The Strange Tale of Elisha Revill

This case illustrates the dreadful lives by hundreds of people in Sheffield in July 1865. On Tuesday 18 July 1865 a ’rough looking fellow’ was brought before the Sheffield magistrates Mr H Harrison and Mr Thomas Dunn at the Town Hall, charged with a murderous assault upon a woman. The couple lived in one of the many overcrowded courts off Bailey Lane, Sheffield and he was called Elisha Revill. It was reported in the local newspapers that he belonged ‘to a tribe of gypsies’ who earned his living by travelling around the country with a grinding wheel. At his trade he would knock on random house doors offering to sharpening tools and knives for people for a small fee.

The woman involved was called Martha Brewitt who lived with him as his common law wife and she told the bench that they had lived together for eleven years and, in that time she had borne him seven children. Sometimes Martha said that she would accompany Revill on his travels, leaving the children at home in Bailey Lane. There the younger children were left in the charge of the older ones, to manage as they best they may. Sadly as life took its toll, the pair became addicted to drink and from their house on many occasions came the sounds of arguments and fights. It was one of those kinds of families where neighbours would not interfere as the drunken arguments took place on a fairly regular basis.

It seems that on Monday 17 July 1865 the pair had been out drinking for most of the day. It was almost inevitable that when they returned home the usual arguments broke out. However, this time the shouts and screams lasted throughout the night. In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Revill was seen to drag his paramour out of the house and having thrown her down onto the cobbles of the yard, commenced kicking at her with great brutality. He was known to be so aggressive that none of the neighbours would dare interfere. Martha screamed so loudly that her cries were heard by Police Officer Hornsey who was patrolling along Bailey Lane around 6 am.

He ran into the yard and found the woman in a dreadful state, although she was by now no longer crying and was insensible, her body was lying in the yard and was surrounded in her blood. PC Hornsey immediately blew his whistle and having summoned help, he arrested Revill and he was escorted to the police cells. Turning his attention to the poor woman, the officer picked her up and carried her inside her own home. He could see several fearful wounds on her head and so he sent another officer to quickly find a medical man. A surgeon from the Sheffield Public Hospital attended as soon as possible, and he immediately saw that she lay in a very dangerous state.

In front of the magistrates the next morning the Chief Constable of Sheffield outlined the case for the court. He asked for a remand in the hope that the woman would be recovered enough to give her own evidence, which was granted. On Saturday 22 July the prisoner Revill was brought back before the bench and Martha was also in attendance. Thankfully she was well enough to give her own account of what had taken place and it was reported that the remains of the attack could still be seen on her face. It seems that she had been under treatment by the Hospital surgeons and so she appeared in the courtroom with her head bandaged. Martha said that Revill was a kind man when he was sober, but once he had touched alcohol he became like a madman.

There then followed a conversation between the prisoner and one of the bench, Mr Thomas Dunn Esq, However the magistrate appeared to be more concerned with the pairs moral obligations, rather that the savage attack that Martha had been subjected to. The conversation went:

T. Dunn: ‘Do you know what your duty is towards this woman?’
E. Revill: ‘Certainly, I ought to treat her more kindly.’
T. Dunn: ‘And is that your only duty?’
E. Revill: ‘No, I ought to marry her.’
T. Dunn: ‘Then are you willing to do so?’
E. Revill: ‘Yes, sir I am.’
T. Dunn: ‘And you promise me that you will?’
E. Revill: ‘Yes, sir.’
T. Dunn: ‘Then I’ll discharge you.’

It was reported that the prisoner left the court looking rather surprised at the astonishing outcome. Having being brought into court charged with assault, he had no doubt expected a hefty fine or even a prison sentence. Instead with morality at once being restored, the bench no doubt felt that they had done their duty. What Martha Brewitt thought about this strange turn of events was not recorded.

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