Poor Henry Ball. He thought he had a nice job, as keeper of the turnpike gate situated by Marlborough Pond, some five miles from Southampton. He lived there, on the London Road, with his wife, living a calm and otherwise un-newsworthy life. He had reached the age of 80 with no major mishaps.
That all ended one Sunday morning in June – 11 June 1815, to be precise. Mrs Ball had gone out in the morning to Fernhill to speak with a neighbour. Presumably a friend of hers, she stayed for about an hour, leaving her husband at home, at Turnpike House.
But on returning to Marlborough Pond, she found her husband ‘weltering in his blood’. He had been the victim of a prolonged, and vicious, assault.
The Southampton surgeon, Mr Corfe, was summoned, and found that the whole of the left side of Ball’s skull had been ‘beaten into the brain’. His right eye was ‘beaten into his head’. His throat had been cut; his nose was broken.
His assailant had used the fire tongs from the Balls’ own home to rain violent blows on Ball’s head; they were found by him, covered in his blood.
Although the case looked hopeless, Mr Corfe dressed the wounds and Ball, to everyone’s amazement, survived for three days before finally dying of his injuries.*
Theft appeared to be the motive; a silver watch on a steel chain, together with a canvas bag containing silver and other articles, were found to have been stolen. It was believed that the killer had hoped to find the money that Ball had collected for the previous week; unknown to them, however, the keeper had taken it to the bank the day before his death.
At his inquest, the coroner’s jury returned a verdict of wilful murder; the Trustees of the South District of the Southampton Road offered a reward of 50 guineas to catch the murderer – with a pardon offered to accomplices.
It was said that a man ‘of suspicious appearance’ was seen on the road at around 8am the morning of the murder, in the clothes typical of the rural labouring class – a round smock frock, light coloured breeches, and large black whiskers.
But the press still had to report that:
No tidings have as yet been heard of the perpetrator or perpetrators of this most inhuman deed, and the whole transaction is at present wrapped in mystery. (Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 19 June 1815)
The reward advertisement was repeated in the local press and the London Gazette into the following month, suggesting that the man who tried to take money off an octogenarian turnpike keeper one summer morning got away, quite literally, with murder.
*The Salisbury Journal gave two different accounts of Ball’s ‘lingering’ – on p.4, it said he had survived for three days, but on p.1 of the same edition, the advert offering a reward for the perpetrator’s apprehending stated that he ‘lingered till the next day and then died’.
Other sources: The London Gazette, 4 July 1815; Bath Chronicle, 22 June 1815; Cambridge Chronicle and Journal, 23 June 1815; Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 26 June 1815. The Capital Punishment UK website doesn’t have a record of anybody being hanged in Hampshire for Henry Ball’s murder.Tweet