Engineer, Threshing and Haulage Contractors
Liss Engine Driver Kills His Wife

Liss Engine Driver Kills His Wife

Back in 1895 Walter Seward purchased a brand new Fowler A4 agricultural traction engine number 7453. The driver of this engine was a man called Mr James Smith who, as far as we know, started with the company at about the time Walter bought this Fowler. James Smith was the main driver of this engine and was always associated with it.

In September 1916, after working for Walter Seward for over 20 years a shocking event took place which changed the status quo.

Follow the story below. Each news article reported at the time describes the events that took place that September and details the newspaper report from “The Hants and Sussex News”. There are four reports in total.

We know that James Smith went to prison, but for how long we’re not sure as he was supposedly released early into the care of Walter Seward.

If you know any more information about this unfortunate event or James Smith we would be very interested in hearing from you.

Attempt to Commit Suicide

Reported in the “The Hants and Sussex News” on the 6th September 1916.


A crime of a very tragic nature, which has caused a great sensation throughout the district, was committed at Headley on Saturday afternoon, when a well-known Liss man shot his wife with a revolver and then tried to take his own life by shooting himself in the head. They were both removed to Alton Infirmary, where the woman died on Monday Morning.

The man whose injuries were less grave is expected to recover. He has for many years been employed as an engine-driver by Mr Walter Seward, of Petersfield, and resided at Rockpit Cottage, Liss. From the nature of his employment, and the fact that he was a native of the locality, he was known to many people Petersfield and the surrounding district.

It seems there has been an estrangement between Smith and his wife (who are a middle-aged couple with a grown up family) for sometime past. Mrs Smith recently left him, and he went to see her at Headley on Saturday to try and persuade her to return home. On her refusing to do so, he appears to have shot her as stated.

It is expected that an inquest will be held on the deceased woman today.

The Dramatic Shooting Affair at Headley

Reported in the “The Hants and Sussex News” on the 18th September 1916.



The first stage in the investigation of the tragic circumstances of the sensational shooting affair at Headley which resulted in the death of Emma Smith, the wife of James Smith, engine driver, employed by-a Petersfield steam roller and threshing engine proprietor, and living at Rockpit Cottages, Liss, was reached last Wednesday, when the inquest on the body of the unfortunate woman was opened at the Alton Workhouse by Mr. Henry White, Coroner for North East Hants. Mr. M. P. Stoodley was chosen foreman of the jury.

The Coroner, in a brief address to the jury, said they would of course have to give very careful an accurate attention to the evidence. He wished to say at once that they had probably heard that the case looked like being a serious one, but he proposed on that occasion to take only formal evidence of identity, so that the body might be buried. This was a case in which the husband should have an opportunity of coming before them if he so wished, and it would be wrong for them to go fully into the enquiry and take evidence of a substantial nature unless he had the opportunity of being present. The doctor was of the opinion that the man would be able to appear, if he chose, on the following Wednesday, and he proposed to adjourn the inquest until that day.

Miss Elsie Amelia Smith, aged 16, daughter, said the body was that of her mother, Emma Smith, who lived at Rockpit Cottage, East Liss. She was 55 years old; Witness thought she would have been 56 in November next. Her father was an engine driver on a steam threshing machine.

No other evidence was taken, and the inquest was adjourned till to-day (13th inst.) at 1.45 p.m.

Exactly what took place on the day of the tragedy will not transpire until the adjourned inquest to-day, but the brief facts appear to be that Smith met his wife in the vicinity of the Arford Stores, owned by Mr. A. Bellinger, about a quarter past four in the afternoon. Mrs. Smith, it should be mentioned, had left her husband some time ago, and for the past few weeks had been acting in the capacity of housekeeper to William Holden, a bricklayer. Some argument arose between Smith and his wife, and Smith was heard to ask her to return home with him. Apparently she refused, and suddenly revolver shots were heard and the woman ran screaming into Mr. Chuck’s garden nearby, followed by her husband. As she ran Smith caught hold of her arm and fired three shots at close quarters at his wife. A short, but terrific, struggle then took place, and eventually the woman wrenched herself free and ran in the direction of Bellinger’s shop. Smith fired again and followed her into the shop, where he fired another shot. As he fired this last shot he stood upon the threshold and before the people who had rushed up at the sound of the first shots could in any way interfere, he turned the revolver on himself, and pressing the weapon just behind the ear, fired twice. He then fell across the doorstep. P.C. Mileham, who had heard the first shots, arrived on the scene just as Smith had fallen down. Dr. Crowther Smith, of Stanford, was at once telephoned for, and rendered what assistance he could. It was then ascertained that both husband and wife still breathed although, owing to the terrible nature of the woman’s injuries it was feared she would not last long, and as a matter of fact she passed away on Monday. After the injuries of both had been attended to, they were removed in charge of P.S Clark and P.O. Montague to Alton Infirmary in Mr. Cotton’s motor car. Upon admission they were treated by Dr. Leslie, who found Mrs. Smith to be suffering from gunshot wounds in the neck, while Smith had received two just behind the ear.

There is every prospect of Smith recovering from his self-inflicted injuries. The weapon which he used was a new one, but was of only small bore, and to that must be attributed the fact that both man and woman were not killed outright. Smith is 56 years of age, and has five children, the youngest of whom is 16. One son has had twelve years service in the Royal Marines, and a daughter recently lost her husband in France.

The funeral of the deceased woman took place at Liss last Thursday, the remains, which were brought from Alton by a motor vehicle, being interred in the churchyard adjoining the Parish Church. The Rector the Rev. 0. S. Walford) officiated, and the only persons present were Mr. W. Smith (son), Mrs. Hounsome and Miss Elsie Smith (daughters), and Mrs. Clark.

The Headley Shooting Tragedy

Reported in the “The Hants and Sussex News” on the 27th September 1916.


James Smith, the Liss engine driver, who, on Sept 1st, fatally shot his wife, Emma Smith, at Headley and then attempted to commit suicide, was brought up at the Whitehill Police Court last Wednesday before Sir Cecil Brett, c.s.i, and Mr. Gerald Hall to answer the capital charge. Prisoner was brought from Winchester by train in the custody of two warders, and was accommodated with a seat in the dock. He listened to the proceedings apparently unmoved.

Mr. Harold Barker from the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions appeared for the prosecution, and Mr. Percy C. Burley, of Petersfield, for the defence.

Seven witnesses were called, but these did not include the labourer, William Davey, whose relations with the deceased woman formed the subject of close enquiry before the Coroner.

Prisoner’s young daughter, Elsie, repeated the evidence given at the inquest. With regard to her discovery of a revolver case and box of cartridges at the cottage at Liss, witness said her father, when questioned about the revolver case, said it was an old one which he had owned for many years, and himself put it in the grate for witness to burn. He did not answer when asked about the cartridges.

William Holden also gave evidence, and the story of the shooting was related by Archibald Bellinger, of the Arford Stores, Headley.

P.C. Mileham, P.S. Clark, Dr. E. J. Leslie and Supt. Reuben also gave evidence.

Prisoner, who reserved his defence, was committed for trial at the Assizes in November next.

Mr. Burley made an application to the magistrates under the Poor Prisoners’ Defence Act and after some discussion the Clerk (Mr. A. F. M. Downie) undertook to bring the application to the notice of the Clerk of the Assizes.

The Headley Wife Murder Charge

Reported in the “The Hants and Sussex News” on the 15th November 1916.


The trial of James Smith, 54, engine driver, of Rockpit Cottages, East Liss, for the wilful murder of his wife Emma, at Headley, on Sept. 1st by shooting her with a revolver took place at Winchester Assizes on Monday before Mr. Justice Rawlatt. Mr. J. R. Randolph. K.C., with whom was Mr. Raymond Goddard, instructed by the Director of Public Prosecutions, were for the prosecution, and Mr. C. G. Talbot-Ponsonby, under the Poor Prisoners’Act, defended the prisoner.

After hearing the evidence and counsel’s speech for the defence, the jury found prisoner guilty of manslaughter. Prisoner did not go into the witness box, but the Rev. E. F. S. Ramsbotham of Liss, gave evidence as to how his wife’s leaving him had upset and distressed the prisoner.

The Judge, in passing sentence of twenty years’ penal servitude, said he could hardly see any justification for the crime. He regarded the verdict of manslaughter as being separated from murder by only the thinnest distinction.