Monday, 22 April 2013

Coat Dispute Leads To Killing

In 1856 John Ferguson cut his lover's throat after a row over a missing coat, leading to him being transported for life.

23 year old Ferguson lived in Prince William Street, Toxteth, with his mother, step father and four brothers and sisters. In 1854 he entered into a relationship with Sarah Drummond, a second cousin of his mother and she moved into the property too, giving birth to a child soon afterwards.

On the afternoon of Sunday 20th January Drummond went out drinking with a previous lover, John Thomas and at some point he gave her his coat, which was then passed on to Ferguson with the intention of pawning it. At around 5am the following morning however, Ferguson denied all knowledge of the coat when asked by Drummond of its whereabouts when they came across each other in the Ruthin Castle pub, after Ferguson had gone down to the Brunswick Bridewell to see a prisoner being taken away in the van. An argument followed between the two although there was no hint then of the dreadful deed that would take place back at the house.

As they continued rowing at home, Drummond threatened to break Ferguson's skull and threw a basin at him, then they both grappled on the floor and Ferguson pulled out a knife and cut his partner's throat, although she didn't die instantly. He then tried to help her to the Southern Hospital but she collapsed and died in nearby Wolfe Street (left).  Ferguson returned home and said his goodbyes to his mother and siblings but chose not to  flee and he instead surrendered himself to one of the many police officers who had arrived on the scene. The murder weapon, a clasp knife, was found in a midden at the back of Prince William Street and crowds also gathered around Wolfe Street after the body had been taken to a mortuary.

Ferguson was taken to the Bridewell where he  had an unsuccessful suicide attempt before being brought before the police court later that morning. The Liverpool Mercury described his appearance as 'most contemptible' and that 'a thorough acquaintance with crime may be read in his countenance.' The following day an inquest was held, where his mother sobbed 'Oh my son Lord have mercy upon him.'The Mercury was scathing in its description of Ferguson's character, detailing that he 'was a constant associate of the most abandoned and disreputable characters of Liverpool.'

The inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder and Ferguson was committed for trial at the next Assizes in April, where his mother was in the horrible position of having to give evidence for the prosecution. The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter due to the provocation involved but the Judge Martin told him on sentencing that 'I should not be doing my duty if I did not sentence you to be transported for the period of your natural life.'

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