In 1891 the level of deprivation and lawlessness amongst children in parts Liverpool was demonstrated when a 10 year old boy drowned and two younger boys were charged with his murder.
On Tuesday 8th September 1891 the naked body of a boy was recovered from a pool of rainwater in a pit at a building site on he corner of Stanley and Victoria Street in the city centre. At first it was assumed he had got into difficulty whilst bathing and his clothes had then been taken by somebody else who was in need of them.
The body was taken to the Prince's Dock mortuary and identified by his mother that evening as David Dawson Eccles, who lived in Richmond Row. Elizabeth Dawson Eccles told detectives that she had last seen her son at 1pm on the Monday afternoon, when he went to Bevington Bush school, and that he had gone wayward of late and taken to sleeping out.
Elsewhere in the city, in Baptist Street (which was situated where John Moores University's Byrom Street building is now), the Mary O'Brien was shocked to read about the discovery in the newspapers, as on 7th September her 8 year old son Robert Shearon had come home wearing clothes that weren't his. Earlier that day, she had hidden all his clothes to stop him going out as he had slept out for two nights, but Shearon escaped his home wearing a sack with holes that he cut in it for his arms.
Mary had refused to believe his explanation that he had 'found them' in Victoria Street and after reading of the discovery of the body she took the clothes to the Central Police offices in Dale Street. They were soon identified as David's clothes and a detective was sent to Baptist Street to speak with Shearon, who immediately confessed that he had pushed him into the pit, but 'Crawford' had done it as well.
The other boy involved was 9 year old Samuel Crawford, who also lived in Baptist Street. He was arrested on Friday 11th September and told police that on the Monday he and Shearon had met David near St George's Hall and asked him to go to Victoria Street. After climbing into the building site from Cumberland Street, David refused to climb onto a plank, so they pushed him into the pit. When David climbed back out, they stripped him and pushed him in again, then ran away.
Both boys were charged with murder, and appeared before the Crown Court on 9th December where they could barely see above the dock rails. The jury heard how Baptist Street was one of the 'lowest streets' of Liverpool and that both boys had grown up without a father and had no sense of religious or moral values. Both admitted pushing David into the pit, but there was doubt about whether they could have known this would cause his death. As such, the jury returned a verdict that they were guilty of murder but 'not responsible' due to their age.
Mr Justice Lawrence however was reluctant to release the boys back to their mothers and with their consent instead placed them into the care of Father James Nugent, who ran schools for a number of deprived children in the city.