Shearsby, 9 July 1844: Petticoat crimewave

Both Susannah Goode and Susannah Geary had found their petticoats stolen from their Tuesday washing lines, while neighbour Richard Highton (47), a wheelwright living on High Street, discovered the loss of a pan, a ladle and two stockings. These thefts were traced to one George Sutton (35). At the Leicestershire Midsummer Assizes the following month, George, having pleaded guilty, was sentenced to four months hard labour.

Susannah Goode lived with her family on Back Street. She had been born in High Cross in Leicester in 1823. This was the same family who had taken in the homeless boy, Emanuel Read. Later that year, on 3 November at the village church,  she married 24-year old Shearsby farmer James Williams.

Susannah Geary also lived on High Street and was in her late sixties. In the 1841 Census she was recorded as living alone but ‘independent’. The year  after these thefts she died and was buried in the churchyard on 26 May. She had, perhaps, been born Susannah Blackwell in June 1774 to parents Jonathan and Hannah. The notice of her death in the newspapers recorded that she was the widow of the late J. Geary, Gent.  of Higham, in Northamptonshire.

Ann Heighton, Richard’s wife, also had Northamptonshire connections as she had been born in Cottingham in 1793. Richard was 5 years younger and born in Shearsby. He described himself as a wheelwright in 1841 and carpenter 10 years later, when he lived in School Square with his son George, aged 20 and also a carpenter. Two older brothers Richard and William were not present for the 1851 census having been earlier apprenticed to their father. A young girl, Elizabeth Heighton, born in 1847, was staying with her grandfather Robert Chance, a grazier of Hill Street in 1851.

The perpetrator, George Sutton, from the evidence of the 1841 and 1851 censuses, seems not to have had strong Shearsby connections, there being no-one of this surname in the village on those occasions.

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, August 10, 1844; pg. [1]

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, June 07, 1845;


New Inn, Shearsby, June 1848: Prince Albert’s Own Yeomanry Cavalry undeceived

Leicestershire Mercury, 24 June 1848: We hear that a hoax was played upon some of P.A.O. Yeomanry Cavalry at Shearsby, last week, letters having been sent them to appear at a certain place quick as possible like good men and true. They obeyed their order, and soon appeared at Shearsby Inn, where they were undeceived. They then stopped and spent the remainder of the day in merriment, instead of with the Chartists. These hoaxes are very discreditable to the parties who play them [commented the Editor of the Leicestershire Mercury].

The site of this merriment was, most likely, the New Inn on the Leicester to Welford Turnpike Road. It was known as a popular starting point for hunts and would have been familiar to the cavalrymen of the Yeomanry. There were other public houses in the village, of course, though only one known as an Inn. What the Chartists managed to achieve in their Yeomanry-free day is not here recorded.

This is not the only 1848 connection between the village and the Yeomanry. William and Mary Elliott’s son John was serving in Captain Haymes’ troop of the Prince Albert’s Own. He had been born in the Waterloo year of 1815 so would have been in his thirties by this time. In the inspections of the Yeomanry at Leicester on 29 September, Private John Elliott, of Shearsby, won first prize for his horse.


Leicestershire Mercury (Leicester, England), Saturday 24 June 1848.

Leicester Journal (Leicester, England), Friday 6 October 1848.

Featured image: Quartermaster J. Kirk of the Leicester Yeomanry Cavalry, 1841. Online

Shearsby, Harvest-time, 1790: Mr. Throsby’s Excursion

It was a fine autumn day when John Throsby arrived in Shearsby. He had enjoyed a pleasant journey for 9 miles or so along the Turnpike Road south from Leicester towards Welford and had arrived at his first stop of his planned excursion. Though the 60 houses of the village appeared empty, Mr. Wyatt had, as agreed, remained behind to show him round. Everyone else was busily engaged in bringing in the harvest.

Throsby was the Parish Clerk at St. Martin’s Church in Leicester, but this role was not so onerous as to get in the way of his historical and antiquarian interests. He had published his research into the history of the County from pre-roman times onwards in 1777-78. In 1790 he was engaged in publishing his illustrations of the ‘Select views in Leicestershire from original drawings containing the seats of the nobility and gentry, town views and ruins‘. The supplementary volume to this was to be a record of a series of excursions into notable parts of the county, which is what had set him on his way to the village that morning.

Around Shearsby he found 1100 acres (445 hectares) of good land, mostly in the hands of George Turvile, though his guide Mr. Wyatt himself obtained about 80 pounds a year from his portion. The manor was thought to have belonged to the wealthy Bradgate’s of Peatling before the Turviles, or so Wyatt had heard. Throsby was taken round the church as the principal building of the village.

The church, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen, stands ‘on a mound, like the mound of a castle’ and its tower had been erected the previous year, by the local landowners. If there was any doubt about this, an inscription mounted on the outside of the tower reminds all who pass by that “this steeple was re-built at the expense of the landowners of this lordship A.D. 1789”. The tower has two stages and is mostly built from limestone ashlar.

The old steeple had held a statue of the saint, which now stood in the chancel. The four bells also remained in the chancel, giving Wyatt a chance to show them off to his visitor. Throsby was not normally interested in bells, but made an exception in Shearsby’s case, as this did not require him to clamour up steep ladders and to inspect dusty belfries. The mundane things you could learn from church bell inscriptions did not excite him, however, he did enjoy the tale of how one of the bells had got to be there.

One of the bells had been originally cast in 1620 for the now ruined church in the next parish a mile away in Knaptoft. It was the Duke of Rutland who appointed the clergy for the parish and one day the sons of one of his tenants had turned up to take the bell back to their belfry in Aylestone. Having loaded it on to their cart they stopped off in Shearsby as the nearest place of refreshment on their journey back. The young men may have enjoyed their drinks, but they left the village without the bell, where it has remained ever since.

During his visit to St. Mary Magdalen’s back in the 1770s, Archdeacon Bickham had recommended stopping up the belfry in the tower to protect the parishioners from draughts and distractions and allow the bell-ringers to get on with their jobs undisturbed. It had been decided to rebuild rather than repair the belfry though.

If Wyatt included the handsome memorial to members of his own ancestors in his tour, Throsby did not mention it. He did notice the memorials to Richard Turvile (d. 1719, aged 89), Robert Holmes M.A. (d. 1692), John Sprigg (d. 1728) and John Seal (d. 1735, aged 81). Tablets on the church wall informed visitors of the charitable bequests of Mr. Simon Ward to see the poor kept warm  and Mr. Seal to keep them fed (at least at Christmas).

Throsby’s attention was then drawn to the Parish Registers which began in 1658. He compared the most recent 5 years with the first 5 of the register, noting the increase in baptisms (by 15) and the decrease in burials (by 8) as a positive sign.

His excursion then continued onwards to Knaptoft, remembering the John Ball hill as one at which ‘many a galled [chaffed, sore] horse has winced’ in ascending in the days before the Turnpike Road was opened.


Select views in Leicestershire, from original … v.2. Throsby, John, 1740-1803. pp196-7

Historic England. Church of St Mary Magdalen.

Pemberton, W.A. 1984, “The Parochial Visitation of James Bickham D.D. Archdeacon of Leicester in the Years 1773 to 1779”, Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, vol. 59, pp. 52.

Featured image: By Robert Thoroton, John Throsby (authors of volume); unknown illustrator of title page (Google books [1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

13 May 1915: Lionel Sidney Burton also among the killed

Lionel Sidney Burton was a serjeant in the Leicestershire Yeomanry. He was killed on 13 May 1915 and is commemorated among the names on the Menin Gate at the Ypres Memorial.

That day the Leicestershire Yeomanry had been holding the line at Frezenberg, east of Ypres and found itself under attack from German artillery for 16 consecutive hours. The bombardment began at 4am and was followed by an unsuccessful advance at 7am. A counter attack by the 10th Hussars later in the afternoon relieved the pressure, but not without cost. Serjeant Lionel Sidney Burton was one of 93 members of the Leicestershire Yeomanry  recorded as losing their lives on that  day alone.

A Sergeant Cookson, writing to the family, said: “I regret to inform you that your son was killed yesterday (13th insnt.) when doing his duty in the trenches. There is a long list of others, and as it may take some time to send information officially, I have thought it best , though it is a painful duty, to inform you privately. I cannot as yet give any details, except death was instantaneous. May I express the sympathy of the whole Squadron – I may, indeed, say the whole of the Regiment – with you and Mrs. Burton, and perhaps especially Leo’s young bride.

He had married Sarah Lilian Burchnell in the Depwade district of Norfolk two days before he left for the front on November the 1st 1914.

Lionel was born in Leicester in the second quarter of 1889. In 1911 he was living with his parents and his stated occupation was a nursery traveler. He had an older brother (by four years), Herbert Stewart who was an assistant in business. His mother Sarah Elliott,  had been born in Shearsby and was the daughter of John Elliott (born in 1816) who lived in High Street.

Many newspapers reported his death, with the Illustrated Police News reminding its readers of his developing reputation as a rugby player: “Sergeant Lionel Burton was one of the Leicester [Rugby] Football Club’s regular forwards. He had played for them for three seasons, and during that period had enjoyed the esteem alike of his colleagues and of opponents”. He was the first of the Leicester Rugby Club’s players to lose their lives in the Great War.


Leicester Chronicle, Saturday 22 May 1915, page 7

Illustrated Police News, 27 May 1915, page 10.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission website entry for Lionel Sidney Burton.

“England and Wales Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008,” database, FamilySearch ( : 1 October 2014), Lionel Sidney Burton, 1889; from “England & Wales Births, 1837-2006,” database, findmypast ( : 2012); citing Birth Registration, Leicester, Leicestershire, England, citing General Register Office, Southport, England.

SCHULTKA, H., & JENKINS, R. P. (2007). Lost lives: the war dead of Countesthorpe, Kilby, Peatling Magna, Peatling Parva and Shearsby, 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. [Countesthorpe], Henritetta Schultka.

Leicestershire War Memorials Project: Serjeant Lionel Sydney Burton.

Leicestershire (POA) Yeomanry 1914-1918 The Great War.

12 January 1775: The Shearsby freeholders cast their vote

The election of January 1775 was remembered as ‘a fierce and expensive contest’ pitting the independent John Peach Hungerford of Dingley Hall, on the Northamptonshire side of Market Harborough against William Pochin, who was a supporter of the Rutland interest. The winning candidate, John Peach Hungerford (1719-1803) went on to serve as the County’s MP until 1790, being returned unopposed in 1780 and 1784.

This was the first election for Shearsby’s electorate after the passing of the 1773  Enclosure Act divided all the land in the parish.

Most of the Shearsby freeholders voted for Hungerford. Among them were Edward Goode, John Goodman, Robert Higgs (who owned land in Walton by Kimcote), Ralph Hoball (36), William Meadows had a freehold in Bruntingthorpe, but was to pass away before the year was out, Thomas Miles, Thomas Paybody (31) who owned a freehold in Ullesthorpe, John Tilley (34), Richard Turville, John Ward (33), William Ward (39) and John Wyat.

Thomas Chamberlain (freehold in Great Glen) and Thomas Wells (44) voted for William Pochin, as did Samuel Horton of Saddington who held land in the parish and may have been related to the Hobills.

Edward Goode was to marry Anne Sturgis in Shearsby a few year’s later on 20 December 1778. Their son, Thomas, was christened on 2 May 1779. Ralph Hoball was probably from neighbouring Bruntingthorpe, but in December 1770 had married Susannah Meadows of Shearsby. Their daughter Elizabeth was born in 1772. Susannah was 25 years old in 1775 and the daughter of William Meadows and his wife Ann.

John Tilley was also born in Shearsby and christened February 1741.

On 9 May the following year John, the son of William and Ann Ward, was christened in the village. William, his older brother, had been born in 1736 and lived to be 70 years old.

‘John Wyatt’ is a traditional name in Shearsby: boys christened with that name can be found in 1679, 1720 and 1752. Another John Wyatt was born in Arnesby in 1725 and died in Shearsby in April 1795. A newspaper report in May 1795 details the sale of his property.

The Higgs family seem to be associated with South Kilworth, but a Robert Higgs was buried in Shearsby in December 1784.


An exact copy of the poll, for the county of Leicester; … for electing a knight of the shire, to serve in Parliament, for the said county; began the 12th, and continued to the 26th of January, 1775. Candidates, William Pochin, Esq; and John Peach Hungerford, Esq.; …[online] accessed 23 May 2018 [username and password required]

PEACH HUNGERFORD, John (1719-1809), of Dingley Hall, Northants., nr. Market Harborough, Leics. History of Parliament. [online] accessed 11/05/2018

Shearsby, 1 September 1829: Thomas Simons: upwards of 60 years clerk of the parish

On Tuesday 1 September 1829, Mr. Thomas Simons died, aged 85. Both the Leicester Herald and Leicester Chronicle newspapers called him ‘deservedly respected’ and noted that he had been the clerk of the Shearsby parish for 60 years or more.
Thomas was born on 5 November 1744 and christened in the village church on 2 December that year. His parents were Thomas and Ann Simons. With his wife Elizabeth they brought up their family including:

  • Elizabeth, 1771-, who married William Burbidge on 26 September 1797.
  • Thomas, 1772-, who moved to Oadby and worked as a grocer.
  • Ann, 1774-, who married Thomas Ward on 02 Feb 1818. In 1841 both lived in Mill Street with 22 year old daughter Elizabeth.
  • Mary, 1775-
  • Susannah, 1777-, also moved to Oadby and lived with her older brother Thomas.
  • Richard, 1778-, who married Alice Burdett on the 25 March 1807
  • William, 1781-1863, who later became the schoolmaster to the village children.
  • John, 1784. Christened and buried in March 1784.

As clerk to the parish, Thomas Simons would have been involved in the regular support for the poorest members of the parish. In his over 60 years he would have helped the village through the changes brought on by the Enclosure Act in 1773; assisted in rebuilding the Church tower in 1789; and lived through the years of war against the French and the subsequent calls to reform the county’s voting system. He would have had a close view of the consequences of the arrest and trial of Hannah Read. By the time of his death, though, the role of villages and their clerks looking after the poorest of their own communities was coming to an end.

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, September 12, 1829;

“England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch ( : 11 February 2018, Thomas Simons, 05 Nov 1744); citing SHEARSBY,LEICESTER,ENGLAND, index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City; FHL microfilm 585,287.

“Find A Grave Index,” database, FamilySearch ( : 13 December 2015), Thomas Simons, 1829; Burial, Shearsby, Harborough District, Leicestershire, England, St. Mary Magdalene; citing record ID 67613106, Find a Grave,

Shearsby, 5 February 1880: Alleged stoppage by highwaymen

“The good people of Shearsby have been much alarmed by the following story:- Charles Weston, a youth 18 years of age, in the employ of Mr. John Reed, left this village with a horse and trap early on Thursday evening, the 5th inst. to meet his master at Kibworth Station. He states that at about 7:40, and when between Shearsby and Saddington, he got out of the trap to open a gate, when three men demanded his money. Weston said he was a poor chap, and had got none. They then said they were destitute, and must have some from him. The men allowed him to pass through, and then one attempted to get into the trap. The youth pushed him back with his right hand, which held the whip, but the fellow grasped the whip, and drew it from him, and he managed to get away. Weston states that the men never attempted to rifle his pockets, although he had upon him at that time a watch and some coppers, – P.C. Lee and P.C. White accompanied the youth to the spot where he alleged he met with the highwaymen, and although the ground was quite soft, not a footmark was visible, nor could they ascertain that any three men had been seen together in the vicinity on the previous night. The missing whip was picked up by a little girl on the other side of Saddington on Friday morning. The opinion is that the youth either accidentally dropped the whip and was afraid to pick it up, or that it was a ruse to escape the journey. The police feel that further enquiries are unnecessary.”

From Leicester Chronicle and the Leicestershire Mercury (Leicester, England), Saturday, February 14, 1880; pg. 8

By the time the 1881 census was taken Charles had married Emily Price who was from Ashby-de-la-Zouch. They had several children over the next few years and by 1891 was a farmer’s wagoner living in High Street, Shearsby.

They lived in a village where stories of highway robbery were a part of the folk memory, perhaps already commemorated in the association of the nearby John Ball and Jane Ball woods with sites of brigandage, and which reacted with alarm whenever news or rumour reached them.

“England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005,” database, FamilySearch ( : 13 December 2014), Emily Price, 1880; from “England & Wales Marriages, 1837-2005,” database, findmypast ( : 2012); citing 1880, quarter 4, vol. 7A, p. 216, Ashby De La Zouch, Leicestershire, England, General Register Office, Southport, England.

Image taken from page 61 of ‘The Life and Adventures of Dick Clinton, the Masked Highwayman … By the author of “Nat Blake,” “Ned Scarlet,” etc’

4 November 1823: A Shearsby lad goes to sea.

I observed, however, that one of them held somewhat aloof, and though he seemed desirous not to spoil the hilarity of his shipmates by his own sober face, yet upon the whole he refrained from making as much noise as the rest. This man interested me at once; and since the sea-gods had ordained that he should soon become my shipmate (though but a sleeping-partner one, so far as this narrative is concerned), I will here venture upon a little description of him. Herman Melville (1851) Moby Dick; or, The Whale. Chapter 3: The Spouter Inn.

Joseph Goodman was born in Shearsby and christened in the village church on 16 March 1788. His parents were Thomas and Alice Goodman, who had married in June of the previous year. In 1823 he decided to go to sea.

Between 4 November 1823 and 31 October 1824 Joseph Goodman served on the Cambridge and again from 1 November 1825 to 27 June 1827. Goodman would have been present to observe or perhaps participate in the trial of the newly designed carriage for the twelve-pounder gun being tested on HMS Prince Regent on 15 June 1827. Captain Maling of HMS Cambridge, Captain Moorsom of HMS Prince Regent and Captain Patton of HMS Isis together inspected and approved the new design. The new gun could be worked by a crew of 3, rather than 6, and could still shave seconds off the time between shots.

Goodman then transferred to the 120-gun HMS Prince Regent for two voyages: from 19 August 1827 to 5 August 1830 and off immediately again from 6 August 1830 to 21 July 1832.

After changing ships he set off on the HMS Caledonia on 22 July 1832 operating off the coast of Portugal, returning to Plymouth on 16 May 1833, and departing for the Mediterranean from 31 May 1833 until 21 August 1834.

He joined the new HMS Thunderer at Vourla Bay, Turkey on 22 August 1834 and remained on board until 21 September when he re-joined the Caledonia at Malta from 22 to 30 September .

He was a member of the crew of the paddle-powered Spitfire from 13 October 1834 to 19 November 1834 (returning to Plymouth via Portugal), transferring to the aged HMS San Josef on 20 November until 28th of that month, remaining in the Tamar Estuary.

He next set sail on 3 December 1836 on the Griffon until 22 June 1837 as an Able Seaman.  He would have been involved with the action on 25 Apr 1837 when the 10-gun Griffon detained the 178 ton Portuguese slave brig Don Francisco,  near the Island of Dominica. The Don Francisco cargo was transporting slaves. Over 430 Africans were allowed to disembark onto Dominica on 27 April. A second slave ship, the Voltigeur, was also detained in June.

From 23 June 1837 he was on The Sheldrake until 2 August; on the Astrea for 4 and 5 August;  and then on the Wellesley, departing for the East Indies from 1 October 1837 until 4 February 1838, and the Winchester from 5 February to 5 June 1838.

He was 50 years old when he left the naval service.


Joseph GOODMAN; Rating; Born: Shearsby, Leicestershire; Age on entry: 35; Dates served: 4 November 1823-30 October 1834; Date and Type of Application: Admiralty 14 October 1836, Admiralty October 1839.  ADM 29/13/210

“England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch ( : 6 December 2014, Joseph Goodman, ); citing Shearsby, Leicester, England, index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City; FHL microfilm 952,297.

UK, Naval Officer and Rating Service Records. Available from

HMS Cambridge (1815) Wikipedia.

HMS Prince Regent (1823). Wikipedia.

HMS Caledonia (1808). Wikipedia, P.Benyon’s Naval Database.

HMS Thunderer (1831). Wikipedia,  P. Benyon’s Naval Database

HMS Spitfire (1834) P. Benyon’s Naval Database

HMS San Josef (1997). Wikipedia

HMS Griffon (1832) P. Benyon’s Naval Database

HMS Wellesley (1815) P. Benyon’s Naval Database

Marshall, James (1829) A Description of Commander Marshall’s new mode of mounting and working Ships’ Guns

“England Marriages, 1538–1973 ,” database, FamilySearch ( : 10 February 2018), Thomas Goodman and Alice Goodman, 10 Jun 1787; citing Shearsby, Leicester, England, reference V3, index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City; FHL microfilm 952,297.

Image: By Charles Frederick de Brocktorff [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

© 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.