Sentence Commuted

No doubt the intervention of medics and the Church helped Dr. Burke’s case greatly. His sentence was commuted from the death sentence to life in prison. At the same time as Dr. Burke was on trial for the murder of his daughter, so was a man called William Richardson for the murder of another man. Richardson, who also gained public sympathy did not have the weight of the church or Doctors behind him hanged. It must have come as blow to Dr. Burke as he also spoke out against Richardson’s sentence.

Hi fellow medics, “after careful consideration” came to the conclusion that his action was that of a “drunken lunatic”, “without ‘malice aforethought'”, and not of a murderer. Six months later his name was “erased’ from the Register.

“Mr Burke’s kindness and charity to the poor were warmly praised…”

As Richardson hanged and Dr. Burke reprieved, there was great public outrage in Monk Bretton and the surrounding villages, the home of both men. It seemed unfair that Richardson suffered the full penalty of the law, where Dr. Burke was commuted to life in prison, advised by the Home Secretary to her Majesty, Queen Victoria. It did not seem fair to the locals that Dr. Burke was spared, due to his higher position in society to Richardson who hung. It might have been a cold comfort to him that his wife and remaining child did not have to suffer the stigma attached to the relatives of the executed. His wife, Katherine Jane Burke with her young son left Monk Bretton and went to live with relatives, far away from constant reminders of their loss.


Sheffield Independent 19 May 1888

Marshall, John. “General Council Of Medical Education And Registration. Session 1888.” The British Medical Journal, vol. 2, no. 1457, 1888, pp. 1229–1232. JSTOR,

Huddersfield Daily Examiner 02 June 1888