Bramley History Society
Researching our village in Surrey since 1994

Dreadful Murder at Bramley 

Evelyn Hodgson

On Saturday morning, Mr Head, steward to Lord Grantley, was sent to by the wife of James Edwards, the gamekeeper, saying that she was uneasy, as her husband had been out all night, which induced Mr Head to ride out in search of him; on passing the lock near the back of Bramley-street, he saw something in the water which he thought was a sack, but, on obtaining assistance, it proved to be the body of the unfortunate and respected gamekeeper, Edwards, whose head appeared to be in a dreadfully maimed state, but our own reporter having attended the inquest, the particulars of which follow, we refer our readers to the examination of the several witnesses.
Edwards was a powerful man, about 46 years old, and has left a widow and seven children; he had been several years gamekeeper to Lord Grantley, and was considered an active, brave, and trusty servant.
On Saturday evening, James Elsley, a country looking fellow, rather undersized but very strong and active, was apprehended and brought to Guildford by Jenkins, late an officer in the A division of police, (who was at Albury, and heard of the murder), on suspicion. Elsley, who has a wife and large family, had for several years been deemed a notorious poacher, and otherwise bad character; on his premises have been found some salted mutton, tools in great variety, besides pheasants, which latter were laid very cleverly under a bee hive in the garden.
On Sunday Elsley began to show some signs of compunction, and was desirous of seeing the Rev. Mr. Pettman, Curate of Shalford and Bramley, and on Monday morning, at 6.30a.m., he sent for Inspector Hollington, to whom he made a confession which will be found in the evidence.
The prisoner was taken to attend the Coroner’s Inquest on the second day, and being committed for trial, was sent off by one of Goodman’s railway coaches on Tuesday afternoon, an immense crowd surrounding the coach on its departure. Elsley appeared cheerful and undismayed, bidding adieu to such persons as he knew in the crowd.

How did we find out about the Murder?

Jill Bryant was looking on Ebay for items regarding Guildford when she came upon an Illustrated London News for January 13th 1844 which had a heading ‘Guildford – Murder of Lord Grantley’s gamekeeper’. Her interest aroused she bought the copy. This contained a short summary of the event and that a verdict of ‘wilful murder’ had been returned against James Elsley of Bramley who was committed for trial at the next assizes.
Evelyn Hodgson then undertook further research and found the report of the inquest – the introduction to which is printed above – in the Surrey Agricultural Express for January 13th 1844 and found the report of the trial at Kingston in The Times of March 28th 1844.

The article was subsequently published in the Wey & Arun Canal Society magazine and provoked the following information from Neville Foster in Sidney.

I noted with interest your article in Wey- South 139 concerning the trial and conviction of James Elsley for manslaughter in March 1844.
Your readers may like to know that James was transported to Australia from Woolwich, along with 223 others, aboard the Agincourt on 9th June 1844. He arrived at Norfolk Island, E. of Australia, on 9th November 1844. By all accounts Norfolk Island Penal Colony was a horrifying brutal place and it was closed in 1855, when the surviving convicts were sent to Tasmania. His database number at the Tasmanian Archives Office is 21837.