Moses Whiting 1843-1915

Reproduced by kind permission of The British Library. Rich Click to open in new Tab and enlarge.

Parents: John Whiting and Elizabeth Poole
Born: 1843 in Haverhill.(1)
Baptised: ?
Married: Emma Cole, spinster of Burton End, Haverhill, daughter of James Cole, carpenter, on 21st February 1863 at St Mary's Church, Haverhill. Witnessed by Frederick and Eliza Cowle.(2,3)
Children: William Whiting b.1864, Ellen Whiting b.1866, Alice Whiting b.1868, John Whiting b.1870, ? - stillborn 1872(4), ? - stillborn 1873(5), and James Whiting b.1874 died 1876.
Died: August 1915 in Broadmoor Asylum. (6)

Bio: I can't find Moses on the baptismal registers, but we know he was born in 1843 in Haverhill. He first appears on the 1851 census living with his parents, brother William and half-brother John Siggs Pool in Burton End. Again, on the 1861 census, he is living in Burton End with his parents and brother William and is working as a weaver. At the age of 20, Moses married Emma Cole, also of Burton End and also a weaver. They set up household together in Burton End and are there on the 1871 census. Moses and Emma have four children, William, Ellen, Alice and John. Also living with them is Amelia Cole, 20, Emma's sister, who is a machinist.

In the next few years Emma had two unsuccessful pregnancies resulting in stillborn children. They were buried at Haverhill Cemetery. This was followed by the birth of James Whiting in 1874.

Tragically, on Friday 22nd September 1876, Moses was to take leave of his senses and murder young James with a billhook. Husband and wife had been working on their looms from around 6.15am and later that morning Moses was seen to take a billhook from underneath a board and went into the next room.

Emma heard a noise and asked ‘what are you doing of?’. When she went to find out what was going on, she was horrified to see Moses standing over the dead child. She raised the alarm and neighbours were soon on the scene, including Mary Whiting. John Siggs Pool had to restrain Moses, who was trying to cut his own throat with a knife. Stephen Sharpe also came to assist. They kept him in the garden until Police Inspector Andrews arrived. There were several suggestions as to why Moses killed his youngest child. An inquest took place at the Bell Hotel, Haverhill, and Doctor Charles Brainsford suggested that he had attended some of Moses family for insanity, and that his brother had just come out of an asylum. Also he had recently been called to visit Moses as he had ‘been in a state of great mental depression’ and ‘it appeared to me he had been suffering from delirium tremens (symptoms of alcohol withdrawal).’ His half-brother noted he had been in a strange manner, but that he had not been out to drink recently – despite a rumour that he had been blind drunk at the time of the murder. Also there was some disagreement whether lack of work had affected his mood, some said this was the case; others differed. Inspector Andrews said he ‘kept rolling about as if he was mad’.

An interesting theory recently suggested by one of Moses' descendants(9) was that he could have been afflicted by Huntington's disease, a terminal condition formerly known as Huntington's Chorea. Moses' son William's daughter Elsie was known to have this condition, and as it is hereditary there was every chance it came from Moses' side of the family. The disease was first identified in 1872 in USA, but would not have been generally known about at the time of the murder. Adult-onset Huntington's disease usually manifests itself in persons in their mid 30's (Moses was around 33 at the time) and symptoms can include 'Antisocial behaviours, Hallucinations, Irritability, Moodiness, Restlessness or fidgeting, paranoia and psychosis' with abnormal and unusual movements such as 'Quick, sudden, sometimes wild jerking movements of the arms, legs, face, and other body parts' (8) These descriptions are eerily congruent with the accounts of Moses' behaviour from the time. This would also explain the history of problems in Moses family that some of the locals described. However, because of the way the disease is passed on Moses' son William, too, would have had to have had HC if Elsie had got it from that side of the family. Looking at William's death certificate might tell us if this was the case.

As a result of his father's attack, poor James’ head had been cleft by the billhook and he must have died instantly. He was buried at Haverhill Cemetery on 27th September.

The circumstantial evidence was overwhelming, and Moses was charged with the wilful murder of his child before the magistrates W. Boreham and D. Gurteen in the courtroom that same afternoon. The following people gave evidence: Emma Whiting, John Siggs Pool, Stephen Sharpe Jnr and Stephen Sharpe Snr, Mary Whiting, Inspector Andrews and Doctor Brainsford. The jury at the inquest found Moses guilty of wilful murder, and he was committed to stand trial at the next assizes. However, ‘the prisoner was declared to be insane, and removed to Broadmoor Lunatic Asylum on the 7th day of November, 1876, by the order of the Right Honourable the Secretary of State’(7)

Moses, who was described as ‘a spare, thin man’, was to spend the rest of his life in the Broadmoor Asylum – where he can be found on subsequent censuses, and he died there in August 1915.

Emma his wife, never remarried, and died in the same month and year as Moses. She was buried at Haverhill Cemetery on 31st August 1915.

See Paul Garrard's blog for an absorbing article about his ancestor Moses


(1) Birth Register. 3rd Quarter 1843, Risbridge district, Volume 12 Page 384
(2) Suffolk Records Office, Bury St Edmunds, Parish Registers of St Mary's Church, Haverhill. Fiche 578/4/26 of 37
(3) Marriage Register. 1st Quarter 1863, Risbridge district, Volume 4a Page 448
(4) Haverhill Cemetery, Ref. 361.
(5) Haverhill Cemetery, Ref. 416.
(6) Death Register. 3rd Quarter 1915, Easthampstead district, Volume 2c, Page 466

Article by Jane Harwood in the Haverhill History Group journal, ‘Shocking Case of Child Murder’ – contains extracts from the Bury Free Press, 30th September 1876 and the Bury & Norwich Post, 28th November 1876.

Extract from The Ipswich Journal, Tuesday 26th September 1876, issue 7461. JPEG at top left of page.

(7) The Ipswich Journal, Sat 25th November 1876, issue 7478
(9) Thanks to Paul Garrard for this plausible and thought provoking theory.