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