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.