In a case that would have intrigued the Baker Street detective himself, the great great uncle of Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch was accused of murdering a young friend while aged just 14, back in 1893, RadioTimes.com can reveal.
Harry Ventham was charged with stabbing Frederick Betteridge following a row while the two were gathering nuts and blackberries on a lonely country road one Sunday afternoon near the Hampshire village of Michelmersh.
Betteridge was left bleeding to death with a knife lodged in his chest but Ventham, a relative on Cumberbatch’s mother Wanda Ventham’s side, was acquitted after the jury found that the unfortunate victim had died by accident.
According to the official verdict, Betteridge ran against the actor’s ancestor and sustained the fatal wound by his own devices.
Henry Ventham was tried for murder at the Hampshire Autumn Assizes at Winchester in November 1893.
A local newspaper account in the Hampshire Advertiser on Saturday 18 November was headed ‘The Romsey Stabbing Case’ and related how Henry and Frederick had been on a Sunday afternoon expedition to gather nuts and blackberries. The prosecution alleged there was a row between them and Henry stabbed his friend to death with a knife.
Mr Ventham was defended by a barrister called Bullen, the Recorder of Southampton, on the instructions of the judge, Mr Justice Hawkins. His story, supported by a third boy, was that there was no quarrel but that Frederick Betteridge suddenly ran against him and the knife went into him.
A jury accepted Henry’s version that it was an accident and found him not guilty of both murder and manslaughter. The Hampshire Advertiser concluded its report with the comment: “His Lordship…was quite content with the view they had taken of the case (applause in court).”
The revelation, uncovered by researchers at leading family history website, findmypast.co.uk, focused on Cumberbatch’s maternal line revealing that his great great uncle Henry was part of a family of farm hands.
Debra Chatfield, a family historian from the website said: “Though Benedict’s paternal ancestry is well known and documented online, this startling discovery is quite the revelation.
“It seems that there was a dark horse in Benedict’s family tree, and while his great great uncle was not convicted of murder or manslaughter, it shows us how many curve balls family history can throw at us, and how unexpected stories are there to be uncovered.”
The Cumberbatches were a prominent English family of merchants and adventurers in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Abraham Cumberbatch, Benedict’s fifth great-grandfather (1726-1785), was from Bristol and founded the family fortunes on a sugar plantation in Barbados. They owned slaves – a fact which Benedict has spoken about, claiming that when he played Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger in the film Amazing Grace as an abolitionist it was a “sort of apology”.
Ben has worked as a professional journalist specialising in TV and the arts for nearly twenty years. After a two year stint on local newspapers in the mid 1990s, he spent more than 5 years as the broadcast reporter at the Stage newspaper. Following that he enjoyed staff reporting positions at the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday Times breaking stories and writing features before settling as a full time freelance writing for an array of newspapers and magazines - but mainly for the Guardian, Evening Standard, Broadcast, Independent and the New Statesman where he wrote a column.