Thomas Farrer

Farrer Lane. Greenland Farm is behind the photographer. The tithe map indicates that Robert Farrer lived in the house on the right.

(Editor’s note: The title of this page is Thomas Farrer. For consistency I have used Thomas Farrar in the copy, as this was how the name was spelled in the newspapers. Other sources, ie the census and the tithe maps, use the spelling Farrer for Thomas and other members of his family.)

In 1842 Oulton farmer Thomas Farrar got himself into a spot of bother with the authorities, after he shot at and wounded a thief who was stealing from his property. The man, William Connell, died in the Leeds Infirmary a few days later. It’s the kind of case which still makes headlines today. Reading the accounts it’s fascinating to discover that then, as now, the law thought Thomas had gone too far.

By the time of the shooting incident Thomas Farrar was 40 years old. He was the tenant of Greenland Farm on Lily (or Lilly) Lane which would later be re-named Farrer Lane after his younger brother, John Farrer, a surveyor and land agent for the Calverley family and other local landowners.

Also living with Thomas were his mother, Elizabeth, who was 73, and an 8 year girl, also called Elizabeth, although it’s not clear if this was Thomas’s daughter. His father, John, had died in 1830 and was the first person to be buried in the newly consecrated graveyard at Oulton St John’s church.

The initial hearing of the case before the Leeds Coroner was reported at length in the Leeds Times and the Leeds Intelligencer and must have been the talk of the neighbourhood for many weeks. After being granted bail Thomas Farrar was put on trial at the Yorkshire Spring Assizes in March 1843.

William Kidd, one of the witnesses in the initial hearing, lived next door to Sarah Parkinson who ran a shop in the house behind the lamp post in the photograph above.

Also living nearby at the time of the incident was another brother, Robert Farrer, a miller whose mill was on the site of the house which is now called The Elms.  His younger brother, John Farrer, became the Calverley agent but he was also a maltster with a malt kiln next to the New Masons pub. His son, also called John Farrer, who had been educated at Braham College, carried on the land agency business until his own death, at the age of 82 in 1921.

MANSLAUGHTER AT OULTON, NEAR LEEDS. Leeds Times, Saturday 19 November 1842.

On Tuesday last, an inquest was held at the Court House, Leeds, before John Blackburn, Esq., coroner, to inquire into the circumstances, connected with the death of William Connell, a stone mason, of Oulton, near Leeds. 

It appears from the evidence, that the deceased, about half past two o’clock, on Sunday morning, the 23rd of October, was detected by Mr. Thomas Farrar, of Oulton, in the act of stealing some of his poultry, and that Mr. Farrar took him to the kitchen door, with a fowl in his hand, for the purpose of seeing who he was, when the deceased, by a sudden effort, contrived to extricate himself from his grasp. 

Mr. Farrar threatened to shoot him if he did not stop, and in execution of this threat fired at, and shot him in his right leg. Mr. Farrar afterwards called up a labourer in his employ and, after telling him what had occurred, they went together to seek the man, but he had walked away, and they could not find him. 

Sometime after three o’clock the same morning, the deceased arrived at his uncle’s house in Oulton, when surgical attendance was procured for him, and from whence he was afterwards removed to the Infirmary, where he died on Sunday morning last, from effects of his wounds. 

The following evidence was adduced at the inquest. 

William Kidd, Oulton, labourer. “I have worked nearly forty years for Mr. Farrar. I knew the deceased. He was a stone mason at Oulton, about a quarter of mile from Mr. Thomas Farrar’s house. Mr. Farrar knew the deceased. Mr. Farrar called me up on Sunday morning, the 23rd of October, about half-past two o’clock. 

Mr. Farrar said: “Thou must get up, for I have catched William Connell stealing my hens. I have shot at him, and I believe I have hit him. He is laid at the third stoop over the bridge, and must not be left on the road.” I got up directly, and went with Mr. Farrar to the place, but the man was gone. 

Mr. Farrar would have to pass the man to get to my house. We went to search for him, but could not find him. Mr. Farrar had the gun in his hand when be came to call me. The third stoop was about a hundred yards on the carriage road leading to Mr. Farrar’s house. Mr. Farrar told me that when he got hold of Connell he had a fowl in his hand. He said he got hold of his collar, and was going to take him into the kitchen, when he (Connell) twisted himself out of his grasp and ran away, upon which be fired at him. 

He did not tell me what the gun was loaded with. Mr. Farrar did not tell me that there were any more men with Connell. The hen roost is in the farm yard, and is not connected with the house. Mr. Farrar had been watching that night, and had watched for several nights. He has been robbed of his poultry and other things several times. The road where the man was lying is a public road. I live about 200 yards from Mr. Farrar’s house. There are four or five houses between my house and his. When we could not find the man, we went to the constable’s and told him to apprehend him.” 

John Butterfield, of Rothwell. “I am a slubber. I have known the deceased for nearly a dozen years. I was with my brother (George Butterfield) and Thomas Armistead on the Sunday morning the deceased was shot. We met the deceased on the road at Oulton, about three o’clock that morning. He told us he had got shot in his leg. He walked lame. We went with him to his uncle’s, at Quarry Hill, Oulton. He complained of suffering great pain, and said it stung him up into his body. There was no other person with him when we met him. We had not been in his company, nor do I know who had.” 

Thomas Armistead.
“I live at Rothwell, and was in company with the Butterfields on the morning that this man was shot. I did not know Connell. We met him walking up Quarry Hill, and our first thought was that he was drunk. He walked very lame. We asked him what was the matter, and he told had been shot at in the leg, and that the pain stung up into his body. 
We had heard a report of a gun about an hour, I should think, before we met the deceased. I thought the sound came from towards Oulton. There was no person with the deceased before we met him. I had met with the Butterfields at Woodlesford. The road through Oulton is not  the nearest to Rothwell, but I went that way because I could have company. It is not more that 300 yards further than the other road. 

Charles Cockerham.
 “I live at Oulton, and am a labourer. I am uncle to the deceased. He was about 26 years of age. He resided at Oulton with his mother. He came to my house on the Sunday morning in question, about twenty minutes past three o’clock. I was in bed when he came but he called, and I got up. I assisted to take his stocking off, and found that he was lame. It was his right leg. It had been shot, and was bleeding. I saw shot in the leg. My house was nearer to Mr. Farrar’s than his mother’s. 

I put him to bed, and he was removed to the Infirmary about three o’clock the same afternoon. Mr. Dawson, surgeon, of Oulton, attended him before came to the Infirmary. It was between two and three when we fetched him, and he recommended to take him to the Infirmary. The deceased was not in the habit of sleeping at my house. I neither saw nor heard any one with him.” 

Benjamin Connell, another uncle to the deceased, corroborated this evidence. 

Mr. John Allanson.
 “I am house surgeon at the Leeds Infirmary. The deceased was brought to the Infirmary on the afternoon of Sunday, the 23rd of October. I examined him, and found he had been shot in the back part of his right leg, about the knee joint. There were a number shot holes in the leg, and the knee joint, we had reason to believe, had been penetrated by the shot, as it was much swollen, and contained a quantity of fluid matter. 

I made no incision, as it would have been fatal to the man. I should say the gun contained an average charge, and to the best of my judgement, think the deceased must have been at the distance of thirty yards from the gun. The shot holes were all distinct, and it did not appear that two of them had gone in together. 

He has remained at the Infirmary ever since, and died on Sunday morning at about half past seven. The cause of death has been the injury to the vessels of the leg, and the mortification arising therefrom, occasioned by the wounds inflicted by the shot. The vessels being wounded produced fever and mortification. 

The man refused to have his leg amputated, and professed his determination to die with it on. I cannot speak as to the success of an operation but there would have been a better chance of his recovery. As it was he had no chance. I have no doubt whatever the death has resulted from the gun shot wounds. He was apparently a man of sound constitution.” 

Thomas Spiers.
“I am a policeman at Leeds. Yesterday I went to Mr. Farrar’s, at Oulton, and I examined his premises. They consist of a dwelling house and farm buildings. The hens roost on the top of a rack in a cow shed. There is a door to the shed, but a person could get in without breaking open the door. It would depend on which side he entered. The door of the shed is twenty-eight feet from Mr. Farrar’s back door. 

There is a private road from the highway to Mr. Farrar’s premises. It is eleven feet wide. Mr. Farrar told me he took the man in the shed with a fowl in his possession. He pointed out the place where the deceased was. He said he took him to to the kitchen door to get a light to see who he was, and the deceased twisted from him and ran away. 

He pointed out also the distance the man had ran when he fired, and where he stood himself. The distance is eighty-seven feet. Mr. Farrar said he told the man it if he did not stop he would fire at him. The statement made to me by Mr. Farrar was entirely voluntary. I asked him no questions.” 

Another view of Farrer Lane.

The Coroner then summed up the evidence for the jury. In doing so he observed the death of the man had been clearly caused by the gun-shot wounds in question, and you are to consider whether the party discharging the gun was justified in doing so or not. If he was, your verdict must be justifiable homicide. If not, manslaughter.

To make homicide justifiable it must be owing to some unavoidable necessity to which the person who kills another must be reduced, without any fault himself. Now the law says that man may repel force by force in defence of his person or property against anyone manifestly intending by violence or surprise to commit a felony, such as rape, robbery, arson, burglary or the like. It is not necessary that a felony should be committed, but the circumstances must be of such a nature, attended by violence or surprise, as to warrant a person believing that a felony was about to be committed. 

If a man commits a trespass, and breaks the edges of another man’s field, it will not warrant the party aggrieved in using a deadly weapon. And a party has no right to use a deadly weapon to a person whom he discovers picking his pocket. A trespass, however wanton and provoking it may be, will not justify the use of a deadly weapon. A man must not make an attack upon another unless he can justify a full conviction in his own mind, that if he does not do so his own life would be danger. 

Now what was the nature of the offence committed by the deceased? It is true that he was trespassing – he had no right to be in Mr. Farrar’s hen roost. It may be that he was caught by Mr. Farrar with a fowl his possession, and supposing that to be so, and that Mr. Farrar caught him in the act of committing a felony, it does not appear that the deceased used any violence, or that his conduct was of such a nature to alarm and terrify Mr. Farrar. 

Mr. Farrar had a right to apprehend him, and to use sufficient reasonable force to accomplish his purpose. It appears he did so, and took the deceased to the kitchen door. During this time it is not suggested that the deceased offered violence, or that he made any great resistance. 

When at the kitchen door, it appears that the deceased got loose from Mr. Farrar, and ran away. Up to this time it is difficult to say whether Mr. Farrar had sufficiently recognised the deceased – he certainly had done so soon after. If he knew the deceased at the time, he might have gone immediately to a constable, and had him apprehended. But when the deceased ran away, Mr. Farrar charged him to stop, and threatened to shoot him if he did not. The man still continued to run, and when about thirty yards off, Mr. Farrar fired, hit him, and occasioned the mischief which ended in the man’s death. 

Now, it is for you to say, whether this conduct on the part of Mr. Farrar was justifiable. Was his life in danger? Was the nature of the offence such as to betoken urgent necessity, contradistinguished from a felony without violence, as pocket picking. If, in attempting to rob the hen roost, the deceased had offered violence, Mr. Farrar would have been justified in using a deadly weapon. But the shooting took place after the felony was committed – after the deceased had been seized – after he ran away, and as he was escaping. 

It seems to me, therefore, that Mr. Farrar, as a private individual, had no right shoot the deceased, because be was making his escape; and there does not appear to be any pretence for saying that the deceased had other persons assisting him, or that there was anything in the affray which could fairly warrant Mr. Farrar considering himself in danger. 

If you think Mr. Farrar was attacked by violence or surprise, while the deceased was committing, or about to commit a felony, or if you think that all the circumstances of the case were sufficient to create a well-founded apprehension and fear in his mind, that his own life was danger, then your verdict must be justifiable homicide. 

But if you think that Mr. Farrar shot at the deceased, merely because he was escaping from him after he had apprehended him, then it is my duty to say, that as a private individual, and not a police-officer, with a proper warrant, he had no right do so. 

If you think there was violence offered by the deceased, and none intended, which you must gather from the circumstances of the case, and that Mr. Farrar was in no personal danger from what really occurred, or if you think that he rashly shot this man, then your verdict must be manslaughter. 

The jury then retired, and after a short absence returned a verdict of “Manslaughter” against Thomas Farrar, who was forthwith placed in custody, until application can be made to the Judges for bail. 

After hearing the case against him being outlined at the Yorkshire Spring Assizes, in the Crown Court at York Castle, Thomas Farrar changed his plea from Not Guilty to Guilty. No witnesses were called. The Leeds Intelligencer reported the case on Saturday 18 March 1843.

Mr. Justice Coltman, in passing judgment, said the prisoner had been convicted by his own confession, of a crime for which he bad no doubt he had since bitterly repented. 

It appeared that he had shot the deceased when the latter was in the act of stealing his property; and that he had since made all the reparation he could by contribution for the benefit of the deceased’s wife and family. He had evidently been mistaken as to the law of the case, and had supposed that he was justified in the course he had taken, but the law would not bear a person out to that extent. 

Under all the circumstances, he should, for the offence, sentence the prisoner to be confined in the Castle of York for one fortnight, and be then discharged.

Thomas Farrar died in 1860. He is buried in the cemetery at Oulton St. John’s church.