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Moor Manslaughter

Possibly one of the most popular inns on Dartmoor is the Warren House Inn located above the old Vitifer mines. Just past the inn are some old foundation walls of which used to be the early predecessor of the inn known as the Newhouse Inn. This inn was burnt down in 1845 and it is suggested that some of the stonework was used in building the Warren House Inn. It goes without saying that when the mines were working this remote inn was well patronised by the miners of the time. These were hard working and hard drinking men with little else to spend their money on but beer and cider. At times this led to drunkenness which in turn ended up in arguments and fights that on one fateful occasion led to the unfortunate death of one man – Henry Bawden.

An inquest was held by Jos. Gribble, Esq., one of the coroners for Devon, and as respectable jury as could be obtained in such a situation, on the 26th of March, at a public house, called Newhouse, near Vitifer Mines in the parish of Lidford in the Moor, on the body of Henry Bawden, a miner.”

Henry Bawden had previously been employed at Vitifer but had left there several weeks earlier. On the 16th of March he returned to the mines to collect the back pay which he was owed. Having received his money, he then visited the nearby Newhouse Inn, a frequent haunt for the Vitifer miners. He soon became embroiled in a drinking spree with a group of men when an argument between him and Andrew Osborne broke out. Being very drunk Bawden declared that he was the best man in the room and challenged Osborne to a fight. After a few punches had been thrown Osborne threw Bawden heavily to the rough granite floor. With a little help Bawden got up and the fight continued until at last they were parted, and Bawden was led away. A couple of days later Bawden began to complain of a severe headache and so the surgeon was called. After another two days Bawden became deranged and died the following day.

A post-mortem was carried out on the body by Mr. J. L. Nosworthy, surgeon of Moretonhampstead and assisted by Mr. Hunt, surgeon from Chagford. Their examination revealed that; “Upon opening the head a considerable extravasation of blood was found underneath the scalp, and the blood vessels of the brain were ruptured, and other injuries sufficient to cause death.” The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter against Andrew Osborn who was immediately sent to the Devon County Gaol until his trial at the next assizes. – The Western Times, April 6th, 1839.


On March the 2nd, 1839 Andrew Osborne appeared at the Devon Lammas Assizes to answer his charge of the manslaughter of Henry Bowden. The first witness called was Peter Austin, a miner who stated that; “I live at Postbridge and knows Osborne. I saw him and Bawden together on the 16th of March, Osbourne was there first. There was a quarrel between them, Bawden said he was the best man in the room, and would fight Osbourne, who did not wish to quarrel. They afterwards fought with their fists and threw each other on the ground. It was a fair fight. Osbourne appeared to be the stronger man of the two. They were separated and Osbourne said he would fight no more. Bowden afterwards said he would make Osbourne smell the boards of his coffin, and they had another round in which they appeared to be equally matched. Osbourne said that one man was as good as another, and he would give up. They then shook hands and Bawden went to bed. He did not complain of being hurt.”

The second witness was the famous Jonas Coaker who testified that; “ I keep the Moreton Inn (AKA the Newhouse Inn) on Dartmoor. I knew Henry Bawden who lived two years in my house. I saw the fight. Osbourne upset Bawden every fall. There was one severe turn in which Bawden was under and got up in a minute. Bawden was anxious to continue with the fight to see if he might get a lucky chance. The fight was on a granite floor in the room. Bawden was put to bed after the fight, but I never heard him complain. Next day, Sunday, he got up and had his meals, and only complained of his ankle. Next morning, he sent a man for a surgeon that was sleeping with him in the same room, the man did not go for a surgeon, but I did. The man died a few days later.”

John Lee Nosworthy the surgeon who performed the post-mortem then gave his evidence; “ I was called to attend Bawden, he was in bed. He complained of pain all over him. There was a bruise on his head, and his pulse was quick. I bled him copiously as he was a strong athletic man and gave him some medicine. On the following Friday I was sent for, and desired to come the next day. I did and found him delirious with symptoms of effusion of the brain. He died the next day… The man’s system was in a state of inflammation from excessive drinking, the vessels of the brain were engorged and inflamed. The injuries would not have been so likely to cause death were it not for the intoxication. He appeared he had been drinking for a week.” – The Western Times, August 3rd, 1839.

After careful deliberation the jury returned a verdict of guilty but due to the uncertainty of the circumstances Osbourne was sentenced to just three weeks imprisonment. It is worth noting that at the time the New House Inn was not the most salubrious of places. On one occasion some miners became so unruly and began helping themselves to free drinks that Jonas Coaker had to flee the inn for sanctuary upon the moor, leaving the miners running the inn. It is also interesting to read the wording of the first article where it referred to “as respectable jury as could be obtained in such a situation.” Did this elude to the fact that being a remote area it was hard to find a jury or the fact that the jury had to be drawn from miners, or even both circumstances.

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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