Author Archives: Maria


On Monday 7th May 1888, after all the evidence was given the case for the prosecution  of Dr. Burke closed at 12.10 pm.

Mr. West summed up the case for the prosecution as below:

The prosecution pretty much proclaimed that the shooting of his daughter was a willful act, and drunkenness was not an excuse.

The defense took that stance that Dr. Burke did not set out to kill his daughter. His judgement was impaired by the amount of alcohol he had taken that day. Mr Mellor pointed out that whatever went on between him and his wife was not taken into consideration as a wife could not testify against her husband, so her side of the story would never be known. The letter was the only indication of their relationship, which was under pressure from Dr. Burke’s drinking. But at the time of the shooting she was back living with him again, after leaving him and temporarily living with her sister. In fact they were on good terms right up to the right before the shooting, when Mrs. Burke came rushing out of the room and summons a police officer and telling him to go to the room her husband and daughter were in. Then two shots were fired.

It was pointed out that Dr. Burke might have thought that someone was coming in to take the pistol from him pulled it out and it went off by accident, shooting his daughter by accident.

Mr. Mellor’s speech went on of a half an hour, concluded that if the death of the child was not by pure accident it certainly was through negligence and certainly not willful.

The judge noted that it was unclear when exactly the shot was fired or whether it was a case of accidental shooting by a man who, despite having taken quite a quantity of alcohol was responsible for his actions

Sheffield Independent 07 May 1888

The Trial of Dr. Burke at the Leeds Assizes (2)

The above excerpt taken from his trial at the Leeds Assizes, was the understanding of Dr. Burke’s drink problem at the time.

It was never brought up in court that mental health issues ran in his mother’s family or that for a time he was a member of the Good Templars, an organisation that was strongly opposed to the use of alcohol.

The Order of Good Templars is a great international brotherhood, based on the practice of Total Abstinence from intoxicating drinks. We derive the name of Templars from our mission in the great crusade against intemperance.

Dr. Burke joined the fraternity perhaps in a bit to end his drinking. He knew that he had a problem, but was helpless in the face of it. His alcoholism coupled with a less than ideal home situation, plus the fact that his wife left him on many occasions in an era, when nobody left anyone else was enough to send him over the edge. But it did not explain why he pulled the gun on his beloved daughter.

The doctor carried a gun for protection, which was not unusual, especially if he was called out at night to an area that was described in court as “wild country”. He did not carry it especially to do harm to anyone on the fateful night. Somehow on February 4th 1888 two bullets were discharged, one lodged in the chest of nine year old causing her death, the second in his own at his own hands. The second, perhaps a suicide attempt grazed his chest and only caused a flesh would. It did not end his life there and then.

When Mr. John Blackburn, surgeon of Barnsley Hospital, where Dr. Burke was treated after the shooting, was cross examined. He was more of less vague and noncommittal, neither helping or hampering the doctor’s case.

Sheffield Evening Telegraph 05 May 1888


The Trial of Dr. Burke at the Leeds Assizes (1)

On this day 130 years ago Dr. Burke found himself in the dock again, this time at the Leeds Assizes. His previous hearing at Barnsley found him guilty of the willful murder of his nine year old daughter Aileen. He was granted a second hearing because of the delicate nature of the case. He was not granted any special clemency, for the loss of his daughter  and had the agony of waiting more than a month for what he probably knew delivered a guilty verdict.

In 1856, judges of the Central Criminal Court were also given the right to hear cases outside the court’s ordinary jurisdiction, to ensure a fair trial where local prejudice existed or when it could offer an early trial and so avoid the delay involved in waiting for the next assizes.

The second hearing didn’t attract as many of the public as the previous. It was held in a distance from Barnsley and too far for locals to travel in those days. It still attracted media attention, appearing in the local and national and some international newspapers. It was covered by some Irish newspapers but not in depth, sparing Emily and her siblings the anguish of being confronted by their half-brother’s misdemeanor daily.

Sheffield Evening Telegraph 05 May 1888

The Assizes at Leeds

Emily’s brother, Dr. William Burke was found guilty at the district court at Barnsley, Yorkshire. He was sent to be tried further at the Leeds Assizes. His was one of many cases that the assailants were accused of murder. Living in the Victorian Era the punishment by society was harsh and by the law, the death penalty.

In the case of Emily’s brother, who was a doctor and considered to hold a superior position, he was judged more harshly than those in with a lesser social standing. But his alcohol addiction did not obey the same rule.

His was one many murder cases of that particular year, in the local area of Barnsley, Yorkshire.

Sheffield Independent 02 May 1888