CRIME IN OLD ROTHERHAM: Murder at The Rockingham Arms, Wentworth

EMILY Harriet Wilson was just 16 years of age at Christmas of 1892 when she went to work as a domestic servant for Mr and Mrs Thomas Abson, the landlord of the Rockingham Arms at Wentworth. Mr Abson ran the pub with his wife and his sister in law Mrs Sarah

It was not long, however, before some of the people started to enquire whether or not Emily was pregnant, and she told them that she had dropsy. To Mrs Taylor she told that she had dropsy and heart disease, which caused her to put on weight. Mrs Abson did not believe her and gave her a month’s notice. Two days before she was due to leave on April 9 1893, Mrs Taylor missed the girl from her work and went to her bedroom to see if she was there. The girl was lying on the bed with a shawl around her head, and stated that she had a headache. Mrs Taylor told her to come downstairs.

Thirty minutes later Emily still had not appeared and her mistress was forced to go to her bedroom again. There she found the girl washing her hands in the wash basin. Still claiming that she was ill, Mrs Taylor told her that she might leave that night, and a note was sent to the girl’s mother and stepfather, Mr and Mrs Roebuck, at a village about a mile away called Harley, informing them that Emily was coming home.

The mother arrived later that night with a neighbour, Mrs Brown, and she found her daughter crying in the bedroom she had occupied at the inn. When Mrs Roebuck asked her what was the matter and why was she ill, her daughter cried even more and said that she could not tell her.

Her mother pressed her and Emily finally agreed that she would tell the neighbour. Her mother left the room and the girl told Mrs Brown that she had given birth to a child that morning, and it was lying in a box in the corner of her bedroom. She told the horrified neighbour that it had been born alive, but she had put a handkerchief into its mouth to stifle its cries. Emily said that she had intended to bury the body so that no one would know anything about it. Mrs Taylor was summoned and given the key to her servant’s box, and under a quantity of clothes the body of a male child was found. The child was dead and part of the clothing in which it had been wrapped, was still in its mouth. On seeing the child’s body Mr Abson sent for a constable and a doctor.

An inquest was held at the George and Dragon Hotel at Wentworth on April 11, but the only evidence heard was for identification of the child. Dr Barr told the coroner, Mr D Wightman, that he had attended the girl for dyspepsia the previous year, but she had not told him that she was pregnant. The surgeon said that he was called out to the Rockingham Arms, and there he saw and examined the body of the baby. He took out the cloth from the child’s mouth and gave his opinion that it had been put there deliberately, and had not gone in by accident. At that point the coroner adjourned the inquest in order that the prisoner could attend.

When it was resumed on Monday April 15 1893 Emily was in attendance along with Mr Gichard, who was to defend her. Dr Barr stated that when women give birth they are subject to ‘acute mania’ of a temporary nature, and because of this were judged to be irresponsible for their actions. The jury took little time before finding Emily guilty of wilful murder and she was sent for trial.

Emily Wilson was brought before judge Mr Justice Gainsford Bruce at the Leeds assizes on Wednesday May 10 1893. Mr Corrie Grant and Mr Lowenthal were for the prosecution and Mr Kershaw for the defence. Mrs Sarah Taylor, Mrs Abson and the woman called Mrs Brown all gave evidence.

Dr Barr once again gave his opinion that she might not have been responsible for her actions at the time, which seemed to be borne out by the state of the prisoner. Throughout the trial Emily appeared to be in a dazed condition, and did not seem to understand what was said to her. The judge summed up and the jury found her guilty, but not responsible for her actions.

The judge ordered that she be kept in custody until her Majesty’s pleasure was to be known. Emily Wilson was the lucky one. Another woman Christiana Waddington of Leeds, accused of murdering her newly born child at the same assizes, was sentenced to death.


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