Attempted murder, 1860

Three rather differing reports appeared in the local press immediately after the crime took place. It became national news: it was in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph and Birmingham Daily Post on 27 Feb.

Bicester Herald, 24 Feb [also in the Northampton Mercury and Oxford Journal, 25 Feb; edited version in the Oxford Chronicle and Buckingham Advertiser, 25 Feb]
  A frightful attempt to murder occurred on Tuesday last, the 21st inst., at Winslow.  The perpetrator of the wicked act is Jesse Harding, a labourer, and the victim is his wife, who is, we believe, a native of Quainton; and who is in a very precarious state, from the injuries inflicted on her by her fiendish husband.  From the evidence of the sufferer it appears that Harding went home between two and three o’clock in the morning.  Words arose between him and his wife.  He, thereupon, threatened to cut her throat, and took a razor from the shelf for that purpose.  She went up stairs, and he followed her with a gun, with which he shot her, lodging the contents in her side, and afterwards beating her about the head with the stock, till it broke.  The miscreant is in custody, and is on remand, till it is seen whether his brutal conduct deprives the poor woman of her life.  The fearful event has caused great excitement in the locality.

Bucks Advertiser & Aylesbury News, 25 Feb [also in Western Daily Press, 28 Feb, with acknowledgment]
  A dreadful occurrence took place in this town on Tuesday morning.  A man named Jesse Harding, who bears a bad character, came home between two and three o’clock in the morning, and commenced beating his wife, Sarah Harding, with a strap buckle.  It is not stated that he was in liquor, but for the credit of humanity we would gladly suppose that such was the case.  He then beat her severely with his fists and threatened to kill her; he took a razor from the shelf, but put it back again.  The poor woman went up stairs, and while she was in a stooping position, holding one of the children, he took up a gun and fired it at her, the shot entering the left breast and taking a downward direction.  After this he beat her about the head with the gun so severely that the stock was broken from the barrel and was afterwards found covered with blood.  The unhappy woman was still living when our latest information was despatched, but Mr. Newnham, who is attending her, gives but very faint hopes of her surviving, the charge having lodged ( it is supposed) in a vital part.  The gun is believed to be a borrowed one, but it is not ascertained when or for what purpose it was borrowed, as the culprit is known to have been engaged in poaching.  He was apprehended about an hour after the occurrence, by Inspector Carruthers, and on Wednesday the declaration of the poor woman, who was believed to be dying, was taken before P. Dauncey and E. W. Lowndes Esqs., in the presence of the prisoner.  It was to the effect above stated.  On the prisoner asking her “whether he did it on purpose” she replied “Yes,” and shook hands with him.  He was remanded to await the recovery or death of his victim.

Bucks Chronicle, 25 Feb
Early on Tuesday morning last, a labouring man named Harding, living at this place, attempted to kill his wife.  From the facts which have come to our knowledge, it would appear that Harding had been employed all the previous day as beater to a number of gentlemen who were shooting on Sir H. Verney’s estate at Claydon, of which village he was a native.  He arrived home shortly before eight o’clock, in a state of semi-intoxication and immediately commenced quarrelling with his wife, whom he then threatened to murder, and fetched his razor for that purpose; but his mind misgave him, and he left his house, telling his wife that he would give her another hour to prepare for death.  He did not return again until between one and two o’clock on Tuesday morning.  His wife was then in bed, with her baby.  As soon as he entered the bed-room, the brute recommenced his quarrel and renewed his threats, and after a while fetched his gun, telling his wife that he meant then and there to kill her.  The poor creature then got out of bed, with the child in her arms, and said “Pray don’t hurt the baby.”  The wretch’s reply was, “I won’t hurt the child – but d- you, I’ll kill you, you b--;” and he immediately fired at his wife, the contents of the gun grazing the lower part of her abdomen, and lodging in her thigh.  Finding that he had not thus killed his wife, the villain then commenced striking her about the head and body with the butt end of his gun.  The shrieks of the poor woman were, however, overheard, and the would-be murderer was interrupted and arrested.  It was at first supposed that Mrs. Harding could not survive the day; but, singularly enough, she rallied, and on Thursday evening it was thought possible she might recover from the serious injuries she had sustained, although of course she was in a most precarious state.  Meanwhile her villainous husband remains in the custody of the police.

After Harding was arrested by Inspector Carruthers, he appeared before Winslow Magistrates. Below is the report from the Bucks Advertiser & Aylesbury News, 17th March. Text in [ ] is a summary, the rest is a full transcription of the report.


  At the petty session, on Monday, (present P. Dauncey and E. W. S. Lowndes, Esqs.,) Jesse Harding, a labourer, of Winslow, who, some three weeks since attempted to murder his wife Sarah, by shooting her, was brought up for examination.

  The depositions of the woman taken on the first examination were read over to her.  On her being resworn, in the presence of the prisoner, the following was the substance:-

  Sarah Harding deposed that she was the wife of Jesse Harding; that he came home early on the morning of the 21st of February last; that she was downstairs when he came in; that he locked the door and asked for his supper, and she gave him what she had; that he asked her what she had done with the shilling he gave her, and she told him she had paid 5d. where it was owing, and had got the remainder.  He struck her with his fist in the stomach; took off his strap and hit her with it on the face.  He then took a razor from the shelf, put it back again, and kicked the table over.  She went up stairs and took the little boy out of bed.  The prisoner followed her, and whilst in a squatting position, she saw him with the gun in his hand. [He said he would not hurt the boy]  He fired the gun, and she fell back against a box.  She felt something burn her. [At her request he undressed her, she went downstairs and gave an alarm.] The gun was standing in the bed-room, on the further side from the door, near the head of the bed. [When she saw it the barrel and stock were apart. He had the gun from the Sunday before, it belonged to Mr Brise.]

  Thomas Newnham [sic], Esq., M. D., deposed that on the morning of the 21st of February he was called on, between two and three o’clock [in the morning] to see Sarah Harding. He examined the woman and found a wound immediately under the left breast, caused by the discharge of some species of firearms.  The charge had passed downwards under the skin, where it had made an opening and entered the thigh on the inner side, passed through, and lodged in the back part of it under the skin.  The wound under the skin of the stomach was very extensive, and attended with much bleeding. The woman was very faint and weak. He found a wound also at the back of the head, about three inches in length, cleanly cut, but much bruised around it.  He had attended the woman since, and on the fifth day he extracted nearly an ounce of shot and two or three pieces of paper from the thigh. The skin near the spot where the charge centred was burnt. He considered she was very much better and there was every prospect of her recovery.

  Elizabeth Tomes deposed that she lived next door but one to the prisoner. On the afternoon of the 20th of February the prisoner went to her house about five o’clock. [He complained about his wife, he promised to kill her and then he left.] Mrs. Tomes went to bed at eight o’clock and was called between one and two. [Mrs Harding called her. Elizabeth went to her and saw the wounds.  The prisoner asked her to stay with his wife, and said] “I have killed her, but I allowed her an hour to repent,” [he confirmed he used a gun.]

  [William Tomes, Elizabeth’s husband deposed that on the morning in question he heard a noise and got up. He saw Mrs Harding and when he understood what had happened, went for Dr. Newnham.]

  [Mary Walker, the next door neighbour went into the house the next morning and found it full of smoke.  She was shown the wounds. Charles Walker, her husband, went to the house, he saw his wife, Mrs Tombs, Mrs Harding and the prisoner, he saw the gun and asked why the prisoner should want a gun. Jesse Harding told him he borrowed it on purpose.]

  James Carruthers, Inspector of Police, deposed that on the 21st of February last, about half past three o’clock in the morning, he went to the prisoner’s house and took him into custody.  He saw the prisoner’s wife in bed. He found the stock of a gun broken from the barrel, with a quantity of blood on it which was fresh and damp. [He collected all the parts of the gun and the clothes Mrs Harding had been wearing when shot, which were also bloodstained. When he took the prisoner into custody he cautioned him. The prisoner told him it was an accident, the gun went off and the shot caught her, it was loaded with dust shot.]

  The prisoner, in his defence, said “he didn’t do it on purpose,” and was committed to take his trial at the next Assizes.

Harding was tried at the Bucks Assizes. Below is the report from the Bicester Herald, 20 July, with additions in [ ] from the Bucks Advertiser & Aylesbury News, 21 July

Jesse Harding, 29 was charged with shooting at Sarah Harding, his wife, with intent to murder her, at Winslow, on the 21st of February.  Mr Fremantle was counsel for the prosecution; the prisoner was undefended.  The prisoner was a labouring man, at Winslow, and had been married some eight years, having a family of four children.  On the night in question, he returned home very late, having been drinking in the town, and commenced threatening and abusing his wife.  He also complained that she would not remain at home, and had spent a shilling he had given her. [Her response was that she had spent 5d. to pay back a loan and the remaining 7d. was in her pocket]

Having ill treated her very much down stairs, [by hitting her in the stomach and beating her with the buckle end of a strap around the head] he followed her to the bed room, and levelling a gun at her, [which appeared to be kept in the bedroom] the contents were lodged in her body.  She was fortunately in a stooping position at the time, [attending to a baby] and the charge entering at the side, passed beneath the skin of the abdomen, and was left at the back of the upper part of the thigh.  He then struck her with the butt end of the gun, and the poor creature fainted.  Becoming alarmed, he then undressed her, and some neighbours coming in [Mrs Harding managed to alert her next door neighbours, Charles and Mary Walker who arrived with James Walker, and her next door but one neighbours, William and Mary Tomes. Both William Tomes and Charles Walker claimed to have fetched Dr. Newham.] he [Jesse Harding] admitted that he intended to kill her, that he had given her an hour for repentance, and that he meant for some time past, to have her life.

[Dr. Newham’s description of the wounds was, “a wound commencing immediately under the left breast, passing downward under the skin of the stomach; another on the right side of the stomach; a little lower down another on the inside of the thigh, and a swelling at the back part of the thigh, also a wound in the back of the head, between three and four inches long.  The wound under the breast was very much burnt, the one on the stomach very large, and the intestines almost laid open. The wound on the head was a clean cut wound, slightly bruised.” He later extracted an ounce of shot from the back of the thigh and also some paper. He continued to explain that, ”she was in a dangerous state for a month.”]

To one [neighbour] he said he had borrowed the gun on purpose.  For several weeks the woman’s life was in imminent danger.  Upon being called on for his defence, the prisoner, crying violently, said his wife had been a very bad wife to him, and a bad mother to his children.

[Elizabeth Tomes explained that Mr. Harding had threatened to kill his wife before as she would not stay at home and neglected the children. Inspector James Carruthers of the Bucks police took Mr. Harding into custody.] He [Jesse Harding] also added that he was so drunk at the time he did not know what he was doing, and that he would as soon have shot himself as his wife. 

The jury returned a verdict of guilty, with a recommendation that they believed he had not been well treated, and the want of feeling showed by the prisoner’s wife on this occasion, she having been laughing during the whole of the trial.  He was sentenced to penal servitude for life.


Jesse Harding, originally from East Claydon, married Sarah Harding from Quainton in 1852. They must have come to Winslow a year or two later, and lived in a cottage in Western Lane (now demolished). It probably only had two or three rooms. Various newspaper reports show that Harding had had a number of difficulties over the previous 10 years.

1850: Bucks Herald, 23 Feb: Winslow magistrates court
  Jesse Harding, of East Claydon, labourer, was charged by Charles Craker, of Winslow, with having on the 10th inst., at Winslow, fired off a gun within fifty feet of the centre of the public road.  Harding pleaded guilty.  Fined 2s. 6d, costs 8s. 6d.  Allowed time till next meeting for payment.

1850: Bucks Herald, 14 Sep
BRUTAL AND GROSS ASSAULT.- a Special Session was held on Monday last, at the Wheat Sheaf, North Marston, before Sir T. D. Aubrey, Bart., and the Rev. E. N. Young, respecting a most brutal assault inflicted on a young man named Jesse Harding, of Claydon, by Peter and James Allen, and William Allen (the father) as an accessory to the act.  An examination of witnesses had been previously taken before P. Dauncey, Esq., at Winslow, and adjourned till this day, when it appeared from the depositions of the accused, who now lies very ill at Marston, that on Sunday, the 1st inst., he was at North Marston feast, and about eight o’clock in the evening, when near the Wheat Sheaf public-house, James Allen, son of William Allen, horse dealer of Marston, and complainant had some words in the street, when Peter Allen came up and struck Harding a severe blow and knocked him down, and he received several severe kicks from them on his body, and was left in a shocking state, bleeding.  He was afterwards picked up by a man named Pierce, and taken to his house, where he now lies.  Mr. Cowley, surgeon, of Winslow, was immediately sent for, and attended, and found him almost in a dying state from the injuries he had received.  This day, however, the Allens were placed at the bar before the Bench; Mr. Benson, attorney, defended the prisoners, when, after hearing the statement of Harding, and a number of witnesses on behalf of the complainant, Mr. Benson asked for an adjournment; but this the Bench could not grant, and they were accordingly committed to take their trial at the next General Quarter Sessions at Aylesbury, for the assault.-Bail was taken for their appearance, and the witnesses bound over to prosecute.
1850: Bucks Herald, 19 Oct: Bucks Quarter Sessions
Wm. Allen, Peter Allen, and James Allen were charged with assaulting Jesse Harding, at the parish of North Marston, on the 1st of September last.  Mr. G. L. Browne prosecuted, and Mr. Power appeared for the defendants.  This case, which occupied the Court upwards of three hours, terminated in the acquittal of the defendants.

1857: Oxford Chronicle, 17 Jan: Winslow magistrates court
  ASSAULT.- Edward Holland, of Winslow, was charged with having, on Monday, the 11th inst., at Winslow, assaulted Jesse Harding of the same place, labourer.  It appeared that Harding went into the house of William Jones [the Three Pigeons], to light his pipe, and was in the act of doing so, when the defendant struck him; they then went out of the house and had a skirmish, the complainant being thrown down into the ditch and the defendant uppermost, who got complainant’s finger in his mouth and bit it to the bone, and also severed a piece of flesh completely from the finger.  Fined £1 10s. and 13s. 6d. for costs, to be paid on the 21st inst., in default to be committed for one month.

1857: Bucks Herald, 21 Nov: Winslow magistrates court
NONPAYMENT OF RATES.- Distress warrants were ordered to be issued against Jesse Harding and Henry Newman for non-payment of their lighting rates, the rate of the former being 7½d., and the latter 6½d.

1859: Bucks Chronicle, 13  Aug: Winslow magistrates court
HARVEST MEN.- William Foscutt, W. Saving, Jesse Harding, and James Harding, labourers, of Winslow, were severally summoned by Mr. Benjamin Sirett, farmer, of Calverton, for leaving their employ. W. Foscutt and Jas. Harding were committed to gaol for seven days. W. Saving and Jesse Harding, having paid the expenses, were liberated, after promising to go back to their master, Mr. Sirett.

After the trial, Harding and another convicted prisoner "were removed on the 22nd of August last to Millbank Prison, pursuant to the Secretary of State's warrant" (Bucks Advertiser & Aylesbury News, 20 Oct 1860). It's not clear what happened to him after that: he hasn't been traced in later Censuses or death registrations. He could have been transported to Australia, something which was still happening in the 1860s, although that wasn't his sentence.

In the 1861 Census, three Harding children were in Winslow Workhouse: Mary aged 9 (b. Quainton), Elizabeth aged 6 (b. Winslow) and George aged 5 (b. Winslow). Sarah Harding the victim of the attempted murder (aged 28) had gone to live at Quainton with her daughter Lydia (b.1859) at the home of her mother Hannah Harding aged 74, pillow lace maker. In 1871 Mary was in service in Hitchin. The other children were living with their mother at Harpenden; she was married (or at least claiming to be so) to Thomas Loader, an agricultural labourer born at Thame, and they had taken his surname. There were also five younger children and a grandson named William Harding aged 16 months (presumably Mary's child).

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Copyright 5 May, 2020