A terrible tragedy that occurred amidst squalor and deprivation took place in 1891 when a mother was kicked to death by her husband who was later convicted of her manslaughter.
Mary Jane Miller lived in a court in Harding Street, which was situated off Falkner Street, along with her husband John and five children, whose ages ranged from three to sixteen. Times were especially hard for the family and John was put out of work in August 1891, leading to a temporary break up of the marriage in early November when Mary and the children moved out for a few days. During this time John sold most of the furniture, squandering what he had managed to get for it on drink.
On Friday 13th November John and Mary drank in a neighbour's house, where an argument broke out about the furniture, leading to John rising up to strike Mary, only for the neighbour to intervene. At 2pm the couple were seen walking arm in arm across the court and this was the last time Mary was seen alive. The couple's children returned home from school at 4pm, and John gave them 2d to get him some ale, then asked that they chop some wood so the chips could be sold for a further 2d which was also spent on drink. He did this whilst the body of Mary lay by his side, but the children did not notice that she was dead.
That night the children were put to bed by John on a bed of straw in the upstairs room. They were so tired by their work they fell asleep quickly, but the following morning the eldest son (12 year old John) awoke at 7am to see that his father wasn't there and that his mother was cold and clearly dead, her face covered in blood. John and his 10 year old brother James raised the alarm with neighbours and police officers and a doctor arrived, but it was confirmed that Mary had been dead for several hours and a hatchet was found underneath a sack.
John was quickly located at his brother-in-law's house in Mann Street, where he begged to be able to kiss his children one last time before being taken into custody. He was taken to the police headquarters at Dale Street and appeared before the Stipendiary Magistrate Mr Stewart two days later charged with murder.
Back in Harding Street, crowds gathered outside the house when news spread of the killing. Mary's body was removed to the Prince's Dock mortuary, with the two oldest children (John and 16 year old Sarah) remaining at the house being looked after by a neighbour. The younger ones were placed in the care of a children's home in Islington, and all were allowed to see the body of their mother.
John's trial took place at the next Liverpool Assizes on 10th December, with his two eldest children in tears as they gave evidence. John told how he had found his mother dead on the Saturday morning, having known she had failed to answer any questions the night before. Sarah told how she was at her aunts in Mann Street when her father came round in an agitated state, saying that her mother was dead and he didn't know how. Dr Wigglesworth from the Rainhill Asylum told the court that there was a history of insanity in John's family and that he was of 'low mental organisation'.
In summing up, Mr Justice Lawrence told the jury that there was no evidence to say that John was mentally ill, but if he had drunk himself into such a stupor that he had no control over himself, then a verdict of manslaughter could be returned. It took the jury half an hour to find Miller guilty of manslaughter and Justice Lawrence didn't mince his words during sentencing, telling him that he had committed a crime 'under circumstances of greater horror it was impossible to conceive.' Telling Miller that if there was something wrong with his mind it would be taken care of, he imposed term of 25 years penal servitude.