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Moortown Maniac

Moortown

Love and Vengeance – One of the most resolute of bloodthirsty scoundrels has enacted a deed that scarcely finds an equal – not even in the Newgate Calendar. Three miles from Tavistock there is a place called Moortown, and thence through a lane the traveller reaches Dartmoor. At the very end of this lane there is a farm occupied by Mr. James Blatchford, who is married and has several daughters. Not far from his farm there is a cottage tenanted by Widow Medland and her son, who is now twenty-five years old.”

So began a newspaper report on the 26th of October 1865. According to the tithe apportionment of 1843 James Blatchford’s farm was Moortown where this horrific story took place. At the centre of this crime was John Medland the twenty-five year old son of Widow Medland. Described at the time as being; “a tall, stalwart young man, but of by no means pleasing in appearance.” He was by trade a stone mason and no doubt found employment in one of the nearby quarries.

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Before his death, John Medland’s father worked on Blatchfords’ farm as a labourer and during this time John became a favourite of the Blatchford family. On one occasion he actually lived with them whilst recuperating from an illness. It did not take long before he began to spend a great deal of time with Blatchford’s youngest daughter Elizabeth. At the time of this crime she was nineteen years old and was of; “an attractive form.” It did not take long for local tongues to wag and the couple were seen as lovers but as soon as this gossip reached James Blatchford he; “commanded his daughter to relinquish every thought and feeling of affection towards John Medland.” Whether or not this had anything to do with Medland leaving Moortown with the intention of going to Liverpool and then emigrating abroad nobody knows. But to Liverpool he set forth but was soon to return to his native home at Moortown due to an supposed illness. As he did not want to burden his aged mother with caring for him Medland asked James Blatchford if he could lodge with him until he was fully recovered. Unfortunately he agreed to this act of kindness, a decision he was later to severely regret. Once ensconced in the family home Medland once again began to turn his attention to Elizabeth who tactfully suggested that he should just think of her as a friend and nothing else – words she would soon regret.
One evening Medland was sat beside the kitchen fire with Elizabeth sitting opposite to him, meantime Mrs Blatchford and one her daughters were busy in another part of the kitchen. All seemed calm and peaceful and Elizabeth went to put some more logs on the fire. Suddenly Medland sprang to his feet, pulled out a six-barrelled revolver and fired at her head, the shot hitting the girl behind her left ear. She slumped to the floor with blood gushing from her wound, on seeing that she was still alive Medland then shot her once again. Fortunately the stays of her corset acted as a bullet proof vest thus preventing the shot from entering her body. On hearing the first shot Mrs Blatchford rushed over to Medland exclaiming; “You villain! what are you doing?” to which Medland screamed; “I will do for you too,” and immediately fired a shot at her. Luckily his aim was off and the bullet missed the mother and lodged in a wall. Whilst he was distracted sister Salina managed to wrestle his arms behind his back and then a fierce struggle ensued during which Medland managed to free his gun arm allowing him to fire another shot over his shoulder with the intent on hitting her in the head. Once again he missed his target and the bullet lodged itself in another wall and Salina managed to escape to the outside courtyard closely followed by her mother. Whilst this drama was unfolding Jane, another sister rushed into the room where Elizabeth was lying on the floor and helped her to her feet when they too both made their escape. Seeing the two sisters dashing from the room Medland fired another shot after them, yet again fortunately missing both girls. By now Medland had completely lost his senses and decided to turn his attentions to Mr. Blatchford who at the time was outside in the courtyard. Still inside the farmhouse Medland was cussing and cursing with threats of killing Mr. Blatchford then everything went as quite as the grave.
Events then took an unexpected turn, Medland grabbed one of the kitchen knives and twice made slashed his throat, still firing on adrenaline he charged out of the house and made for his mother’s house. Having lost copious amounts of blood he collapsed in the meadow leading to the widow’s house, farmer Blatchford came to his aid and helped him to the cottage where Medland, despite his injuries, was vowing; “to do for,” his mother. Eventually they managed to calm him down and send for a doctor who managed to stitch his wounds. Medland was charged with the offence of attempted murder against Elizabeth Blatchford and oddly enough the attack on her mother and sisters was ignored?

As if the events at Moortown Farm were not enough Medland’s hearing was just as bizarre. It was reported on the day that over 300 people attended the hearing, all eager to get the full story, it was also reported that there was no legal representation for either the prosecution or defence. Elizabeth Blatchford, her father and mother along with her two sisters entered the court all said to have been in an agitated state. Medland was also in a feeble state but not enough to spring to his feet as soon as he saw Elizabeth screaming; “darling,” and “dearest Elizabeth, ” also exclaiming that; “I am willing to die and should she have been dead I  could die happy.” With these words he broke down in tears and cried  bitterly at which point Elizabeth became so distraught her father had to take her out of the room. This enraged Medland even more and demanded that she should remain in the room where he could see her, this demand was denied. Medland immediately went off on one and began to tear off the bandages covering his throat. Three policemen tried to restrain him whilst the police superintendent attempted to pacify the man, all to no avail and so the handcuffs were clamped on him for his own safety.
The first witness called to give evidence was Elizabeth Blatchford who testified that: “I am a single woman, and reside with my father, a farmer at Moortown, in the parish of Whitchurch. I know John Medland, who used to live near to may father’s house, but he had been away from the neighbourhood, and did not return until recently. I saw him for the first time since he came back on Saturday week when I was with my mother at Devonport. I entered into conversation with him, but nothing unpleasant took place between  us. I saw him on the following Monday, when he came into my father’s farmyard. He spoke to me during the afternoon, but I was never during that time alone, my two sisters being with me. He came into the kitchen and the wash-house. The prisoner was a great friend of my brother’s and he stayed at the house and slept with him on Monday night. I saw him on Tuesday morning at the breakfast table. After breakfast he asked to speak to me, and I said; ‘if you have anything to say, say on.’ He said nothing in particular. He remained at the premisis all day, having his meals in the house but nothing especially noticeable took place until a quarter past five o’ clock. At that time I was stooping before the kitchen fire, which I was blowing up, and the prisoner was standing by. He spoke something to me which I did not distinctly hear, and I was about to ask him what it was when I felt a blow upon my head. I cannot remember having heard the report of any pistol for I became insensible. I remained senseless, and don’t remember feeling a second blow. When I recovered I found that I had been taken into the yard.” At this point Medland yelled out; “I don’t want her to be asked anything like that. I am only very happy to see her as she is; that’s all I want.”
The next witness called was Grace Blatchford who stated; “I am the mother of the last witness. The prisoner had been in the habit of working for my husband. I saw him at Devonport on Saturday. He got upon the front of my waggon, and said he was going to lodge to put himself upon a club. He got down, and I did not see him again until Monday when he came to my house. He slept in the house at night, and remained during Tuesday. Just before five o’ clock my daughter was blowing up the kitchen fire. I heard the report of a pistol and was staggered at first; but when I ran to see what was the matter I saw the prisoner standing near my daughter Elizabeth with a pistol close to her ear. I said; ‘You villain, what are you about?” The prisoner replied; “I’ll have you,” presenting the pistol close to my face. My other daughter Salina scratched his arm, and although the prisoner fired, the shot went clear of my face, and penetrated the wall opposite. My daughter held him fast and I ran out into the courtyard to tell my husband. I believe the prisoner fired at Elizabeth the second time, and I therefore told my husband what I believed to be true, that probably my three daughters were shot. The prisoner then ran into one of my fields in pursuit of my three daughters. His throat was cut, and the blood streamed from his neck. My husband sprang forward and seized the prisoner, and I held his hand, and we were about to search him, but he said; ‘I have nothing.” Medland then exclaimed; “I did not point the pistol at you. I pointed it to my dear Elizabeth. You may say what you like. I don’t want to come to this country gain. I only wanted to see my dear Elizabeth.”
The next witness was Salina Blatchford who testified that; “On Tuesday afternoon, a little before five o’ clock, I heard a pistol fired, and ran into the kitchen. I saw my mother and sister in front of Medland, who had his back turned to me. I sprang towards him, and clasped my arms around him, and at that moment I heard a another pistol report. I was too flurried to notice whether the prisoner had a pistol in his hand or not. Medland then got his hand partly free, and fired over his shoulder at me. He missed me, because he could not get his hand high enough over his shoulder to aim at me. I let him go, and sister Jane and I scrambled towards the door, when another pistol shot was heard and I and my sister fell in the doorway. I fell upon my sister. My mother and sister Elizabeth had already made their escape. We jumped up and ran out, however, and then the prisoner followed us until my mother and father stopped him.”
Next up was Jane Blatchford who described how she was; “In the kitchen with my mother, sister and Medland. Medland was standing in the middle of the room. He stepped towards my sister Elizabeth and fired off a pistol. My sister fell on one side and upon the floor, and prisoner then fired at her again as she lay on the ground. The ball struck her on her left side. I saw the pistol in the prisoners hand.  I at once assisted in raising my sister, and observed the prisoner point the pistol at my mother just as my sister Salina came into the kitchen. She caught hold of him firmly from behind, but could not prevent his firing it, although she succeeded in diverting his aim, for the ball missed my mother. When I saw my sister Elizabeth in the field she was bleeding. As I was rushing out of the house with Salina a forth shot was fired and she and I fell; but got up and left him in the kitchen. When I next saw the prisoner blood was gushing from his throat. Next day I saw a hole in mys sister’s dress, and a contusion upon her side.”
The last family witness was farmer Blatchford who gave the following account: “I am a farmer at Moortown. A young daughter of mine bade me come into the house, as my daughter and wife were being shot. I met my wife almost breathless. She could not tell me what was the matter; but at last she said Medland had a revolver, and had shot my daughter Elizabeth. Directly after my daughter Elizabeth came out into the field towards me. She was bleeding profusely from the head. She could hardly speak; but soon intimated that she did not know where her sisters were. Then came out my two daughters, Salina and Jane, into the field. My daughters prevented me from going to the prisoner. Medland cam close by me, and as he did so I sprang at him and held him whilst my wife searched him. He was very violent and kicked. I said; ‘You villain, what have you done?’ He said; ‘It was you I intended to murder next.’ His throat was bleeding. His mother was brought, and he took up a stone, but was by force prevented from throwing it at her. I handed the prisoner to the custody of my son. As the prisoner had a widowed mother I kept him for two months. He was quiet and steady. He was quite sane and weighed out grain for me accurately within an hour of the attack. My daughter has since told me that he said to her he wished to pay his court to her; but she had told him that she would rather die than marry him.”
At this point Medland once again broke down in tears and uttered; “It’s no use speaking. Mr dear Elizabeth, cheer up.” He then once again became agitated and began to stand up and yelled out; “Oh, Mr. Blatchford, move aside and let me see her. If she were dead I should die happy.”
The last witness called was P.C. Balsden who said that he had found a conical bullet in the kitchen and that the prisoner had told him that; “he intended to hurt no but Miss Elizabeth and that he had been round the house many a night, and she has come out and seen me unknown to to her parents.” he also added; “I have been keeping company with her for six years. Mr. and Mrs Blatchford knew this and had found fault with her for it.” further to this the prisoner added whilst he was away from Moortown; “he generally received a letter once a week which she used to write at Devonport market and that not having heard from he he could not work and therefore came home.”
On hearing this Medland said; “Oh, Balsden, if I had known this would have been repeated I would never have told you, my boy. If I mentioned Mr. Blatchford as knowing anything of my engagement, I made a mistake. But do just let me see Elizabeth before I go down.”
Mrs Blatchford was then recalled and stated that she was aware of Medland’s fondness of Elizabeth but her daughter had denied the fact and she added that Elizabeth had in fact been engaged to someone else for the past tow or three months. Medland was then committed for trail at the assizes and was taken from the dock weeping and begging that he might see Elizabeth again. – Reynold’s Newspaper, 29th of October 1865.
At the Exeter Assizes on the March the 12th, 1866, John Medland was charged with the attempted murder of four persons and attempted suicide. The judge then gave his summary which was followed by a jury verdict of ‘guilty’ but with the plea that mercy should be shown. Their reasoning for this being that Medland did not intend to murder Elizabeth Blatchford our of malice or hatred but that he was labouring under great excitement at the time. The judge deferred sentencing but later sent Medland down for fifteen years. I think that considering the times and the harsh punishments normally meted out that this was a very light sentence. One could even say that Medland was clearly insane both during his attack and throughout the trail and did well not to be sent to an asylum. Incidentally, today Moortown Farm continues to attract the public’s attention as the iconic Vixen Tor sits on its land or as it’s contentiously become known today ‘ The Forbidden Tor.’

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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