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1874 - The Murder of Henry Jessop at Wombwell

Sheffield Daily Telegraph December 31, 1874

The Murder of Henry Jessop at Wombwell

Yesterday afternoon the coroner (G Wightman Esq) held an inquest at the Ship Inn, Wombwell, touching the death of Henry Jessop, 35 years of age, collier who lived at Wombwell, and was shot in the head on Sunday evening December 27 by John Henry Skiffington, the illegitimate son of Ellen Jessop, who is the wife of Joseph Jessop, a collier of Wombwell.

Mrs G Parker Rhodes appeared for the prisoner, who was present in the custody of Inspector Gordon.

The coroner in opening proceeding, said that according to his report a boy named Skiffington was alleged to have shot the deceased. Whether that was so are not they must gain from the evidence, and bring in such a verdict as would meet the case. The coroner then proceeded to take evidence:

Ellen Jessop, wife of Joseph Jessop, collier of Wombwell said:
 I knew the deceased Henry Jessop. He was my husband's son, and my stepson. He was 35 years of age and was a miner.

On Sunday, December 27, I and my husband spent the day at Mr Birkinshaw’s house in Wombwell. My son, John Henry Skiffington, came to Mr Burkinshaw’s about 8 o’clock in the evening. My stepsons George and Henry Jessop also came to the house. Whilst there the deceased caught hold of Mrs Burkinshaw to kiss her under the mistletoe. About 10:45 we started home. George and Henry began to knock my husband about. Eventually all fell down together, but they were then playing. They afterwards got to fighting, and both George and Henry set on my husband and knocked him down. Skiffington and myself were trying to part them. Henry kicked me in the scuffle, and I went down the entry and called out “Policeman.” Mrs Taylor, the wife of the policeman, came out and said he was on duty. A man named William Hawkes was passing at the time, and he came in. I followed, and met George running down the passage. He said, “Our Harry is dead.” I  then went into the house, and found the deceased lying on the kitchen floor. There was a good deal of blood against his head. I went into another room, and John Henry Skiffington followed me. He gave me a pistol, and said “Oh dear, my pistol has gone off.”

(The pistol was here produced, but the witness could not swear that it was the one which had been given her.)

I threw the pistol in the fireplace, but in a few minutes I took it up again, and threw it in the privy. Police constable Taylor came up about half an hour after, and took George and Joseph Jessop and Skiffington into custody. My son had a pistol, which he kept in a drawer in the kitchen.

By the Jury: I do not know that there had been any quarrels previously. I did not hear the report of the pistol. Skiffington had not a pistol which was commonly known as a square barrel one. I do not know that Skiffington had a pistol about him when he was at Burkinshaw’s house.

By Mr F Parker Rhodes: When Skiffington gave me the pistol, I threw it into the fireplace immediately in his present. He did not know that I subsequently threw it into the privy. There was no light in the kitchen at the time of the struggle, except from the fire, which was a very low one. All the party had had some drink, but they were not fresh.

Joseph Jessop, husband of the last witness, collier, living at Park Street, Wombwell, said that Henry Jessop got hold of him and knocked him down, after they had come from Burkinshaw’s house. Whilst on the floor he heard something like the crack of the whip, and, on getting up, he saw Henry Jessop had a wound on his temple. Witness was fresh, but could remember what had occurred. He was taken to the lock-up.

In answer to further questions, witness said that Skiffington had two pistols, but he thought he had “got shut of them” two months ago.

In answer to the jury, witness said there were no family jealousies and no ill will.

George Jessop, son of last witness, said he lived with his father at Wombwell. On Sunday evening, the 27th inst. he went to Burkinshaw’s house. About 11:00 p.m. he and the others returned home. When they got to the back door his father began to remonstrate about their conduct at Burkinshaw’s. Whilst in the house they began to wrestle together. They all fell down, the father at the bottom. John Henry Skiffington pulled witness away, and then went upstairs, and returned a minute or two. He held his hand towards the deceased face and witness heard a shot. The deceased fell onto his back on the floor and bled from the temple.

In answer to Mr Rhodes, witness said it was too dark to see Skiffington hand, and he had made a mistake in saying that he saw it. The pistol which was fired was one which Skiffington bought six weeks previously for the purpose of shooting sparrows.

In answer to the jury, witness said that the shop was fired immediately after Skiffington returned from going upstairs. He (witness) saw Skiffington’s hand by the light of the flash, and the pistol was then pointed at the deceased.

The jury recalled Mr Jessop and asked if she knew when the prisoner loaded the pistol. She said she did not know, and added that George was a perjured man; he had given evidence of what he knew nothing about as he was drunk at the time.

Joseph Taylor, police constable stationed at Wombwell said he received information, on Sunday night, that a man had been shot in Jessop’s house. He went to the place and found Mr Millar, surgeon there. He afterwards searched the kitchen and found the shot bag and powder flask in the table drawer. He search the prisoner’s pockets after they have been removed to Barnsley, and found nine caps on him. He charged him with the murder of the deceased, and in reply, “I did not put the pistol into the privy. My mother took it from me and put it into the sitting room fireplace. I did not see it afterwards. My brother George and my father were fighting. I ran upstairs for a pistol, which was on my bed, between the bed and the mattress. It was loaded, but without a cap. I put one on which I took from my waistcoat pocket, and went downstairs and shot at them, thinking to frighten them. That is all I have to say.”

Inspector Carden then said he had examined the body of the deceased. In his clothes pockets he found £1 15s 3d, and some other articles. He found pistol in a privy, after having searched the surroundings for several hours.

Mr John Nelson Miller, surgeon, of Wombwell said he was calling to see deceased about 11:05 on Sunday evening last. He found deceased lying on the kitchen floor in his father’s house. He was quite dead. There was a large, ragged wound about an inch above the right ear. He had made a post-mortem examination of the body. There was a scalp wound measuring an inch and a half transversely, and 2 inches perpendicular, very ragged in appearance. He then removes the scalp, and found great fractures of bones and several shot corns (produced). The wound took a course down the cheek downwards and outwards. Death would be instantaneous. From the direction of the wound it was impossible that the deceased could have fired the pistol himself. The wound smelled strongly of gunpowder smoke, and in consequence the pistol must have been fired close to the deceased.

After a short adjournment the coroner summed up. He said it was the duty of the jury to weigh the matter well, and consider what verdict they were to bring in. After having minutely detailed the evidence, he said that Skiffington appeared to be about the only sober person of the party, and if the at the correct version what he said there was very little doubt about what had taken place. They must first consider how the deceased had come to his death. The evidence of the Doctor showed very clearly that it was from a pistol shot. They must next consider who fired the pistol. The evidence left very little doubt in his mind about that, for they had the prisoner’s own confession that he did it and how he did it. He thought they were bound to come to the conclusion that the prisoner was a man who fired the shot. That being so, they must consider the circumstances. The prisoner’s own account, and that was the only evidence in his favour, was that the shot was fired to frighten them.

If they believed that the prisoner had simply fired the pistol not intending to do anybody any harm, and it would only amount to manslaughter. It certainly would have been manslaughter, because it would have been the killing of a man whilst not in the commission of any illegal action. If, on the other hand, he fired the pistol intending to injured Jessop, the deceased, and had killed him, it was their duty to return a verdict of wilful murder. If they thought it was accidental, they would be putting the whole of the evidence on one side altogether. In conclusion, the coroner said that if the jury believe the evidence, he thought they could only return a verdict of murder.

The jury then retired, and were absent about three quarters of an hour. On returning, the Foreman said the jury were unanimous in bringing in a verdict of “Wilful murder against John Henry Skiffington.”

The Coroner said in his opinion that was the correct verdict for the jury to return. He then committed the prisoner to the Assizes.

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