on the head. John admitted therefore that was the reason that he had retaliated. He told the coroner that he was not in the habit of stone throwing, but Mr Wightman just laughed as he told him ‘then you must be the only lad in Rotherham that isn’t.’ Although there was laughter in the inquest room the young boy didn’t join in.

Clearing his throat Mr Wightman summed up the case for the jury. He told them that they might send the prisoner John Matthewman for trial at the Assizes, but that was problematic because of his very young age. He pointed out that all lads were in the habit of stone throwing, but in this case he did not think that it had been done with any malicious intent. He said that such cases might have been dealt with by a sound thrashing from his father, but because a boy had died, it must be taken more seriously. Mr Matthewman at this point stated that he had thrashed John on previous occasions for stone throwing, but it had not made any difference to him. Mr Wightman told him:

You see what the result is? A poor boy has been killed by the silly dangerous habit of throwing stones. I don’t know what view the jury is going to take of it. They can, if they think proper, send him for trial for manslaughter, as he ought to be punished in some way.’

The coroner told the young prisoners father that another alternative would be for the jury to send him before the magistrates for stone throwing, but the probable outcome would be a fine, which he would have to pay. Mr Matthewman told the inquest at this point that he was out of work, but Mr Wightman had not finished with him yet. He told him that he needed to have a serious talk with his son before adding:

You say he has been punished for stone throwing, but it has had no good results. It is a very serious matter, and one to which we cannot overlook. If I had any power to order a good thrashing, I would do so. These proceedings ought to make an impression on him and on you.’

The jury returned a verdict to the effect that ‘Edward Roberts had died from concussion of the brain caused by a blow from a stone thrown by the lad John Matthewman.’ As a result of this John aged just ten years was brought before the Rotherham magistrates on Monday 31 January. The young boy was so slight that he was given a box to stand on, in order that the magistrates could see him. Witnesses gave evidence about the stone throwing incidents before the young prisoner was ordered to take his trial at the next assizes. John William Matthewman was brought before the judge, Mr Justice Grantham at Leeds Assizes on Thursday 12 May 1887. The judge appointed Mr Rimington Wilson to defend the boy. John had previously pleaded not guilty, but advised by his defence counsel he changed his plea to guilty.

The prosecution Mr Ellison outlined the case for the grand jury and explained the circumstances leading up to the stone throwing episode. John’s defence counsel pointed out that it had been the deceased lad Edward Roberts who had instigated the attack on the prisoner, who had simply retaliated on another date. However he pointed out that the occurrence was almost an accident and requested that the jury should deal lightly with his young client. Mr Justice Grantham delivered a severe caution to the boy in the dock, before adding that he felt that justice would be sufficient for him to sentence him to a weeks imprisonment. That period having already elapsed since the beginning of the assizes, the boy would therefore be immediately discharged.

The Doomed Marriage

A well dressed young man called John Smith was brought before the Sheffield magistrate, Mr J P Taylor on Wednesday 10 September 1851. He was charged with using threats towards his wife which resulted in the fact that she lived in bodily fear of him. His wife, who was judged to be at least 13 or 14 years older than her husband, told the bench that she was quite well off and the couple had lived in relative comfort in Porter Street, Sheffield. Mrs Smith said that she had run a quite profitable business buying and selling second hand clothes. Around April of that year a regiment of 1st Royal Dragoons had been stationed at the Barracks in Sheffield, and that her husband had been a private in that regiment. The soldiers were often seen out and about in Sheffield, mainly due to the bright red coats they wore.

As a consequence the witness said they quickly formed an attachment to each other, and so when he asked her to marry him, she agreed. In fact Mrs Smith said had even paid £30 for her husband’s discharge from the regiment and had kitted him out in a new suit for the occasion. However the witness told the court during that time she had never received a penny from him. Mrs Smith also said that in return she had received nothing except ill usage and threats made towards her. On the contrary, she said that she had maintained him ‘like a gentleman’ throughout that time. Mrs Smith said that she bought her husband anything he desired and had denied him nothing. However by the 5 September, after only five months of marriage, he demanded that she give up her keys to the house and shop premises to him. The witness refused fearing that her husband intended to sell all her belongings.

The witness said that she was now becoming quite frightened of him, and consequently had removed many of her clothes and some furniture to the house of a neighbour. However when her husband found out, he made such violent threats towards her, that she ran from the house in fear of her life. In her absence he had indeed sold what furniture there was remaining in the house, which consisted of a sofa, two beds, two chest of drawers and other articles. Mrs Smith stated that when she discovered what he had done, she returned and with the help of some of the neighbours once again removed the remainder of the furniture out of the house. The witness told the court that the landlord of the property had now given them notice to quit, due to the ill feeling the couple had expressed towards each other.

Mrs Smith was in tears as she reached the conclusion of her sad tale, but if she expected any sympathy from the court, she was in for a shock. The magistrate Mr Taylor stated that she had said that her husband had threatened her hundreds of times and added ‘surely that was an exaggeration?’ The witness complained that he had threatened her scores of time and what’s more he had threatened to murder her too. The magistrate asked her clearly what she expected the court to do for her and she asked if they might bind him over to keep the peace, she would feel much better. There was laughter in the court when Mr Taylor called her ‘a very silly woman’ adding that he supposed it was the old story, ‘that the red coat had done it all’.

This was a reference to local women falling for the soldiers in their bright red coats and being flattered by their attentions, to which even the prisoner himself was forced to smile. Mrs Smith stated that she had done everything in her power to keep her husband happy, and described how she kept a servant to wait upon him to see to all his needs. The witness said that if he had just acted like a gentleman towards her, he could have had everything. Mrs Smith concluded her tale by stating that the prisoner was used to women doing things for him, and explained that his sisters had once before paid the £30 he needed to discharge himself from the army. Despite this, after some time he had gone and enlisted again. Mr Taylor once again called her ‘a foolish woman to have paid for him a second time, knowing that.’

Once again there was some laughter in the court to which the clerk to the magistrate called for silence, or he threatened that he would be forced to clear the room. Again the witness tried to make the bench understand her predicament. She admitted that her husband had used great charm on her before they were married. Many time he had said that he had seen the folly of his ways and that he would change, and she had chosen to believe him. As a result, she had given him several chances all to no avail. The prisoner at this point was asked what he had to say to the charges and he pointed out that he had never hurt a hair of her head. However then he made the audacious charge that he had ‘strong reason to suspect her faithfulness towards him.’

Mr Smith admitted that he was guilty when angry to have used strong language towards his wife and promised that if she would consent to come back to live with him again, that she would have no cause for complaint in the future. The magistrate Mr Taylor asked him what trade did he have, and Smith told him that he had never learned a trade, as he had worked as a farm labourer before enlisting in the army. The magistrate told him therefore that when he said that ‘if she came back to him, he would keep her’ what he actually meant was that ‘she will take and keep you.’ This also brought muffled laughter from the people in the courtroom.

At this point it was very clear that Mrs Smith would receive no justice at the hands of this Sheffield magistrate. Mr Taylor simply ordered Smith’s discharge and the prisoner was ordered to keep the peace and to pay sureties to that effect. The report concluded that:

‘On being removed from the dock, Mr Smith beckoned his wife towards him, and after some very earnest declaration on his part, the couple appeared to have concluded an amicable arrangement.’

It was reported in the newspaper that the couple left the courtroom arm in arm. I would like to think that the couple lived ‘happily ever after’ following their appearance in court, but I have my doubts.

Manslaughter at the Plough

It seems that in Rotherham in April of 1853 such cases of foolish and drunken behaviour were becoming all to common in the area. One of the local newspapers, the Sheffield Independent dated Saturday 9 April 1853 summed it up. It was described as ‘another of those fatal affrays arising from drunkenness, which have of late years too frequently disgraced this neighbourhood’ The incident started on the evening of Easter Tuesday, 5 April 1853 when a group of men were drinking together in the Plough, a Catcliffe public house. Among them were Ralph Taylor and his brother James, and there was also a man called Thomas Westnidge. All the men were in their twenties and were having a good time together celebrating the Easter holidays.

Suddenly Thomas Westnidge knocked James Taylor’s hat off and then completely denied that he’d done it. Under normal circumstances the situation would have quickly dissolved into laughter and the nights enjoyment would have continued. But for some reason, this playful act seemed to rankle with his brother, Ralph Taylor. Rising from his seat he in turn knocked Wastnidge’s own hat off and trampled it under his feet stating to him ‘If it was your head, I would serve it the same.’ James Taylor simply picked his own hat up and dusted it off before he and his brother and some companions went into another room, where they remained until just before 9 pm.

Still annoyed however, as they were about to leave, Ralph Taylor went back into the room where Westnidge was still sitting and shouted at him that he was going to summons him for what he had done. Westnidge got up and grabbing Taylor by the collar of his jacket, said to him ‘Oh will you?’ He then smashed his head into the other man’s face, throwing him back with great force. Ralph fell so heavily that the back of his head slammed into the stone floor with great force. As a result, he did not move as and his friends left the Plough and staggered home. None of them had realised the seriousness of what had just happened.

After they had gone, several men tried to rouse Ralph as he lay on the stone floor, now completely unconscious. Eventually it was decided that he could not remain there, and he was taken to his brother James’s house nearby. As he was being moved the injured man was slipping in and out of consciousness and so a surgeon Mr Thomas Blunn was called. He quickly examined Ralph, but as he was told that the man’s state was due to a drunken argument that had taken place in the Plough, he simply left instructions to be called if his condition deteriorated. Soon after the surgeon left and Ralph began to recover slightly.

After some time he regained his senses, however he complained of a terrible pain in the back of his head. James’s wife put him into a truckle bed in the spare bedroom and attended to him until around 1 am when she finally left him to go to her own bed. However she had left the door open between the two bedrooms and several times during the night she awoke, but as she could hear Ralph’s heavy breathing, she naturally assumed that he was just in a very deep sleep. At sometime around 7 am James awoke and went into the room where he found his brother dead.

As soon as the death was announced to the local constabulary, the police heard of the circumstances surrounding the death and arrested Thomas Westnidge. The Coroner, Mr Thomas Badger was notified and an inquest was arranged for Friday 8 April 1853 at the same public house where the incident had taken place, the Plough at Catcliffe. The prisoner Thomas Westnidge was brought into the room in the custody of a police constable. It was difficult to judge what his thoughts were, as he looked around the same room where all the men had been drinking a few nights before. The first witness was surgeon Mr B. Le-Tall of Handsworth Woodhouse and he told the inquest that the previous day he had performed a post mortem on the remains of Ralph Taylor.

He said that he had examined the body externally and found some marks of violence around the head of the deceased, but those marks were fairly insignificant. Only when he removed the skull had he found it to be extensively fractured. Mr Le-Tall stated that at the right side of the skull there was a substantial amount of dark coagulated blood between the bone and the dura mater. He concluded that the cause of death was the fracture of the skull which caused an effusion of blood into the man’s brain. His evidence was confirmed by another surgeon Mr John Foster of Rotherham, who had also attended the post mortem.

Mr Badger summed up the evidence for the jury, who almost unanimously brought in a verdict of manslaughter against Thomas Westnidge. The coroner told the prisoner that he had no option but to have him sent to the Assizes for trial. Although Thomas had shown no reaction to the accusations made against him during the inquest, it was reported that the prisoner looked shocked as he was removed from the room. Thomas Westnidge was brought before judge Mr Justice Earle at the Yorkshire Summer Assizes at York on Tuesday 12 July 1853 charged with the manslaughter of Ralph Taylor.

The prisoner pleaded guilty to the manslaughter charge. The witnesses gave the same evidence as they had done before the Rotherham inquest, before the judge summed up. Mr Justice Earle pointed out to the jury that there had been no malice intended in Ralph Taylor’s death, which had simply been the result of a drunken fray. As a result Thomas Westnidge was just sentenced to be imprisoned for just a fortnight with hard labour.

Account from a returning convict.

When King was stopped by police officers and admitted that he was a returned convict, they had no option but to arrest him. He begged the men who had apprehended him not to send him back. He told them that consequently as punishment he would be sent to Norfolk Island and added that ‘no one knew the horrors of that place.’ As a deterrent, he warned other people in danger of transportation by saying ‘If those who make a living by thieving in England were aware of what the transportees have to undergo, they would break stones upon the road, rather than subject themselves to the chance of it.’

The convict said that he had been sentenced to fourteen years transportation at the Lancaster Quarter Sessions for a burglary he committed in Salford four years previously. Consequently he left England on the ‘Westmorland’ convict ship landing in New South Wales on 15 July 1835. At first he was employed as a man servant which he quite enjoyed, but after some months his master moved to another area and King was then sent to work with other convicts as part of a chain gang. The gang were watched over by a brutal gang leader and were employed making and mending public roads. The work was hard and back breaking and involved going to work at 5 am after a breakfast of just some Indian corn before the men were chained together.

The gang then worked solidly throughout the day, cutting down trees and labouring in the hot sun to build the roads. He said that they were ordered to always take with them a kind of wooden object, made up from three long pieces of wood. This was used to punish the convicts for any infringement of the rules. Men would be tied to this wood made into an ‘A’ frame and flogged for as many as fifty lashes with a cat o’ nine tails’ if they showed any kind of disobedience. The ‘cat’ was a vicious whip with nine knotted cords at the end. King said that the men had no meals or rest during the long, hot day until they returned back to the compound at 3 pm. There, after another meal of Indian corn, they would go to sleep on the floor on some kind of springy bark instead of mattresses.

He told the officers how he and another convict had managed to finally escape and said that it had happened just two years previously. King explained how the men at that time, were ‘single chained’ that is just two men tied together, and he was chained to a man called Daniel Mawney. Seizing an opportunity one day, the pair hid themselves in the bushes, and after the gang had gone they managed to release themselves from their chains, breaking them with heavy stones. Then King and Mawney found a beach overlooking an American whaling ship. They swam towards it and boarded it secretly at night, remaining in the hold as stowaways for fourteen days. The two convicts existed by eating biscuits and water which they found in the hold.

Finally they were discovered, and the captain told them that he had no option but to give them up when the ship returned back to Australia. However when the vessel was approaching New Zealand King and Mawney took their chances and jumped overboard. They swam to a small island where they were surrounded by natives. After various dangerous exploits which included life with the natives, escaping from death and losing all his clothes, King said he managed to finally board an English ship called the ‘Elizabeth.’ With the permission of the master Captain Carey, King said got back to England just a few nights previously. Thankfully after hearing his tale, King was released and shortly afterwards gave this account to a reporter.

The Murder of William Simonite.

On the evening of Wednesday 1 April 1835 a rumour was passing around Sheffield that a man had been killed on the Wicker. The death was supposed to have happened when the beerhouse keeper William Simonite had been involved in a struggle with a 43 year old drunken man called John Unwin. The two men were workmates, both knife blade makers at the cutlery business run by Messrs T Ellin and Son in Sheffield. It seems that on that date Unwin, who lived in lodgings in Eyre Lane had gone to Simonite’s beer house on Sheldon Row just off the Wicker. There he asked Simonite for some ale on tick, which was refused.

He soon left, but later that evening around 8 pm he went back to the beer house and he was in a very truculent mood. He spoke roughly to the landlord’s wife, Rebecca Simonite demanding to be served. However he was using some very bad language and when her husband heard it from the other bar, he came through to remonstrate with his friend. Simonite accused Unwin of getting drunk elsewhere and then coming to his beerhouse to purposely to abuse him and his wife and told him to go. Without speaking, Unwin simply punched the beer house keeper in the face. Simonite was used to dealing with violent customers, so he simply got hold of his attacker by the collar and pushed him out the door.

The entrance to the beerhouse was up three steps and as Simonite pushed Unwin out, the other held onto him, causing both men to fall into the street. Simonite was the first to recover and brushing himself down, he ascended the steps and went back inside, firmly closing the door on Unwin. However Unwin was determined and soon after he followed him back inside. Simonite had sat down heavily in a chair to recuperate and the cheeky Unwin sat down beside him. In a conciliatory tone he now asked politely for a drink, but Simonite again refused. Once again Unwin let rip with more abusive language and another scuffle took place. Unwin again fell to the floor and Simonite left him there and retreated into the kitchen where shortly afterwards he was joined by Rebecca.

She was concerned as her husband looked completely exhausted and the situation had escalated so swiftly. Neither could believe it when Unwin once again entered the kitchen and took up a fighting stance. He told the beer house keeper ‘thou will either pay me, or else I’ll pay thee’. Once again Simonite pushed him away, but as Unwin went to retaliate, Rebecca tried to stop him by pointing out that her husband was not a well man. However Unwin showed no pity as he continued abusing him. Simonite, by this time decided that he had enough. Getting to his feet he tried to grab the drunken man by the collar again, but Unwin struck out at his hands. He then proceeded to batter the older man ceaselessly about the body.

Without pausing for breathe, he smashed his fists into Simonite’s face, neck, body and arms, in fact anywhere he could reach. A young lodger tried to interfere and to stop the fight, but Unwin was beyond reasoning with at that point. When he finally saw Unwin punched his opponent violently in the stomach, the young lodger screamed out ‘he has killed him.’ Simonite fell forwards and was caught before he hit the floor by another man called James Roddis. He managed to pull him into a seated position in a chair, but the beer house keeper never spoke again. Sadly he died at 9.15 pm.

The Coroner for Sheffield, Mr Thomas Badger, was notified of the death and even though he had been attending the Yorkshire Assizes in York, he was re-called back to Sheffield. Two days later on Friday 3 April 1830 he opened the inquest on William Simonite at the Falstaff public house on the Wicker. John Unwin was in attendance in the custody of a police constable. The first witness was Rebecca Simonite, who gave details of the attack which had been made on her husband. She said that throughout the attack, her husband had tried to remain friendly calling the prisoner ‘John’ and trying to make him see sense. She said that despite the provocation, her husband had tried his best to pacify his attacker. Other witnesses corroborated Rebecca Simonite account.

Medical evidence was given by surgeon Mr Wright Wilson who told the inquest that he had been asked by the coroner to undertaken the post mortem. He said that himself and another Sheffield surgeon, Mr Joseph Law had held it earlier that same day. The surgeon said they had found that death had been exacerbated by the blows the man received in the attack and by ‘excitement.’ He concluded that it was in fact the vicious blow on the deceased man’s stomach which had accelerated his death. At this point the coroner Mr Badger received a character testimonial from the prisoner’s employers, Messrs T Ellin and Son which he read out to the jury. The certificate stated that John Unwin had been employed by them and been their tenant for the past 18 years, and he had always been an industrious, well disposed man. However the testimonial added a damning conclusion in that unfortunately it said he had the propensity to get too much ale at times.

Then Mr Badger summed up for the jury and pointed out the number of murders and manslaughter cases which were, at that moment being heard at the York Assizes. The coroner said they were much higher in number than they had been in former years. However he saw no option but to send the judges yet another case, and he committed John Unwin to take his trial at the next Assizes. However he warned him that it would not be at those present Assizes which were just ending. Subsequently John Unwin was not brought before judge Lord Asinger until Monday 20 July 1835. Once again Rebecca Simonite was called to gave her account of the attack on her husband.

She told the grand jury that her husband had been working very hard on that particular day and as a result he had been suffering from palpitations of the heart. This was a condition he had endured for the past eight years. She said that prior to the attack, the two men had been great friends who had always worked well together. When one of the jury asked her if she could account for Unwin’s change in character, Rebecca told him that she believed that he would not have attacked her husband if he had been sober. A witness called John Hunt confirmed that on that night, Unwin was particularly drunk and he had been the aggressor. He too confirmed that William Simonite was sober at the time.

Hunt described how the injured man had dropped to the floor after being hit by Unwin in the stomach and that he had never spoken again. The surgeon Mr Wright Wilson stated that he had been called to the beerhouse soon after nine o’clock, but when he arrived Simonite was already dead. Two days afterwards he performed the post mortem and once again gave his opinion on the cause of death. A witness for the defence was Unwin’s older brother William. He said that he had lived with his brother for most of their lives and that John had always been a hard worker. The witness said that he had never known him to be involved in a fight or to show any aggression. His evidence was repeated by three other witnesses.

Nevertheless, after hearing all the evidence the grand jury found John Unwin guilty of the manslaughter of William Simonite at Sheffield. The judge told the prisoner that he agreed with the jury’s verdict and he felt that taking into account the fact that Unwin had already been in prison for three months, that he should just serve another six months in York Castle prison. The prisoner was then removed from the court.

Mary Callaghan

Mary Callaghan was delighted when she first came to the town of Sheffield in March of 1865. She had travelled from Ireland to be re-united with her husband, who had come to the town a couple of years earlier to find work. She had lived in a poor village in her home country, which was still suffering from the effects of the famine of 1845 – 52 and could not believe that Sheffield was the place where they would now both live. Mary’s husband had been gone for so long that she thought he had abandoned her, and so she had been delighted when he wrote and asked her to join him. There was just one little problem which she had to address, and that was that she needed to hide from him the fact that she was pregnant by another man.

At first Mary simply had to pretend that she had gained weight since he had seen her last, and the matter was dismissed for a time. Finally she admitted that she was pregnant, leaving her husband to think that the child was his. For some time this fooled him, but as the time of giving birth grew even closer, Mary began to panic. She knew that she could not pretend that she had undergone a premature birth after just a few months, to what would prove to be a full term baby. Eventually Mary made a decision and took some actions, which she would bitterly regret for the rest of her life.

On Monday 7 August 1865 it was around 6 pm when information was given at the police office at the Sheffield Town Hall that the body of a baby boy had been found. The body had been in a basket placed in the ashpit of the Cross Guns public house on Silver Street Head, Sheffield. Inspector King of the Sheffield police was immediately sent to the house in question, where he spoke to the landlord. He showed the officer the ashpit and clearly visible was the basket containing the dead child. This was a placed in the yard where ash and other household waste was dumped, in order for it to be later collected by dust men and removed. When he arrived at the Cross Guns, the Inspector found that news of the grim discovery had already been leaked, and consequently there was a group of people gathered around waiting for his arrival.

Among them was a woman who could barely hide her tears and she was pointed out to him as being the possible mother of the child. Inspector King made arrangements for the body to be immediately removed to the Mortuary and then he proceeded to question the woman before taking her into custody. The coroner Mr J Webster was notified of the death of the child and he organised an inquest to be held at the Town Hall on the afternoon of the following day. Inspector King gave evidence of going to the yard and removing the body. He told the inquest that the woman in custody was Mary Callaghan, and she was present at the inquiry in the charge of another constable. Inspector King described how she had been pointed out to him and he he had taken her to the Town Hall.

On the way the prisoner had admitted that she was indeed the mother of the child and had given birth to him on Thursday 3 August of the previous week. The Inspector told the jury that Mary had admitted that the child was not her husbands, and that she had been alone when she gave birth. He said that the prisoner confessed that the child had been born dead and that she had told her husband that she had simply miscarried. The Inspector added that her husband did not wish to see the body, and therefore the prisoner hoped that she might get away with him ever knowing about her duplicity. Continuing with her confession, Mary had told the Inspector that left alone with the body, she did not know what to do with it.

Initially she said that she had left the little body hidden in a stable, but the thought of leaving it there had tormented Mary so much, to the extent that she became almost demented. The prisoner admitted that in a panic she had retrieved the body before taking it to the yard at the back of the Cross Guns. There she had placed it in the ash pit. By the time the Inspector had concluded his evidence, the prisoner was sobbing into her handkerchief in a most piteous manner. The next witness was a surgeon called Mr Young who stated that he had been asked by the coroner to undertake a post mortem on the body. He said that he had seen no external marks of violence and that the child’s organs had all been healthy.

The surgeon concluded by saying that he believed the child had been born alive, but had not breathed properly, due to the lack of medical attention at its birth. Mr Young stated that in such cases the mother of the child would just have presumed that the child had been born dead. The coroner summed up for the jury and said that the medical evidence was therefore conclusive and he had no more evidence to offer. He would leave the matter in the hands of the police to decide whether or not to proceed against the prisoner with a case of concealment of birth. One of the jury asked Mr Webster if this was a case of infanticide rather than concealment of birth, as there were quite a few similar cases in the local newspapers of the time.

The juror asked if any evidence of that nature had been found. Mr Webster told him that many of the cases of infanticide had been exaggerated in local newspapers and that he did not think that it was relevant in this particular case. Inspector King was re-called and he stated that he had spoken to several of the neighbours who lived near to Mrs Callaghan, but none of them had suspected that she was pregnant or even that she had the child. The only evidence against her had been her visible conduct once the body had been found and by her own admission. The coroner told the jury that in such a case the only evidence against her was her own statement which she had freely made to the police. That alone was not enough to accuse her of murder. The jury accordingly brought back a verdict that:

‘The deceased was found dead in an ash pit, but whether born alive, there was no evidence to show’.

Mary Callaghan was brought before the Sheffield magistrates the following day on the charge of concealment of birth and remanded. The police were charged to make further enquiries, but they found no further evidence against the prisoner. Subsequently on Monday 14 August 1865, Mary Callaghan was brought before the magistrates once again, and the same witnesses and their evidence was heard. At the conclusion, the bench consulted between themselves for sometime, until it was decided to ‘remand the prisoner at large.’ This meant that in essence Mary was free to leave, but if any further information about the death of the child was forthcoming, she would again be brought back into custody and charged.

This is a truly sad case which occurred in many of the towns and cities across Britain throughout the nineteenth century. Many women such as Mary Callaghan found themselves in similar circumstances and sank to such depths to rid themselves of the ‘problem.’ It is easy for us to make judgements today, but research of the many such cases shows that it was a very common situation in which many working class women found themselves. I truly hope that Mary Callaghan found some peace as she left the courtroom that day.