One-name Study

Atrocious Murder At Dundry

This was the headline across page 5 of The Bristol Penny Observer  #102 Jan 12 1861 and the newspaper article took most of the page, going into great detail.   The victim was Sarah Waterman aged 73, who died from severe head injuries.   Her husband George Waterman 75, had served with the 9th Regiment of Foot in the Penninsular campaign and was awarded a Waterloo Medal with three bars, but nearly lost his life in his later years as a Chelsea Pensioner during this horrific attack.   The paper went on to say:-

They lived in their own cottage with an acre of ground and did not work.   Local rumours that they had money were not founded.   Only enough for their own needs.
Their cottage was described by the reporter as 'barren, desolate and deserted'.

As you proceed through a lane leading from the old church at Dundry, you discover about a couple of hundred yards from the edifice, a double roof of tiles, on about a level with the surface of the road. . . . The house is built on a steep declivity, at the foot of which are a valley of considerable size and thick woodland country.
From this description I took the lane from the A38 Bristol to Bridgewater road turning at Barrow Common towards Dundry.   As I rounded a sharp bend on the hill approaching the village I saw the telltale red tiles of the roof below me.   Much of the thick woodland country has been replaced by the open fields of modern agriculture, with the suburbs of Bristol now extending to less than half a mile away, but the little house nestled into a very steep bank exactly as described.

I left the car and climbed down a very steep path running along the side of the bank to reach the house and was greated by an elderly lady who had lived there since childhood.   Not knowing how she would react to being told that there had been a murder there some 135 years ago, I broached the subject of the history of her house with some caution.   "Oh!, you have come about the murder?" she asked, so that problem was quickly resolved.   She showed me some press cuttings from a local paper in 1961 telling the story of a hundred years before.   Unfortunately the journalist had been strong on story and weak on facts.   I told my host the true happenings of that evening in January 1861.   This story is taken mainly from the Bristol Penny Observer over a three month period in 1861 which I have quoted where possible, family details are from my own research.

Samuel Wedmore of Failand was born in about 1803 and married Sarah Ogburn in 1823 at St. James in Bristol.   They had about a dozen children at least two of whom didn't reach adulthood.   Mary was their eldest surviving daughter and Matthew the eldest son.   Then there were William, Emma, Eliza [died], Zipporah [died aged 7], Charles, Clara, John, Samuel and finally Zipporah.   The naming of a child after an older sibling who had already died was not uncommon.   Samuel was a labourer but the couple were well known at Clifton as dealers in rabbits, which were obtained from the neighbouring estates of Sir W. Miles, and Sir Grevile Smyth.   Samuel died in 1854 and during the season his widow still carried on the occupation at Clifton, where two of her unmarried daughters were in service.   William was a labourer and gardener, Matthew a labourer and waterman in the quays of Bristol, John a coal miner, Samuel jnr. an agricultural labourer and Charles turned from labouring to join the army.

Charles was home on leave at the end of 1860 and had to return to his unit at the end of December.   Reluctant to do so and cheered by drink he thought of other ways to make some money.   He walked to Dundry where his brother William now lived with his wife Sarah and three young children, who had recently bought the house from his uncle George Waterman.   Unfamiliar with the location Charles stopped to ask for directions.

Calling at the stable of Rev. C. Boutflower, the incumbent of the parish, asked the rev. gentleman's servant, named John Keevil, who was there at work, if he knew a person about Dundry by the name of George Waterman, and another man, who he called his brother, named Wedmore.   Keevil told him that if he would wait five minutes he would show him where Waterman lived.
The two men then went to the Waterman's house.   John Keevil had previously been police constable for the parishes of Dundry and Winford and used the phrase "The old policeman of Winford" when George enquired who was knocking at his door.   After a brief conversation the two men left again.
On leaving the house, Keevil accompanied him to his brother's, and his brother, who was at home, at once knew him.   The soldier was at the time intoxicated.   He is a native of Failand, and his regiment, according to his statement, is at present stationed at Portsmouth.   He went to the Carpenter's Arms after the interview with his aunt and brother, and lay down apparently asleep, and his brother came, roused him, and took him to his house.   He remained at Dundry until the following Friday, when he left for Bristol; but after his departure his uncle discovered that he had taken with him his cutlass.   The old gentleman and Wedmore's brother followed him to Bristol, and suceeded in taking from him the stolen cutlass.
A similar story was also reported that Charles had stolen a silver watch from his uncle who had to redeem his own watch from the pawnbroker in Bath for a sovereign.   [A sovereign was a gold one-pound coin.]

A few days later in Dundry Charles met up with his Eldest brother Matthew at the Dundry Arms, the two men set off down the lane towards the house of George and his wife, arming themselves with a couple of stout sticks from the hedgerow.

George Waterman owned the small cottage about 200 yards from the church.   With the cottage was about an acre of land including an orchard. He kept a cow and sold milk in the village.   He was considered in the neighbourhood to be a thrifty man who had saved a little money.   The cottage was simply furnished and quite spartan compared with our modern comforts.   The front door opened straight into the main room where a large stone fireplace and chimney had logs burning in the grate.   A narrow staircase led to the rooms upstairs and a door to the kitchen at the back of the cottage.   Behind the kitchen was a larder where there were hooks for hanging meat, a bacon stand and a bench on which a few other provisions were kept.   George and his wife Sarah were sitting by the fire conversing, she was sewing.

At about seven o'clock on Wednesday evening [9th January], two men knocked at the door, and old George Waterman, from within was told that it was "John, the old policeman of Winford."
- so he opened the door.

The two men pushed him back and forced their way into the house beating him about the head as he tried to stop them.   They demanded that he hand over his money.   One of the men forced George upstairs to the bedroom and they ransacked the room looking in boxes and a chest of drawers.   They found some silver coins, two silver watches, a bottle of brandy, a silk handkerchief and two loaded pistols under the pillow.

They returned downstairs again and into the outhouse at the back where the shorter man tied up George.   The younger man said of his wife "I put her to sleep".   George was told not to move for twenty minutes until his wife released him.

The brothers took their ill-gotten gains and some bacon and bread which was wrapped in the handkerchief and left.   George eventually freed himself and unable to rouse his wife, managed to to make his way to his neighbour, a butcher called Lovell, who lived about 150 yards up the hill.

George told the police "I think I should know the men again especially one of them, the shorter of the two.   I think I saw him before He wore hair under his chin, he was a young man about 35.   I noticed that the taller man had a thin pale face.   He wore a large jacket, like a shooting jacket, with large pockets inside."
Mr John Shortland, a surgeon who lived at Dundry attended, but Sarah did not recover and died at 9:30, skull shattered.

Two men, one with the description of Charles Wedmore at St John's bridge at 8:40 am on Thursday showed two watches and then went to the Thetis Frigate beer-house in Tower Street requesting the landlord, Jeremiah Jordan, to pawn a watch.   Charles and Matthew were later spotted and struggled with police when captured, each had a loaded pistol, Charles fired at the police but missed.
The younger brother is Charles, who has been a soldier, a man of full stature.   Matthew is over 30 and looks as if he had suffered more of the tear and wear of rough life.   He had lost some of his front teeth, and has a haggared, repulsive aspect. Both men had blood on their shirts when caught.

Another prisoner is in custody along with the two Wedmores, named Harriet Frances.   She is a loose woman, living in a court in Hotwell Road, and the reason of her apprehension is the finding, in her house, of some cheese and bacon, which are supposed to have been brought there by the murderers.   It is probable that the male prisoners lodged with Frances on Wednesday night, after their arrival in Bristol.   She is a young woman answering to the usual appearances of her unfortunate class.

When apprehended they had in their possession, property which was stolen from the cottage of old George Waterman immediately after the outrage was committed.
They were captured and taken to Clifton Police Station, taken early in the morning by cab to Bourton Police Station in the district of Long Ashton and brought before Mr Mordaunt the Magistrate.
The prisoners, while the examination was proceeding, conducted themselves with the greatest levity and appeared as little concerned about their position as if the charge had been of the most frivilous character.
At the court more details emerged, - George's Waterloo medal was not stolen as had been reported and his 'Golden Nest Egg' found.   'This consisted of no less than a hundred sovereigns which were hid beneath a stone in Waterman's house'.

At the inquest at Dundry Inn before Bruges Fry, Esq. the coroner, John Shortland described her injuries.   In the scalp were two extensive wounds about two inches long extending to the skull.   Over the right eye was a swelling which completely closed the eye.   Above the forehead was a wound about two inches long and another behind.   The deceased died from compression of the brain, caused by the fracture of the skull from four blows to the head.   The prisoners were not present at the inquest.
Thomas Waterman said: "I am a farmer at Glastonbury, Sarah Waterman the deceased, was my aunt.   On hearing of the murder by a telegraphic message I came to Dundry, and went into the bedroom where my uncle was lying.   I there received a parcel from my uncle containing, as he informed me, nearly one hundred sovereigns."   The Coroner suggested that Thomas Waterman should take possession of the money, and invest it in a bank.
George was unable to attend his wife's funeral because of his injuries, he had sustained six blows to the head.
Somewhat better, he is still in a very critical state of health and requires the closest attention of his attendants.   George stayed in Glastonbury with his nephew Thomas.
The Shire hall was beseiged by crowds trying to gain admission to the trial 'and great excitement prevailed.'   This lead to delays because 'considerable difficulty was experienced in getting the witnesses into court.'

George gave evidence in court:-
"I had some money in my house in my bedroom at the time.   It might have been £30 or £40.   I had sold one of their brothers [William] a house and garden, and had the money about a fortnight. . . . When one of them took up the pistol he said 'Oh, kill him; we don't mind killing a man' - I have not said this before."
Both brothers had made statements to the police blaming the other for the death.   Charles said that Matthew had hit them both and that George had tried to defend himself with the fire tongs, but admitted to stealing 11/6d in silver, a bottle of brandy and some bread and bacon.   He took up the bedclothes and the guns fell out, he "presented one at the old man and gave the other to my brother."
Matthew said that on Monday week before the murder[31st December], he went to the terminus to see his brother off and wished him good bye and went home.   Charles was seen in Ashton on Tuesday very drunk.
"On Friday between five and six he came down to the bottom of the court where I live.   While I was gone out to sell the watch my brother who lives at Dundry, and my uncle, came in after the watch.   My sister came out after me, and they had the watch back again.   My brother said that he could not go back to his regiment no more.   He said the old man had £80 to £90 in the house, and asked me if I would go along with him to get it.   I said no."
Matthew admitted hitting the old man but said that "Charles struck the old woman out of the chair.   He had two pistols and was going to blow the old man's brains out, only I stopped him.   We went to Bristol.   We staid drinking until Thursday night we were taken."
The statements almost amounted to confessions and agreed completely with the evidence given against them by George Waterman.   The jury found them both guilty of murder and the sentence of death by hanging was passed, the judge saying that no mercy would be extended to them.   The place of execution is at the prison door immediately opposite the front of the Shire Hall at Taunton.

(By Electric Telegraph)Taunton Friday [5th April]

The sun shone brightly this morning upon the crowd assembled in front of Taunton Gaol, to witness the execution of the Brothers Wedmore, for the terrible murder at Dundry, of Mrs Waterman.   It is calculated that as many as seven thousand persons were present.
[Pulman's Weekly News and Advertiser suggests between five and six thousand, mainly women and children.]

No relatives saw the brothers in prison after conviction but three friends from Bristol saw Matthew and one saw Charles.   Wilton Prison records of Male Prisoners' Money and Effects show they were both wearing jacket, waistcoat, trowsers, shirt, stockings, Matthew had a cap and Charles a hat.   Neither were shown with boots which was probably an omission.   The Receiving Book for well over 90% of prisoners shows the height, eye and hair colour, and other details.   All that was shown for the two brothers is that they were in good health and clothes clean.

Matthew had also previously been convicted of poaching [details yet to be found].   William Wedmore with Robert Pike charged with stealing one sack of Oats value 12/- five sack bags value 2/6 one milking stool value one penny, one Rakehead value one penny and one Pike value 2/-, the property of Charles Winstone of Wraxall on the 15th March 1859.   Guilty of larceny as servants to be imprisoned and 'kept to hard labor' for four calendar months in the House of Correction at Shepton Mallet, committed by the same magistrate.

George Waterman was still alive in 1871 and is found in the 1871 census living with his nephew Thomas Waterman who was farming in Devon at Lapford.  Inspite of his injuries he eventually died aged 91 in 1877 at South Molton, Devon.   The newspapers of the time said that the brothers had murdered their aunt.   Sarah was in fact their great-aunt by marriage.  Their mother Sarah OGBURN was the daughter of John OGBURN who married Elizabeth (Betty) WATERMAN.   Betty was the brother of George Waterman who married Sarah SAGE.

  Waterman Family History >

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© Geoffrey Stone, Braintree   21-2-2004   Last Update 21-9-2006