HISTORY FEATURE: A 19th century tale of love, drink and price of freedom

HISTORY FEATURE: A 19th century tale of love, drink and price of freedom

By Gareth Dennison | 16/05/2022

HISTORY FEATURE: A 19th century tale of love, drink and price of freedom


TWO little girls knocked on Keziah Mallinson’s door and told her a man outside wanted to meet her nearby on Masbrough Street.

When she heard the suggested location, she immediately declined to go.

Masbrough Street — a few minutes’ walk from where Keziah lived with her father John on Pitt Street, Holmes — was were her ex-fiancé lived.

His name was Arthur Dunkley, and they had spent 18 months as a couple before she ended their relationship a few weeks earlier in November 1895.

Arthur’s behaviour had been less than reputable, and Keziah had told him that she would not take him back unless to took the pledge.

In other words, he needed to commit to stop drinking alcohol — and lead an exemplary life for six months. Then, and only then, would she consider rekindling their romance.

Arthur was not off to the best start.

He took the pledge suggestion badly and continued to pester her to get engaged to him again.

Shortly after the two young girls arrived at the door with the request to meet, Keziah saw Arthur outside in the garden. She went to the gate and told him to go away.

“Kizzie, I mean to marry you,” he replied.

She realised he was not sober, so she headed back up to her father’s house and went inside, locking and bolting the gate behind her.

Arthur ran after her — hammering on the door with his fists and begging her to open it.

Keziah stood firm, refusing to let Arthur inside. Then she heard a gunshot.

The next day was the wedding of her brother Ben.

Keziah was concerned about what had happened the previous night but her father said she should stay close to him to keep safe.

Arthur’s invite to the wedding had been retracted after the break-up with Keziah. It was made very clear that he would not be welcome at the celebrations.

The church service, held at Masbrough Chapel, went well and without incident. After, the bride, groom and guests returned home to Pitt Street for the reception.

Little time had passed before Keziah’s dad spotted Arthur loitering in the street out front. John decided he would confront the young man.

“What do you mean carrying a gun with you?” demanded John.

Arthur shook his head but said nothing.

Ben joined his dad in attempting to reach some resolution with Arthur — telling him: “For God’s sake, hand over that weapon.”

Wearily, Arthur said: “I wish I was dead, you had better give me up in charge.”

Keziah’s father decided to do just that. He went to the police station and reported the previous night’s incident.

He also stated that Arthur was outside his house now — and feared that his daughter might come to harm.

PC Altoft was sent to the house. It did not take the officer long to locate Arthur — hiding behind a hedge.

On being asked about the gun, Arthur reached for his right hand pocket and handed over the weapon.

He told the officer: “I shot at her last night and missed her. I will shoot her and myself as well.”

He was taken back to the police office and charged with attempting to kill Keziah.

The gun had six chambers — four of which were loaded and one which held a spent cartridge.

In Arthur’s pockets, alongside the weapon, had been a letter.

Addressed “dear friends”, it said: “I mean to kill both myself and Kizzie too, so don’t be surprised, for it has been on my mind for a week or two.

“Let me say this. I have not known what it is to be in my right senses, so if we are dead, don’t be surprised at all, for I mean what I say.

“I know that I have done wrong, but they should just think about things before they start making a noise.

“When I say this, my time has come at last, so I will say God bless everybody that has disowned me.

“If they are Christians let them act as Christians, not to turn their backs against people. God bless them. I have done wrong, I know.”

Arthur, who had signed off the letter with “goodnight”, appeared before magistrates at the Rotherham Borough Police Court on December 12, 1895.

The charge was that “he, with unlawfully and knowingly having in his possession a certain dangerous instrument, to wit a revolver, with intent by means thereof to commit a felony, to wit, to shoot the said Keziah Mallinson.”

At the start of the court proceedings, Mr Hickmott said his prosecution case would not take much time. He intended only to call three witnesses.

Beginning by reading out Arthur’s letter, he added that there was little doubt of the prisoner’s intent on ending both Keziah’s life and his own.

Keziah took the stand and described the incidents. One of the magistrates asked her in what condition Arthur had appeared on the night the gun was fired.

She told the court that she had never seen her old boyfriend with that look on his face... He seemed demented.

After Keziah’s father gave evidence, PC Altoft described the arrest and discovering the letter detailing Arthur’s intentions.

The officer told the hearing of Arthur’s claim to have shot at Keziah the previous evening but missing — and his intention of killing both her and himself.

But Arthur maintained in court that he was not guilty but the bench committed him to trial at the next sessions. Bail was refused.

The case had been expected to be heard at Sheffield Town Hall on January 3, 1896, but it was deemed so serious that it should be handed to the next Yorkshire Assizes instead.

This meant another nine weeks’ wait before the prisoner was brought before the judge, Mr Justice Collins.

Mr Wilberforce, prosecuting, stated that Arthur’s murderous intention was proved by the fact he had sold his coat a few days before the first incident — to afford the gun.

Arthur, who was undefended in court, said he remembered nothing of the events. He had been drinking heavily (ruining any chance of achieving Keziah’s pledge challenge).

But Arthur claimed to have learned his lesson from the experience. He promised the court that if he was acquitted on the charge of attempting to kill Kizzie, he would never drink again.

The judge stated that being shot at “was too great a penalty for a young lady to pay for rejecting her lover.”

But he turned to Arthur and said he nevertheless had some sympathy for him.

The judge said if he promised to stop his drinking and turn his life around, Arthur would be treated more leniently.

Perhaps Arthur valued his freedom more highly than his proclaimed love for Keziah, as this was a pledge he was willing to make.

The judge ordered that Arthur be granted bail and should pay a £5 bond to keep the peace.

The judge also warned him that breaking this promise would see him back in a prison cell. Arthur left the court a free man.

Adapted from Margaret Drinkall’s book Rotherham’s Scamps and Scallywags (below), available from Amazon (Kindle edition £3 and paperback £6.99).



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