Murder within famillies is not uncommon even in modern times. In the 19th century it often attracted the eye of the sensationalist press. The domestic murders committed by a ‘lunatic’ called William Ferry recieved a lot of coverage in the Spring of 1843.
The crime took place in mid-April in Sunderland when a ‘mdman’ called William Ferry had escaped from an asylum at Gateshead Fell. This was an established asylum, Sheriff Hill Lunatic Asylum situated on Sour Milk Hill Lane, Sheriff Hill. Around 1817 the brother of the artist John Martin had been admitted there after he had threatened to kill the Bishop of Oxford.
After his escape William Ferry was pursued by keepers but his wife hid him and somehow managed to get permission for him to stay at home. On the evening of the crime his family of wife, teenaged daughter, n eight year old son and a baby had retired to bed. William Ferry, his wife and baby shared a bedroom, while his son and daughter along with a male lodger shared another room. At midnight a scuffle broke out, the wife screaming that William was trying to kill her baby. The daughter ran to their room and picked up the baby, while the lodger and mother ran for help. However, William grabbed a shovel and, as his daughter tried to protect the baby, he attacked her with it and shattered her skull.
The distraught mother re-entered the house only to be attacked by her husband, hitting her on the face with a bucket and then beating her wth a log, stam[pig on her and striking her on the head with a poker.
Seeing his young son shaking with fear and horror, William comforted him with the words “Don’t cry boy; I won’t kill thee; they call thee Bill!” At this moment his brother-in-law John Nipper appeared, armed with heavy poker and was attacked by William. Nipper fought him off and secured him.
The baby was found under the body of the dying daughter. close by was the deaad mother, Soon after William’s seventy-year-old mother-in-law appeared, not realising the mangled corpse was that of her daughter. The captive William cried “Mother, it’s you I want next; there she is, seventy years of age: I want her next.”
An inquest found William guilty of wilful murder, a trial at Durham Assizes found him guilt byt insane. He was incarcerated in an asylum rather than recieving the death penalty that murder normally attracted.