Tag Archives: Emily M. Weddall

Dr. Burke vanishes from the news

Since February 1888 when Dr. Burke shot his daughter, his name was scarcely out of the news. For almost half the year one story of the sad affair made the local and national and some times the international news. The story was carried by some papers in his native Ireland but much less so than in the UK. Thankfully that was the case as it would have been very distressing for Emily and her siblings.

“Dr. Burke, the Monk Bretton murderer, was removed fro Wakefield Prison to Dartmoor on Thursday morning.”This short sentence was the finale in the sad chapter of the death of nine year old Oonah Burke at the hands of her father. What exactly happened that night will never be known as the only two people in the room when the gun went off was the victim and her severely intoxicated father.

After Dr. Burke’s trial, conviction, sentence and commute of the death penalty to life in imprisonment, the story still continued to take up column inches. After another man Richardson hanged for a similar crime and Dr. Burke was commuted the public were outraged. To most it was a case of class distinction between the educated Dr. Burke and the laborer, Richardson. Even the clergy had their take on the matter and sermons preaching on the weakness of the flesh. In Dr. Burke’s case drink. The preacher went on to say;

“Did they think Dr. Burke fresh from his college, full of high hope and promise, ever though the day would come when his hand would be stained with the blood of his darling child?” The crime was committed under the influence of strong drink. Backing it up with “wine is a mooker, strong drink is raging, and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.”  A proverb at the time, with a grain of truth in it. Rev. Dawkins in his sermon, was a lot kinder than the public, who at this stage were baying for Dr. Burke’s blood, causing his wife and young son, extended family, including Emily, who must have known some of the furor around the case much distress.

Anyone can guess how Dr. Burke felt, it is evident that he gave up the will to live and lingered on for over a year, when his body gave up and he died in prison just before he was set to be released. His wife lived for several more decades, staying with relatives, probably never haven recoved from the death of her daughter and the loss of her husband, no matter how badly things ended. On her gravestone she was named as “Wife of Dr. Burke.”

Leeds Times 21 July 1888
Barnsley Chronicle, etc. 16 June 1888

From the Pulpit

The shooting of Dr. Burke’s daughter was a big outrage his trial a bigger one and the commutation of the death penalty to life imprisonment caused the biggest public outcry of all three. The biggest issue with his reprieve was the fact that another man, Richardson who received the death penalty for a similar crime hanged. The difference between the two was class.

Around the same time as Dr. Burke shot his daughter there were two similar ‘crimes of passion’ as they were called at the time. It appeared that there was an epidemic, which there was but not one of murder but alcohol. All three assailants had alcohol in their system when they committed their crimes. It was also unusual that three murders took place in a small and relatively quiet area too. Back in Victorian Times it was not the norm, and caused huge furore, locally and nationally, so much so that the sad affair were preached about from the pulpit of many churches. Some of these sermons were printed in the newspapers. the one below by Rev. W. Dawking a Methodist minister in Barnsley.


Barnsley Chronicle Saturday June 9th 1888

Indignation Meeting at Monk Bretton

The cross at Monk Bretton, depicted above was the scene of a meeting held there in May 1888. The gathering of locals and was called in protest to the hanging of a man called Richardson, who was not granted the clemency that Dr. Burke was.The biggest issue of the crowd is that Dr. Burke because of his position received preferential treatment because of his position in society.  Richardson from a working class background was not so lucky and he hanged for his crime on the morning of 28th May 1888. Both prisoners were held at Armley Gaol, one walked to the gallows the other sat alone in his cell.

Sheffield Independent 29 May 1888
Sheffield Daily Telegraph 29 May 1888
Image: https://www.revolvy.com

Emily visits her brother in prison

In late May 1888 Emily crossed the Irish Sea, made her way to Leeds, Yorkshire to visit her half brother, William. Earlier that week he received a telegram from the home office re-spiting the death sentence. He expressed his gratitude, but was far from happy, not only had he the death of his daughter to morn and regret but that was not all he had to contend with.

Emily visit with her brother carried the news that their brother Richard was on his death bed. He had been suffering from chronic Brights Disease, an serious kidney ailment. At the time it wasn’t treatable and at the age of only twenty three it had all but consumed him. At the time of Emily’s visit he did not have long to live. At that time Emily was only nineteen, not fully an adult, but she was by no means a stranger to the hardships of life. In her short lifetime she had lost both parents and a niece, had stones thrown at her, had to flee her home and take refuge in a church vestry. Her half brother  suffered the same trials, in his early life too.

Leeds Times 26 May 1888



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