Monday, 30 April 2012

30th April 1812: The death of William Horsfall

After being shot 38 hours earlier, William Horsfall finally died at the Warren House Inn on Crosland Moor at around 8.30 a.m. on the morning of Thursday 30th April 1812.

Mason Stanhope Kenny, the assistant surgeon of the Queen's Bays who had been brought to help him at 8 p.m. on the day he was shot, later gave a deposition to Joseph Radcliffe which stated that Horsfall had suffered three wounds: one on the lower left side of his abdomen, another on the upper part of his left thigh which entered his intestine, and a third on the right thigh. He reported that two of the musket balls causing these wounds were later extracted.

Another surgeon, a Mr. Houghton, had arrived later. He observed 2 wounds on Horsfall's left thigh, and another on the left of his abdomen, and 2 more wounds on his right thigh, a total of 5.

The report in the Leeds Mercury on 2nd May reported 4 wounds, with the most damaging being the one entering Horsfall's abdomen from the left and travelling downwards leaving the bullet lodged at the back of the right thigh. The bullet from this wound was extracted by Houghton.

The Mercury suggested all the entry wounds were on Horsfall's left side, despite the fact that Stanhope Kenny's deposition only mentions 3 wounds, with one being on the right side, and Houghton's evidence, which mentions 2 wounds on the right side.

It doesn't appear to have been remarked upon by any authors before now that in suffering wounds on different sides of his body, Horsfall had either been shot from both sides of the road, or that he had turned to face his assassins either before or as shots were fired, or even that some of the shots were fired after he had fallen. All of this runs contrary to the evidence given by witnesses.

Whatever happened, Horsfall never recovered. by 5.00 a.m. on the morning of the 30th, he had started to bleed profusely, with one of his thighs swelling enormously. When he finally died three and a half hours later, in the persence of his brother, the Reverend Abraham Horsfall, he was supposedly lucid. At some point before he died, Horsfall said to Houghton "these are awful times, Doctor."

By these words, it's not clear if his impending doom had made Horsfall realise the wretched fate he was condemning many families to in the West Riding by his use of shearing frames and imposition of the factory system, but it seems unlikely. What we can be clear about is that the 38 hours he spent in agony were as nothing compared to the grinding misery he had condemned the West Riding croppers and their families to by his actions.

According to Frank Peel (1968, p.145), the Horsfall family subsequently discontinued the use of shearing frames at Ottiwells Mill, meaning that, in a specific local context, and like with Burton's Mill at Middleton and the Westhoughton Factory, Luddism worked.

A coroner's inquest was held later the same day, and returned a verdict of Wilful Murder by a person or persons unknown. To the Luddites, it was a political assassination.

The following sources have been used to write this article: the Leeds Mercury of 2nd & 9th May 1812, the deposition of Mason Stanhope Kenny of 30th April 1812 which can be found at HO 42/122; Howell (1823, pp.1011-1012; and the Leeds Mercury Extraordinary edition, 9th January 1813.

Almost 200 years to the day of the assassination and at, of all places, the unveiling of a sculpture commemorating the Luddites, the Chair of Spen Valley Civic Society presiding over the unveiling described Horsfall's assassination as 'senseless murder' to the incredulity of many of those present. The 'enormous condescension of posterity' surroundings workers like the Luddites that EP Thompson described almost 50 years ago continues to this day, even amongst those who seek to empathise with them in some way.

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