Month: February 2018

John Ball Cover, 1832: a very favourite fixture in the Harborough country.

“John Ball cover, near Shearsby, is a very favourite fixture in the Harborough country. The cover was made under the direction of Mr. Oldacre, a most respectable yeoman, residing between Leicester and Melton, under whose superintendency several others have been made. By his care in preparing and clearing the ground previously to the seed being drilled, and keeping the plants clean by the use of the hoe, they generally held the foxes the second year; and a handsome Silver Cup was presented to Mr. Oldacre for his exertions. In addition to this mark of approbation, some of the principle gentlemen of the hunt attended the christening of one of his children, and stood as sponsors.” (Nimrod, 1843, p.57)

Although not dated in this account of hunting activities in the county, this note follows on from a report of a day spent chasing foxes with Mr. Osbaldeston’s Hounds, as the Quorn Hunt would have been known from 1817-21 and 1823-28. (Nimrod, 1843, p.47)

Michael Clayton speculates that the name of John Ball Covert might relate to one of Mr. Oldacre’s children called John and that the ‘Ball’ referred to is a local term for the cake of mud attaching itself to horses hooves: a not infrequent occurence in South Leicestershire.

Do you have any theories about how the John and Jane Ball woods near shearsby got their names? Are they related to legendary highway robbers operating in the area? [See this story about an attempted highway robbery in 1822) Is there any link to the Sir John Ball memorialised in the church at nearby Carlton Curlieu? Do you know of any other woods planted by Mr. Oldacre?


Nimrod. (1843). Hunting reminiscences: comprising memoirs of masters of hounds. London: R. Ackerman.  Originally published in the New Sporting Magazine, 1832.

Clayton, M. (2012) Foxhunting in Paradise. A&C Black.

Image: John Ferneley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Geelong Hospital, 22 September 1879: Coroner’s inquest into the death of Sarah Blackburn

Reporter: Thomas Heron, P.M., coroner, held an inquest on Saturday night at the Hospital, on the remains of Sarah Blackburn, 50 years old, a resident of Deniliquin, New South Wales, who died in the hospital early in the morning. The following evidence was adduced:-

David B. Reid : I am a duly qualified medical practitioner, residing in Geelong. At half-past eight o’clock last evening I saw the deceased, Sarah Blackburn, at the Hospital; she was then cold and pulseless, but sensible. I found a deep cut at the root of the neck, another at the left wrist, and another at the elbow. She never rallied.

The cause of death was debility from excessive loss of blood. Any one of the wounds would have been sufficient to have caused death. Mrs. Blackburn spoke to me before her death, but from the conversation I had with her I am not able to afford any light as to her reason for committing suicide. I have no reason to suppose that the wounds were other than self-inflicted. The deceased was well nourished.

Had any surgeon been present when the wounds were first inflicted the life of Mrs. Blackburn might have been saved. She never bled after being admitted to the Hospital.

Hannah Thompson, nurse at the Hospital : I attended Mrs. Blackburn on her arrival at the Hospital, at about eight o’clock. I saw two wounds on her left arm and one on her throat. She told me she had come down from New South Wales to attend to her daughter, who was confined. She said she was very anxious about her daughter, and about her grand-daughter, who had heart-disease. She said she had been sitting up with them a couple of nights, and was very much worried about them.

She did not give any reason for committing suicide, nor did I ask her why she had done so. She did not speak after 11 o’clock. She spoke to me quite sensibly, and appeared to be in her right mind. She said she had been well treated, and was very comfortable, and that she thought she would be all right if she had a sleep.

Mary Doherty, (11 years of age) : My father’s name is Pat Doherty. About 10 o’clock yesterday morning I last saw Mrs Blackburn. She was then washing clothes at Mr McMaster’s place. I did not see her afterwards, until I saw her to-night, dead.

Alexander McMaster : Sarah Blackburn is, or was, my mother-in-law. She came three weeks ago from New South Wales to stay with me at Mount Moriac for a few weeks. She seemed to be in good health. She came to attend to her daughter, my wife, during her confinement. She appeared anxious about her. My wife passed through her confinement safely and well. She was, as far as I could tell, thoroughly sane.

Yesterday, at about twelve o’clock, Mary Doherty came to me, and asked me if I had seen Mrs Blackburn. I told her I had not, and went with her to the house to look for her. I last saw her at about half-past nine o’clock. I went to Mrs Cox’s house, next door, and not finding her I went to look at my dairy.

I there found her lying on the floor on her right side, with her back against the door. I saw blood running all over the bricks. I loosed the door a little, so as to ascertain that it was her properly. I did not then go in any further, nor could I see whether there were any wounds about her. I could not get inside, as she was lying close to the door.

I then went round to a window in the side of the dairy, which was covered with wire netting. I tore away the netting, and got in through the window, and saw that there was only the breath in the deceased. I shifted her body a little, and saw a cut in her neck. I then gave information to the nearest neighbor, Mr Fletcher.

To Inspector Burton: About five minutes elapsed after I first saw Mrs. Blackburn before I went through the window.

To the Coroner : Mr Fletcher was the first person I told about the affair. I told him Mrs. Blackburn had cut her throat. Mr Fletcher saw the woman about an hour afterwards.

To Inspector Burton: Before telling Mr Fletcher I met Mrs Cork, but I did not tell her exactly what was done. She came to the dairy with me. I rode away two miles to tell Mr Fletcher, leaving my mother-in-law with Mrs Cork.

To the Coroner: The blood was stopped when I went away. I did nothing to stop it. When I told Mr Fletcher, he advised me to send information to the police. He did not come back with me. When I came back Mrs. Blackburn was still lying on the floor of the dairy. There was then no person attending to my mother-in-law, though Mrs Cork was somewhere about the place.

From the time when I first saw Mrs. Blackburn lying on the floor until she was re-moved it must have been about two or three hours. Mr Read, senior, and Mr Read, junior, removed her from the dairy outside the door. I was there, but could not remove her. I did nothing more to her.

To Inspector Burton: It was between 4 and 5 o’clock, when Mrs. Blackburn was removed from the dairy.

To the Coroner: Mrs. Blackburn was temperate, and had never quarrelled with either myself or anyone that I know of. I can assign no reason for her committing such a rash act. Whilst in the trap she asked for a drink of water, but did not say why she had cut her throat. She was brought into Geelong in Mr Lee’s wagonette.

To the Foreman of the Jury: The reason I did nothing in the way of attending to Mrs. Blackburn was that she was in such a state, and my wife was in such a state, that I did not know what I was doing. My wife was in bed.

Matilda Cork : I am a married woman, and live with my husband, who is a farmer at Mount Moriac. At about twenty minutes to twelve yesterday, Mary Doherty asked me to help to look for Mrs Blackburn. Shortly afterwards Alexander McMaster came to me and said she was in the dairy. I went to the dairy to see if I could open the door, but could not. I got the axe, and Mr McMaster broke open the window. He went inside, moved the poor woman on one side and then I looked in.

I saw Mrs Blackburn lying down, covered with blood. Mr McMaster, when he went in, said : ” She’s gone,” meaning that she was dead. He asked me what he should do. I told him I did not know. I did not do anything to assist the woman. She said, when taken into the house, that she was cold, and wanted a rag over her.

My reason for doing nothing was that I did not know but that she was dead, and thought I ought not to touch her. It was about twelve o’clock when we found her, and she was left lying in the dairy until five o’clock. During that time no person went near her. I don’t think she said a word during that time. Mr McMaster said he went in two or three times to see whether she was dead or not.

I was all this time with Mrs McMaster, who had lately been confined, and who wished to get up. During a stay of three weeks’ Mrs. Blackburn was very un-well. She said the change did not agree with her, and complained to me several times of not feeling well. I never knew her to drink.

Emanuel Read : I am a farmer, and reside at Mount Moriac. At about four o’clock yesterday afternoon I was at Mr Fletcher’s woolshed, when Mr Fletcher told me that Mrs Blackburn had cut her throat, and asked me if I and my son would go up to Mr McMaster’s place. We went up, and saw Mr Fletcher, who had arrived before me, with Mr McMaster. The latter asked me to go down and see what I thought of it.

I pushed open the dairy door, and could see the deceased’s neck and head. As soon as I saw her I thought she was not dead. I did not then see the wound in her throat, but saw a great lot of blood on the floor. Her hands were also covered with blood. I put my hand on to deceased’s neck and bore on it heavily. When I lifted my hand I heard her groan. I ran back to McMaster and Fletcher and said, “The woman is not dead; we must get her out of this at once.”

I and my son then brought her out. I held her head up and found that her wind-pipe was not cut. My son brought me a basin of water, and I bathed her face and temples. After bathing her face she began to move, and reached down as though to feel for her pocket. The others then left me to get a doctor, and I had to ” cooey ” for more water. She asked me what I was cooeying for. I told her to lie still, and then my son and two or three more helped me to carry her into the bedroom. That was at about half-past five o’clock.

She then said she was cold, and I got a rug and put it on her. I put a piece of wet rag into the wound in her throat. That was before we took her into the bed room. After taking her into the room I asked her if she knew me, and she tried to say something, but I could not understand what she said.

After this we brought her in to the Hospital. Whilst on the way to the Hospital she was restless, and I asked her not to move. She asked me for a drink of water, which I gave her as soon as we came to a hotel. I have known Mrs. Blackburn about two years. When I discovered her, the knife (produced: a white-handled dinner knife) was lying within about two inches of her fingers, covered with fresh blood. Mrs. Blackburn was a temperate woman, and I never knew her to be under the influence of drink. I know of no reason for her committing suicide.

Reporter:  The Coroner then briefly summed up, and said that the only verdict that the jury could return, in his opinion, was that the deceased died from injuries inflicted by herself on her neck, wrist, and elbow, but that there was no evidence before them to show in what state of mind the deceased was when she committed the act.

James Wallace, Foreman of the Jury: We find that the deceased Sarah Blackburn died from wounds inflicted by herself on the throat, wrist and arm on the morning of 19th September 1879 at Mount Moriac, but we are unable to say what state of mind the deceased was in at the time she so harmed herself.


Geelong Advertiser (Geelong, Victoria, Australia) Monday 22 September 1879; pg3

Geelong Advertiser (Geelong, Victoria, Australia) Saturday 20 September 1879; pg3

“Australia, Victoria, Inquest Deposition Files, 1840-1925,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 7 February 2018), Sarah Blackburn, 20 Sep 1879; citing Probate, Geelong, Victoria, Australia, Public Record Office of Victoria, North Melbourne; FamilySearch digital folder 004836154.

Image from :Geelong Infirmary and Benevolent Asylum.