Attempted Murder in Halton? The Peverse Joy of Old Newspapers

I make no apologies to returning to newspapers again. They are a fantastic family history resource. This is another fabulous FindmyPast newspaper find[1] which relates to my family. It concerns my 4x great grandfather Francis Hill and his son William. Without newspapers I would have struggled to discover this story.

Francis Hill was born in Sherburn in Elmet in 1789. In 1811 he married Grace Pennington, from Halton in the parish of Whitkirk. This is where they settled and raised their family. By the late winter of 1841/2 William, aged around 27, was the couple’s eldest son.

It is the unpleasant confrontation between father and son which the newspapers sensationally reported. The only witness to the events that dark February night was Grace. It appears the whole affair may have remained hidden if it had not come to the attention of the vicar of Whitkirk, Reverend Martineau, who passed the information on to the appropriate authorities. Thank goodness for Reverend Martineau, I say! Though I doubt that sentiment was shared by my ancestors. 

Contradictory statements were given by father and son as to the cause of the quarrel. William, an unmarried coal miner, claimed he arrived home on the night of 16 February 1842 at about 11.30pm to find his father the worse for liquor, eating some bacon and bread with a pocket knife. Francis, a labourer, had been unemployed for some time and William remonstrated with him for dissipating his money in such a manner. On the other hand Francis claims William came home in an intoxicated state and he chastised his son for arriving home at such an hour and in that condition.

William’s account was during the course of the argument he struck his father with, what the reports described as “a violent blow”. This knocked Francis off his chair and onto the floor. Francis got up and William was about to hit him again when he slipped and fell onto the knife which his father was still holding. The blade plunged into William’s left side resulting in the protrusion of a portion of his intestines.

Pocket Knife

William’s account, provided the following day, corresponds in most details with the one given by his mother. She stated her son struck his father, knocking him out of the chair. He was about to continue the assault when Francis, in self-defence, struck out with his knife penetrating the left side of William’s stomach, just below his heart.

This sounds more credible than the tale William told about slipping and falling onto a knife which his father had, rather improbably, retained hold of during the attack.

The statement of Mr Nunneley, the surgeon who attended William, concurs with Grace. He said it was impossible that falling onto the knife could have caused the wound. It was caused by a blow. The surgeon was doubtful whether William would ever recover.

Amusingly to 21st century readers Francis, who would have been aged 52 at the time, was described by the newspapers as “an old man”. He was remanded to prison to await the result of his son’s injury, charged with stabbing William in so serious a manner as to endanger his life.

He remained there for around a month. Not until 29 March 1842 was William recovered sufficiently to appear in front of the West Riding Magistrates. He refused to press charges against his father who was therefore discharged from custody.

William survived the injury and he married in April 1843. He continued to work as a coal miner.

So although not overjoyed at this unedifying depiction of my ancestors, I am thankful for the controversy because of the details it adds to my family history.

Sources:

[1] As OCR is not always the most accurate I also searched on the British Newspaper Archive site. Although I am not a subscriber, you can identify the paper and page number and then go back to FindMyPast armed with the newspaper details to check it out. Even this did not find all the results, including crucially the outcome of the case. I read through the papers to fill in the gaps.

Copyright

© Jane Roberts and PastToPresentGenealogy, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jane Roberts and PastToPresentGenealogy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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