The Italian Musician.

In the evening of Tuesday 27 September 1836, around 7pm, an Italian musician called Joseph Romasarte was plying his trade in Furnival Street, Sheffield. He was earning pennies by playing tunes on a little pipe organ in the street. Suddenly he was approached by a man outside the public house called ‘The Swan with Two Necks.’ The man was a coachman called Levi Roebuck, who had come to collect his hackney carriage and horses which were stabled at the public house. Nevertheless it was clear to the young musician that Roebuck had been drinking.

However the man seemed pleasant enough as he told the Italian that he had enjoyed listening to him and his music and offered him sixpence to play another tune. Romasarte delightedly obliged and played another tune, but when he had finished the coachman refused to pay him. The two men started to argue in the street, before Roebuck slapped the musician hard across his face. Hearing the debacle, his common-law-wife Ann Clay intervened and sent Roebuck back into the stables of the Swan to calm down. She paid Romasarte the money her paramour had promised him, before leaving him still muttering about what he would do to the coachman if he saw him again.

After watering his horses, Roebuck was leading them out into Furnival Street and was probably thinking that was the end of the matter. However as he was leaving the stables, the Italian came from behind a corner and stabbed Roebuck low down in the stomach before running away. The blow was so violent that he left the coachman with his bowels protruding from his stomach. Within minutes the man was unconscious and was brought back inside the Swan, where he was conveyed up to one of the bedrooms there. A surgeon, Mr Wilson was called and he found that the wound suffered by the injured man was so severe that he was convinced that Roebuck’s life was in some danger.

The police were also informed about the stabbing and a description of the perpetrator was given to the watchmen as they were mustering for night duty. As a result, one of the watch, a man called William Wolstenholme was following his beat along Pond Street later that evening when he saw a crowd of boys annoying a man in their midst. Upon seeing the watchman, the boys told him that he was indeed the Italian who had carried out the stabbing earlier that evening. As a result Romasarte was taken into custody at the Town Hall and brought before the magistrates the next morning.

The surgeon, Mr Knoulton Wilson told the court that he feared that Roebucks life was in some danger and he could not possibly be brought to court to give evidence for some weeks. So the prisoner was simply remanded. Subsequently it was not until Friday 14 October before Roebuck appeared before the Sheffield magistrates and recounted what had happened on the night in question. Romasarte’s defence, Mr Palfreyman asked Roebuck what was his state of mind at the time and the coachman admitted to being been quite drunk. Ann Clay gave evidence that after Roebuck had slapped the musician across the face, that she had offered Romasarte three pence to take no notice of ‘a drunken man.’

Instead he had replied in a sinister voice that ‘he would be paid another way.’ Only when she went outside five minutes later did she later find that Roebuck had been stabbed. The next witness was the surgeon Mr Knoulton Wilson, who told the court that he had examined Roebuck after being summoned to help him and had found a perpendicular wound about an inch and a half long. It appeared to have been produced by a very long, sharp knife and, at the time he felt doubtful that Roebuck would recover. The watchman Wolstenholme stated that he had been ordered to watch out for the Italian on his rounds and described how he had found him in Pond Street.

He was trying to get away from a group of people that had followed him and they called out to the watchman to arrest the man. When the prisoner was asked what he had done, he replied ‘not much.’ The keeper of the Sheffield gaol, Aaron Cooper stated that when Joseph Romasarte was brought into custody he had a black eye. The prisoners defence Mr Palfreyman jumped on this information, and questioned the witness as to whether it was just the redness from a slap on the face or it was indeed a black eye. Cooper confirmed that it was definitely a black eye.

The prisoner defence pointed out that he felt that the attack on Roebuck had not been pre-meditated and had simply been as a result of an assault on his client. He stated that therefore the charge should have been listed under manslaughter not murder. He said that to his mind it was more a case of common assault. The magistrates discussed the case between themselves and it was not long before it was decided to send the prisoner to the next York Assizes. Joseph Romasarte was brought before judge Sir Gregory Lewin at the Yorkshire Spring Assizes on 20 March 1837. The prisoner was charged with cutting and stabbing Levi Roebuck on 27 September 1836 with intent to kill and murder him.

An unnamed prosecutor cross-examined the various witnesses and it was reported that their evidence showed that Roebuck ‘was a man of very dissipated habits, and of an extremely quarrelsome disposition.’ The coachman himself admitted to the court that he had once before been convicted of an assault and had also been brought before the magistrates charged with cruelty to his animals. However a witness for the Italian musician, a woman with whom he had lodged for some time in Sheffield, gave him a very good character reference. She stated that in all the time she had known him, he had always been a quiet and peaceful man.

The judge summed up for the jury and condemned Roebuck for having used some provocation towards the prisoner by slapping him. The court was cleared whilst the jury made their deliberations, which took just a few moments. They found Joseph Romasarte not guilty of the charge. It might be said that the coachman Levi Roebuck aptly deserved his violent reputation as events proved that he had learned nothing from his earlier escape. Just ten months later on Friday 20 January 1838 he was again hauled before magistrate, Mr Hugh Parker charged with another assault. This time he had attacked a vestry clerk called Mr Crossland, for which he was found guilty and fined 30s.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *