Tag Archives: Emily M. Weddall


The case of Dr. Burke began to be upheld as as model of intemperance. Details of his heavy drinking was beginning to be made public. It was not so much a case that he hid his regular intoxication from anyone as that would have been impossible. He even hired a locum doctor to treat his patients, while his drinking was at his heaviest.

His wife also fled with their two children when he was at his worst and would return again when he stopped for a time. It seemed to have been a regular cycle in their world in a time when it was rare a wife left her husband.

While sober he was a kind and affable man, good with his patients and was well liked by the local population in general. But he was powerless in the face of alcohol. In the medical directory of the time he cited that he was a member of the Good Templars, an organization that promoted abstinence from alcohol and other drugs. This was possibly a despreate bid to overcome his drinking.

IOGT was not the first group advocating a lifestyle free from alcohol and other drugs. There was a sporadic growth of such organizations in the early decades of the 19th century, particularly in North America, the United Kingdom and in several other parts of Europe.

Alcohol problems had become endemic in these parts of the world and were severely affecting the fabric of society by blighting families and causing poverty, misery and distress to children. Alcohol use was also seen as detrimental to the growth of commercialism and industrialization at the time.
The first seeds for what would become the global IOGT movement were sown in 1840 in Baltimore, USA, when six men decided to sign together a sobriety pledge. The movement that emerged from this act and their subsequent impact is best illustrated by no one less than Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States spoke to the movement’s meeting at Springfield, Illinois in 1842:


Tenby Observer 17 May 1888

19th Century Barnsley Murders (Wharncliffe True Crime) Paperback – Margaret Drinkall,1 Jul 2015



Dr. Burke’s Case and Public Outrage

No sooner had Dr. Burke been taken to Armly Gaol, to await his demise, when the letters campaigning for the lessening of his sentence of the death penalty,began to appear in the newspapers of the day.

It was also beginning to come out of his fragile mental state not just in the lead up to the fateful night but long beforehand. The letter, by his friends the local church wardens to the Leeds Mercury tells of his long term battle with alcohol, and how in it’s grip had reduced him to fits of weeping, unheard of in Victorian society.

The letter, revealing as it was for the time helped to make a case for the doctor. During the days that followed rallying against the harshness of his sentence began to take momentum.

Leeds Mercury 10 May 1888


Armley Gaol

“You have been convicted by the jury on overwhelming evidence of the crime of willful murder. You stand in that dock, an example where no such example was needed, of the awful effects of intemperance. You are a man, we are informed, of high education and great intelligence, but reduced for the time being by drinking to the level of the lowest and most worthless of human creatures. It is my most painful and most melancholy duty to pass upon you the sentence which the law prescribes for your offense.”

The above words spoken by Mr. Justice Mathew, the judge presiding over the case at the Leeds Assizes. Dr. Burke did not speak a word. Supported by two wardens he was escorted from the courthouse and on to Armly Gaol to await execution.

07 May 1888 – Sheffield Independent – Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England
File:Old Gate – HM Prison Leeds.jpg. From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository


Dr Burke cut a sorrowful figure when he appeared in the dock for his trial. As the newspaper article below states he had suffered terribly since the horrific death of his daughter. Emily’s brother stood accused of the murder of his daughter, Aileen aged only eight and his own attempted suicide, a crime at the time and remained so until 1961.

“From the middle of the 18th Century to the mid-20th Century there was growing tolerance and a softening of public attitudes towards suicide which was a reflection of, among other things, the secularisation of society and the emergence of the medical profession,” says Dr Wright, co-author of Histories of suicide: International perspectives on self-destruction in the modern world.

The Judge Mr. Williams who precised over the trial took the above more sympathetic attitude. It was bad enough that Dr. Burke delivered the shot that would leave his young daughter dead. From a modern point of view the man was not in his right mind, further evidence would prove so, but at that time it was not fully understood, although it was perceived to a degree.

Sheffield Evening Telegraph 26 March 1888

The Trial of Dr. Burke commences

A view of the town of Barnsley in the time of Dr. Burke

On March 27th 1888 the trial of Emily’s brother William, for the murder of his daughter  commences. Dr. Burke who was deemed medically fit for trial is taken to court in Barnsley. Far from fit he really was. Recovered from danger he may have been but mentally he was not really in any state to stand trial, but it was Victorian times and mental health was not considered then. Nonetheless he was brought to the the courthouse where outside a less than supportive crowd had gathered….

Sheffield Evening Telegraph 26 March 1888
Western Daily Press 27 March 1888
Illustrated London News 07 March 1857