A Murder-Suicide in Stephen Basdeo’s Victorian Ancestors: The Case of George Leedham (1871)

By Stephen Basdeo

I have been doing a lot of work this past year tracing my ancestors and discovering their history. Imagine how delighted (wrong word, perhaps!) I was when I discovered that, on my mother’s side (my father is from Guyana, and it’s hard to trace his family history beyond a few generations) there was a notorious murder-suicide committed by George Leedham against his stepmother.

My mother is called Deborah Basdeo. Her maiden name was Trundley and the maiden name of her mother (my grandmother) was Leedham, a family who hailed from Grimsby, Yorkshire.

I reprint the account of the murder-suicide as reprinted in Reynolds’s Weekly Newspaper, on 26 February 1871.

Particularly worrying is the fact that I love rice pudding (much like George did) and his father thought that insanity ran in the blood…


Murder and Suicide Near Grimsby

On Monday, Mr Marris, coroner for the district, met a jury at the Green Man Inn, Stallingborough, to inquire into the circumstances attending the murder of Sarah Leedham, aged forty-five, who, on the previous Saturday, at dinner time, was fatally stabbed in the neck by her stepson George Leedham; also upon the body of George Leedham, aged thirty six, who, having inflicted the fatal wound upon himself, drowned himself in the brick pond.

Christopher Leedham, husband and father respectively of the two deceased, who was in excessive grief, deposed: About twelve o’clock on Saturday my wife was getting a dinner ready. We had got the rice pudding, and she was stirring it. She said “George will you have a bit it will do your belly good?” I was looking at the paper by my heart was full. My son eat some out of the dish with a knife “George eat some with a spoon.” I then heard the knife go “chock.” She screamed and I took hold of her. My son then ran out. For several days I had followed him in the fields; he was wandering about. He was sitting by the side of a dyke and said “What do you follow me about for?” On Friday night he came down and made faces in the glass and asked where Sally was (his mother). In the morning I went to him in bed. He said he was poisoned — that we had poisoned him. A day or two before he appeared frightened that I should hurt him. He cried and sobbed out. I felt his pulse which was going eight times as fast as it ought. He said “Oh father I shall die broken-hearted.” He used to turn red when he was going off. His brother came to see him last week from Milford Junction and slept with him two nights. The first night he could get no rest through the other who was always talking and saying that he should die. The second night I went up and saw his brother asleep but George said he was only torturing him. I believe he thought of drowning himself two or three times. I think insanity is in the blood. His grandmother went off her mind and had a straight waistcoat, at Attleborough, Warwickshire.

Thomas Jackson, a labourer who lives next door to but under the same roof as the Leedham family, deposed that on the Saturday when he was at home for dinner he heard a noise in the house and some screaming. Witness and his wife ran out and saw George Leedham in the field adjoining the house throwing his arms about in a wild and excited manner. Witness tried to secure him but he kept getting out of his way. He finally ran through the hedge into the brick yard and jumped into the pond. He did not get into the deepest part, but was near the side. Elijah Leedham was also there and they pulled him on the back. Witness stopped with him and Elijah went back to look after his brother. He kept hold of his collar and called out for help but deceased sprang up, overpowered him, and rushed into the water again, pulled witness partly in, and sank directly. He was dead when taken out, having been in the water fifteen or twenty minutes. From what the witness had heard and seen of his state of mind, his opinion was that he was decidedly insane. He exclaimed “I have done it and meant to do it.” He and his stepmother had been very good friends. She had been extremely kind to him lately.

Mr Ralph Burnham, surgeon, of Keelby, said he was in the village on the Saturday morning, and hearing of the occurrence, went at once to the house. He found Mrs Leedham quite dead. He examined the wound, but could not feel the bottom of it; it penetrated into the chest. The external jugular vein was not injured but some of the vessels coming from the heart were cut through.

The verdict in both cases was “Homicide by Leedham whilst in a fit of insanity.”

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