Nine-year-old boy brutally murders his infant sister. Mother driven mad by the crime.
Undated, and offering a verse account alone, this Thomas Birt sheet is headed Full particulars of the cruel and horrid murder At Westmill, near Huntingford, Hertford, by Wm. Games, a boy eight years old, On the body of his little Sister. There's no illustration, but some care's been taken in varying the size of type in this headline and spacing it out over seven centred lines to make it look as attractive as possible.
The verses have been given a more slapdash treatment, with a typo transforming "Huntingford" to "Buntingford" in the opening verse. Birt's original also gives the family's name as "Games" rather than, as The Times prefers, "Game". I've corrected both these points in the version below.
You tender parents all around,
Come listen unto me,
While I unfold a murder cold,
An awful tragedy,
Near Huntingford in Hertfordshire,
In a village called Westmill,
Thus sad inhuman murder,
Will cause your blood to chill.
This murdered child so innocent,
And just five years of age,
Has closed her little eyes in death.
All by a brother's rage,
A lad of only nine years old,
How dreadful to relate,
Each parent's heart must bleed with woe,
To think upon her fate.
The killer's name is William Game,
He struck the girl with dread,
Then with his father's bill-hook,
He wounded her dear head,
Then cut and maimed her hands and face,
In such a dreadful way,
Enough to make your blood run cold,
When thinking of that day.
How little did their parents think,
When they were far from home,
That such a shocking fate as this,
Would to their daughter come,
That they should see her mangled corpse,
Lay bleeding on the floor,
The darling child they loved so well,
Alas was now no more.
Her tender mother when she found,
Her darling child was dead,
Was driven into wild despair,
Her senses now are fled,
You tender parents when you hear,
This shocking tale of woe,
The feeling for your children dear,
Will cause your tears to flow.
This youthful killer now does find,
How hard 'tis to bewail,
The horrid crime of murder,
Within a dismal jail,
May God some comfort now impart,
To parents of this Cain,
Who for their murdered daughter mourn,
How dreadful is their pain.
A report in The Times of September 1, 1848, confirms this ballad sprang from a real case. On August 24 that year, William Game, his wife and eldest daughter left their tied cottage at Coles Park, Westmill, for a day working in the fields. Billy, their nine-year-old son, was left in charge of his three younger sisters: Lucy, who was four, Hannah, aged two, and an unnamed baby.
Between 6:00 and 7:00pm, Mrs Game returned with the oldest daughter to find Billy, Hannah and the baby waiting by the garden gate. Asked where Lucy was, Billy replied "She lies dead in the house". Mrs Game raised the alarm, a policeman called Inspector Bryant arrived, and he went in to examine Lucy's remains.
"On examining the body of the child, he found the right arm frightfully shattered and the skull fractured, the brains protruding," The Times report says. "Blood and brains were on the outside door of the house, and on the window in the room some brains, and also near the door a pool of blood."
Moving through to the bedroom, Bryant found an old gun, which he saw had been recently discharged. William Game confirmed the gun had been loaded when he'd last seen it, and the surgeon who later examined Lucy's body said her wounds "might be caused by a gunshot or some heavy blunt instrument used with great force". Searching the house a few hours later, police found a blood-stained bill-hook which William said he'd used to chop up a rabbit on the previous Sunday.
An inquest was held on Friday - the day after Lucy's death - and Billy testified that he'd left her alive and well in the house at about 5:15 the previous evening while he walked up the hill towards Westmill. He said he'd got back to the house about half an hour later and found the door open, with Lucy lying dead inside. He said he then shut the door and went to wait at the gate until his mother got home. Billy had spoken to several passing neighbours while standing at the gate, but told none of them about Lucy.
The next day, Bryant compared Billy's story to the coroner's evidence and that of a boy called Johnny Wallis, who had passed the gate with his mother while Billy stood there. He decided to question Billy some more, and this time the boy told him he'd seen a suspicious-looking man walking up Thrift Lane towards the Rectory at about 5:00pm on Thursday and, five minutes later, heard a gunshot at the back of the Games' house. That was when he walked in and found Lucy dead, he said.
Bryant clearly didn't believe a word of this, and returned to Billy with the news that no-one could trace anyone matching the strange man's description. At this point, Billy seems to have broken down, and decided he had no choice but to tell the truth. "I wanted my sister to stay in the house on Thursday while I went to see if my mother was coming," he said. "She said she should not. Then I went into the little plantation by the woodhouse and fetched a stick. I went back to the house, and asked Lucy if she would stop in the house. She said she should go along with Billy.
"Then I hit her ever so many times on the head with the stick. She rolled down. I then fetched the bill from the corner by the pump and hit her on the arm ever so many times. I took hold of her body and moved her further into the house, and laid her on the bricks where she was found.
"I washed the bill in some water that was in a pail outside against the pump and wiped it on a rag, which I hurled away into the plantation against the apple tree. I put the bill where I took it from, and threw the water on the potato ground and put the pail near the pump. I threw the stick ever so far away down the hedge in Surcoat-mead. It went into the hedge. One end is bloody."
That was only the half of it, as Bryant discovered when he attended a medical examination of Lucy's body on August 29. There he saw several bits of shot removed from her brain, which matched two similar pieces found in the room where Lucy died. Confronted with this, Billy confessed that he'd taken his father's old gun from the bedroom and held it to Lucy's head. "It clicked several times, and then went off," he told Bryant. "And she took and rolled down." It was only then, he added, that he'd started hitting Lucy with the stick and the bill-hook, before disposing of the evidence with the chilling calm he'd already described.
Bryant was never able to find the stick, but he did find the bloody rag near the apple tree his young suspect had mentioned. Billy signed a confession admitting all he'd done - or at least put his mark to it - and was sent to Hertford Jail to await the next assizes.
With Billy's confession on record, it seems almost certain he would have been convicted. Children that age were very seldom executed, however, and there's no record of an exception being made in this case. Transportation of convicts to Australia continued till 1857, so perhaps he was able to begin a new life there.
To hear Ernest Johnson singing Murder At Westmill (in a version he calls The Westmill Murder), please visit his Soundcloud page here.
* Full Particulars of the Cruel and Horrid Murder etc (Thomas Birt, 1848).
* The Times, September 1, 1848.