Inspector William Donaldson, the first Surrey police officer to be killed on duty

Service details and personal details

1855: Work began on the new railway line to Portsmouth and scores of construction workers settled in the county. Known as 'Navvies', they had a total disregard for law and order and, quite often, would go on drunken rampages in large groups. On 29 July 1855 at just after midnight, Inspector Donaldson and Constable James Freestone were in the Market Place in Haslemere supervising the turning out of public houses and enforcing the end of permitted hours.

The navvies in the Kings Arms would not leave and Inspector Donaldson pushed his way into the crowd in an attempt to encourage them to leave. They refused to go and a scuffle started which developed into a riot. One of the men who led the initial attack was arrested and taken to the lock-up in the Market Place. A marauding crowd armed with sticks and clubs surrounded the lock-up demanding the release of the prisoner.

Mr Donaldson refused to release his prisoner, whereupon he was struck a serious blow to the head with a heavy iron bar leaving him on the ground bleeding profusely. Although fatally wounded he left the scene and was later found staggering about the street. He was helped back to his home where he died shortly before 3 am.

Five men were charged with murder, four were convicted at Kingston Assizes of manslaughter. The ringleader Thomas Woods was sentenced to twenty years transportation, the others Eastman, Foyle and Blackman received six years penal servitude. There is a memorial plaque to Inspector Donaldson on Haslemere Town Hall and in the entrance hall of police headquarters Mount Browne.

1855, August: Weald of Kent Mail reported the incident as follows:

The inhabitants of this usually quiet locality were thrown into the utmost consternation on Sunday; by one of the most atrocious murders it has ever been our painful duty to record. The facts are briefly these:

Shortly after midnight on Saturday, William Donaldson, inspector in the County Constabulary, and police-constable Freestone, of the same force, proceeded to the King's Arms Inn, Haslemere, and directed several persons, chiefly brick makers employed on the new Railway to Portsmouth, to leave the tap room, where they were drinking. There was no riot or ill feeling and the company left. Shortly afterwards, the dreadful occurrences, full particulars of which are subjoined, took place.

About four o'clock in the morning intelligence was conveyed to Superintendent Burridge, at Godalming, that the inspector and constable were seriously injured in a riot. He at once communicated with Superintendent Parr, of Guildford, and Mr Vickers, of the borough police, both of whom took active measures to intercept any persons answering the description of the rioters. Mr Burridge lost no time in going to Haslemere, where he found that the inspector had died of the dreadful injuries he had received.

The measures adopted by the constabulary were so prompt and judicious that in the course of a few hours five of those principally concerned in the outrage were apprehended. Their names are Thomas Wood, Samuel Eastwood, alias "Sam", Thomas Foyle alias "Punch", and two brothers names Blackman, one of them a lad of 15 or 16 years of age. The whole of them are brick makers. They were taken before J. Steadman, Esq., at Guildford, and remanded till today.

On Tuesday an Inquest was held at the White Horse Inn, Haslemere, before C. J. Woods, Esq., on the body of Donaldson. Mr. Parsons, solicitor, Haslemere, watched the case on behalf of the widow of the deceased and the Railway Company.

Wm. Luff deposed: I live at Haslemere, and am a carrier. I was at the King's Arms on Saturday night, twice. The last time I went a little before nine o'clock, and remained till 12. I was in the taproom, in which were assembled several persons; several were in when I left. There was no disturbance. The deceased came in a little before I left. PC Freestone was with him. Deceased said: "it is time to shut up" or words to that effect. All seemed to move when he said that.

I do not know a man named Foyle. A man called Punch was there, a man called Sam, and another who goes by the name of Toby. When I left the taproom I stopped outside against the market place, just opposite the King's Arms. I went by myself. Several were standing there, but none who were in the taproom went with me to the Market Place. I remained there a few minutes; there was a scuffle down below near the White Horse: I heard blows struck, but I did not go to see what the matter was.

I stood there until a man was brought up and put in the cage. I did not know who it was. After the man was put in I went to Freestone and asked if he was hurt. He answered "not much". I went off about 15 or 20 yards, and saw a man, whom I took to be the deceased, against Mr Welland's house. I saw him coming back towards the market place, and I saw several others coming in the same direction. I heard several blows struck after that.

I moved off inside the door, which goes into Mr. Horder's house. I saw a man fall, but whether he was knocked down or not, I don't know. I heard something, which sounded like kicks, and I saw a man's foot move in that way when the other person was down. They ran away, and I went up to the man who was down, and found that is was Freestone. I heard a cry of "murder" from the other side of the market place. Freestone told me he was afraid his arm was broken. I assisted him to his room.

A Juryman: Why did you go to William Horder's?

Witness: Because I thought there was a row.

Why did you not assist? Because I was afraid. I heard them come. I said to John Rogers, "There's going to be a row; it will be better to be out of the way."

By a Juryman: I did not endeavour to dissuade him from going to assist. I had had a little beer. I heard some dogs bark.

Mr. Parsons examined the witness at some length, but nothing else of importance was elicited from him. He showed great reluctance to give evidence and was severely reprehended by the coroner.

William Alwin, ostler at the King's Arms, said: I was at home last Saturday night and was in the taproom, serving beer. Several persons were there and amongst others Thomas Wood, Punch, Toby "Sam" and David Smith. When the deceased said it was time to shut up Woods said, "Are we to leave our beer here?" Deceased said, "No, drink it up as quickly as you can." All this was said good-humouredly. The men finished their beer and left together.

The last witness was in the taproom and he went out at the same time as the rest of them. Deceased put his arm on Wood's shoulder and said, "Come, you must go." The latter asked deceased to drink but he would not. After they all left I fastened up the doors. I never heard or saw anything afterwards until Elizabeth Whatford, a servant in the house, said afterwards that there had been a row.

I said. "I will go out and you fasten the door after me." I went out and saw several people standing about near the market house, and I asked a man called "Nobby" what was up, and he said a man was put in the cage. The man called out to me to go to Collards' and tell his comrades, or to go and tell his wife. I asked who he was and he said, "I am the man whom you bought the last pot of beer in for." I remembered that that man was Smith. Deceased, Freestone and Mr. Bishop, were all standing there opposite the cage door.

I went back to the King's Arms the door was fastened. I jumped over a gate and saw deceased turning back to Freestone and six or seven men coming back, amongst whom I distinguished Woods. They had bludgeons, which the light enabled me to perceive. Woods put his bludgeon down, up with his fists and said to deceased "Now, you --- --- I will fight you with my fists if you like!" Deceased replied, but I don't know what he said.

Woods took up his bludgeon and said; "Now you --- pull in all together!" In a moment deceased, Freestone, and Mr. Bishop were knocked down. Three or four struck deceased while he was down. The man in the cage was let out and he immediately began kicking deceased. Freestone got up twice and was knocked down again. Mr. Bishop got up and was knocked down a second time.

I then went to get a bludgeon to assist; at first my mistress would not allow me to go but in two or three minutes she gave me leave but when I went they were all gone. When those men left the taproom they were not much worse for liquor. The last time I went out I picked up two bludgeons, one was a plough bolt, the other was a door bar about two feet and a half long; it was made of oak. I saw a great quantity of blood on the spot where deceased was knocked down. There were six men besides one in the cage. I cannot swear positively to any of the six but Woods.

By Mr. Parsons – There was a lad among them. He struck as well as the men. I did not hear a dog "hied" on nor any bark. Deceased was a very quiet amiable man. I never saw him use his staff.

Mr. Henry Bishop, surgeon deposed: About a quarter past 12 o'clock on Sunday morning I was sitting at home in my dining room, and hearing a great noise in the street I got up and opened the front door to listen. The noise appeared to be near the White Horse, which is on the opposite side of the street to my house. I got my hat and stick and went out.

I saw deceased and Freestone. Several persons were standing about, and deceased was endeavouring to persuade four or five of them to go home. I did the same. I then looked towards Freestone and found that two or three men had got hold of him and were knocking him against the wall of this Inn. Two or three others, not holding him were knocking him with their fists.

He was calling out loudly for help, and I went to his assistance, and told those who were beating him to stand off as I considered it a cowardly action for two or three men to be beating one man. I heard several blows and they turned round upon me. I was perfectly surrounded for the time. I knocked one man with my stick. There was a man named Smith in front of them. He aimed a blow at me with his fists, which I parried and knocked him down directly. I had to fight my way out as well as I could.

I saw Freestone coming towards me. He was in the crowd with me. I was standing over Smith to prevent his getting up again, and I gave him in charge for assault upon myself. Deceased came up in the meantime, and he and Freestone put Smith in the lock-up. Deceased found then that he had not the key, and he put a wooden peg into the fastening. He went towards his house to get the key, and I remained to prevent Smith's escape, but deceased had only been gone a minute or two when I saw him coming round the Market Hall, and heard him exclaim, "Good God, there's a lot of them coming armed with sticks!"

I said, we couldn't run now, stand to your post and I shall not leave you. Four of them came up and demanded the release of the prisoner. I think it was not more than half a minute before the deceased was knocked down. I can identify two of that four Toby and Thomas Woods. Those men had bludgeons. Deceased and I were close together.

Woods knocked him down with a wippance. [This was explained to mean the splinter bar of a plough.] Freestone fell from a blow. I don't know who struck it. A blow was aimed at me, but by whom I don't know. I immediately knocked a man over, but he was no sooner down than I was down from a blow on the head. I recovered my legs immediately, but was again knocked down. I got up again and ran away.

They followed me, Smith in advance, but they returned. I ran under William Gibbs' window and Mrs Gibbs said, "Good God, I will come down and open the door or they will murder you!" While I was coming back to the house I distinctly heard several blows struck by the man who was in advance of the other two. I then went into Gibbs' house and saw a party of three going towards my house.

I came out and ascertained that it was George Harrison, with some one assisting to lead deceased, who could walk with assistance. He went to his own house. His head was covered with blood and we took him upstairs and undressed him. I then examined his head, had some water and washed him. He spoke but I did not know what he said. I afterwards found that Freestone was seriously hurt

I attended deceased until within a few minutes of his death, which took place in rather more than two hours. Before that he was utterly insensible. The witness now stated that he made a post-mortem examination. He minutely described the wounds upon the deceased's skull, which were of a most horrible description. His head was almost smashed to pieces, some of the wounds corresponding with the shape of the wippance.

Owing to the dangerous state which Freestone is in, he was unable to attend, and the inquest was adjourned till 11 o'clock next Tuesday, the jury being bound over to appear.

We should be glade to learn that a subscription was entered into, for the relief of the widow and children of the unfortunate deceased.

J.S. Harwood has written a book on the subject, from which the following extract has been taken:a, b

Constable Freestone was still in a dangerous condition, and the inquest was adjourned until his evidence became available.

Tread soft on the stones,
That lie under your feet,
And hark,
To the story they tell;
For they speak of a hero,
Who died in the street;
"Tis the spot, where brave Donaldson fell!"

On the following Friday, Inspector Donaldson was buried at St Bartholomew's Church. Whatever the neglect of future generations might be, the memory of his bravery was still fresh in the minds of the townspeople and his colleagues, and they united to give him a hero's funeral.

The Chief Constable was unable to attend, but most of his senior officers were there. Apart from the family mourners, the coffin was followed by four of the five Divisional Superintendents, namely, Messrs Parr (Guildford), Burridge (Godalming), Everett (Farnham), and Page (Dorking). Then came Inspectors Frost and Murtell. Behind them marched a column of thirty-two constables, all wearing ceremonial mourning sashes. Following the police contingent came some fifty of the principal inhabitants, in procession, and behind them came all the townspeople who were not already lining the route to see the cortege pass.

The shops of the town remained closed during the day, as a final tribute of respect and sympathy. At the Parish Church the Rector, the Reverend Hesse, was waiting to perform the burial service. In the Burial Register the event is recorded without any comment. 'No.892. William Donaldson, of Haslemere, aged forty-seven August 3rd 1855'.

The Inspector's grave is not included in the list compiled at the close of the nineteenth century, and it is assumed that either no permanent memorial was erected, or that it was removed when the church was rebuilt in the eighteen-seventies.

A public subscription was begun on behalf of the late Inspector's family, and later a petition was sent to the Home Secretary asking that his widow might receive a pension. At Dorking, where the Donaldsons were still remembered, Superintendent Page opened a separate appeal fund. Later in the year a public meeting resolved to invest the sum collected in Government Bonds, and to pay the interest to Mrs Donaldson during her lifetime, and after her death to share out the capital sum amongst the children.

On Saturday, August 11th, the five accused men were brought before the magistrates at Guildford for the preliminary hearing. Charles Bridger, a builder, of Haslemere, testified that the fatal plough bolt was one that had been in his possession. He had left it in his yard, which adjoined "Collards", the house where most of the accused lived. George Lithgoe, the tenant of "Collards", identified his former lodgers, and also identified the oak wood bludgeon left at the scene as being the door bar from his back door. It had been missing since the night of the riot.

William Harding, a brick maker, paymaster to Mr Goodeve, the employer of all the prisoners, gave evidence that he had met four of the accused in Cow Street [also known as East Street (Petworth Road)], at about fifteen minutes after twelve. They were all armed with bludgeons, and told him they were going to get David Smith out of the lock-up. The witness had continued home to the Donaldson's house, where he was a lodger. Soon after, the Inspector was brought home, covered in blood, and dying. Witness remained with him until he died. Mr John Lawton, a surgeon from Chiddingfold, gave evidence on Constable Freestone's condition, and he also gave details of the post mortem examination, at which he had assisted. The inquest witnesses repeated their testimony.

The prisoners were eventually remanded to the next County Assizes at Kingston. The accused men were not without their own supporters, at least among their fellow railwaymen, and so great was the outcry against some of the witnesses, Mr Bishop in particular, that an escort of special constables had to be provided to ensure their safety on the road home. This is probably what William Luff had in mind when his memory proved so unreliable at the inquest. As a carrier, he must often have passed along deserted roads where the navvies could have waylaid him at their leisure. This is a further indication of the very real threat, which the navvies presented to the resident population, and of the very real dread with which the resident population regarded them.

The trial took place at the Kingston Winter Assizes, on Friday 7th December, before Mr Justice Crompton. Thomas Woods and Samuel Eastwood, described as labourers, with William Foyle, William Blackman, and David Smith, all brick makers, were charged with; "Feloniously, wilfully, and maliciously killing and murdering one William Donaldson at Haslemere". Mr Clarkson and Mr Robinson appeared for the prosecution. Woods and Eastman were defended by Mr Lilley, with Foyle and Blackman by Mr Chandler, while Mr Sumner appeared for Smith.

The chief witness for the prosecution was P C James Freestone, No.45 of the Surrey Police. He had recovered from the injuries inflicted during the riot, and which had confined him to bed for some six weeks. He had been promoted back to second-class constable on August 1st, and on his recovery moved from Haslemere to Horley, where he was still stationed. Horley had been Inspector Donaldson's last posting before coming to Haslemere.

Freestone testified that he and Inspector Donaldson had gone to the tap-room of the King's Arms for the purpose of clearing the house. There were a great number of people in the room drinking, amongst them the five prisoners at the bar. When the Inspector asked them to leave they agreed to go after finishing their beer. Everybody was quite peaceable, except for singing, and the five accused were sober. Once outside, however, Woods accused the Inspector of taking him by the shoulder, and he then took up a fighting attitude before Mr Donaldson. Thinking the Inspector was about to be attacked Freestone stepped between them, giving Woods a push with the flat of his hand. Woods fell over, but got up and attacked Freestone. "I struck him with my staff, and broke it into pieces". Woods sent down again.

When the Inspector moved away to disperse another part of the group, Freestone had been seized by Wood's friends who started knocking him against the walls of the White Horse Inn. His cries for assistance were answered by Dr Bishop, who came up and knocked Smith down. The Inspector came up and ordered Smith to be taken into custody, and the three of them carried the prisoner to the Market House and placed him in the lock-up cage. Mr Donaldson went home to get the key, but he returned almost at once, saying that the other men were coming back.

"I saw the four accused coming towards the cage. They were all armed with weapons such as those produced in court. On their coming up they all said, 'Let that man out of the cage' alluding to Smith. Mr Donaldson said he would not". Freestone could not recall anything being said after this, but almost immediately Woods produced an iron plough bolt and struck the Inspector on the head. "I saw him fall backwards and I struck one of the prisoners with the remains of my staff. I could not say which it was".

Freestone could not remember if the man fell, as he was clubbed to the ground himself, where he was beaten by Blackman and Foyle. He managed to regain his feet, but was again knocked down, and fell over Inspector Donaldson, who was lying face down in a pool of blood.

"I again got up, and was attacked by Smith with a large stick. We had a desperate struggle opposite Furlonger's door, about five or six yards from where Mr Donaldson was laying, we both fell together. I got so weak that I could not hold him down. He got up and beat me with a stick as I was laying on the ground. I called 'Murder' and said "Smith - don't kill me!" Realising that he was outside Walter Furlonger's butchers shop, the stricken constable called out "Walter!" Furlonger threw open his window and Smith ran away. Freestone was assisted to a house nearby, (the White Horse Inn) and was subsequently confined to bed for six weeks. He did not see the Inspector after the fight.

Cross-examined, Freestone said that Mr Donaldson was a kind quiet man in the discharge of his duty, and was much respected in the neighbourhood.

The next witness was William Aylwin, ostler and pot man at the Kings Arms. He told the court that when the policemen had entered the bar "A little after twelve", Woods offered the Inspector a glass of beer, but Mr Donaldson refused it. Aylwin did not witness the arrest of Smith, but he saw him in the lock-up, with Donaldson, Bishop, and Freestone together outside it.

There was no one else nearby when the accused came up, armed. Woods had laid down his bludgeon, and said to the Inspector; "Now, you b- - -, I'll fight you with my fists if you like". He then picked up his weapon and said to his three companions; "Now you b- - -'s, let us pull in together".

The Inspector did nothing to provoke the attack, and witness could not say which of the accused was first to strike him. He saw Mr Donaldson lying in a pool of blood, and heard one of the accused say "Open the cage door". Smith came out at once, and kicked the Inspector on the head. After the men had gone witness picked up an oak door bar and an iron plough bolt about a yard from where Inspector Donaldson fell.

Mr Henry Bishop, surgeon, of Haslemere, next entered the witness box. He had heard the first disturbance in the Market Place, taken a walking stick, (a very large one, produced in court) and sallied forth to lend a hand. On going to the assistance of Constable Freestone he was attacked by Smith; "I parried the blow and knocked him down with my stick". After Smith had been carried to the lock-up it was found that the door could not be locked, so a piece of wood was put in the staple. During the fight witness was knocked down two or three times, and on getting up the last time ran away, and was pulled into a house by Mrs Gibbs. Afterwards he helped Donaldson home and treated his injuries.

Mr Bishop also gave expert evidence regarding the injuries suffered by the deceased. There were two wounds to the head, and another on the right temple. There was a bruise on the jaw, a large bruise on the right side of the body, and three separate bruises on the right shoulder. The skull was extensively fractured, and the resultant haemorrhage of the brain had been the principal cause of death. The wounds on the head corresponded with the plough bolt.

The fatal plough bolt, or wippance, was identified by the next witness, Charles Bridger, as one he had borrowed from a Mr Horder, and which had been left under a shed in his back yard, which adjoined Collards, the house where four of the accused lived.

William Harding, a bricklayer, gave evidence that he was a senior employee at Goodeve's brickyard, where all the accused were also employed, and that he acted as their paymaster. On the night in question, which was also the fortnightly pay night he had been round the town giving the men their wages, and on his way home he had met the accused men who told him they were going to rescue Smith from the lock-up. They were all armed with bludgeons.

Harding continued on his way home. By a unhappy coincidence he was a lodger in the family of Inspector Donaldson. The dying policeman was brought home some fifteen minutes later. "You could not see his face for blood. He said, the moment he was brought in, 'My dear wife, I am dying'. He never spoke again. I was with him until he died. He did not live long".

Defence counsel could do little against such a case so far as the facts were concerned, but they all made powerful appeals to the jury, laying great stress on the differences between a premeditated murder and an act of manslaughter committed in a moment of excitement. They also drew the attention of the court to Constable Freestone's action in knocking down Woods.

The judge summed up the evidence with great care, and the jury retired to their deliberations. The five accused had lived under the shadow of the noose for over four months, and their relief may be imagined as the jury filed back in to announce four of them guilty on the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Smith was found not guilty on this charge, as he had not taken part in the initial attack on the Inspector. Smith then withdrew his original plea of 'not guilty' and admitted to a charge of ordinary assault on Mr Donaldson and Mr Bishop. Judge Crompton immediately sentenced Smith to two years hard labour, observing that he regretted his inability to pass a more severe sentence on that particular charge.

Eastman, Foyle, and Blackman each received six years penal servitude. Turning to Woods, the ringleader of the Haslemere Riot, and the undoubted killer of Inspector Donaldson, the judge told him that he had been fortunate to escape the gallows. He then sentenced him to twenty years transportation.

Once the trial was over, the Surrey Constabulary lost no time in disposing of Constable Freestone. As the star witness he had been well looked after, but once his testimony had been given he was very much surplus to requirements. The trial took place on Friday, 7th December. On the following Monday Freestone was officially cautioned for neglect of duty. The unhappy constable must have been sadly surprised at this change of fortune, and on February 6th, he got drunk again. He was immediately dismissed from the Force.

In fairness to James Freestone it must be said that nearly all the original members of the Surrey Constabulary were discharged for minor breaches of discipline, and many of them made successful careers with other forces. As he fades from the picture, it might also be said that no one ever seems to have questioned his courage or his honesty, whatever his minor failings may have been.

Dr Bishop remained at Haslemere and gradually built up his practice. In August 1856, he was sued at Godalming County Court for the sum of £17.10.0 in payment for goods supplied in 1854. It was stated in court that the Doctor had been threatening to go bankrupt for some three years but had not yet done so.

One person in Haslemere did go bankrupt in 1856, and this was Mr Goodeve who controlled the brickyard where the rioters had been employed. Like many another, Goodeve found that it was easier to lose a fortune in railway work than it was to make one.

William Luff seems not to have suffered for his loss of memory, and a few years later he was advertised as the "Official Carrier to the London & South Western Railway". Luff died in 1872, as did Walter Furlonger, the man who had saved the life of Constable Freestone.

Mrs Donaldson gathered her children about her and left Haslemere forever. During her husband's service in the Surrey Constabulary the family had moved to a fresh posting each year, and the constant upheaval had made it difficult for them to establish personal relationships, as it was intended to do.

Even before William Donaldson's career with the County Force ended so tragically, his wife must often have longed for the settled home and good friends they had known during their thirteen happy years at Dorking. Now, in the first anguish of her bereavement, it was to the kind hearts of the Mole Valley that she turned again.

The census of 1861 shows Mrs Donaldson was living in Falkland Road, Dorking, still a pleasant part today. She is shown as having independent means, so it is to be hoped that the various funds, together with anything that a grateful nation or county might contribute, were sufficient to enable her to live comfortably. Of her five children, John and Elizabeth were living at home, while David, the eldest, was in private service in the town. During the eighteen-sixties both John and his sister Mary Ann were married from the house, John to an Elizabeth Taylor and Mary Ann to a James Cooke. The marriage register records the name and occupation of each person's father.

Donaldson's service details:

Metropolitan Police Force: c. 1835
Dorking Police Force: c. 1838-1851
Surrey Constabulary: Appointed 15th February 1851, based at Chobham
  Leatherhead: 10th March 1851
  Horley: 21st January 1853
  Haslemere: 20th November 1854
  killed on duty in Haslemere on 29th July 1855

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Personal details:

  William Donaldson Janet, his wife
Born: 8th November 1807, Alloa, Clackmannan 2nd November 1806, Alloa, Clackmannan
Father: David Donaldson (1776) James Clement
Mother: Mary Archibold (1769) Christian Johnston
Occupation: Artist, police officer  
Married: 4th July, 1835, Alloa, Clackmannan
Children: David (1836-1903), Elisabeth Clement (1837-), Mary Ann (1839-),
Hannah Manners (1840-), John Jas. (1843-1908), and William Henry (1845-1846)
Died: 29th July 1855, Haslemere 1873, Reigate, Surrey
Buried: 3rd August 1855, St Bartholomew's Church, Haslemere  

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a Harwood, J.S. ([?]). The Hero of Haslemere.

b [January 2010].



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