Sunday, 6 October 2013

Murder of a Customs Officer

In 1834 the Liverpool Inspector of His Majesty's Customs was shot dead by a disgruntled employee, who was later hanged in public for the murder.

William Southgate took up his Inspector's post at Liverpool in 1832, while his killer Norman Welch had worked as a locker since around 1818. However after Welch was demoted to the lower paid position of weigher he vowed revenge on those responsible, telling colleagues that 'I am a wronged man and I will make an example of somebody.' He particularly seemed to want to target Mr Southgate, who had given him warnings previously for drunkenness and eating his dinner whilst on duty.

On Thursday 16th October 1834 Welch, who was aged 56, got his wages and spent some of them on a pistol, before going on a drinking spree. The following morning he left for work telling his wife, with whom he had six children, that she would never see him again. At 10am he calmly walked up to Southgate in the yard of the Custom House and shot him from close range, the ball piercing the abdomen. Southgate let out a scream and fell forwards while Welch, in front of several shocked onlookers, tried to put some laudanum, a form of opium, in his mouth but was stopped by others and wrestled to the ground.

Southgate fought for his life after a surgeon who was sent for managed to remove the ball from his abdomen, but he died 48 hours later. Welch showed a total indifference and said nothing when he was brought before the Mayor, Alderman Peter Bourne a few hours after the shooting. However by the time of he Coroner's inquest on 22nd October he was showing a great deal of remorse and readily agreed to have a clergyman spend time with him.

Welch stood trial at the Lancaster Spring Assizes on Friday 20th March 1835 and claimed insanity but this defence was not upheld and it took the jury just a few minutes to find him guilty. He was sentenced to death and the hanging was set for just six days later, Thursday 26th March. Welch maintained an air of resigned acceptance prior to the execution, telling the gaolers that it would be the happiest day of his life.

In front of a crowd of about 2,000 at Lancaster Castle. Welch struggled violently for several minutes after the bolt was drawn. After his body had hung for an hour, it was put in a coffin and buried within the grounds of the castle.

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