In one moment of my breath I am extolling the arrival of yet another summer and seemingly in the next, I am discovering that the combine harvesters are tearing through the fields of ripe golden corn which surround my town and rushing the current crop off to market. Summer this year has been kind to the farmers and gardeners alike with plenty of rain to get things going, followed by more than our average allocation of warm and sunny days to ripen the crop. Everything is early once more, with reports of large amounts of fruit on the trees and the blackberry brambles growing wild and uncontrolled in the hedgerows are promising heavy stems to draw the blood from our fingers once more. The only thing around here which has not been producing, is my blog, but I always use the outside pleasures which summer usually provides as an excuse – or reason – to vacate my computer in the pecking order of domestic priorities. Anyway, let me get on with things.
Some time ago whilst trawling the archives of my local newspapers, I was surprised to come across an account of a serious incident which had touched upon a member of my wife’s antecedent family in the small village of Somerby, some 4 or 5 miles to the south of Melton Mowbray. It seems that in the early months of 1883 a sad case of unrequited love was destined to suffer a violent denouement one Saturday morning, when the male of the species arrived in the village armed with a pistol and apparently intent on carrying out his earlier threats to take a particular young lady’s life. The gun was indeed fired, a woman being hit and sharp knives were wielded in a dramatic fight at the local butcher’s shop before the miscreant was overpowered and the local police arrived in good time to effect an arrest.
The young lady rejecting a prior promise of marriage – at great risk to her life seemingly – was local lass Elizabeth Freeman – a great-grandmother of my wife and grandmother of her mother. Born in 1915 – and died in 2015! I enquired of my mother-in-law as to what knowledge she had of the very public incident at Somerby in 1883 involving her grandmother, but she asserted that she had never been made aware of such an occurrence and that it was as much a surprise for her as it had been for me on its resurrection from an old newspaper all these 135 years later.
Entranced as I frequently am by those long forgotten reporters of Victorian times who wrote such wonderful copy for their editors and the general public, I can best present the story verbatim and as it appeared at the time in the Melton Mowbray Mercury.
(Re-printed from the ‘Melton Mowbray Mercury, February 8th 1883)
ALLEGED ATTEMPTED DOUBLE MURDER AT SOMERBY.
A W O M A N S H O T.
The usually quiet village of Somerby was on Saturday thrown into a state of the wildest excitement by an occurrence which nearly ended in a tragedy, a woman named Mrs Sarah Freeman having been shot through the back. The principal actor in this startling affair is a determined-looking fellow named Edward Hotchkin, about 37 years of age. He is a native of Somerby, and, joining the army, came at intervals on furlough to visit Somerby, and on these occasions paid attention to a respectable young woman named Freeman. Since his discharge from the army, and particularly during the past six months, his visits to Somerby have been frequent, and his attentions to the young woman, earnest and unyielding. There was, however, a considerable disparity of age. And this chiefly, with other personal considerations, induced the young woman to reject his advances and refuse to see him at all. The mother was also uncompromisingly opposed to the marriage – a fact which Hotchkin knew and resented. Enraged at the circumstances, Hotchkin purchased a small plated pocket pistol, single barrel, and a knife with a blade four inches in length – a very formidable-looking weapon, and then on Friday night sent a note to Miss Freeman, saying that he wished to see her very particularly, but fortunately she took no notice of the note. On the following day, however (Saturday), about eleven o’clock, he proceeded armed to Miss Freeman’s house, and demanding admission. Mrs Freeman, noticing his coming, bolted the door, and refused to admit him. He made such efforts, however, to break open the door that Mrs Freeman slipped out another way to fetch the police; but she had only reached the gate, when Hotchkin overtook her, and deliberately shot her through the back, the bullet lodging under the front ribs, whence it was subsequently extracted by a medical man. Hotchkin then drew his knife out, and while opening it, Mrs Freeman effected her escape into Mr Peake’s, a butcher’s shop, which was near at hand. Thither Hotchkin pursued her, but his way was barred by Mr Peake, a powerful man. Without a moment’s hesitation, Hotchkin sprang at him with the knife and attempted to stab him, but Peake seized the arm holding the knife, upon which the man adroitly seized it with his left hand, and cut him slightly on the chin, and tore his coat. Mr Peake then grasped him by back of the neck collar, and swinging him round threatened to hoist him up by a rope and hang him where he stood if he did not drop the knife. This he did, and Mr Peake secured the man and handed him over to the police. The prisoner was brought before the Earl of Wilton on Saturday evening, and remanded till Tuesday.
(Thursday, February 15th, 1883)
PRISONER BEFORE THE MAGISTRATES
This Case has excited the greatest consternation, and fresh interest was awakened on Tuesday when the prisoner was brought before the magistrates at Melton Mowbray. The court was crowded to excess, and large numbers congregated outside. The presiding magistrates were E. A. Paget, Esq. (chairman), Rev. J. M. Lakin, Captain Stephen, Captain Ashton, and C. W. Chaplin and L. Duncan, Esqs. The proceedings were merely of a formal character. – Edward Hotchkin, the prisoner, described as a labourer, was charged with attempting to murder Mrs Sarah Freeman, and also with inflicting grievous bodily harm on Thomas Peake, butcher, at Somerby, on the 3rd inst. P.C. Dobney deposed to apprehending prisoner and finding on him a pistol, six cartridges, and two knives. Mrs Freeman was not sufficiently recovered to appear. – Superintendent Goodman applied for a remand in order to produce witnesses, and prisoner was formally remanded for a week.
The following is a fuller report of the desperate attack of Saturday. Edward Hotchkin, the prisoner, was until three months ago in the army. His last address was 7, Cedar-road, Highfields, Leicester, and his age is given as 36. He was paying addresses to Elizabeth Freeman, a girl of about 20 years of age, living with her mother at Somerby. She, however, declined his addresses, and avoided him. On Friday he wrote to her, asking her to meet him on that day; but she did not go. On the Saturday, in the forenoon, Hotchkin went to Mrs Freeman’s house, and inquired for the girl. The mother said her daughter had gone to the house of a person named Smith, and prisoner left. He, however, shortly returned, and Mrs Freeman, seeing him coming, bolted the door. After trying the door, prisoner went to the back of the house, and on his way broke the window of a neighbouring house, apologising by saying that he had mistaken the house. Mrs. Freeman being alarmed went to fetch a policeman, when prisoner ran after her, and coming up to her he put his hand on her shoulder and fired a pistol, shooting her in the back. She exclaimed, “I am shot,” and staggered into the shop of Mr. Peake, butcher, where she repeated the exclamation. Prisoner then drew a large clasp knife, having a sharp blade four inches long when Mr Peak confronted him, and a desperate struggle ensued. Prisoner slashed at Peak’s throat with the knife, and cut him slightly under the chin. Peak then closed with his assailant, and turned him round; but Hotchkin shifted the knife from his right hand to the left, and cut Peak across the right arm, piercing the coat and shirt, and inflicting a cut three inches long. Mr Peak then managed to get behind the prisoner, who half turned to stab him in the body; but Peak had then got him by the throat, and threatened to strangle him instantly if he did not drop the knife. Hotchkin cried “Don’t strangle me; I have dropped it.” Peak then called for the police, and P.C. Dobney arriving on the scene, prisoner was soon secured. In his possession was found a new breech-loading pistol, recently discharged, six ball cartridges, and two knives. Prisoner, on being charged with the attempted murder of Mrs Freeman, said, “I am sorry I have not killed her.” In the meantime Dr. Jackson was called to attend to Mrs. Freeman, and found that the bullet had struck her under the left shoulder, and lodged in the left breast. He succeeded in extracting the bullet, and the patient is progressing favourably.
THE ATTEMPTED DOUBLE MURDER AT SOMERBY.
PRISONER BEFORE THE MAGISTRATES.
At the Melton Police-court on Tuesday, before the Rev. J. M. Lakin, Capt. Ashton, and A. L. Norman, Esq., Edward Hotchkin, of Leicester, was charged on remand with attempting to murder Mrs. Freeman, of Somerby, on February 3rd. Much interest was taken in the proceedings, the court being crowded. Mrs Freeman, whose arm was in a sling, but who gave her evidence very clearly, was accommodated with a seat during the hearing. The prisoner is an intelligent and respectable-looking man, and avoided by all means meeting the gaze of Miss Freeman whilst she gave her evidence. Mr. Rowlatt (Freer, Blunt and Rowlatt, Leicester) appeared to prosecute on behalf of the Clerk of the Peace, and the prisoner was undefended. In opening the case Mr Rowlatt remarked that the facts were very simple. The prisoner, there was no doubt, went to Somerby with the intention of killing Mrs. Freeman’s daughter, but was unable to see her, and afterwards fired a shot which struck Mrs. Freeman. The fact that he had a felonious intention would have made the crime one of murder had the shot proved fatal, whether he shot the prosecutrix by accident or not. If the bench were of the opinion that he fired the shot which wounded Mrs. Freeman he would be guilty of attempted murder. There was another case arising out of this, in which the prisoner was charged with unlawfully wounding Mr. Thomas Peake, a butcher, but that was entirely distinct.
Mrs Sarah Freeman said she was the wife of Saml. Freeman, and lived at Somerby. She had living with her two sons, Joseph and Harry. About half-past nine on Saturday morning, the 3rd February, prisoner came to the house and knocked the door. Witness opened it and he said “Good morning.” He then walked in, saying “I have called to see Liz, to bid her good-bye.” Elizabeth was her daughter, and she had for four years been intimate with the prisoner. Their Acquaintance was broken off last November. Witness told him that her daughter was not in, and that he could not see her. He asked where she was, and witness replied that she slept at Mr Smiths on the previous night. He said,” Of course I don’t wish to have any further correspondence with Liz, but I’m going away in a day or two, and wish to see her to bid her good-bye.” Witness said he had done that three months since, to which he replied, “She has a brooch and likeness of mine, and I must see her as I want them.” Witness told him that she had not got them by her, but if he had written to her daughter she would have given them up. This conversation took place in the house, and at its close prisoner left. About half an hour afterwards he came back, but the door was then bolted. Witness heard him try the door and then go away again. Twenty minutes later he again returned, and found the door still bolted. He tried to open it, and then went round the back. Five minutes afterwards witness went out at the back door and took the key with her. She was going to Mr Peake’s. She had gone about twenty yards up the lane when the prisoner came up to her, put his hand on her right shoulder, and put something against her side. She heard the report of a pistol and felt a shot. She said, “Oh! You have shot me.” He replied, “No, I have not; but I meant to.” Witness ran into Mr Peake’s shop, cried out “Oh, Mr Peake, he has shot me,” and then fell down. Prisoner was following, but Mr Peake stopped him. Prisoner had not been living at Somerby during the past year, but came there the day before this occurrence. She had been attended by Dr. Jackson, of Sileby, since the occurrence.
Prisoner, in reply to the Bench, said he had no questions to ask the witness.
Ann Underwood, wife of Jos. Underwood, of Somerby, said her house was near that of the last witness. Between nine and ten o’clock on Saturday, the 3rd inst., she saw prisoner going towards Mrs. Freeman’s house. She was then herself in Mrs. Freeman’s. Prisoner tried the door, which witness had bolted, and then went away for about 20 minutes. After that prisoner returned and again tried the door, and then looked into the windows. After that went to a neighbour’s house, and broke one of the windows. Witness was at that time out of the house, and she went back to tell Mrs. Freeman, whom she found locking the door. She then saw prisoner going into the garden towards the door of Mrs. Freeman’s house. He turned round and followed Mrs. Freeman for about 20 yards up the lane. Witness then saw him with one hand on her shoulder and another at her side. At the same time she heard the report of a pistol, and Mrs Freeman cried out, “You have shot me.”
Prisoner declined to ask the witness any questions.
Miss Elizabeth Freeman, a young woman of attractive appearance, daughter of the prosecutrix, said that up to November last she kept company with the prisoner. In that month she was living in Cottesmore, and prisoner visited her there. The engagement was then broken off. Shortly after that she received a letter from the prisoner, which she destroyed as soon as she read it. Its contents were of a threatening character, the writer of it said,” If I ever come across you I will cut your throat. If you do not have me you shall have nobody else.” Witness had no doubt about the handwriting being that of the prisoner, though the letter was not dated. It bore the signature “T. E. H.,” prisoner’s names being Tycho Edward Hotchkin. Witness heard nothing more of prisoner from that time until Friday, the 2nd of the present month, when she was living at Somerby. On the evening of that day she had another letter handed to her by her brother Harry. That she also destroyed. It was signed in the prisoner’s full name. In the letter he asked her to meet him at the gate that evening, as he was going to America in a few days, and wished to say good-bye. She received it about half-past six in the evening, but did not go to meet the prisoner. She slept that evening at Mr Smith’s, some distance off, going there about seven o’clock. She felt afraid, and her friends would not let her stay at home that night in consequence. About half past nine next morning witness saw prisoner come up to her father’s house, and heard him say “Good morning” to her mother, and ask to see witness. Some conversation ensued, and prisoner then went away. Witness remained at the house until he came back, and saw him look into the windows. He afterwards tried the door again, and, finding it locked, went away. Witness’s mother left immediately after and locked the door. Prisoner ran after her mother into the lane, and shortly afterwards witness heard the report of the pistol and her mother say, “You have shot me.”
By prisoner: How long do you say it was after you left Cottesmore before you had a threatening letter? Three weeks.
Prisoner: I wish it to be entered that I make a protest that the evidence of the witness is disgracefully false as regards a threatening letter. No such letter was ever written by me. I have no other question to ask her.
By Mr. Rowlatt: Witness had no doubt about the handwriting of the prisoner.
Thomas Peake, butcher, of Somerby, said that Mrs. Freeman ran into his shop between 10 and 11 o’clock on the morning in question, followed by the prisoner. She said she was shot. Witness was standing at his door, and prevented prisoner from entering the shop. Witness asked him what he had done to the woman, and the reply was, “You have nothing to do with what I am going to do.” Witness said “I am afraid I must have something to do with it.” Prisoner immediately raised his right hand, in which he had the knife produced, open. He advanced towards witness, who seized his right arm with both hands. Prisoner struggled, and in the scuffle struck at witness’s face with the knife. He was slightly cut on the chin. Prisoner then passed the knife from his right hand to his left, and witness stepped behind him and took hold of his left arm above the elbow. His coat and shirt were penetrated by the knife, but the flesh was not injured. Prisoner then passed the knife back again to his left hand, and attempted to give witness a back-handed stab in the body. Witness took hold of him by the necktie and gave him a jerk, which threw him down on his back. Witness dragged him a few yards, and said he would strangle him if he did not drop the knife. Prisoner replied, “Don’t strangle me, I will drop the knife.” Mrs. Felstead then shouted out, “I have got the knife.” Witness saw it on the ground at that time. He held prisoner until assistance came, and he was handed over to the police.
Prisoner had no questions to ask the witness.
Jane Felstead, wife of Wm. North Felstead, of Somerby, deposed to seeing prisoner and the last witness struggling by Mr. Peake’s shop door on the 3rd instant. Witness picked up the knife produced, which she found on the ground. Mr. Peake said to her, “Pick up that knife,” and she did so.
The knife was apparently a new one, with a spring clasp, the blade measuring about six inches in length.
P.C. Dobney, of Somerby, said he received information about the outrage about eleven o’clock on the Saturday morning. He went to Church-lane, near Mr. Peake’s, and found prisoner on the ground surrounded by a crowd. He searched him, and found the pistol produced in his coat pocket. The pistol had recently been discharged, and contained an empty cartridge. He found also six perfect ball cartridges to fit the pistol, and a knife in his pocket. Witness apprehended the prisoner, and charged him with shooting Elizabeth Freeman and attempting to murder her. He replied, “I wish I had killed her.” Witness took prisoner to his house and there cautioned him that if he made any statement it would be repeated in evidence. He first asked if Mr. Peake was hurt, and witness replied that he thought not. Prisoner said, “I am very sorry if I hurt him, but was very excited at the time. I went down with the intention of shooting Liz. (Sensation.) I took the knife with me to defend myself in case Sam or Joe was at home. I will do for Liz if it is five years first.” Afterwards he added, “I am sorry I have not killed Mrs Freeman, as she is a very bad woman, and behaved very bad to my aunt. I bought the pistol in London some time since, and gave 4s. for it. I bought it with the intention of shooting myself. I went out one morning practising taking aim, and found it would send a bullet through a three inch oak plank.” Witness then took prisoner to the Melton Police Station.
Mr J. Jackson, a surgeon, of Somerby, who attended Mrs Freeman on Saturday morning, said he found her suffering from nervous shock, and learned that she had been recently shot. He examined her, and found a gunshot wound on the left side, at the back of the chest. A ball had entered near the fifth rib, but had not penetrated the cavity of the chest. The ball travelled towards the front, and witness extracted it about six inches from its entrance. He produced the ball, which was about the size of a horse bean. The pistol must have been fired at close quarters, and the injury might have been caused by the pistol produced.
By the Bench: He understood that some of Mrs. Freeman’s garments were burned close by the wound.
This being the case for the prosecution.
Prisoner, in reply to the usual question from the bench, said that he wished to say nothing in addition to what he had stated about the witness’s evidence as to receiving a threatening letter from him being false.
Mr. Marsh (magistrate’s clerk): Have you any witnesses to call? I have none now. I don’t know what I may have.
Prisoner was then further charged with cutting and wounding Thomas Peake with a knife with intent to do him grievous bodily harm on Feb, 3. – Mr. Rowlatt again prosecuted.
The evidence given by Mr. Peake and Mrs. Felstead having been read over.
P.C. Dobney said he was called to Mr. Peake’s residence on the morning in question, and in prisoner’s presence Mr. Peake said that he had been stabbed by prisoner. Prosecutor’s face was bleeding at the time.
Prisoner was then committed for trial at the Assizes on both charges.
Tycho Edward Hotchkin
I am assured that the name ‘Tycho’ is derived from the Greek name Tychon and that its meaning is, ‘hitting the mark.’ I mention this mainly due to its very unusual and rare appearance. Not a lot is known of the man himself, apart from the biographical fact that he was born in 1845 in Neville Street, Lambeth, London – within sight of the Oval Cricket Ground – the only child of Matthew and Ann (Adcock) Hotchkin (both born in 1820 and married in Melton Mowbray in 1843). Interestingly, Matthew who worked as a carman (operator of horse drawn vehicles, a van driver in today’s parlance), was born in Rutland where some of his family were resident; this might have explained his Tycho’s presence there in 1883 and his nemesis, Elizabeth.
I have found scant evidence of the life of Tycho apart from what the court was told at his trial. His very early life was spent in the back streets of Kennington, London but it seems that his father died at a very early age, possibly in the 1850s when he was less that 40 years of age. His mother was to return to the Midlands and when he was of age, Tycho was to join the army. The last mention that I have discovered about his life after serving his seven years probably working at the notorious tread-mill in Leicester prison, was his presence in the 1891 Census which shows him officially as a ‘pauper’ and back in Lambeth as a resident of the Union Workhouse there. It is thought that he died before the turn of the century when he would have been about 55 years of age.
Puzzling to me is this web site
– which links the Hotchkin family of Rutland with the slavery trade of Georgian times. I have not pursued this link to any extent, but I believe that with the family name being fairly uncommon, that Tycho might well have been a part of the clan. Interesting.
The Freeman Family
The victim of the violent domestic incident in Somerby was clearly intended to be (Sarah) Elizabeth Freeman, but as fate took its turn it was to be her mother Sarah who received the would-be assassin’s bullet and withstood what must have been a terrifying ordeal. At 19 years of age, Elizabeth was the eldest daughter of the seven children born to Samuel Freeman and Sarah (Newton). In the normal pattern of the family arrangements at that time, ‘Lizzie’ would have been residing at her place of employment as a live-in domestic servant to a local family, but being for-warned of a visitation from her ‘jilted’ boy-friend that weekend, she had scurried the previous night to the safety of a neighbours home and the protection of her family.
In the aftermath of those harrowing events of 1883 – at a time when William Ewart Gladstone was the Liberal Prime Minister – Lizzie Freeman would get on with her life. It was on the 28th August 1887 at St Margaret’s church in Leicester, that she would marry George Durrance, a labourer of Burton Lazars near to Melton Mowbray and breaking all records in the family, the couple would, over the following 21 years, produce 14 children in total of whom 10 would survive to adulthood. Profligate to say the least and a record in my 2000 strong family tree! Their first-born daughter, Elizabeth Ann Durrance would produce one daughter of her own in 1915 and that lady is my mother-in-law!
When I take into account the impassioned behaviour of this rejected and desperate young man and his seemingly reckless crime passionelle, I cannot help but wonder how differently my life might have evolved had he not failed in his mission.
AND FINALLY …
By way of a bonus, I bring you another little gem which I came across in an old newspaper recently. I copied this small ‘filler’ from the Nottingham Evening Post of Saturday, January 7th 1899.
AN INFIRMARY SCANDAL
STRANGE DEATH-BED SCENE.
Dr. Wynn Westcott held an enquiry at the Bethnal Green Coroners Court yesterday respecting the death of James Blake, aged 42 years, a cork-cutter, lately residing at 193 Globe Road, Bethnal Green, who died in the parish infirmary.
Dr George Gatenby, the assistant medical officer, stated that death was due to syncope and pleuro-pneumonia.
The Widow: May I make a complaint to you doctor?
The Coroner: What is it you want to say?
The Widow: When I was sent for to see my husband die I went at once, and whilst I was giving him a drink of milk I was grossly insulted.
The Coroner: In what way were you insulted?
The Widow: His head was on my breast as he drank the milk, and a saucy young monkey, who sat on a bed opposite, said to me. “I wouldn’t mind being in his place even if I died tomorrow.”
A Juror: Scandalous!
The Coroner: Who was the “saucy monkey” as you term him?
The Widow: A young fellow who was in there with the gout. He insulted me grossly, and passed many rude remarks. He also sang “Tonight I’ll be a widow in a cottage by the sea,” which he repeated four or five times. (Shame.)
A Juror: I consider it disgraceful for a man to act in such a manner: he ought to be reprimanded.
The Coroner: I quite agree with you that it was quite improper, but how are we to punish him?
Eventually it was decided that Dr. Gatenby should, on his return to the workhouse, lay the full facts before the medical superintendent, and also the Chairman of the Board of Guardians.
That’ll teach him! Don’t ask me what happened to him, but enjoy this link