As a family historian and researcher one of the greatest sources of information are the UK Censuses. It is possible on occasion to trace a family from their births to their deaths. The subject of this article is one JOHN THORPE, the son of WILLIAM and MARY ANN THORPE who first appears in the 1851 Census as a nine year old child living in Lambert Street which is in the Shalesmoor district of Sheffield.  

1851 Census

Ten years later he is still living with his family in Lambert Street but he is employed as a Carter

1861 Census

By 1871 the census shows that JOHN THORPE has married and has three children, the youngest being ELLEN THORPE. The marriage occurred in Sheffield in 1862 when JOHN THORPE married an ELLEN SWALLOW (born circa 1840) 

1871 Census


1881 Census

By 1881 the family consisted of seven children living in Pond Street but the most significant entry is the "wife" HANNAH THORPE. I checked and found the following

Deaths Mar 1880 THORPE Ellen 33 Sheffield 9c 277  

and this burial record

THORPE, ELLEN (buried St Vincent's section, age 33yr). Died at UNION; Buried on March 5, 1880 in Roman Catholic ground; Grave Number 257, Section NA of St Michaels RC Cemetery, Rivelin. Remarks: .Plot Owner: ~ ~ of ~. Page No 6148

There is a discrepancy in the age but given the information in the forthcoming newspaper reports I believe this to be JOHN THORPE'S wife ELLEN THORPE

And JOHN did not marry HANNAH until 1882 - the same reports say that with JOHN being a widower, HANNAH was his "housekeeper"

Surname First name (s) District Volume  Page Marriages Mar 1882 TAYLOR Hannah Sheffield 9c 407 THORPE John Sheffield 9c 407 

The 1881 Census record is as follows

Name: Ellen Thorpe
Age: 12 Estimated Birth Year: abt 1869
Relationship to Head: Daughter
Father: John Thorpe
Mother: Hannah (Anna) Thorpe
Gender: Female
Where born: Sheffield, Yorkshire, England Civil Parish: Sheffield County/Island: Yorkshire Country: England
Street address: 21 CT No 3 House Pond St
Occupation: Scholar
Registration district: Sheffield Sub registration district: South Sheffield ED, institution, or vessel: 5 :Piece: 4650 Folio: 105 Page Number: 10
Household Members: 
Name Age
John Thorpe 34
Hannah (Anna) Thorpe 34
Alfred Thorpe 16
Ann Elizth. Thorpe 14
Ellen Thorpe 12
James Thorpe 10
John Wm. Thorpe 8
George Thorpe 5
Thomas Thorpe 2

The first article I came across was from the London Times dated 7th November 1881 and relates to the inquest held in Sheffield into the death of 12 year old ELLEN THORPE, the daughter of JOHN THORPE

The Coroner who incidentally was no stranger to the ill-treatment of children in Sheffield stated that this was "the most abominable case of ill-treatment he had ever known", and severely admonished the father JOHN THORPE.

He also released the body of ELLEN for burial in Sheffield's General Cemetery. This is her burial record. It is a public grave and ELLEN is buried with 20 other bodies in an unmarked grave

burial no: 23660 grave no: NN 85
death date: 01 Nov 1881 burial date: 08 Nov 1881
name: Ellen Thorpe
sex: female
age: 12
cause of death: 
description: Daughter of John Thorpe, File Forger
residence: 2 Court, Cotton Mill Walk
minister: Thomas S. King burial type: unconsecrated

The Coroner certainly did make representations to the authorities and less than one month later  JOHN THORPE was brought before the City Magistrates on a charge of manslaughter

The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated 2nd December 1881 


At the Sheffield Town Hall, yesterday, before Alderman. Tozer and Mr. W. K. Peace, John Thorpe, 37 years of age, a file forger, living in Ho. 4 court, Cotton Mill Walk, was brought up on a war rant charged with causing the death of his daughter, Ellen Thorpe, twelve years of age. The prosecution was instituted by the Treasury. The inquest on the child was so

y held that it is unnecessary to give what then took place. The jury returned a verdict " that the deceased died from consumption, accelerated by chastisement, neglect, and improper treatment received at the hands of the father." 

An application for a warrant the apprehension of the lather was made yesterday by Mr. R. Fairburn, and the warrant was executed on Wednesday by Detective-officer Moody. Mr. Fairburn said he was instructed by the Treasury to prefer a charge of manslaughter against the prisoner. It seemed that about a year ago his wife died and left him with several children. Since then be had taken a woman into his house, who was clearly not his house- keeper, for she was very near her confinement. Mr. Harrison, surgeon, attended all the family for fever some time ago, one of them being the deceased, who was 12 years old. As soon as she got better of the low fever, the prisoner and the woman habitually neglected the child and deprived her of food. This ill-usage brought on consumption, of which she died on the 1st of November. 

For ten days previous to her death she had been unable to leave her bed; and what one would hardly credit, but which nevertheless was true, was that two days before she died, the prisoner beat her unmercifully with a cane. The surgeon gave it as his opinion that this treatment accelerated death, and the facts of the case having come to the ears of the Treasury. They thought it only right that a prosecution for manslaughter should be instituted against the prisoner. He was only apprehended on Wednesday night, and he (Mr. Fairburn) proposed, therefore, only to put in sufficient evidence that day to justify a remand for eight days. The prisoner had been receiving 31s. a week on the average, and one of his sons earned 6s. 6d. a week, and one of his daughters during the greater part of October was in the workhouse, lt would thus be seen that he was not by any means poverty- stricken, and that he had one ?? less to maintain. He, however, had not paid his rent, and he (Mr. Fairburn) could not imagine what the prisoner had done with his money. Ellen Thorpe had been starved to death, and her death had been accelerated by the cruel treatment of her father. If the remand were granted, the case would be properly brought before the bench, aud he should then ask for the prisoner to be committed for trial on the charge at the Leeds Assizes. Mr. Fairburn then called Mr. Hugh Watson Harrison, surgeon, and one of the medical officers for the Sheffield Union. He said that in August last he attended Ellen Thorpe for low fever. She was about 12 or 13 years old, and was one of the prisoner's daughters. He attended her from August 2nd to September 17th, when she was getting better. On October 9th he again attended her, and continued doing so up to the 1st of November. 

This last attendance was for consumption. On the 31st of October — the day before her death — he visited the child. He found a mark on her body extending from the knuckle upwards to the left fore-arm. He found other bruises upon her chest. The child made a statement to him as to the manner iv which these marks bad been caused, and he formed an opinion which coincided with the child's statement. She bad been unable to attend to herself for a week or ten days previous to death. Tbe marks were recent, and he was of opinion that the mark on the forearm was undoubtedly caused by a stick or a cane. Iv fact he thought the child had been beaten. The marks ou the body might have been caused by a thrust of a stick or cane. The child did not appear to have been sufficiently nourished. His opinion was that the bruises he saw on the arm and body had accelerated death. He was clearly of that opinion. 

The prisoner, being asked if he desired to put any questions to Mr. Harrison, said: — l acknowledge striking the child on the hand with a cane, but only once. Mr. Robinson (the deposition clerk) : Have you anything to say why you should not be remanded? — The Prisoner: No, sir. 

The prisoner was then remanded for eight days. No application was made for bail. 

On  Thursday 02 February 1882 The Leeds Mercury reported on JOHN THORPE's trial for manslaughter at Leeds Assizes

JOHN THORPE.(38), file forger, was indicted for the manslaughter of Ellen Thorpe his daughter, at Sheffield on the 31st October.- Mr. Lockwood prosecuted; the prisoner, who pleaded not guilty, was undefended - 

It appeared that the prisoner had a girl, about 13 years old who was suffering from typhoid fever iu August last. She afterwards suffered from consumption, and for some weeks was in a very feeble state. She was attended by Mr. H. W. Harrison, who, on visiting her on the 31st October, noticed a black mark on the hand and forearm, which had evidently been caused by a blow from a cane. The girl then called his attention to a bruise on her chest.- Mrs Bartrum, a neighbour, who laid out the body of the deceased, said there were marks on the other parts, and when she spoke to the prisoner about them he said he was sorry for what he had done. Mr. Lockwood contended that the result of such violence to the girl in her weakly condition was to cause such a shock as to accelerate her death. 

The prisoner said lie was very sorry for what had occurred; he had 'great affection for the child, and had not meant to hurt her; she lad an objectionable habit, which so annoyed him at the time that he gave her a slight blow with a cane which he had in his hand. The other marks on her body were caused by the girl falling when endeavoring to get out of bed without assistance 

The jury found the prisoner Not Guilty and he was discharged.

Similarly the Bradford Observer dated Thursday 02 February 1882

ALLEGED MANSLAUGHTER BY A FATHER, John Thorpe (38), file forger, Sheffield, was indicted for the manslaughter of his child, Ellen Thorpe, aged thirteen years, at Sheffield, on October 31st last.—Mr. Lockwood prosecuted, and the prisoner was undefended. —

Mr. Lockwood, addressing the jury, said the circumstances under which the crime was perpetrated were not such as to justify them in finding a verdict of wilfull murder; but he thought they were such as would authorise them to come to the lesser verdict of manslaughter. The prisoner’s wife died some time ago, and since that period he had had another woman in his house, who was living in the capacity of housekeeper and attending to the wants of his children. The child who met her death had been suffering from, fever and was so bad that it was necessary for her to be confined to her bed. Under such circumstances it seemed hardly possible that the prisoner should thrash her, but he did so, and the reason which seemed to actuate him was that the child had dirtied its bed. 

The result was to cause such a shock to the child’s system—taking into consideration the delicate condition, in which she. was—as to bring about her death. When they heard the medical evidence did not think they would come to the conclusion that at the time she was beaten the child was in any imminent danger, although she was extremely weak. After the attack made upon her she grew very much worse, and died on November 1st.

Hugh Watson Harrison, surgeon, spoke to professionally attending the child, who was suffering from typhoid fever. He first saw her on the 17th September, and visited her several times subsequently. He was at the house the 27th October, and he found the child in a very weak state, but there were at that time marks of violence upon her. In addition to the fever the child was suffering from consumption, and death was only a question of time. She would very likely have lived for a week or ten days if she had not been ill-treated. A day or two afterwards when be went to the house he found various marks of bruises on the body, and, when asked to account for it, the prisoner said he had struck the child once across the arm with cane for dirtying the bed, and he was very sorry for it

 P.C. Thornton, coroner’s officer, Sheffield, stated that he examined the child’s body after death, and saw an extensive bruise upon the chest, in addition to some very bad ones on the arms. He asked the prisoner about it, and was told by him that the child got the injury on the chest falling upon a bedstead in an endeavor to get out of bed.— Another witness was called and gave similar evidence, and the prisoner expressed his sorrow for what had occurred. He loved his child, and it was only in a fit of passion that struck her on the arm. He did not beat her anywhere else.

His Lordship, in summing up, reminded the jury that, notwithstanding that the child was in dying state, if they were of opinion that the prisoner’s treatment of her materially accelerated death, it was their duty to return a verdict of manslaughter. 

The jury, after short consultation, found the prisoner not guilty.

Reading the reports at the Magistrates Court and the Assizes it is evident that there is a great deal of difference in the evidence. JOHN THORPE stated that he loved his daughter and that his action on the day before her death was impulsive and not in his true nature. And yet the people who laid the body of ELLEN out after death saw numerous injuries to the girls body that had occurred over a period of time. The medical officers also pointed this out as well. John Thorpe's explanation was that she injured herself getting out of bed seems rather lame given the nature and site of the injuries. And there was also evidence that ELLEN had suffered from neglect and malnourishment prior and during her terrible illness.

But the jury were of opinion that the prisoner’s treatment of her did not materially accelerated her death, and so found JOHN THORPE not guilty of manslaughter. I disagree with the verdict of the jury and do think his actions over a period of time did accelerate her death and he should have been convicted.   

1891 Census

By 1891 the whole family had left Sheffield for one of the more outlying districts - Brightholmlee, Bradfield, Yorkshire, Of course the speculation is that after the appalling behaviour of JOHN and HANNAH THORPE towards ELLEN they may have had to move on health grounds!

Name: John Thorpe
Gender: Male Age: 47
Relationship: Head
Birth Year: 1844
Spouse: Anney Thorpe
Birth Place: Sheffield, Yorkshire, England Civil Parish: Bradfield Residence Place: Brightholmlee, Bradfield, Yorkshire, England Sub registration district: Bradfield ED, Institution or Vessel: 5 Piece: 3791 Folio: 45
Household Members: 
Name Age
John Thorpe 47 Anney Thorpe 30 James Thorpe 19 John W Thorpe 17 George Thorpe 15 Tomas Thorpe 13 Florie Thorpe 4 Ernest Thorpe 1 Robert Saylor 25

1901 Census

As for JOHN THORPE he died at the age of 59 and is buried in Sheffield's General Cemetery, the same Cemetery where his daughter ELLEN was laid to rest 20 years earlier

burial no: 24449 grave no: O1 99
death date: 04 Mar 1902
burial date: 08 Mar 1902
name: John Thorpe
age: 59
cause of death: 
description: File Forger
birthplace: Sheffield
residence: Wharncliffe Side
minister: H F Kennedy
burial type: consecrated


1842 • Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
Birth of Brother Joseph Thorpe(1843–1886) abt 1843 • Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
Birth of Brother William Thorpe(1848–) abt 1848 • Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
Death of Brother Jarvis THORPE(1840–1848) 1848 • Sheffield
Birth of Sister Elizabeth Thorpe(1850–) abt 1850 • Sheffield, Yorkshire, England Death October 1869 • Sheffield, Yorkshire West Riding
Birth of Sister Sarah Thorpe(1853–1869) 1853 • Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
Marriage July 1862 • Sheffield, Yorkshire West Riding Ellen Swallow (1840–1880)
Birth of Son Alfred Thorpe(1865–1919) Apr 1865 • Sheffield
Birth of Daughter Ann Elizabeth Thorpe(1867–) Apr 1867 • Sheffield
Birth of Daughter Ellen Thorpe(1869–1881) 1869 • Sheffield 
Deaths Dec 1881 Thorpe Ellen 12 Sheffield 9c 233

Birth of Son James Thorpe(1871–1928) abt 1871 • Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
Birth of Son John William Thorpe(1873–) 1873 • Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
Birth of Son George Thorpe(1876–) abt 1876 • Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
Birth of Son Thomas Thorpe(1878–1941) 1878 • Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
Death of Wife Ellen Swallow(1840–1880)  • Sheffield England

Death of Daughter Ellen Thorpe(1869–1881)
Marriage January 1882 • Sheffield, Yorkshire West Riding Annie Taylor
Death of Father William THORPE(1812–1884) 1884 • Wortley, Yorkshire West Riding
Birth of Child Harry Thorpe(1886–)  • Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
Death of Brother Joseph Thorpe(1843–1886) Apr 1886 • Sheffield
Birth of Daughter Florey Thorpe(1886–) 7 Sept 1886 • Sheffield, Ecclesfield
Birth of Son Ernest Thorpe(1889–) July 1889 • Sheffield
Birth of Son Albert Thorpe(1893–) abt 1893 • Bradfield, Yorkshire, England
Birth of Daughter Lily Thorpe(1896–1978) 19 Jun 1896 • Wortley
Birth of Son Arthur Thorpe(1899–1979)  • Bradfield, Yorkshire, England 1899
Birth of Daughter Harriet Annie Thorpe(1902–1988) 24 Jan 1902 • Wortley, Sheffield
Death January 1902 • Wortley, Yorkshire West Riding


London Times dated 7th November 1881 -ISSUE 30345 Page 10

Sheffield Records Online

Leeds Mercury Thursday 02 February 1882

Bradford Observer Thursday 02 February 1882

Sheffield Indexers

UK Census 1851 - 1901

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This page was last updated on 08/04/22 14:40