Howdenshire History

George Smith & Thomas Duckels: Murder at Goole Grange?

Goole History > Goole People & Families > George Smith & Thomas Duckels

From the Goole & Marshland Gazette, November, 1862:


Death: Oct. 20th, at Goole Grange, aged 59, Mr Thomas Duckels, farm servant.



October 22 - an inquest was held on the body of Thomas Duckels, who was shot on the 20th by his master George Smith, of Potter Grange, and a verdict of "Manslaughter" returned. He was examined at the Court House on the 21st and 23rd, and on the 25th was committed to Wakefield House of Correction to take his trial for "Wilful murder." At the examination on the 25th, Mr Blanshard, instructed by Messrs Wilson, Goole, was for the prosecution, and Mr Pettingell of Hull for the prisoner, for whom great sympathy is felt in this district.

The following is the principal evidence :-

Sarah Martin deposed:- I am housekeeper to the prisoner. He has several times been queer in his mind, and Dr Johnstone has attended him. On Friday, October 17th, he again appeared depressed. He was in the habit of going out shooting. He went on the 18th. On Sunday, Dr Johnstone attended him, and he went to bed about nine o'clock. Thomas Duckels, the deceased, went with him, as he had been in the habit of sleeping with him ever since I went into Mr Smith's service. My master was up and down the house most of the night. I heard that he had in his possession a loaded revolver pistol, and tried to get it from him, but could not. After a while, Duckels succeeded and brought it to me and wished me to lock it up. I did so. About eight o'clock on Monday morning, I took the prisoner his breakfast to bed, and shortly after he came down and went into the front kitchen. I went and tried the doors of the room and found them all fast. I then looked in at one of the windows, and saw him sitting in a chair. I asked him to open the door, but he refused. I then went to the deceased, and told him master was locked up in the room. Deceased went and tried for some time to get him to open the door. He replied, "I want the revolver which has been taken from me during the night," and then he said he would open it. Deceased asked me for the revolver, and said, "I can get in if you will give it me." At first I refused, but at length fetched it. The deceased then went to the prisoner and said, "If you will let me in I will give you it." I went into the scullery where Charlotte Duckels and Martha England were washing. I had not been there long before I heard the report of a gun. I returned to the house, and on my way I met Duckels coming out with his hands on his side. He said, "Oh dear, oh dear, Mrs!" I assisted him to the scullery and sent for assistance. The room in which the prisoner was locked up is the room where he kept his guns and powder. I do not know whether the gun was loaded when he went into the room or not. Deceased was an old man and master was very fond of him. I went into the front kitchen, when Mr Samuel Smith, the prisoner's brother came in. No other person had been there before us. We saw the single-barrelled gun, now produced by Sergeant Greenwood. The ramrod was broken. Part of it was in the gun. I did not see the prisoner after the shot was fired, until he came home about one o'clock p.m. with his cousin George, a corn-miller, from Goole. The deceased died about three o'clock the same afternoon.

John Johnstone, M.D., deposed:- I am in practice in Goole. I was called in on Sunday, October 19th, to attend the prisoner. I found him suffering from delirium tremens. I have had to treat the prisoner on several occasions for the same complaint, and am quite satisfied that his disease has been brought on by excessive drinking. On Monday, the 20th, on my way to the prisoner, I met one of his servants, who told me that the prisoner had shot the deceased. When I arrived at his house I found deceased laid in the scullery, and bleeding from a wound in his side. I had him removed at once up-stairs, and, on examining him, I found a large lacerating wound in his right side, and part of his bowels protruding. I did all I could to effect his recovery.

George Smith, cousin of the prisoner, deposed:- Monday, October 20th, about ten o'clock, I was going to Goole Grange, when I met prisoner coming over Goole Bridge. He seemed to be in great haste. I asked him where he was going. He replied, "I am going to give myself up to the police, I have shot a man." I said, "Nothing of the sort," and walked with him to Doyle Street, to Mr Royston's public-house. We stayed there some time, and then I told the prisoner that I was going to his house, and requested him to return with me. In conversation with me the prisoner said that deceased was going to take the gun from him and it went off and shot deceased.

Mrs Harriet Royston, wife of Mr R. Royston, publican, Goole, deposed:- The prisoner entered her house on Monday morning last, in a very excited state, saying he had shot a man. She tried to calm him, but he still went on talking "that they had tried to take his gun from him, and that as he lay in bed he heard them talking below that if he did not die soon, they would throw him out of the window, and that when he got down stairs, there were two men walking about with guns in their hands." He kept saying, "It was a bad job," and that he did not mean to do it. He was so excited that she did not believe he knew what he was saying; he got some breakfast and then went away with his cousin George.

Charlotte Duckels, Martha England, Richard Burkill, son-in-law of the deceased, and Sergeant Greenwood, were also examined. Deceased made a deposition before he died, but prisoner's counsel objected to it being received, and at the close the prisoner was fully committed.




From the Goole & Marshland Gazette, January, 1863:



December 18 - George Smith was charged with the manslaughter of Thomas Duckels, at Goole, on the 20th of October last. Mr Blanshard, in stating the case, said that the prisoner was a respectable farmer at Goole Grange, and farmed about 400 acres of land under the Earl of Beverley. For some time previous to the 20th of October the prisoner had been suffering from delirium tremens, and on the 19th of that month he was so ill that Mr Johnstone, a medical gentleman, was called to attend upon him. He had a revolver, and paced from room to room in his house, and alarmed the inmates. Mrs Martin, the housekeeper, being afraid that he would either injure himself or others, with a laudable discretion, got the revolver from him.

On the 20th of October the prisoner rose from his bed about eight o'clock in the morning, and what was then uppermost in his mind was to get possession of the revolver. He went into the front room and locked himself in. Mrs Martin was alarmed lest something should happen to the prisoner, and she knocked at the door, asking for admittance, and the prisoner in reply said that he would let her in in a moment. In a minute or two afterwards, the door being still locked, Mrs Martin went outside of the house and looked in at the window. She saw the prisoner with his head leaning upon his hand. Mrs Martin again knocked at the door desiring admittance, and the prisoner answered as before - "I'll let you in in a moment." Mrs Martin however was not able to gain admittance into the room, and she therefore sent for the unfortunate deceased, Thomas Duckels, who was a favourite servant of the prisoner, believing that he would be able to prevail upon him to open the door.

Duckels had been in the service of the prisoner and his family for about thirty years, was a confidential servant, often slept with the prisoner, and his son-in-law also was foreman on the prisoner's farm. The deceased was sent for from the steam-house. He told the prisoner that he had got the revolver, and he was immediately admitted into the room. The report of fire-arms was heard almost instantly afterwards, and the deceased was found to have been shot. He came out of the room holding his arm by his side, and his clothes were on fire. The deceased was placed in a chair, and he appeared to be suffering greatly from the injury he had sustained. Mr Johnstone, surgeon, was sent for, and after seeing the deceased he ordered the poor man to be removed up-stairs. He was laid upon a mattress, and it was then discovered that in the front part of the abdomen there was a wound about the size of a half-crown piece, and the bowels protruded. Everything was done by Mr Johnstone, that his professional skill could suggest, but the deceased rapidly sank. There was no chance of saving his life, and he died at three o'clock in the afternoon.

Previous to his death, Mr Wells, a magistrate, saw the deceased, to hear any statement which the unfortunate man might be disposed to make. At that time the deceased was perfectly aware of his position, ejaculating, "My God, my Jesus, my Saviour," and other similar exclamations for a man to utter, who was desirous of making his peace with God, who he was so soon to meet. After stating that the deceased's account of the melancholy occurrence was taken down in writing in the regular way, the learned counsel read the dying declaration of the deceased, and it was as follows:- "No one was present. We were by our two selves. I opened the room door. He pointed the gun at me. I said, don't shoot. He said, I won't, come in. As soon as I got in he took up the gun. I slipped round and seized hold of the gun. I struggled with him. He pulled the trigger. I was standing in front of him with my hands held on the gun. I cannot say which part. I went into the room because he fastened himself up. We had tried the doors and found them fast. We were afraid he was going to do something with himself. That is all I know. He had been in a queer state of mind all the morning and all the night. It was George Smith with whom I struggled and who I describe as being in a queer state of mind."

In a minute or two after the deceased was shot the prisoner was seen coming out of the kitchen, and was observed to leave the house. At about a mile distant from his residence the prisoner was met by his cousin, a person of the same name as himself. His relative asked him where he was going, and he replied, "To deliver myself up to the police, I have shot a man." Smith, not believing this statement, said, "Nonsense," but the prisoner repeated that he had shot a man, remarking that Duckels tried to get the gun from him, and it went off accidentally.

These were the whole of the circumstances of the case, and it would be for the jury to say whether the prisoner pulled the trigger of the gun and caused the deceased's death, or whether the gun went off accidentally in the course of a struggle. By the latter view of the case the prisoner would be entitled to an Acquittal. The dying declaration of the deceased, however, showed that the prisoner pointed the gun at him, and pulled the trigger when he was standing in front of him.

Mrs Martin spoke of the moody state of mind of the prisoner and entered into detail of the circumstances which took place on the fatal morning when the deceased was shot. She also said that the ram-rod of the gun was broken, and that a portion of it still remained by the side of the barrel. The prisoner went out about nine o'clock, and was brought back about half-past eleven by his cousin, George Smith. In cross-examination the witness said that the prisoner was very much attached to the deceased, and had the greatest respect for him. The prisoner was fond of sporting, and went out shooting at times. On the Saturday before the occurrence, he, at her request, went out to shoot, for she thought in so doing his attention would be taken up, and his health improved. He returned from shooting that day, and seemed to be a great deal better.

Mrs Hannah Royston said the prisoner told her he had shot a man. She did not believe him, and said to him that he only thought so. The prisoner got his breakfast, and said that the shooting of the deceased was a very bad job. It was not done wilfully, but happened accidentally whilst the deceased was trying to take the gun from him.

Mr George Smith, the cousin of the prisoner, said that he saw him a little after ten o'clock. He was walking very fast, and told him he was going to deliver himself up, as he had shot Duckels. He added that Duckels went into the room to get the gun, and that in a struggle it went off.

Dr Johnstone, the surgeon who attended upon the deceased, said that the wound was the size of a florin, and that the bowels protruded. He sewed up the wound, gave the deceased stimulants, and ordered that he should be kept quiet. It was a hopeless case, and the deceased died at three o'clock in the afternoon.

Mr Wells, the committing magistrate, had known the prisoner from boyhood. He was a quiet
inoffensive man, particularly so.

Mr Seymour then addressed the jury for the prisoner. He said the real question at issue in this case was whether the prisoner pulled the trigger with the intention that the gun should be discharged, and if so, did he pull the trigger in the consciousness that the deceased would be shot. The learned counsel contended that the deceased had lost his life accidentally in the course of a struggle with the prisoner. The dying statement of the deceased ought to be received with caution, for a man giving testimony whilst suffering the greatest agony of pain, and being in a restless state and gradually sinking, was not so likely to give so correct an account as a person who was calm and collected in the witness box. All the facts proved that the melancholy affair was the result of an accident. The prisoner did not take aim, and when requested not to shoot he said he would not. There was no quarrel between the prisoner and the deceased, they were upon the best terms possible, and therefore there was no reason for supposing that Duckels was intentionally shot by the prisoner. The learned counsel again contended that the gun was discharged by accident, and called upon the jury to acquit the prisoner, who was a highly respectable farmer, and not brand him with the infamy which attached to an adverse verdict.

The learned Judge, in summing up, said if the jury should be of opinion the prisoner had pulled the trigger intending that the gun should go off, he would be guilty of an unlawful act, amounting to manslaughter. If the gun was discharged in the course of a struggle, the prisoner would be entitled to an acquittal.

The jury retired, and were absent for about a quarter of an hour, when they found a verdict of Not Guilty.




But a month later :-

From the Goole & Marshland Gazette, February 1863:

York, January 7 - Before W. Gray, Esq., Under-Sheriff. - Townhend v. Smith

A jury were empanelled to assess damages in an action for breach of promise of marriage, wherein judgement had been allowed to go by default. The plaintiff was Harriet Townhend, of Rawcliffe, and was represented by Mr J. Smith, who was instructed by Mr Chester, of Hull. The defendant, George Smith, resided at Goole Grange, and was represented by Mr S. D. Waddy, he being instructed by Mr Hind, of Howden. The damages were laid in the declaration at £500.

Mr Smith stated the case, from which it appeared that the defendant occupies a large farm near Goole, worth some £700 a year, and was consequently a man occupying a respectable position in society. About four or five years since, the plaintiff went to live with him as housekeeper, and remained in such capacity until January in last year. During the period mentioned the defendant seemed so satisfied with the plaintiff's character and disposition, that he offered her marriage, and the woman being nothing loth, it was arranged that the ceremony should take place in the November following. It was, however, postponed until January, 1862, and the 15th was fixed as the happy day. Cards of invitation were sent out, and every arrangement made for the celebration of their marriage. They had their likenesses taken on one plate, and had Miss Townhend become mistress of Goole Grange, that picture would, no doubt, have served to remind them of the happy days of their courtship. He might also further add that the plaintiff was about 31 years of age, and that about nine years ago, she had a child. The existence of this offspring no doubt the defendant must have been aware of for it had been frequently at his house, and he had taken great notice of it, presenting it with books and toys. With regard to the amount of damages, the learned counsel said that the defendant resided on a farm worth about £700 a year, had a large quantity of arable land, about 40 horses, and a number of head of stock, besides other farm requisites, together with which he was worth some £7000 or £8000. Therefore the plaintiff had no doubt lost a great deal in not becoming the wife of a man in his position. The promise had not been given under any circumstances of romance, where pledges of love are given, and rings broken, the parties afterwards rueing, but one where the parties had arrived at a mature age, with a full knowledge of the world, and therefore the defendant ought not to feel surprised if he had to pay substantial damages for what he had done.

Joseph Townhend was the first and only witness called for the plaintiff. He said he was brother to the latter and resided at Rawcliffe, being a tinner and brazier at that place. He knew the defendant at the time the plaintiff lived there as housekeeper, and at the time the arrangements for the marriage were in progress. He remembered a conversation with Smith who was talking something about a marriage license. The marriage was to have taken place on the 15th or 16th of last January [1862], but the defendant fell ill. Witness believed that the defendant had some money in the bank; and he (defendant) had told witness that if he were to leave his farm he would be worth £7000 or £8000.

Cross-examined by Mr Waddy:- I don't know where the defendant is living. He was tried for murder at the last Winter Gaol Delivery. Since that time I have heard that he has gone back to live at Goole Grange. He was charged with shooting his servant man. I never knew at that time, that he was out of his mind. I did hear that the man he shot had to sleep with him, and that since my sister left he drunk heavy and was obliged to have this man to stay with him. My sister never drunk heavy, neither did I, nor is it true that I and Smith have been drunk together at his house many times. My sister left in January 1862 and at that time the defendant had not been confined to his bed. I did not know that his illness was delirium tremens, but I did know that he wandered in his mind. My sister lived with Mr Cass some years ago, but I did not know that she was in the family way when she left, nor did I know that she had a baby within nine months after the time of her leaving. I saw her after she left Mr Cass's and she then had a baby, which I expect was hers, but I was not there when it was born (laughter). She live with a Mr Garlick, but I do not know that she was turned away through intriguing with a servant man. I do not know that there was a man at Mr Cass's of the name of Smith, and I don't know that my sister passed by that name when she left that service. I do not know that the letters now produced are my sister's handwriting. On that subject my mind is a perfect blank (laughter). I had a sister living in Heriot Place, Waverley Street, Hull. I do not know that my sister (the plaintiff) lodged there, and passed as the wife of a person named Smith.

Mr Waddy briefly addressed the jury for the defendant, contending that in this case very light damages would suffice, for it was not one of those cases wherein appeared a seductive young lady and injured innocence. He denied that the defendant was a man of wealth, and complained of the way in which the case for the plaintiff had been got up, no witness of credibility being produced to speak to the extent of the defendant's property. He also contended that the plaintiff had lost nothing by the breach of promise, but had rather gained, for if the marriage had taken place she would have been liable to have been tried for bigamy, for she was believed to be the wife of the man to whom she had had the child. With regard to the promise, he believed the plaintiff had practised upon the defendant and wheedled out of him the promise of matrimony, which fact seemed to be proved when the defendant's brother turned her out of the house when Mr George Smith (defendant) was taken ill.

Harriet Herries, the wife of a butcher residing at Beal, near Knottingley, deposed that she lived as servant with Mr W. E. Cass at the same time as the plaintiff. The servant man, William Smith (before alluded to), was witness's brother. She remembered the plaintiff being with child to Smith, and on the faith that they were married, witness lent plaintiff some money to furnish a house. At that time plaintiff wore a wedding ring on her finger. Witness's brother was in America, and she believed was alive. Several letters were now put in, signed by the plaintiff in the name of Harriet Smith, which this witness proved were in her (plaintiff's) handwriting, and were written at the time she was lodging in Hull, soon after leaving Mr Cass's. Mr Smith made a few observations in reply, and the learned Under-Sheriff also briefly reviewed the whole of the case, when the jury retired, and were absent about half an hour. When they returned they gave a verdict for the plaintiff, damages £100.

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