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Map of Wolvercote circa 1875-1881

Map of Wolvercote circa 1875-1881

Duck Prank Leads to Murder at Wolvercote

24 May 2021 (Updated 7 September 2021)

On 3 July 1829 a group of youths including one Thomas Beesley was causing trouble in and around the village of Wolvercote. They had been seen chasing horses and cows near the village, and when Thomas Beesley was seen to grab a duck from the village pond and put it in his coat pocket it proved the last straw and a number of villagers accosted the group.

A verbal conflict ensued in which the villagers accused the young men of not respecting other people's property and the youths responded with abuse. When he was accused of stealing the duck Beesley denied it, but to quote Nicola Sly 'He was proved a liar by the loud quacking coming from his coat pocket'!

Violence breaks out

The group left the village but returned in the evening looking for trouble. They started a fight with a group of village youths, and during the ensuing brawl, Beesley struck 16-year-old John Barrett on the head with a bludgeon. The blow caused such a serious injury that the unfortunate Barrett later died, and Beesley was charged with his murder.

During his trial, Beesley was found not to have acted in a premeditated manner, and so the charge was reduced to manslaughter and he was sentenced to 14 years transportation.


  1. 'A Grim Almanac of Oxforshire' by Nicola Sly (The History Press, 2013, ISBN: 978752465814)