In 1903, the place was the scene of the Great Wyrley Outrages, a series of slashings of horses, cows and sheep. In October, a local solicitor and son of the parson, George Edalji, was tried and convicted for the eighth attack, on a pit pony, and sentenced to seven years with hard labour. Edalji’s family had been the victims of a long-running campaign of untraceable abusive letters and anonymous harassment in 1888 and 1892–5. Further letters, in 1903, alleged he was partially responsible for the outrages and caused the police suspicion to focus on him. Read more…
Edalji was released in 1906 after the Chief Justice in Bahamas and others had pleaded his case. But he was not pardoned, and the police kept him under surveillance. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame was persuaded to “turn detective” to prove the man’s innocence. This he achieved after eight months of work. Edalji was exonerated by a Home Office committee of enquiry, although no compensation was awarded.
Local myth remembers the Outrages to have been enacted by “The Wyrley Gang”, although Conan Doyle believed that they were the work of a single person, a local butcher’s boy and sometime sailor called Royden Sharp. Ironically, Conan Doyle’s suspicion was based on circumstantial evidence. It was an over-reliance on this type of evidence in the first place which had resulted in Edalji’s flawed conviction.
Poison pen letters in the name of the “Wyrley Gang” continued for another twenty-five years, but these were subsequently discovered to have been posted from outside the town by Enoch Knowles of Wednesbury, who was arrested and convicted in 1934.
This case has been related or retold:
- Conan Doyle’s The Story of Mr. George Edalji (1907, expanded re-issue in 1985).
- 1972 BBC anthology series The Edwardians: Arthur Conan Doyle (one episode) centres on his involvement in the Edaji case. Written by Jeremy Paul and directed by Brian Farnham, it stars Nigel Davenport as Conan Doyle, Sam Dastor as George Edaji, and Renu Setna as the Reverend Edaji.
- Arthur & George by Julian Barnes (2005), nominated that year for the Man Booker Prize. In 2010, Arthur & George was adapted for the theatre by David Edgar and, in 2015, for a three-part British television drama of the same title.
- A comprehensive non-fictional account Conan Doyle and the Parson’s Son: The George Edalji Case by Gordon Weaver (2006).
- In Roger Oldfield’s book Outrage: The Edalji Five and the Shadow of Sherlock Holmes, Vanguard Press (2010), the case is set within the context of the wider experiences of the Edalji family as a whole. Oldfield taught history at Great Wyrley High School. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia