"(Isabella Buckley) whose death is alleged to have been caused by corporal punishment"

When I was researching my family history, I found that my great grandparents Alonzo and Mary Ann Hemsworth were married on Xmas Day 1878 at St John's Church, Wybourn, Sheffield. On their marriage certificate, they gave their address as "Norwich Street" which is in the Park District of Sheffield. When I entered  "Norwich Street, Park" in a newspaper archive, I came across the following report which I found rather disturbing to say the least. It is from the Manchester Guardian dated 25th September 1872

Daily News (London, England), dated Wednesday, September 25, 1878 added further detail in it's report of the assault

The Manchester Guardian in their edition dated 27th September 1878 updated its readers with the following information.

And the reason why Isabella was assaulted. The Derby Mercury (Derby, England), dated Wednesday, September 25, 1878; stated


The Sheffield coroner today investigated the cause of a child named Buckley who had died on Saturday. She was a pupil in one of the board schools. Some months since a pupil teacher struck her a severe blow on the back of the head because she asked twice to go to the closet: a fit resulted and she has never been well since. Death resulted from an effusion on the brain. The Inquest was adjourned."

The Liverpool Mercury briefly reported the Jury's verdict in their edition dated 28th September 1878

The inquest on the body of Isabella Buckley aged ten whose death is alleged to have been caused by corporal punishment, inflicted in a board school at Sheffield was concluded on Thursday. An OPEN VERDICT was returned, the jury expressing a strong opinion that the school board should prevent corporal punishment

I should add that an open verdict is a finding by a coroner's jury of death without stating the cause - The verdict strictly means that the jury confirms that the death is suspicious but is unable to reach any of the other verdicts open to them. It therefore affirms that a crime has been committed without stating by whom

The Hull Packet and East Riding Times also reported on the Inquest in their edition dated 4th October 1878.

Based purely on these newspaper reports - the inquest papers will in all likelihood have been destroyed many years ago, I would state that Florence Asman was extremely fortunate not to face criminal charges. It must be admitted that the case against her was based on allegations from Isabella's mother Sarah who did not see the actual attack and two of Isabella's school-friends who stated that they did witness the assault. The cause of death was "serum on the brain" but whether this was due to natural causes or the alleged assault the jury could not decide, and returned an open verdict. I am of the opinion that Florence should have been at least arrested and charged for the alleged offence. It is clear that the jury were uneasy about the verdict as they issued a strong recommendation to the School Board requesting that they should exercise "great vigilance" in ensuring that the rules are kept. In other words they more or less inferred that Miss Asman did assault Isabella otherwise why did they issue their advice. And if the Derby Mercury's report is correct in that Isabella received "a severe blow" across the back of the head from Miss Asman, I really cannot see why criminal proceedings were not initiated by the Coroner.

Two other fairly minor points are worth noting. There is no indication that Isabella was a sick child prior to the assault. The 1881 Census seems to indicate the family were exceedingly robust especially given the rampant child mortality rates in the district. And secondly the assault seems to have occurred just around the time Florence Asman was getting married to William Steer. Knowing that she was leaving the school as was the norm when getting married, was she unduly stressed at the time, and lost her temper with Isabella?. Pure conjecture I must admit but if the case had gone to court, the lingering suspicion that an assault had occurred would have been resolved one way or the other.      


1. Schools under the control of locally elected School Boards were made possible by the 1870 Education Act. Drafted by William Forster, Education Minister in the government headed by William Gladstone, the act stated that any area which voted for it could have a school board. These new board schools could charge fees but they were also eligible for government grants and could also be paid for out of local government rates.
Boards provided an education for the five to ten age group. School boards came to an end with the passing of the 1902 Education Act.

2. Florence was the daughter of Wilfred and Marina Asman. The 1871 census finds Florence living at 81 Washington Road in the Sharrow district of Sheffield. Both her parents are 37 years of age and her father's occupation is given as "silver finisher." The census also states that he was born in  Birmingham    

3. Marriages Mar 1878
ASMAN Florence Kate Sheffield Volume9c Page450
STEER William George R Sheffield Volume9c Page450

Household Record 1881 British Census

Name Relation Marital Status Gender Age Birthplace Occupation Disability
William G.R. STEER Head M Male 33 London, Middlesex, England Clerk (Steel Merchant)
Florence R. STEER Wife M Female 21 Sheffield, York, England
Albert R. STEER Son Male 7 m Sheffield, York, England
Annie M. JACKSON Servant U Female 19 Sheffield, York, England Domestic Servant

Source Information: Dwelling 34 Kearsley Rd Census Place Ecclesall Bierlow, York, England
Family History Library Film 1342120 Public Records Office Reference RG11 Piece / Folio 4637 / 38 Page Number 12

The 1891 Census has the family living at  651, Queens Road with William working as a tobacconist and Florence as an "Assistant In Unsings". But their son Albert was not living with them, and neither any domestic help    

Name Florence Steer
Age 31
Estimated Year of Birth 1860
Relationship to Head of Household Wife
Occupation Assistant In Unsings
Address 651, Queens Road District Ecclesall Bierlow, Ecclesall Bierlow Parish Ecclesall Bierlow
Administrative County Yorkshire (West Riding) Birth Place Sheffield Birth County Yorkshire

Ten years later the couple had moved again

Name Florence Kate Steer
Relation to Head of Family Wife
Age Last Birthday 41
Sex Female
Profession or Occupation
Condition as to Marriage Married
Where Born Yorks Sheffield
Address 237 Abbeydale Rd Civil Parish Ecclesall Bierlow Ecclesiastical Parish St Peters Abbeydale
Parliamentary Borough or Division Ecclesall County Borough, Municipal Borough or Urban District Sheffield Cty Borough
Administrative County Yorkshire Ward of Municipal Borough or Urban District Ecclesall.

William was a 53 year old clerk in the works of a silver plate manufacturer. It was to be his lat appearance in the census for the next one in 1911 has Florence as a 51 year old widow

Name Florence Kate Steer
Relationship to Head of Household Head
Condition Widow
Gender F
Age 51 Estimated Year of Birth 1860
Occupation Letting Apartments
Employed Y
Working at Home N
Place of Birth Yorks Sheffield
Enumerator Information
Address 76 Steade Road Sheffield Parish Ecclesall Town Sheffield
Type of Building Private House
Number of Rooms 7 Inhabited Y
Reference RG14PN27780 RG78PN1591 RD509 SD5 ED2 SN194 Administrative County Yorkshire (West Riding)
Registration District Ecclesall Bierlow Registration Sub District Ecclesall South Enumeration District 2 

and living with her believe it or not, was a 12 year old adopted daughter KATE ELIZABETH STEER who was at school. Given the events of 1878 I find this adoption curious to say the least.!

In fact Florence lived to be the grand old age of 79 - Deaths Mar 1939 Steer Florence K age 79 Sheffield volume 9c page761 - over 60 years after the death of Isabella

4. 1881 Census Household:

Name Relation Marital Status Gender Age Birthplace Occupation Disability
Robert BUCKLEY Head M Male 37 Sheffield, York, England Shoemaker
Sarah A. BUCKLEY Wife M Female 35 Sheffield, York, England
Charles BUCKLEY Son Male 15 Sheffield, York, England Pen & Pocket Knife Grinder
Annie BUCKLEY Daughter Female 10 Sheffield, York, England Scholar
Edward BUCKLEY Son Male 7 Sheffield, York, England Scholar
Henry BUCKLEY Son Male 5 Sheffield, York, England Scholar
Albert BUCKLEY Son Male 3 Sheffield, York, England
Walter BUCKLEY Son Male 7 m Sheffield, York, England

Source Information:
Dwelling 77 Hague Lane Census Place Sheffield, York, England
Family History Library Film 1342125 Public Records Office Reference RG11Piece / Folio 4655 / 13 Page Number 20

5. The graves of Isabella's parents and brother

Buckley, Albert (Book binder, age 20).
Died at 150 Lord St; Buried on July 4, 1898 in Consecrated ground;
Grave Number 12692, Section X of City Road Cemetery, Sheffield.

Buckley, Robert (shoemaker, age 41).
Died at 77 Haigh Lane; Buried on July 21, 1885 in Consecrated ground;
Grave Number 12692, Section X of City Road Cemetery, Sheffield.
Parent or Next of Kin if Available: . Remarks: .

Buckley, Sarah Ann (Widow, age 65).
Died at 158 Lord St; Buried on January 17, 1912 in Consecrated ground;
Grave Number 12692, Section X of City Road Cemetery, Sheffield.

As for Isabella's mother SARAH ANN she lived as the record shows at 158 Lord Street

Name Sarah Ann Buckley Relationship to Head of Household Head Condition Widow Gender F Age 64 Estimated Year of Birth 1847 Employed N Working at Home N Place of Birth Sheffield Yorkshire Enumerator Information Address 158 Lord St Parish Sheffield Type of Building Private House Number of Rooms 3 Inhabited Y Reference RG14PN27899 RG78PN1596 RD510 SD3 ED7 SN165 Administrative County Yorkshire (West Riding) Registration District Sheffield Registration Sub District Sheffield Park Enumeration District 7

Living with her in 1911 were her 30 year old son WALTER and a 24 year daughter who went by the name FLORRIE which is the shortened version of FLORENCE!, the christian name of ISABELLA's teacher. The census also records that SARAH ANN had nine children in total, three of whom have died.    




Manchester Guardian dated 25th - 27th September 1872

The Hull Packet and East Riding Times dated 4th October 1878.

Liverpool Mercury dated 28th September 1878

UK CENSUS 1871 - 1911

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This page was last updated on 10/08/11 11:59