How the Victorian press covered the story


Opening of the Inquest

8th March 1887

The inquest was opened at the Anchor Inn, Blackburn Road, Darwen on Tuesday morning, before Mr. Hardy, barrister-at-law, of Manchester, deputy-coroner. The jury was sworn. Mr. Leonard Broadbent appeared on behalf of the prisoner, and Superintendent Myers and Inspector Noblett were present on behalf of the police.

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The jury having viewed the body, evidence of identification was taken from Thomas Garner (William's brother), and Margaret Garner (their brother Isaac's wife). She said she had seen the body and identified it as the wife of William Garner.

At this point Superintendent Myers asked for an adjournment for a week so the police could "get the case up properly" and also on the ground of a witness who was too ill to appear. He described her as a material witness. After a short discussion the inquest was adjourned to the following Tuesday morning (15th March) at half-past ten o'clock when it was to be resumed at the police station.

Before the Magistrates

9th March 1887

On the following morning, Wednesday, 9th March, Garner was charged, on remand, before Mr. W. T. Ashton, with having caused the death of his wife, Mary Garner.

Inspector Noblett gave evidence of Garner's arrest. He had gone to Earnsdale Farm at midday on Saturday with P.C. Moore, and after he had waited two hours Garner came home. Garner said he was intending to see the inspector about his wife's death after he had had his dinner. The inspector also testified about the post-mortem examination of the body on Monday afternoon by Dr. Ballantyne. Inspector Noblett said he was present, with Dr. Mathieson and Dr. Howarth. The deceased had two black eyes, and there were bruises on the body, one on the lower part of the back being four inches by three in size.

Mr. Ashton said he would not free the prisoner on less bail than £100 for himself and two other sureties of £250. Bail was then forthcoming, the prisoner's brother, Thomas, giving bail in £250, and Mr. Ralph Taylor Harwood and Mr. James Harwood giving bail for another £250.

Prisoner was then formally remanded to the following Wednesday (16th March).

Adjourned Inquest

15th March 1887

The adjourned inquest was resumed at the Borough Police Court, Duckworth Street, on Tuesday morning.

The Northern Daily Telegraph reported these events extensively and for a wider and more immediate audience than the more local weekly papers. In Tuesday's paper Garner was described as "44 years of age; about 5 foot 9 inches in height; dressed in black cloth trousers with tweed coat and at his throat a black tie. His features were of a hard character and a slight beard gave his face a stern appearance. He seemed to feel his position deeply and during the inquest he sat on a chair between the rails with his head leaning on his hand which was outspread and covered his face."

Saturday's Darwen Post reported that Garner, "broke down when one child after another was placed in the witness box to give evidence against him. However, as will be gathered from the evidence, their testimony was more favourable to him than otherwise."

The first witness called was Nancy Eccles of The Dingle, Darwen. She described attending Mary Garner for the birth of her daughter on Friday morning, the 25th of February. Mrs. Eccles was questioned about the state of Mary Garner's face that morning and on her return in the afternoon. She described events on the 2nd of March in the deceased woman's bedroom - about how Mary Garner reacted to her husband coming into the room. She was then examined about the 4th and 5th March, as Mary lay dying and after her death.

Margaret Garner, 79, mother of the accused, was next called. She was an old woman and very deaf, to whom the oath could not be administered owing to that infirmity. The Coroner declined to proceed further with her evidence, and told her to go home.

The next witness was Margaret Garner, daughter of William and Mary Garner. She was asked about events on the Thursday afternoon when she saw her mother fall against the shandry in the yard. She also described going for Nancy Eccles early on Friday morning when her mother was in labour. On Friday afternoon at about 2.00.p.m. she returned home from delivering milk and saw her father taking her mother into the house from the yard. Her mother had a cloak over her head and wore a red petticoat, and had a pair of elastic sided boots on. She was also asked about her father's relationship with his wife and children. When Margaret was being cross-examined by Mr Broadbent the Coroner ordered Garner to change his position, remarking that he interfered with the evidence by being very close to the witness. Under cross-examination by the Coroner Margaret said she had never seen her father strike her mother. Her mother had gone away from home about four months ago, for four or five days, to stay with the girl's aunt. She did not know why.

Isaac Garner, 12 year old son of the accused, was the next witness and was asked similar questions. He remembered his mother being at his aunt Hannah's house for about a day and a half. When cross-examined by Mr Broadbent he said he had been questioned by Inspector Noblett and made statements to that gentleman under threat of being locked up.

OS Map 1842-4Their 10 year old sister, Mary Garner was then called and asked for her evidence of these events. She described how her father went upstairs on the day of her mother's "illness." Her mother had immediately run downstairs and out into the yard. Her father had followed, taken hold of her mother and said "Come back", upon which her mother complied and returned to bed upstairs.

Margaret Garner, the wife of Isaac Garner, (William's brother) then gave her evidence. She was pressed hard to say whether she had seen William Garner strike his wife. The Coroner said that when the children of the accused came before him his heart bled for them and he felt some allowance should be made, but when a woman came before him, a sister-in-law, who told him these things, he must press her, but he did not wish to be hard. The witness described the condition of her sister-in-law over the previous months and described what she had witnessed during the week before Mary's death.

John Fleming, farm labourer on the neighbouring Prospect Farm, was the next to give evidence - of hearing the children screaming just before midday on the 24th February and seeing them run from the farmhouse towards the gate leading to the Dingle.

The proceedings lasted from half-past ten to five o'clock, and at this stage the Coroner suggested that an adjournment should take place. It was utterly impossible to complete the evidence that day. Mr. Myers had seven more witnesses. It was ultimately decided to adjourn the inquiry to half-past ten on Friday morning, and the jury were bound over to appear on that day.

Before the Magistrates

16th March 1887

At the Borough Police Court on the following morning, Wednesday, William Garner was again brought before the magistrate, and further remanded on bail of £600.