Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Killed By A Paraffin Oil Lamp

In 1884 a Toxteth man was found guilty when his girlfriend died due to serious burns after he threw a paraffin oil lamp at her.

In the early hours of  26th February 1884 Police Constable Robert Fagan was on duty in Mann Street when he saw a fire in a property. On running inside he found 28 year old Mary McNamara in flames on the bedroom floor and set about extinguishing the fire using a sheet from the bed.

Whilst this was going on he noticed a male, who it later transpired was 23 year old labourer Robert Black, stooping by the bed who did nothing to help or say anything. After help arrived and Mary was stretchered out of the property PC Fagan went back inside and found that Black had gone, having apparently escaped by the back door.

Black was arrested the following day in Church Street on suspicion of wounding after Mary had been able to give police a statement from her hospital bed at the Southern Hospital. She remained there until 19th March, when she died from exhaustion brought about by the burns. At the coroner's inquest the following day, witnesses from the area told how they had seen Mary arguing with Black in the street on the afternoon of the 25th, both of them worse for wear through drink and how Black had struck her to the ground on more than one occasion. Mary was last seen at 11.30pm on that date and before making his escape, Black told one of her friends that she was on fire after he had thrown the oil lamp and she needed assistance.

The inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder and Black was committed for trial at the Assizes in May. The Liverpool Mercury reported that Black was a 'lazy scoundrel' content to live off Mary's 'immoral earnings' and that they were members of the 'unfortunate class' who had been together for seven years. A statement was read out that had been made by Mary, in which she told how Black had thrown the lamp at her and the glass shattered after hitting her on the head, causing burning oil to pour over her.

On the direction of the judge the jury found Black guilty of wilful murder but recommended mercy on the grounds of provocation. He was sentenced to death but the Home Secretary acted on this and the sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life.

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