Cumbria Crack

Killed in the line of duty – Carlisle PC murdered attempting to apprehend notorious gang

PC Joseph Byrnes memorial

[O]n 27 October 1885 four notorious criminals burgled Netherby Hall, a large stately home a few miles from Carlisle and stole valuable jewellery. The men; Anthony Benjamin Rudge, John Martin, James Baker and William Baker, were members of a successful criminal gang.

Two days later, three members of the gang shot and killed Carlisle PC Joseph Byrnes.

A manhunt was launched, which lasted for two days. A number of officers had come across the gang during this time and were badly injured or shot at whilst attempting to apprehend them, but it was on 29 October 1885 that they murdered PC Byrnes in cold blood.

PC Byrnes had been alerted by the stationmaster at Plumpton about a group of suspicious men and he went in search of them. Shortly after, a shot was heard nearby.

PC Byrnes had intercepted the men and, when he had attempted to arrest them single-handedly, he was shot in the head. He died shortly afterwards.

The gang fled, but Rudge, Martin and James Baker were apprehended in Keswick and Oxenholme a short while later and taken into custody.

On 18 January 1886 the three men were found guilty of the murder of PC Byrnes at Carlisle Assizes and sentenced to death. They were hanged on 8 February 1886.The fourth man, William Baker, fled after the burglary. He wasn’t with the gang when the murder took place – a fact which saved his life. He was later arrested in Manchester and taken back to Carlisle where he was sentenced to penal servitude.
The judge highly commended the police and railway staff and ordered that the sum of £170 be divided among them.

A memorial was erected to PC Byrnes near the spot where he died. The inscription reads: “Here Constable Joseph Byrnes fell on the night of October 29, 1885, shot by the three Netherby burglars whom he singlehanded endeavoured to arrest.”

Above the inscription is a cross with the words “Do or Die. A constable cannot do more than that.”

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