Stone Throwing at Masbrough

John Matthewman was a boy of just ten years in January of 1887 and he lived on Midland Road, Masborough with his parents. It was around 3.30 pm on Monday 24 January when he and some other boys were walking down Victoria Street, Masborough on their way home from school. When they reached the junction where Victoria Street meets Station Road, he saw fourteen year old Edward Roberts, who had recently started work as a clerk walking up the road. As they both passed each other, Edward used a foul expression at John before the other boy picked up a stone and threw it in retaliation.

The stone hit Edward square on his forehead and he simply dropped to the floor without uttering a sound. John, seeing what he had done, just ran off, not bothering to see if Edward was hurt or not.
The next day when he got home from school, his mother tell him that Edwards father had been to see them earlier that day. He told them that his son was lying unconscious at home from the stone throwing incident and that John was to blame. He told John’s parents that the previous evening his son had gone home with blood pouring from the wound in his head. His mother had tried to staunch the bleeding, but she had not succeeded and had finally to call in a local surgeon.

Edwards parents had become progressively worried as the night went on and when Edward had started to drift in and out of consciousness they became very concerned. At this point John tried to protest that the fourteen year old had asked for it, as he had been taunting him, but he was struck silent by his mothers worried face. Her worries were justified when the following day 26 January, they heard that young Edward Roberts had died. At first the Rotherham legal authorities were at a loss as what to do, given the young age of both the assailant and the victim, but eventually it was decided that, young though he was, John would have to be brought into custody.

Mrs Matthewman cried as she saw her ten year old son being taken away by Police Constable Horton, and he was placed in a cell at the Rotherham Police Station. The Coroner Mr D Wightman was informed of the young boy’s death and he arranged for an inquest to be held at the Woodman Inn on Midland Road on Saturday 29 January 1887. The first witness was the deceased boys father, who was also called Edward. He told the inquest that he had identified the body of his son. He said that his son had been brought home on the Monday night with his forehead bleeding. He had complained that John Matthewman had thrown a stone at him and it had hit him hard.

The witness then described his son’s slow deterioration before he died in his mothers arms the following day. Mr Wightman asked him if his son had always been a healthy child, but Edward Roberts senior shook his head and said ‘he had never been a healthy child.’ Then it was the turn of a young man who had actually witnessed the stone throwing. He was called Harry Downs and he described John picking up the stone and throwing it at Edward. Downs said it had struck Edward on his temple and had knocked the boy down. He told the coroner that when John saw what he had done, he just ran away.

Police Constable Horton gave evidence of arresting the ten-year-old. He said that when charged John had told him ‘he had done it because previously Edward had hit him many a time.’ At that point the inquest was adjourned until Friday 18 February 1887. When the inquest re-convened it was time for the young prisoner to speak up for himself. John admitted that he had thrown the stone at the deceased lad, but stated quite clearly that he did not intend to hurt him. The coroner asked him if he was in the habit of throwing stones and when the young boy said not, Mr Wightman told him ‘well you must be the only lad in Rotherham that isn’t then.’ To which there was some laughter in the room at this comment.

Dr Cobban, the police surgeon was the next to give evidence and he said that he had been called out to see Edward Roberts on 26 January. He added that he had not spoken to the lad as this had been just a few hours before he died, when he was already unconscious. Then the coroner summed up for the jury and told them that they had several options. They might send the ten year old to take his trial for manslaughter, but they also had to take into consideration the fact that all boys of his age were in the regular habit of throwing stones. Mr Wightman said that he did not feel that there had been any particular quarrel between the boys which had started the stone throwing, and he truly believed that young Matthewman had not intended to seriously injure the other boy.

The coroner stated that in such cases he would have been punished by a good thrashing from his father. At this Matthewman’s father interjected and said that he had thrashed his son many times for throwing stones, but it had never done him any good. Mr Wightman said that if he had any power to order a good thrashing to his son he would do so, but matters had turned more serious with the lads death. Nevertheless he advocated the senior Matthewman should talk very seriously to his son in order to prevent such a thing happening again. The jury retired for about twenty minutes before returning back to the inquest room.

They brought in a verdict that ‘Edward Roberts had died from concussion of the brain, caused by a blow from a stone thrown by John Matthewman,’ On Thursday 3 February John was brought before the Rotherham Borough Police Court charged with having caused the death of Edward Roberts aged 14 years. Mr Edwards prosecuted, although he simply to ask for a remand for seven days which was agreed. The following week the same witnesses were heard as at the inquest and the Rotherham magistrates had no option but to send John Matthewman to take his trial at the next Assizes to be held at Leeds Town Hall.

Consequently the young John Matthewman was brought before the judge Mr Justice Grantham on Thursday 12 May 1887 where he was defended by Mr Rimington Wilson. John had originally pleaded not guilty but after a discussion with his defence counsel, he changed his plea to guilty. Mr Ellison outlined the case for the prosecution and spoke about the spate of stone throwing which had taken place in Rotherham at the time, which had no doubt, had an effect on the young boy. Then he describing Edward Roberts’ death. In his defence of the prisoner Mr Wilson stated that ‘the occurrence was very near the borders of being an accident, before he asked for clemency for the prisoner given his young age.

His Lordship administered a severe caution to the young prisoner before finally concluding that the case would be satisfied if he sentenced John Matthewman to a weeks imprisonment. He said that as that period had already elapsed since the opening of the Assizes, the boy would be at once discharged. I have little doubt that both John and his parents would have heaved a great sigh of relief at this decision, but it would have been of little comfort to Edward Roberts parents.

2 thoughts on “Stone Throwing at Masbrough

  1. I feel this was just an accident, all boys throw stones, but Robert was concussed, and died. Poor lad was hauled to trial, but I bet he never threw stones again xx

  2. Hi Maz, Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Im just amazed that a ten year old could be taken away and placed in a cell – let alone having to go through the courts procerdure! Its barbaric! But your right, I bet he never did it again!

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