The Horrifying Murder of Elizabeth Slater - Sheffield August 1852

In the course of its history, Sheffield has experienced some revolting murders, but the following crime is nothing short of horrific . The first time I came across the events surrounding the murder was in an article that appeared in The Times dated 20th August 1852.  

MURDER - SHEFFIELD, Aug. 19 Sheffield is again the scene of one of those horrifying murders which startle a whole country.  An illegitimate child, nearly two years old, has had its head cut off by its father, who also attempted to murder its mother and another young woman.  The murderer's name is Alfred Waddington, a grinder, residing in Lord-street, Park.  He is about 20 years of age, the associate of notoriously bad characters, and he has himself been tried for highway robbery.  The murdered child was called Elizabeth Slater, the daughter of Sarah Slater, of Brown-street, Park, and was about a year and nine months old.  On Monday the mother took out a summons, which was to have been heard today, against Waddington, for neglecting to maintain the child.  He saw her in the street on Wednesday, and swore he would never pay another farthing towards the support of the child.  On Wednesday evening the mother left her child in the care of a little girl called Barlow, and then went to attend the females' evening class at the Mechanics' Institution.  About half-past 8 o'clock Waddington appeared at the door of the classroom and called out "Sarah Slater, you're wanted."  She went to him, and asked "What have you done with the child?"  She told him, and he then said, "You must go with me; it has fallen off a wall and has broken its neck."  She immediately ran out of the room with him.  On arriving in Silvester-lane he said she need not trouble herself for he had murdered the child.  He pulled out a large clasp knife and said "Here's some of its blood."  The monster then fiercely attacked her and attempted to cut her throat.  She guarded her neck with her hands, which were shockingly lacerated, and a little boy who saw the struggle called out "Murder!"  Waddington then ran up Earle-street, and the poor woman was taken home.  Waddington was shortly afterwards met by a young women called Sarah Dobson, who resides in Duke-lane, Sheffield-moor, a companion of the young women Slater.  Having heard rumours of the murder and the attack upon Slater, the young woman asked him what he had done with her and his child.  He at once attacked her with his knife, and wounded here severely about the face.  Her violent screams caused him to run away.  About 2 o'clock this morning, however, he gave himself up to a night watchman, and at the Town-hall he described the exact place where the murdered child might be found.  He said he took it from the little girl Barlow, carried it into Cutler's-wood, Heely, near Sheffield, and there cut its head off.  At daylight this morning two policemen went to the place mentioned, and there they found the body of the child.  Its head was lying several feet from its body.

The following day a further report appeared in The Times

MURDER AT SHEFFIELD. - In The Times of yesterday an account was given of the horrible murder of a child at Sheffield, by its father, Alfred Waddington, and of an attempt by the murderer to assassinate the mother of the child and another young woman.  Yesterday the case underwent investigation before Mr. T. Badger, the coroner, and a highly respectable jury.  Alfred Waddington, who had given himself up to the police, being present in custody.  The body of the murdered child was brought into the room in a basket, and viewed by the coroner and jury.  It presented an appalling spectacle.  Sarah Slater, the mother of the child, was first examined, and detailed in evidence the circumstances narrated in yesterday's paper, how the prisoner had called her out of the evening school at the Lyceum and told her that he had murdered her infant, and then attempted to cut her throat with a knife, the same with which he said he had taken the life of her child.  About four months ago she had the prisoner before the magistrates for an assault, when he was bound over to keep the peace for six months.  The child was affiliated to him in 1851, and he was ordered to pay 2s. a week, but he had not paid it regularly, and she had taken out a warrant against him on Monday to appear before the magistrates on Thursday last.  Subsequently to the warrant being taken out the prisoner reproached her with having done so, swore at her, and declared he would not pay a halfpenny.  Several witnesses were examined in corroboration.  William Jackson, a night constable, stated the circumstances under which he had found the child, with the head severed from the body.  Mr Rayner, superintendent of police, detailed to the jury a confession which the prisoner had made to him when in custody.  He admitted having murdered the child, but was sorry that he had done so.  He said he was much attached to Sarah Slater, but she had taken up with another man, and he wished it had been Sarah rather than the child whose life he had taken.  The jury returned a verdict of "Wilful Murder," and the prisoner was committed to York Castle for trial.

From The Leeds Mercury dated 21st August 1852


From Reynolds Newspaper dated August 22nd 1852

Full details of the trial in York can be found in the book "The Sheffield Hanged 1750 - 1864" by David Bentley.

He was executed on January 8 1853. Prior to his execution Arthur did display a genuine remorse for his actions and spent his final hours, praying in his cell. A crowd of 8,000 gathered to watch him ascend to the scaffold and after muttering "Lord Jesus, receive my soul", he was dispatched by the hangman. His body was buried within the confines of the prison behind the window of the condemned cell.   

As for little Elizabeth she was buried in the churchyard of St Mary's Church, Bramall Lane, Highfield,  Sheffield on 22nd August 1852 - there is no record of the grave's exact location  

There was a fascinating postscript to the case. In The Times dated February 25th 1853 there was the following report

AMATEUR HANGING. - Within the last few weeks

AMATEUR HANGING. - Within the last few weeks several suicides have occurred in Sheffield, chiefly of boys, which might be clearly traced to the morbid feeling which often comes over the minds of those who have been witnesses or have heard descriptions of public executions.  Another suicide occurred in this town on Monday night which may be traced to the same cause, and in this case, also, it is a lad who has become the victim.  The lad who has put an end to his existence in this instance is named Henry Warrass; he is 14 years of age, and was committed to the Wakefield House of Correction on the 25th of January last as a rogue and vagabond.  Shortly before half-past 7 o'clock this lad hung himself to the handle of the bell in his cell with a small piece of cocoa fibre about the thickness of a drawing pencil.  He was discovered at half-past 7, the usual messing time, by a turnkey, suspended, but not quite dead.  He was immediately taken down, and he moved afterwards, but soon expired.  It appears that Warrass went to York to witness the execution of the murderer Waddington; he had also seen the woman for whose murder Waddington paid the forfeit of his life.  Warrass was also an acquaintance of a lad who hung himself a short time since the execution in the workhouse at Sheffield.  It cannot be known whether the lad really intended to destroy himself; it is supposed that he was merely trying an experiment, as he had not given any evidence of a vicious temper since his reception within the prison walls.  Deceased was confined in a separate cell, and with the exception of three hours, employed each afternoon in instruction, his confinement was solitary.


1. The 1851 census shows Alfred Waddington as a 19 year old Prisoner held in Sheffield (Piece 2338 - Folio13). 

2. Just a week after the execution of Alfred Waddington, James Barbour, a 21-year-old travelling draper, followed him to the York gallows for the murder, at Heeley, of a former workmate, Alexander Robison, aged 24.

The affair that led to Barbour’s hanging began at seven o’clock on the evening of Friday, September 3, 1852, when two boys, George Renton and George Dixon, were picking blackberries on Black Bank, an area that to this day remains an extensive grassy bank, climbing up from East Bank Road towards lower Arbourthorne. There they discovered the body of a man, lying on his front, one hand behind his back, his legs protruding from a hedgerow. The boys ran to raise the alarm at Midhill House (now the Earl Marshal pub), the home of George’s grandfather, William Renton, who sent his servant, James Somerset, for help. Soon a policeman arrived on the scene. On examination, the dead man was found to have a serious facial wound, his right-hand trouser pocket turned inside out and no money, watch or handkerchief on his person. His only possessions were a pair of lady’s scissors and two small song books, in one of which was written the name ‘Robison’. The unidentified body was then taken down the hill to the Royal Standard public house on St Mary’s Road. The following morning Inspectors Linley and Tasker found more items near where the dead man had lain, including a silk hat, crushed and pushed into a hedge, a white silk handkerchief covered in dried blood, and a bottle of laudanum. Five or six yards away from where the body was found there was a pool of blood, covered over with loose grass, and the surrounding ground was trodden down, as if a violent scuffle had taken place there. The police released a description of the man: he was 5’9” in height, of stout, muscular build and had sandy hair and moustache. His clothes were of good quality, comprising a jacket, black waistcoat, fine cotton shirt, tweed trousers and wellington boots.

Still with no idea as to the man’s identity, an inquest was opened by the Deputy Coroner, Mr Joseph Badger, at the Royal Standard on Saturday afternoon. However, a clue had been found in the man’s clothing; very faintly, the name ‘A. Robison’. The police surgeon, Mr R. Roper, assisted by Mr H. Payne, undertook a post-mortem examination of the body. Roper informed the inquest that he found a circular cut at the crown of the back of the head, into which a finger might be introduced two inches. Behind the right ear there was another circular wound, passing obliquely upwards and forwards. On the right side of the face were four clean cut incised wounds, extending down and across the face and under the jaw. Behind the right ear was a discolouration that might have been caused by an explosion of gunpowder in close proximity. The lower jaw was fractured on the right side, and at the front there was a clean fracture, as if done by a violent and heavy blow. On opening the skull there was found in the brain, in the wound at the back of the head, some gun wadding, several flattened No.4 shot, and some bone fragments. Some No.4 shot, not flattened, were also found in the wound in the brain at the back of the right ear. The orbit of the eye and the bones of the nose were fractured. In the stomach was found a quantity of undigested food, which appeared to be duck and onions, consumed, in Mr Roper’s opinion, not more than two or three hours before death. There was no doubt that the head wounds were the cause of death, and it was probable that the victim had been shot from behind. It was impossible for him to have inflicted the wounds on himself.

That morning the Sheffield Times had reported that the body was that of a man called Scrimshaw who had committed suicide. However, Scrimshaw had since turned up alive. On Saturday afternoon a young Scotsman named M’Donald, who was reported by The Times of London to be ‘connected with one of the Sheffield newspapers’, having read about the name being found in the man’s clothing and believing that he was dressed in the manner of a Scottish packman, requested to view the body. He identified the deceased as Alexander Robison, a draper, of Doncaster, employed by Mr David Barbour. The employer was sent for, and he confirmed it was Robison, a 24-year-old native of Dumfriesshire. Barbour said he was ‘a very stout, tall young man, well able to fight two men if he had a fair chance’. Robison had been in his employ for well over three years as a travelling packman. He had left Doncaster on Monday, August 30, with a pack containing a quantity of linen goods, and a silver watch and guard, given to him by Barbour. His duty was to travel round Sheffield, sell the goods, collect the takings and return to Doncaster on Thursday night. It was expected that he would have collected about six or seven pounds, but he did not return to Doncaster that Thursday.

The landlord of the Royal Standard informed the police that the day before the discovery of the body, a customer at the pub had handed him a pack for safe keeping before ordering a cab to take him to the Reindeer public house in the town centre. This person had seemed uneasy and flustered. The landlord gave the pack to Inspector Linley, who found specks of blood on it. At this point the inquest was adjourned, to be reconvened at the Town Hall the following Wednesday.

Further police enquiries revealed that Robison had been lodging at a public house called Naylor’s, on Watson’s Walk, between Snig Hill and Hartshead in the town centre. He often stayed there before returning by train to Doncaster. The landlord, George Naylor, knew Robison well and told police that his regular lodger owned a silver watch and chain, which were missing when his body was found. Naylor said that on Thursday, September 2, Robison had lunched at Gray’s restaurant, also on Watson’s Walk, with three friends – James Barbour, cousin of Robison’s employer David Barbour, James Fagan and Finman M’Clelland. The latter two were also Scotsmen, and also travelling drapers, whilst Barbour also used to work for his cousin. They then returned to Naylor’s for a drink. There, Barbour told the men that he was going to introduce Robison to some potential new customers. Tellingly, Naylor stated that Robison was carrying a pack. Soon afterwards, at about two o’clock, Fagan and M’Clelland left the party. M’Clelland informed the resumed inquest that that was the last time he saw Robison alive.

Next, another witness, George M’Cormick, supplied what proved to be vital information. M’Cormick, who worked for James Barbour, testified that he shared lodgings with him at No.105 New Meadow Street, Netherthorpe. M’Cormick noticed that Barbour had in his possession a silver watch that he had not seen before. On Saturday Barbour asked M’Cormick to pawn the watch for him at Mr W. C. Beet’s West Street pawnbroker’s shop, but in the name of William Smith, not James Barbour. M’Cormick obtained thirty shillings for the watch, which he handed over to Barbour, along with the pawn ticket, at the Reindeer public house on Devonshire Street. He then said that as the hours passed Barbour appeared more and more worried about something. Now David Barbour was called. He stated that he had given a silver watch and guard to Robison. Initially he had been going to give the watch to his cousin James, whom he once employed, until he had cause to dismiss him for embezzlement. David Barbour was now suspicious of his cousin’s actions, and had passed on his suspicions to the police. The following Sunday James Barbour was interviewed by police but not arrested. He admitted to dining with Robison on the Thursday before his body was discovered, but claimed the men then parted, and he believed Robison was on his way to catch a train to Doncaster, as he usually did on a Thursday afternoon.

The next morning, however, David Barbour informed the police of the serial number of the watch he had presented to Robison. Upon receipt of this information police made visits to a number of pawnshops in town, the watch soon being found at Beet’s on West Street. A warrant for James Barbour’s arrest was immediately issued. Inspector Astwood and Detective Officer Silk carried out the arrest and in order to convey Barbour to the Town Hall, where he was to be formally charged, they took a cab. By chance the cab driver was the same one who took the fare from the Royal Standard to the Reindeer on that fateful Thursday, and he recognised Barbour as his customer. The flustered man who left the pack with the landlord of the Royal Standard was therefore presumed to be James Barbour. At the Town Hall the Superintendent, Thomas Rayner, charged Barbour with the wilful murder of Alexander Robison, in which he denied having any part. A pawn ticket was found in his pocket. Sarah Jane Beet, sister of the West Street pawnbroker, could not identify Barbour but pointed out George M’Cormick as the man who pawned the watch. Both men were remanded in custody, but M’Cormick was later brought as a witness against Barbour. With all this new evidence at hand, the inquest jury had an easy task in returning a verdict of wilful murder against Barbour, and the Coroner committed him for trial at York Assizes.

The trial commenced on December 21, 1852 and was reported in detail by The Times on December 24:
James Barbour, aged 21, was indicted for the wilful murder of Alexander Robison at Sheffield on the 2nd September last. Mr Overend, Mr Pickering, and Mr Johnstone appeared for the prosecution; and Mr Serjeant Wilkins (specially retained) and Mr Hardy for the prisoner. Mr Overend stated the facts of the case to the jury with great clearness and ability.
The question then arose, by whom had [Robison] been murdered? The prisoner at the bar was a cousin of Mr [David] Barbour, of Doncaster, and had formerly been employed by him in the same manner and to travel in the same district as the deceased, taking the money obtained for his goods back to his master. The man had been dismissed in August last by Mr Barbour. The prisoner and the deceased had both been in Mr Barbour’s employ at the same time, and were companions and slept in the same bed. The prisoner, after he was dismissed, was absent in Scotland about a fortnight, and then returned to Sheffield, and had been there only a very short time indeed before this occurrence happened. He employed a young man named M’Cormick to assist him in collecting the money still due to Mr Barbour for goods he had sold, and the prisoner and M’Cormick lodged in Sheffield with a person named Pigot. M’Cormick had not paid the prisoner any of the money which he had collected while he was away in Scotland until the Monday after the discovery of the body.
On Thursday, the 2nd of September, the last day that the deceased was seen alive, the prisoner, the deceased, and two other Scotchmen, named M’Clelland and Fagan, were in company together in Sheffield, and dined together at 1 o’clock at an eating-house on roast duck stuffed with onions. The prisoner then stated that he was about to leave Sheffield for London. At half-past 1 they all adjourned to Naylor’s public house, where they had some porter. At that time the deceased was wearing his silver watch and silver guard, and he also had with him a pack of drapery goods. It was the deceased’s custom on that day to change all the silver he had received, at Naylor’s, for gold, and Naylor asked him if he wanted his change. The deceased replied ‘No, he expected to get more that afternoon, and he would change it afterwards.’ They then left Naylor’s, M’Clelland asking the prisoner and the deceased where they were going. The prisoner replied he was going to show Robison some customers that Barbour knew nothing of, and after that he should go to London and the south in a day or two, as he thought the south was better for business. They left Naylor’s about 2 o’clock and parted at the bottom of Watson’s Walk, M’Clelland and Fagan going one way, and the prisoner and the deceased another.
For an hour after that there was no evidence of what had become of them; but at 3 o’clock an old man by the name of George Hind was seated on a stile leading to a footpath crossing some fields in the outskirts of Sheffield, and 640 yards from the place where the body was found, when two men came up to the stile from the direction of Sheffield. One was a taller man than the other and carried a bundle under his arm. Hind said to them, as they came up to the stile to get over it, ‘I will give you room, gentlemen,’ and they got over into the field. The smaller man, as he was passing him, said, ‘What are you doing here? You should have some employment.’ Hind answered, ‘I have as much right to be here smoking a whiff of tobacco as you have.’ The smaller of the two men called out to the other, ‘Let this man bring one of your bundles.’ The man who so spoke to George Hind, Hind identified as the prisoner, and the taller man was the deceased. A man named Christopher Corbett, coming from Newfield Green to Sheffield by the footpath across the fields, which is very little frequented, met two men going towards Newfield Green, one taller than the other, and carrying a pack. The prisoner was the shorter man of the two; the taller one answered the description of the deceased. This was between 3 and 4 o’clock, and 375 yards from the place where the body was afterwards found. About that time a young man named Charles Renton was in a field adjoining to that in which the body was found, and divided from it by a high hedge and brook, when he heard two shots fired quickly after each other. He was lying down in the next field, about 200 yards from the place where the body was. The deceased was never after that seen alive. The field in which the body was found was a grass field, having no pathway across it. Why the prisoner and the deceased had entered that field was not known.
The prisoner was expected back at Naylor’s at 5, but never returned. About 4 o’clock that afternoon the prisoner entered the Royal Standard public house, where, by a singular coincidence the body was taken the day after. He was then alone, appeared heated, as if from walking very fast, and was carrying a pack. When last seen he had no pack, but the deceased had; when the deceased’s body was found there was no pack. He asked for threepenny-worth of gin, and asked the landlord, who was a stranger to him, to take charge of his pack, and said that he would call for it on the following morning. The prisoner never did call for it. This pack was shown to be the pack of the deceased, and Mr Barbour identified his private marks on some of the drapery goods it contained, and the goods in it were worth about ten pounds. At the time when the prisoner brought it to the Royal Standard public house there were spots of blood upon it. The landlord placed the pack in a closet and locked it up, and next day, when some enquiry was made as to the dead body which had been found, he delivered up the pack to the police. While at the Royal Standard the prisoner wanted a cab. There was no cabstand near, and he said he would recompense any one who would get him one, and a little boy went for one for him. He also asked for a brush, to brush the mud from his shoes and the bottom of his trousers, as they were covered with mud and clay. Between the field where the body was found and the Royal Standard public house were a number of ploughed fields of clay soil, across which the prisoner might have come if he had wished to avoid the public road; and, had he done so, in all probability his shoes and clothes would be so marked. The cab came up, and he immediately drove away to a public house in Sheffield but a short distance off, and it was a matter of observation that a man in the prisoner’s condition should be taking a cab for a short distance from one public house to another. The prisoner drove to the Reindeer, where he found M’Cormick, whom he treated, and to whom he gave some money. He stayed there a short time, and went to his lodgings about a quarter to 6 o’clock. He then gave some money to M’Cormick to fetch some gin. Mr Pigot was there, and one or two other persons. One of them asked what time it was, when the prisoner pulled a silver watch and guard out of his breeches pocket. Pigot said, ‘Hallo, you have got a watch, Mr Barbour,’ he not having had one before. The prisoner answered, ‘Yes, I had sold it some time since, but not having got paid for it I took it back.’ About 11 o’clock he went to bed, M’Cormick sleeping in the same bed with him. The prisoner pulled out the watch and laid it on the dressing table, and M’Cormick asked him, ‘How did you get this?’ The prisoner replied, ‘Oh, I had it in a pledge, but did not like to tell about it.’
Next day, as early as 8 o’clock in the morning, a man, believed to be the prisoner, pawned a pistol at a pawnbroker’s in Sheffield for 1s, saying he should probably fetch it again the same morning. That pistol on cross-examination was found to be rusty in the inside, had never since been redeemed. On that day he told M’Cormick that he wished to sell some debts for 30 pounds that he had to collect. That night Pigot observed that the prisoner had not his watch, and asked him what he had done with it, and he said ‘it had happened in an accident’ and he had sent it to the watchmaker. On Saturday, the morning after, he asked M’Cormick to meet him at the Reindeer and pawn his watch for him. M’Cormick did so, and gave the ticket to the prisoner. On the Monday after the prisoner was taken into custody, and on his person the pawn ticket for the watch was found. The watch was got out of pawn and shown to him, and he was asked if he had seen it before; his answer was that he had seen it eight months before. It was probably true that he had seen it in his late master’s possession, but he said nothing about having worn it a day or two before. When asked about the pawn ticket he said he had bought it from a man in West Street. That watch was identified by Mr Barbour, of Doncaster, as the one worn by the deceased, and which he had given to him. On the Saturday after the murder, while sitting in his lodgings, a daughter of Mr Pigot said, ‘There has been a murder in Sheffield, and the body is lying at the Royal Standard.’ Pigot said he should go and see it, and asked the prisoner to go with him. The prisoner declined, saying ‘he did not like to see such sights’. When Pigot got home he expressed great anxiety to know about the murdered man, and was told that ‘Robison’ was marked on the linen on the body. The prisoner then said he knew a little of him when he lived at Doncaster, and it was a pity he had come to an untimely end. Pigot did not see the body that night, as it was locked up, and the prisoner wished him very much to go and see it next morning, but refused to go with him. At this time the body had not been identified. When Pigot returned, he asked how the body looked, and how it was found; and when Pigot said that a bottle of laudanum had been found near it, he asked ‘if a coroner’s jury would find that he made away with himself?’ He then said he thought there must be some woman in it.
On Sunday he met Police Officer Aston in the street, and began talking about the deceased to him, saying his death was a ‘mysterious affair’ and he then told Aston that the deceased was last seen in a cab at half-past 6 o’clock on Thursday night, with a Doncaster woman, at the Reindeer public house. Mrs Swann, the landlady, proved this to be untrue. Mr Rayner, a police officer, of Sheffield, having heard that the body was identified, and that the prisoner had been seen in the deceased’s company, sent to the prisoner on Saturday to ask him what he knew of the deceased. He described correctly where they had dined together, and said that after that he parted from the deceased in Watson’s Walk, when the deceased said he was going to Doncaster at 6 o’clock. The prisoner, on returning home after this, told Pigot that he had been giving evidence to Mr Rayner, about the deceased, and he then said, ‘Poor fellow! We were the best of friends; we ate and drank and slept together.’ Pigot said, ‘Why, you said this morning you only knew him slightly?’ The prisoner appeared to be much confused, threw his head back, and said, ‘he was in an awful state of mind, owing to M’Cormick being out, and being alone.’ On Monday, about 2 o’clock, the prisoner went to the Reindeer and saw Mrs Swann, the landlady. She said to him, ‘What a shocking thing about this poor young man; have you seen the body?’ The prisoner answered, ‘No, I would not see it for 50 pounds.’ ‘Why,’ she said, ‘you were his companion?’ The prisoner said, ‘He knew it on Friday night.’ She replied, ‘It is very queer you did not mention it here on Saturday, and that you did not go to the funeral.’ The prisoner also said Mr Barbour would lose 500 pounds by it, as he had lost 3,000 customers in Sheffield.
In the course of that day the prisoner purchased some chloroform at a druggist’s shop, representing he wanted it for his wife’s toothache. Mr Rayner hearing these stories about the prisoner caused him to be apprehended, and upon him were found the chloroform, 2 pounds 15 shillings in money, and a receipt for a post-office registered letter, bearing the date September 3, for 2 pounds, addressed to Mr John Barbour, Bowness, near Carlisle. He was at this time out of employment, and had received no money from M’Cormick. He also told Mr Rayner that the deceased Robison had given him his pack to take care of when he parted from him. Mrs Swann, on being recalled, stated that she had changed the prisoner two sovereigns for 2 pounds’ worth of silver on Friday, the 3rd of September, which she saw him place into a slit card and enclose in a letter. The clothes of the murdered man were produced, and this closed the case for the prosecution.
It now being 5 o’clock, on the application of Mr Serjeant Wilkins, which his Lordship said in such a case he could not resist, the hearing of the prisoner’s defence was adjourned till to-morrow.
DEC. 22
This morning the trial of James Barbour was resumed at 9 o’clock. Mr Serjeant Wilkins proceeded to address the jury for the defence. He implored them to banish all prejudice from their minds, and to consider the facts of the case with impartiality like reasoning men. The evidence was entirely circumstantial; and so far from that being less likely to mislead than direct evidence, as submitted to them by the learned counsel for the prosecution, he submitted that there was nothing from which men drew such different conclusions as from circumstantial evidence. The miracles of our Saviour, which led some to believe him to be God, had induced others to believe him to be possessed with a demon. From the same facts in history Hume and Lingard had drawn opposite conclusions. What motive was there for the prisoner to commit the crime imputed to him? He and the deceased were friends and companions, and the prisoner was showing him good offices on the very day of the murder. It was suggested that robbery was the motive. But the little money the deceased had upon him could be no inducement to the prisoner for the commission of such a crime, because he was not without means. He was offering to sell his debts for 30 pounds, and was spending money freely before the murder. It was easy for him to have obliterated the private marks from the drapery goods in the pack if his object was to steal them. It was suggested that Hind and Corbett might be mistaken as to the prisoner’s identity when passing through the fields with the deceased. If not mistaken, he contended it was impossible for the prisoner to have induced the deceased to leave the footpath 370 yards, to have committed the murder, and to have got back to the Royal Standard public house by 4 o’clock. Corbett speaking of the time when he met the prisoner and the deceased being half-past 3, and it was in evidence that it took 25 minutes to walk quickly from the place where the body was found to the Royal Standard inn. For what purpose had the deceased gone into the field? The prisoner had said, ‘He thought there was a woman in the case.’ What did the jury think? The song books found on the deceased contained immoral songs. The man who carried such books in his pocket would be capable of other immoralities, and he suggested that what the prisoner had said, that ‘the deceased had given him the pack to take care of for him’, was true, as it was also with regard to the watch, while the deceased crossed from the pathway into the field with some woman for an immoral purpose. The state of the ground where the body was found showed that a violent struggle had taken place. Was it likely that the prisoner alone – he not having a scratch or a spot of blood on him – could have been engaged in that struggle, the evidence being that the deceased ‘was able to do for two such as him’? He suggested that in attendance upon the woman there had been – what was common enough – men lurking near ready to commit violence, and that the murder had been committed by more than one man. The learned counsel then went through the evidence with great skill and power, and implored the jury, as they hoped for their own peace of mind hereafter, not to be led to a conclusion that the prisoner was guilty by facts which, he submitted, were not conclusive. He who is the arbiter of all issues would direct them to a merciful and to a right judgement.
His Lordship then proceeded to sum up the evidence. He thought it right to admonish the jury against being led by the very powerful address they had just heard to do injustice. They had been cautioned in most impressive, and almost awful, terms to consider the consequences to the prisoner of a verdict of guilty if they should be mistaken in their view. He was bound to tell them upon his oath, as the jury were upon theirs, that these were not the considerations which ought to lead them in the performance of their duty. They were to find their verdict according to the evidence; and his advice to them was to do their duty fearing God, and to have regard to the consequences. He did not agree with those passages in the books which placed circumstantial and direct evidence in opposing scales. Each must rest on its own circumstances. In some cases circumstantial evidence was conclusive; in others, direct evidence. So, on the other hand, circumstantial evidence sometimes fell short of proof, just as direct evidence did. They must satisfy their minds that each particular fact sworn to was well founded, and draw from the facts so proved the deductions which they ought naturally to draw from them. His Lordship then, in a very clear and able manner, went through the whole of the evidence.
The jury retired, and after an absence of a quarter of an hour returned with a verdict of Guilty. The usual proclamation having been made, and the prisoner having been called upon to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon him, his Lordship, having put on the black cap, proceeded to pass on him the dreadful sentence of the law. He said, the prisoner had had the advantage of being defended with unrivalled ability, but the decision to which the jury had arrived had his entire concurrence. The prisoner had been found guilty of a most savage and barbarous murder, unexampled in his experience. In the midst of youth and health and thoughtlessness he had suddenly and treacherously taken the life of his companion. To the prisoner the law would be more merciful than he had been to his friend. Opportunity for prayer and repentance would be afforded to him; and he implored him to avail himself, during the few days he had yet to live, of the religious consolation which would be provided for him. His Lordship then passed the awful sentence in the usual form.
The prisoner, who throughout the trial had preserved a sullen unmoved expression, except by a slight paleness which overspread his face on hearing the verdict, showed no symptom of feeling whatever. Immediately after his Lordship had concluded passing sentence he said, ‘Thank you, my Lord, I am innocent.’
An appeal against the conviction was made to the Home Secretary, Lord Palmerston. All the while Barbour claimed that he was innocent and that George M’Cormick was the man responsible for killing Robison. The appeal delayed his scheduled execution by one week, but it did no good. Shortly before being led to the gallows, Barbour finally admitted he had murdered Robison, and absolved M’Cormick of any involvement. At noon on January 15, 1853, exactly one week after the execution of Alfred Waddington for an equally dastardly murder committed less than a mile from where Barbour’s crime took place, James Barbour was hanged from the same gallows. Despite heavy rain, four thousand people witnessed the bolt being drawn, though it took a while as the executioner, an old man, had difficulty doing so and needed assistance. Barbour shouted, ‘Lord, have mercy on my soul’ as he awaited his fate. His body was left hanging for an hour before being buried in the same grave as Alfred Waddington.


The Times, Aug 20, 1852; pg. 6; Issue 21199; col F

The Times, Aug 21, 1852; pg.56; Issue 21200; col F

The Times, Feb 25, 1853; pg. 7; Issue 21361;; col C - (Footnote to the Waddington Case)

Reynolds Newspaper dated August 22nd 1852

The Leeds Mercury dated 21st August 1852

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