How the Victorian press covered the story


Verdict of Wilful Murder

18th March 1887

The inquest (adjourned from Tuesday) was resumed the following Friday, at the court-house.

Robert Ainsworth gave evidence of what he had seen and heard while working on the Sunnyhurst side of the valley in fields belonging to Lower Sunnyhurst Farm, about 300 yards from Earnsdale Farm. During the Friday afternoon (24th February) he heard children screaming and on looking across the valley he saw the children and a man and woman in Earnsdale farmyard. He saw the man, William Garner, strike the woman with his fist about three times. James Dickinson, his employer, of Lower Sunnyhurst Farm, corroborated this evidence.

Dr. Ballantyne described his visits to the deceased and the findings of the post mortem. This evidence was corroborated by that of Dr. Mathieson.

Inspector Noblett and P.C. Moore gave evidence about the arrest of Garner at about 2.30.p.m. on Saturday, 5 March. P.C. Moore had said: "William Garner, I charge you with having caused the death of your wife by assaulting her, and causing her to go out of the house on Friday, 25 February, within a few hours after her confinement."

The Coroner said that the case was one which deserved the most careful consideration at their hands. He defined the difference between manslaughter and wilful murder and explained how this might affect William Garner.

"In conclusion, he remarked, that if that poor creature, under a sense of great fear of her husband, jumped out of bed and ran downstairs, dressed as she was described to have been dressed, and so caught cold and accelerated her death they could only return a verdict of wilful murder. The prisoner would be committed to the assizes and it would be the duty of the Grand Jury to thoroughly sift the evidence and if possible to reduce the charge to one of manslaughter. He pointed out that if the prisoner were so drunk that he did not know what he was doing, that would be no excuse in the eyes of the law."

If they could by any means reconcile their consciences to returning a verdict of manslaughter let them do so, but he would urge them to consider carefully what they were about and to weigh well the evidence.

The jury then retired to consider their verdict, and were absent for an hour. On their return the Coroner asked: "Foreman, have you agreed upon your verdict?"

Foreman: "Yes, sir."

The Coroner: "What is your verdict?"

The Foreman: "The verdict of the jury is WILFUL MURDER against William Garner."

The Coroner: "In that case it will be my duty to commit the prisoner to her Majesty's gaol at Strangeways to take trial at the next general gaol delivery, whenever that may be. As he is out on bail I shall suspend my warrant until he has been brought before the magistrates.

The Darwen News

19th March 1887

"Public interest in the case strengthened even further when the jury's decision became known. The accused had been remanded by the magistrates for a week, until the following Wednesday. There was now much speculation about what the police would do. This was not long in doubt. The accused man was allowed to leave the courthouse and went home. Shortly after seven o'clock the same evening, however, the bondmen, having heard the inquest's verdict, visited Inspector Noblett, and asked to be relieved of their responsibility.

"Mr. Noblett and P.S. Connor, immediately went to Garner's house, explained the circumstances and escorted him to the police station. He was placed under police supervision in the constables' day-room, every accommodation being made during his stay at the police station. A bed was fitted up for him and his meals were regularly supplied. It was later reported by the press that Garner had £51 in his possession when apprehended".