James Messenger (c.1800-1886)

James Messenger, Thomas senior’s brother and Thomas Goode’s uncle, was born about 1800 in Sapcote and was for many years a farmer, at Gaddesby[1], until retiring sometime after 1876 and going to live in Rearsby[2] a few miles away, where he died in 1886. He appears to have resided in Gaddesby from as early as 1816[3] and may have started his farming life as a tenant at Brooksby, Leicestershire, as in 1829 56 acres of ‘fine pasture land’ was up for let then in the occupancy of a James Messenger[4]. He appears to have taken over the running of the family farm following the death of his father in 1838. It has reported that the farm came into the family’s possession in 1828 when it was said to have been purchased from John Edward King of Earl Shilton.



James never married, often employing a live-in housekeeper and rumour had it that he had a child by one housekeeper. He appears to have had his fair share of run-ins with the judiciary, often for relatively minor offences such as trespass[5], refusing to pay highway rates[6], various disputes with servants[7].

Gaddesby Lodge – 1884 OS Map

However, in 1843, he was arrested for the murder of one of his farm labourers, James Garner, aged about eighteen, the son of a Rearsby farmer. Known as the ‘Gaddesby Murder’, for a while it attracted widespread, even national, coverage. On 11th August 1843, 10 weeks after his sudden disappearance, James Garner’s severed head and decomposed body were found, together with an axe, by an Irish reaper[8], in one of James Messenger’s cornfields[9]. At the inquest[10], held in Gaddesby, where Mr. Messenger was represented by Messrs’ Robinson and Ingram, it was established that the deceased lived-in, sharing the farmhouse with James Messenger and his housekeeper, Alice Hymen. Sometime before his disappearance, Mr. Messenger and James Garner had had an angry exchange of words, regarding Garner’s relationship with the housekeeper.

On the morning of Friday 2nd June 1843, James Garner went out to work, as normal, at around four thirty am, but failed to return for breakfast. Whilst it appears that the police were notified of the disappearance, no search was undertaken and it was thought that he had enlisted as a soldier[11]. Following the discovery of the body, immediate suspicion fell on two of Messenger’s employees Thomas Timsen, a labourer, whose axe it was and Mr. Hymen, a wagoner and brother of Messenger’s housekeeper; both were detained although subsequently released due to lack of evidence[12].

When the body was discovered, James Messenger immediately took off for Birmingham, remaining away for over a week and on his return, he was taken into custody, having refused to accompany the Chief Constable to the spot where the body was found[13]. Circumstantial evidence against James Messenger was given by the housekeeper and her brother.

The principle evidence given by the housekeeper was that she stated that her employer came down stairs at about five o’clock when he went out for about ten minutes, and then returned for breakfast and expressed surprise that Garner had not returned for his breakfast. She “saw her master go by the ‘stick heap’, where the axe belonging to Timsen usually stood when he went sheep-herding”. He was subsequently seen by Hymen, the waggoner, and brother to the housekeeper, in a field adjoining the one in which deceased found, and through which he must have passed to get to the field in question[14]. Thomas Timsen had also heard Messenger and Garner arguing violently. It also transpired that just before James Garner disappeared, Messenger had Hymen and Timsen weeding the wheat field where the deceased was eventually found. However, after the deceased had disappeared they were told not to go into that particular field. Evidence was also given by Sarah Paget of Rotherby and her young daughter Hannah[15]. They were gathering wool in Mr. Messenger’s large field at the back of the house, at about eight or nine o’clock in the morning and reputedly saw Mr. Messenger standing against a gate near the hovel with blood on his hands, he then walked to the pond and washed his hands before returning the way he had come.

Another witness, Benjamin Buxton, stated that Mr. Messenger had told Thomas Timsen that “Garner would be found when the wheat was cut”. It was also disclosed that as the deceased still had 18s., and his watch on his person, the motivation for murder was not robbery but revenge. Following the inquest verdict of “wilful murder against some person or persons unknown”, James Messenger was released by Mr. Clarke, the Coroner, but was immediately arrested[16] by the Chief Constable, Mr. Goodyear, charged with murder and taken back to Leicester[17]. On 29th August, James Messenger was cross examined at a private Magistrate’s hearing at the County Police Office in Leicester and further remanded (at the city gaol) to attend a future hearing scheduled for 6th September[18]. This hearing was also held in private, where several witnesses testified against the evidence given by Sarah Paget and her daughter. The soldier who told Thomas Timsen that James Garner had enlisted was also cross-examined.

The outcome of the hearing was that James Messenger was committed for trial for the ‘wilful murder of James Garner’. Apparently, whilst the hearing was going on “hundreds of persons were waiting outside of the County Offices to learn what was the decision of the Magistrates[19]. James Messenger was released on bail on 10th October[20], ready to stand trial before a Grand Jury[21] in mid-December. At the trial, the judge, Baron James Parke, in his summing up to the jury indicated that the evidence against the accused was circumstantial. The principal evidence was that of Sarah Paget and her daughter and he believed that the case would hinge on the truth or otherwise of this evidence[22]. The case was dismissed by the jury and James Messenger was discharged.

The following January new evidence became known, whereby an Ellen Hodges, of Bedford Street, Leicester who was near Gaddesby Lodge on the day the murder took place, claimed to have seen James Messenger, with blood on his hands, climbing over a fence and walking away. She had previously heard the man say “Done it: I’ve done it”. Following the incident Ellen Hodges made for Syston railway station, in order to take the train back to Leicester. On her way to the station, she saw a woman and child apparently picking up sticks. Whilst the Chief Constable, Mr. Goodyear, had been aware of the accusation for several months, nothing was done, due to Ellen Hodges reluctance to make a statement.

Plan of Gaddesby Lodge Farm – The Leicester Chronicle, Saturday, 2 September, 1843

In mid-January a case brought by James Messenger against one of his employees, Thomas Timsen, of having lost a number of implements during the period of being held in custody. The case appeared before the Loughborough Bench and Thomas Timsen who was defended by Mr. Bell refused to comment and was duly committed for trial. Mr. Timsen then made an accusation against Mr. Messenger, claiming, “Messenger offered him (Timsen) money to bury the body of Garner”. Mr. Bell took this statement to the magistrates, which together with the statement from Ellen Hodges convinced them to re-apprehend James Messenger. Mr. Goodyear, Superintendent Hague and Mr. Bell went the Messenger’s home where he was in bed and apprehended him[23]. At about the same time a £300 reward was offered for the apprehension of murderer. This came with the promise of a free pardon to anyone who had information as the identity of the perpetrator, so long as he or she was not the actual perpetrator[24].

Ellen Hodges evidence was subsequently examined by the Magistrates and accompanied by Mr. Charters and others, she revisited the scene, where she was able to everyone’s satisfaction demonstrate the accuracy of her account[25]. James Messenger was, yet again, re-examined in a private hearing by the Magistrates and again remanded to appear the following Wednesday[26]. Mrs. Hodges evidence was re-examined and found to be acceptable, although a few points needed to be cleared up, such as who gave Mrs. Hodges a lift on his cart and who was the man who directed her to Syston station? Inquiries failed to identify positively either person, although it was thought that they might have left the district. It was made known that the defence intended to try to prove that Mrs. Hodges was insane, with a number of witnesses already identified[27]. Following further examination a discrepancy arose between the statements of Mrs. Hodges and the Paget’s (mother and daughter), regarding the time when Mr. Messenger was seen; although apparently this could be explained by the known differences in time of village clocks against their market-town counterparts[28]. Shortly afterwards Mrs. Hodges was assaulted and seriously injured, by an unknown assailant, who called at her home late at night and struck her. Whilst the police made inquiries, they appeared not to be very hopeful of apprehending the culprit[29]. Subsequent examination of Mrs. Hodges, threw up fresh doubts regarding her statement, particularly regarding her payment of 1s. at Syston for a first class rail ticket back to Leicester. Railway Company official, Mr. Withers the stationmaster, produced his books to show that no person paying for either a first- or second-class ticket boarded a train at Syston at the time stated by Mrs. Hodges[30]. Mr. Messenger was remanded in custody for the fifth time since his re-apprehension a couple of weeks earlier[31].

The following Tuesday, the Magistrates gathered at the county gaol to continue their investigation. A Mr. John Chaplin, of Kegworth, a travelling lace dealer and minor manufacturer, was summoned and identified as the person who gave Mrs. Hodges directions to Syston station. Mr. Chaplin thought that Mrs. Hodges was very like the person he gave directions. It transpired that Mr. Chaplin also travelled by train from Syston but this time on the 4pm to Kegworth. However, yet again, Mr. Withers could find nothing in his book to confirm Mr. Chaplin’s story. Under the circumstances, the magistrates decided they had no alternative but to discharge Mr. Messenger, who went to Queen’s Head public house in Townhall Lane, Leicester, where it is reported that he was in very good spirits[32]. Because of Mr. Messenger’s release it appears that there a large amount of speculation regarding Timsen’s detailed knowledge of the murder and even (untrue) rumours as to the fact that he had his confessed to the murder[33].

James Messenger continued to farm at Gaddesby Lodge farm until 1876 when he sold up and retired. In the 1851 census return, it is stated that he farmed 120 acres, employing one farm labourer and two “house servants”. Ten years later again, it was 120 acres, one farm labourer, with the housekeeper being 66-year-old Ann Browett. The 1876 sale notice stated that the 120 acres freehold estate comprised of “pastures and arable land, farm house and suitable outbuildings” and “adjoined good roads, is well fenced and watered, and is situated in the centre of the Quorn Hunt, within easy reach of the Cottesmore, Duke of Rutland’s, and Mr. Tailsby’s Hounds[34]. They selling agents, Messrs Warner, Sheppard and Wade, were obviously targeting the farm as a specific market. The farm having been sold, James Messenger arranged through auctioneers Williamson and Walker, for the animals, agricultural implements and contents of the farmhouse to be auctioned off on 19th March 1877[35].

James died on 21st September 1886 at Rearsby and in his will[36], dated 7th September 1886 three weeks before his death, he left all his estate, which amounted to £98 10s. to his friend Matilda Blount, wife of Thomas Blount, a farm labourer.


  1. The farm was 120 acres in size.
  2. 1881 Census.
  3. The Leicester Chronicle or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser, 9th April 1864.
  4. Leicester Chronicle or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser, 7th November 1829.
  5. The Leicester Chronicle or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser, 3rd December 1836.
    The Leicester Chronicle or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser, 22nd March 1856.
  6. The Leicester Chronicle or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser, 11th July 1846.
  7. The Leicester Chronicle or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser, 9th February 1861.
    The Leicester Chronicle and the Leicestershire Mercury 19th August 1865.
  8. Engaged by James Messenger.
  9. The Leicester Chronicle 19th August 1843.
  10. The Times, 26th August 1843. 
  11. The Leicester Chronicle, 26th August 1843.
  12. The Times, 26th August 1843.
  13. The Leicester Chronicle, 26th August 1843.
  14. The Times, 26th August 1843. 
  15. Aged ten or eleven.
  16. Under a warrant issued by the County Magistrates, to whom the father of the deceased had applied, believing that James Messenger, had murdered his son.
  17. The Times, 30th August 1843 and the Leicester Chronicle, 2nd September 1843.
  18. The Derby Mercury, 6th September 1843.
  19. The Leicester Chronicle, 9th September 1843.
  20. The Times, 14th October 1843.
  21. The Grand Jury was made-up of 22 jurors, including Lord Charles Manners, the foreman, Sir A.G. Hazlerigg and Sir Francis Mason.
  22. The Leicester Chronicle, 16th December 1843.
  23. The Leicester Chronicle, 20th January 1844.
  24. Ibid.
  25. The Times, 23rd January 1844.
  26. The Derby Mercury, 24th January 1844.
  27. The Leicester Chronicle, 27th January 1844.
  28. Ibid.
  29. The Times, 30th January 1844.
  30. The Leicester Chronicle, 3rd February 1844.
  31. The Times, 30th January 1844.
  32. The Leicester Chronicle, 3rd February 1844.
  33. Ibid.
  34. The Leicester Chronicle and the Leicestershire Mercury, 28th October 1876.
  35. The Leicester Chronicle and the Leicestershire Mercury, 17th March 1877.
  36. Leicestershire Record Office.