The Murder Of Jane Rigg

Over the weekend of 8th to the 9th December, 1888, with London still reeling from the shock of the recent Jack the Ripper murders, a brutal assault was made in Sunderland on Jane Rigg by her husband William.

The Dundee Courier, took up the story of what had occurred in its edition of  Wednesday, 12th December, 1888:-


“At Sunderland yesterday, a case of attempted wife murder was reported.

On Saturday night a forgeman, named William Rigg, quarrelled with his wife, and threatened her for having sent him to gaol for two months.

When they were alone, he is alleged to have knocked his wife down, kicked her about the head and body, and stabbed her with a table knife.

He kept the door of the house locked until yesterday morning, when he left, and the woman then crawled to a neighbour’s.

Rigg is in custody, and the woman is not expected to survive.”


The Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, on Wednesday, 12th December, 1888, took up the story:-

“The woman Jane Rigg, who, as we reported yesterday, was assaulted, it is alleged, in a shocking manner by her husband, William Rigg, at their residence in Victor-street, Monkwearmouth, between Saturday night and Monday night, still lies in a very serious condition.

Under all the circumstances, the police deemed it prudent to take the woman’s depositions last night, and this was done in the presence of Dr. Morgan.

A Catholic clergyman also administered the last sacrament.

Mrs Rigg’s condition, however, somewhat improved during the night, and it is now thought likely that she may recover, although she is by no means out of danger.

It appears that when giving her depositions, which were of course taken in the presence of her husband, she declined to make any statement incriminating him.


The most extraordinary rumours are current in the locality as to the treatment to which the prisoner is supposed to have subjected his wife during the hours that they were alone in the house together.

It seems beyond doubt, however, that they quarrelled with respect to a period of two mouths’ imprisonment which the prisoner has recently suffered for assaulting his wife.

Such quarrels have been common between the couple since his return from gaol, and this accounts for the neighbours paying little attention to any sounds which they may have heard.


From what has been gathered from the woman, it would appear that she alleges that he had torn off her clothing and then attempted to strangle her, and cut her throat. The bruised condition of her body shows that she has been kicked and maltreated in a frightful manner.

She was then kept locked in a back room until Monday night, when the prisoner left the house and she was enabled to escape and seek assistance from her neighbours.


The prisoner, on being arrested, treated the matter coolly, and remarked that there had been no witnesses of the affair.

The assault, and the rumours connected with it, have naturally caused great excitement in Monkwearmouth.

The couple have it is known, lived a most unhappy life together, drunken habits and violent tempers on both sides having rendered their home a miserable one.


At the Borough Police Court today, William Rigg was placed in the dock, charged with attempting to murder his wife, Jane Rigg.

Dr Wood, police surgeon, was the first witness called.

In answer to the Magistrates’ Clerk (Mr Barker), he said that he was attending Mrs Rigg. She was in a very weak condition, and suffering from a wound on the left side of the neck, about two and a half inches long. She had also another wound on her left thumb, two black eyes, and she was bruised from head to foot, it being almost impossible to count the bruises.

The Clerk: Has she made any statement?

Dr Wood:  She told me that her husband had cut her throat with a knife, and, whilst she was trying to stop him, cut her thumb. She also said that he had kicked her round the room and had treated her most violently.

The Clerk: Did she make any statement to you as to her condition?

Dr Wood:  She said that she thought she was dying, and I think so, too.

The Clerk (to prisoner): Have you any objection to being remanded?

Prisoner: Not if am allowed out on bail.

The magistrates remanded the prisoner for week and declined to accept bail.”


Despite press reports that she might survive, Jane Rigg’s injuries proved too severe for recovery, and she died on the evening of Sunday, 16th December, 1888:-


Three days later, The Newcastle Evening Chronicle, in its edition of Wednesday, 19th December, 1888, reported on her husbdand’s subsequent court appearance and on the opening of the inquest into her death:-

“Today, at the Sunderland Police Court, William Rigg was placed in the dock, and the Chief Constable, Mr. Wiliam Huntley amid the man was now charged with the wilful murder of his wife Jane Rigg at Monkwearmouth, one week past Saturday night.

He had been on remand for a week, but they were not ready to go on with the case yet, and he (Mr. Huntley) asked for a further remand.

The inquest was opened last night, and adjourned.

Dr. Potts:- We had better adjourn it for another week.

The Chief-Constable:- We will bring him up as soon as we are ready.

Mr. E. Bell said that he appeared for the prisoner and consented to the application.

The prisoner, who was smiling during the proceedings, was then removed.


Mr. Graham, coroner, opened an inquest at the Fort inn, Roker Avenue, Monkwearmouth, last evening, upon the body of Jane Rigg.

The jury having been sworn, the coroner asked then, to proceed to 148, Victor Street, and view the body. He said that Dr. Wood would accompany them, and would point out various marks of, ill usage.

A cut upon one side of the neck, an injury to the head, and injuries elsewhere which the doctor would explain to them. He would also take then, into a back room, and there they would see splashes of blood upon the wall, and he (the Coroner) had also been told that there were splashes of blood upon a lamp shade.


During the absence of the jury, the deceased’s mother, Mrs. Donolly, was called into the room, and, in reply to Mr. Bell, who appeared fur the husband, said that she would look after her daughter’s four children. She had ten of her own at home now, but a son would take one of the children, a daughter would take another, and Mrs. Donolly said she would take the two youngest children into her own family.

The Coroner and Mr. Bell expressed their satisfaction at the arrangement.

The Coroner asked who was to attend to the funeral, and Mr. Bell said that he understood the deceased was insured.

Bridget Donolly, wife of Arthur Donolly, a miner, residing at 12, Derby Street, South Shields, said the deceased was her daughter, and was twenty-five years of age.

She was married to William Rigg about six years ago, and there were four children of the marriage. the youngest being twelve months old.


The Coroner said that was as far as he intended carrying the inquest that night.

He understood there were fifteen or sixteen witnesses to be examined, and the inquiry would occupy the greater part of a day. The inquest was adjourned to December 27th.”


The Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, on Thursday, 27th December, 1888, reported on the proceedings of the resumed inquest which had taken place that day:-

“Today the inquest relative to the death of Jane Rigg, which is alleged to have resulted from injuries received at the hands of her husband, William Rigg, under circumstances already reported, was resumed at the Fort Inn, Roker-avenue, before Mr. Coroner Graham. Inspector Best watched the case on behalf of the police, and Mr Edward Bell, solicitor, represented the prisoner, William Rigg, who was not present.


Mrs Bridget Donnelly, residing at South Shields, was the first witness called.

She stated that on Monday afternoon, the 10th inst., she received a telegram from a Mrs Hull saying “Come at once; your daughter, Jane Rigg, dangerously ill.”

In consequence of that, witness and her daughter, Mary Kelly, went to 138, Victor-street, Mrs Hull’s house, the same day. She there saw the deceased lying on a mat in front the fire. She made a complaint to witness.

In answer to Mr. Bell, the coroner said that the statement was in his opinion admissible.

Witness, resuming, said that she came to the conclusion that her daughter was in a dying condition, and Dr. Wood was sent for.

She stayed all night with her daughter, and next day she was taken to her own house in the same street, after her husband had been taken into custody. She was carried home in a chair, and put to bed in the front room, where she died on the 16th inst.


The witness on going into the kitchen found it in great disorder. There were a broken dish and a broken ginger beer bottle on the floor. There were blood marks on the wallpaper above the couch.

There was pair of trousers hanging on a brass rod over the fireplace. She gave the trousers to Detective Atkinson. She identified those produced and stained with blood as the same pair.


A few mouths ago the witness was present at the Police Court, in Sunderland, when Rigg was committed to prison for two mouths without the option of a fine, for assaulting his wife.

There was also a judicial separation order, and the day before he came out of prison her daughter took the children to her house, as she was going to live apart from her husband; but the same day that he came out of prison she went back to live with him and took the children away again.

She and her husband and the children lived together until the affair occurred.

By Mr Bell: Her daughter was aware that she was not compelled to live with her husband, and the witness did not wish her to go back.

By a Juryman: He told her daughter that he would kill her, and he did.

He would come out of prison about the end of September.


Dr Wood, police surgeon, was the next witness.

He said that, on the 10th of December, he saw the deceased lying on the hearthrug at 138, Victor-street.


He described the injuries from which she was suffering at length.

She had a wound on the left side of the neck, skin deep, and about two-and-a-half inches in length; both her eyes were black, and she had bruises all over her body too numerous to count.

There was a large bruise, about the size of a crown piece, on the back upper part her head.

The lower lip was cut and bruised inside, the tongue bitten, the left thumb severely cut over the knuckle joint, and there was a smaller wound above it. The cuts had been inflicted with some sharp instrument.

There was a wound on the right eye, which had been caused by a blunt instrument.

She complained of severe pain all over her body, and the next day she passed a quantity of blood.


He suggested that she should be removed to her home, but she refused to go, giving no reason.

On the Tuesday after, he informed her that her husband was in custody.

She, however, appeared desirous of being removed to her home, and was carried in a chair, under witness’s direction.

Later the same day she was so much worse that he recommended that her depositions should be taken.

He attended her regularly until the 16th of December, when she died.


On the 17th, he made a post mortem examination of the body in conjunction with Dr. Watson, when he found another wound in addition to those he had mentioned on the lower part of the body, which had been caused by a kick from a booted foot when she was in a lying position.

All the organs of the body were healthy.

He found underneath the scalp bruises corresponding with the external wounds. The membranes of the brain were much congested, and there was a large clot of blood on the top of the small brain. The clot of blood on the brain, together with the inflammation of the brain and the shock to the system, would in conjunction cause death.

He had seen two knives, which had been stained with blood, and a pair of trousers smeared and spotted with blood.


On the 11th, and again on the 14th, he told the deceased that she was dying, and she said that she knew it.

The Coroner: As a matter of fact there was a statement made then, but I am bound to rule that it cannot be admitted in evidence. The husband was not there; no magistrate was present, and it was not made on oath.


Witness (resuming) said that he had noticed spots of blood on the wall, which, in his opinion, were arterial blood.

The wounds could not have been self-inflicted, nor could they have been caused a fall.

By Mr Bell: The blood marks on the man’s trousers had been done by a smear from someone’s hands. There was blood all over the room. If the woman’s under garments and the trousers had been thrown against the wall the marks of blood might have been caused.

One of the knives was found lying on a table.

By Inspector Best: A knife like that produced would cause the wound on the neck. It could not have been caused by a pin or a brooch.


Mary Ann Carter said that she saw the deceased alive on Saturday, the 8th inst. She was helping her to clean, and she was then perfectly well and sober and had no bruises or wounds on her.

Her husband, Wm. Rigg, came home about seven o’clock with some men. They had had some drink. They sent out for pies and peas and beer, and witness and Mrs Rigg had a pie each.

She heard one of the men make an observation about Rigg having been sent to prison for two months for the assault on his wife. He remarked that it was a pity.

Rigg first came home on the Saturday afternoon about two o’clock, and gave his wife some money, after which he went out again.

The Coroner: The old story. The husband comes home, gives his wife money, and then out again.

Witness continuing said that he had no dinner before he went out. He was then sober.

By a juryman: There was no dinner provided for him. His wife was busy cleaning. She asked him if he wanted any dinner, and he said, “Never mind,” as she was cleaning.


James Stafford, a labourer, residing at 51, Gladstone street, Monkwearmouth, stated that he went to the bar of the Fort Inn on Saturday afternoon, on the 8th of December. He there saw Rigg, and they had a glass beer together. They shortly afterwards were joined by Aldridge.

After some conversation, they proceeded Rigg’s house. He there saw Mrs Rigg and a neighbour named Carter. He did not notice the time they reached Rigg’s.

When they were talking, the deceased went out for a pint of beer, which she served out amongst Rigg, Aldridge, and himself.

Prisoner soon after asked for his tea, and his wife went and returned shortly with some peas, pies, and botanic beer. This was also dealt out amongst them.


Rigg then commenced talking about a man named Cook coming out of gaol on the following Saturday. He then explained that Cook was prison in for an assault upon his wife.

Rigg turned the conversation to his own imprisonment, and added that, when doing his two months, he got over it very well, because he was in the prison hospital for three weeks. Witness said, in joke, “it was a good job you did not get the treadmill.”

Prisoner’s wife, who was sitting at the opposite side the room, held up her finger, nodded, and winked her eye. He understood her to mean that he was to hold his tongue, and stop talking about prison. He acted on the hint, and, in consequence, changed the subject, and began talking about his work.

Deceased hen left the room, but he was not sure that Carter went out with her, though he missed her directly after Mrs Rigg left.

It was not long afterwards that they left Rigg’s house. That was about twenty minutes to eleven.

Just before closing-time they went down to Dundas Street and entered Jackson’s Bar. They there had a gill of beer each.

He left Rigg in the bar drinking his beer. He did not see him any more that night.

By Mr Bell:  Rigg and his wife appeared to be on good terms. He did not think that was the worse for drink.


Henry Aldridge, a labourer, residing at Brandling Street, Monkwearmouth, said that the prisoner was his nephew.

He could not remember anything of the conversation that passed between then; except some talk about running.

The other evidence of the witness generally corroborated Stafford’s statement.

The inquiry was then adjourned for luncheon.


On resuming, the first witness called was Mrs Leadbitter, who stated that she was the wife of P.C. Leadbitter, and resided at 123, Victor-street.

She knew William and Jane very well. They had been in the street about four years. They were well known to the neighbourhood.

On Saturday, the 8th, she was standing at her door, and about five minutes to eleven she observed Mrs Rigg come down the street. She had no black eyes and she did not notice any marks of violence at all.

The next time she saw her was on Monday afternoon in Mrs Hull’s.

At that time, she saw that she was cut in the neck, one of her fingers was cut right down, and her face was very much swollen. Her hair was literally matted together with blood, and apparently she was suffering very much pain.

She was at the time lying near the fire.


Jane Arkless, wife of John Arkless, 144, Victor Street, next door to the home of the deceased, stated that at about 11 o’clock on the night of Saturday, the 8th., she saw the prisoner William Rigg standing on his doorstep. He had on a pair dirty moleskin trousers.

Witness stood on her own doorstep some few minutes, and Rigg passed her two or three times, walking up and down the flags. He was “drunkey.”

She went into Dame Dorothy Street, and on her return about 12 o’clock she did not see Rigg.

On Monday the 10th, after 3 p.m., she went to Mrs Hull’s house, and saw Mrs Rigg lying on the mat in front of the fire.

Witness saw that her thumb and throat had been cut, and that there was a bruise on the right side of her head.

On the Tuesday, she saw a constable take Rigg into custody, and afterwards she and Bridget Donnelly got into Rigg’s house by the window.

She noticed that one sheet of one bed was marked with blood.


A juryman (Mr McNab) here asked what statement Mrs Rigg had made to her. The Coroner said that that question could not be answered. It was not evidence, as Rigg was not present.

Mr McNab: It  is important, and I must have the question answered here or elsewhere.

The Coroner said that it must be elsewhere. They were fettered by the fundamental rules of evidence.

Had no one been arrested the scope of their inquiry would have been more extensive, but a man had been arrested, and he was charged with having caused the death of his wife, and, therefore, all the evidence that came before them was to a great extent limited to what passed in his presence.

If that statement referred to somebody else they might go into it, but as he happened to know the statement that was made referred to the person who was in custody, and, therefore, they must shut out from their conversation, as it was not evidence. If he had been there it would have been different, or if Mr Bell, who represented him, chose to ask for it they could get at it.

It was a very important piece of evidence, as he knew, but the difficulty was one which they could not get over until the law was altered.”


The trial of William Rigg took place at the Durham Assizes on Thursday, 28th February, 1889. Despite a plea from the defence for the jury to find the accused guilty of manslaughter, rather than murder, the Jury returned a verdict of guilty of murder.

The Newcastle Weekly Chronicle reported on Rigg’s dramatic reaction to verdict in its edition of Saturday, 2nd March, 1889:-

“The jury retired at ten minutes to five and returned at five minutes past with a verdict of guilty.


Prisoner, on being asked if he had anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed on him, said, “Only that I am not guilty of the crime. That is the man that’s done it.”

Prisoner pointed to Detective Atkinson. who was standing below the reporter’s box.

The judge then passed sentence of death in the usual way.

At the conclusion of his lordship’s  remarks, the prisoner, who had remained outwardly calm all through the proceedings, again pointed to Detective Atkinson, and exclaimed, “My spirit will haunt you – I will come back to haunt you.”

The prisoner was then removed from the dock.”


However, as The South Wales Daily News reported, on Monday, 18th March, 1889, William Rigg dodged his appointment with the hangman:-

“A communication was received in Sunderland on Sunday from the Home Secretary stating that William Rigg, under sentence of death in Durham Gaol for wife-murder, had been reprieved.

Rigg was to have been hanged tomorrow (Tuesday),but on Friday last an examination into his mental condition was made, with the result stated.”