The Tragic Life and Appalling Death of Arthur Coleman - Sheffield 1886

Catholic prayer Salve Regina: "To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears."

The FREE BMD website gives the following entry

Deaths September quarter 1886 Coleman Arthur (age) 11 Sheffield (Volume) 9c (Page) 336.

Five years earlier the 1881 British Census shows ARTHUR living with his parents and two brothers at Pea Croft in the "Crofts" area of Sheffield

Source Information:
Dwelling 49 Pea Croft Census Place Sheffield, York, England 
Family History Library Film 1342123 Public Records Office Reference RG11 Piece / Folio 4646 / 81 Page Number 13 

Name Relation Marital Status Gender Age Birthplace Occupation Disability 
Michael COLEMAN Head M Male 36 Sheffield, York, England Puddler (Iron) 
Bridgett COLEMAN Wife M Female 32 Eastwood, Nottingham, England 
Michael COLEMAN Son Male 8 Sheffield, York, England 
Arthur COLEMAN Son Male 6 Sheffield, York, England 
Frederick COLEMAN Son Male 4 Sheffield, York, England 

In a reproduction 1851 OS map I have located Pea Croft as the eastward extension of Solly Street, terminating at the junction of Tenter Street and West Bar
Green. Pea Croft as a road is still there but is part of Solly Street. The Crofts area of Sheffield in the mid to late nineteenth century was a grim area to say the least as explained in the following article Victorian Housing in Sheffield

The photos show Pea Croft twenty years later circa 1900











The first article I came across was from the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated 30th September 1886

There was also a report in the Illustrated Police News dated 18th September 1886

"An inquest was opened on Saturday at Sheffield on the body of Arthur Coleman, aged eleven years, son of Michael Coleman, a hawker. The boy was seen to drop in the street from exhaustion, and he and an elder brother were taken to the wo0rkhouse. They were found to be in a most emaciated and starved state. Arthur died on Wednesday and when he weighed he was only 2st 4lb 10oz, the average weight of a boy that age is 6 stone. the father said when he left home in the mornings he had always given the mother 4d or 6d to buy food for the day, and he now believed she had spent the money in drink. The inquiry was adjourned for the attendance of the mother who is ill, the coroner remarking that in all probability one or both parents would be committed for manslaughter" 

The coroners prediction was correct.  Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated 1st October 1886 carried the following report which words can't really describe



The next report is from the Leeds Mercury dated 20th November 1886 - Arthur's parents were before Mr. Justice Hawkins at the Yorkshire Winter Assizes held in York charged with the manslaughter of their son, Arthur  

AN UN-SUSTAINED CHARGE OF MANSLAUGHTER - Michael Coleman (37), hawker, and his wife Bridget Coleman (35), hawker, were indicted for the manslaughter of Arthur Coleman, at Sheffield on the 8th September last. Mr Kershaw and Mr. Waugh prosecuted at the instance of the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. The prisoners were undefended. Mr Kershaw said that the boy with whose manslaughter the prisoners were charged was eleven years of age. He was brought into the Sheffield workhouse on the 4th September last and at that time weighed only two stones four pounds, ten ounces whereas the average weight for a lad of his age  was something between five and six stones. He was dreadfully emaciated and in a dying state. On the 7th of September his breath became very laboured. And on the 8th he died. A post mortem examination of his body was made by the surgeon of the workhouse, and it was discovered that there was tubercular disease of the lungs of some standing, and a complete absence of food in the bowels, which were in an accentuated condition. the immediate cause of death was tubercular disease but in the opinion of the surgeon who attended him there was no doubt that this was accelerated by privation and exposure and want of food. The prisoners were in a very humble station in life, the father being a hawker of paraffin while the mother begged in the streets. They had two children living with them and for the last five years when the relieving officer called he always found them in a neglected and half starved condition. On one occasion in 1885 when the officer called he found the children in a destitute state, stark naked, and totally alone in a dark room, and they were then for the second time taken to the workhouse. The child who had died seemed to been systematically neglected. After hearing the medical evidence his Lordship observed that there was no-one who sympathised with poor children more than he did, no-one who felt more indignation against parents who neglected their children and caused them suffering and privation and no-one who felt more strongly that such misconduct should receive the punishment that was its due. But he also had to bear in mind that justice demanded that no man be convicted of a serious offence unless the evidence against him was thoroughly established. Mr Kershaw may have sustained a prosecution against the prisoners under the statute for not giving the child proper food and nourishment but in the present case he would himself see this difficulty. Mr Kershaw stated that he would not proceed with the evidence and the jury formally returned a verdict of not guilty. His Lordship in discharging the prisoners stated that he did not wish it to be understood that in that particular case for very special reasons, the charge of manslaughter could not be sustained, the law should not punish with very great severity all parents and others who ill use children in their care     

The London Times also had a report on the case in their edition dated 16th November 1886.

"At York yesterday, before Mr. Justice Hawkins, MICHAEL COLEMAN, 39, and BRIDGET COLEMAN, 35 hawkers, were charged with the manslaughter of Arthur Coleman, at Sheffield, on September 8, 1886. Mr. L. A. Kershaw and Mr. Waugh conducted the prosecution; the prisoners were not defended by counsel. The prisoners were husband and wife. The deceased, who was their son, was at the time of his death about 11 years of age. Mr. Kershaw, in opening the case, stated that the prisoners had for five years past been in a wretched, half-starved condition. The deceased had from time to time been taken into the workhouse owing to the neglect or inability of the prisoners to supply him with sufficient food. The female prisoner was often drunk, and systematically neglected her son. On the 28th of August she put him in a tub, with water up to his chest, and kept him shivering there for an hour. On the 1st of September he fell down in the streets, being unable through weakness to walk. On September 4 the female prisoner went out begging, and took the deceased with her. Someone said to her," Don't take the child out, he's dying." Shortly after the child fell down, and was carried home. He was taken the same day by a constable to the workhouse. The lad then weighed 2 st. 51b., the average weight of a healthy child of that age being about 601b. The lad was in a pitiable condition lingered until September 8, when he died. A post mortem examination disclosed the facts that there was an entire absence of fat, and the bowels were in an attenuated state. The lad died of consumption, death being accelerated by exposure, privation, and want of food. Evidence was then called. The medical witnesses. in reply to questions put to them by the learned Jndge, said that they could not say more than that the child's death had probably been accelerated by exposure. privation, and want of food. They could not swear that in fact the death had been so accelerated. His Lordship upon this said that on the authority of the case of "R. v. Morby, "SQ. B. D..571, 51 L. J.(I.C.), S5, the charge could not be supported. The jury accordingly, under his direction, returned a verdict of Not Guilty, and the prisoners were discharged"

But the last word must go to the report in Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated 16th November 1886 whose coverage of this tragedy was of the highest standard

At first I did not fully understand the ruling but after doing some research I gained some insight into the problem. As far as I could ascertain, the prosecution charged the Coleman's with manslaughter when the more appropriate charge given the facts of the case would have been neglect and cruelty. The surgeon was unequivocal when he stated that "the immediate cause of death was tubercular disease but in (his) opinion there was no doubt that this was accelerated by privation and exposure and want of food." But they could not state for definite that the neglect and starvation accelerated Arthur's death. Of course, "exposure. privation, and want of food" was endemic amongst the working classes in late Victorian England. If every case was prosecuted, the whole criminal justice system would have collapsed.

As a post-script, Arthur was laid to rest in Sheffield's Roman Catholic Cemetery in the beautiful Rivelin Valley - a marked contrast to the squalor and misery he had endured during his brief life in Sheffield

Burial Record.

COLEMAN, ARTHUR (buried St Patrick's section, age 11yr).
Died at UNION; Buried on September 13, 1886 in Roman Catholic ground; Grave Number 12, Section JA of St Michaels RC Cemetery, Rivelin.

His mother for want of a better term outlived her son by just a few months

Deaths March 1887 quarter - Coleman Bridget Age 35 Sheffield Volume 9c Page 320 

COLEMAN, BRIDGET (buried St Patrick's section, age 35yr).Died at UNION; Buried on February 4, 1887 in Roman Catholic ground; 
Grave Number 6, Section NA of St Michaels RC Cemetery, Rivelin.

She rather pointedly was not buried alongside her son.

One hundred and twenty-one years later in the autumn of 2007, and barely a mile from where Arthur lived with his parents, a three year old girl also dies of cruelty and neglect.

This cutting is from The Times dated Friday, June 13 2008, for once words desert me!! 

This time the so called mother is charged with manslaughter and receives a 12 year prison sentence for the pain and suffering she inflicted on her daughter. This time I can't understand why she was not charged with murder and given a sentence that reflects the enormity of her crime. 


1881 UK Census


Illustrated Police news dated 18th September 1886

Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated 30th September 1886 - 1st October 1886 - 16th November 1886

London Times dated 16th November 1886.

Leeds Mercury dated 20th November 1886

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This page was last updated on 29/06/22 15:59