Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Murder on a Canal Boat

A man who brutally battered his wife on a boat, causing her to die of her injuries a week later was hanged in a triple execution at Kirkdale Gaol.

Originally from Scarisbrick, William Worthington was a 33 year old 'flatman', employed on a flat bottomed horse drawn canal boat that carried coal between Liverpool and Wigan. He lived on board along with his wife Ann, their two young children and her daughter from a previous marriage that had left her widowed.

On 29th August 1874 a woman in Vauxhall Road heard screams going on for a quarter of an hour and when she looked out of her window she saw Ann crouched down in a yard where flatmen tethered their horses. William was standing over her, kicking away at her body. The woman and a male passer by both told him to stop, but were told to mind their own business, leading to the male whistling for a policeman.

Even though Ann's face was covered with mud and blood and she was in a distressed state, the policeman who arrived on the scene took no action on establishing they were man and wife. Instead he told the couple to go home and make it up, even when Ann asked the officer to take her husband away. The brutality had taken place due to him being unhappy that she gave him only a shilling when he asked for some money.

On getting back on board the boat, which was moored under the bridge at Boundary Street, William continued his assault in front of Ann's daughter, administering one kick into her abdomen that was so hard it broke the stay-bone of her corset. He then went asleep but continued his assault the next morning, hitting Ann with a poker. Ann managed to get away and stayed for a week with a wellwisher called Mrs Duffy in Hopwood Street before being taken to her sisters address in Wigan. Whilst there her condition deteriorated and she died on 10th September, having suffered a broken collarbone, ribs and severe internal injuries.

The terrible deed was unprovoked and no doubt fuelled by drink, which turned William from being a kind man devoted to his family to someone in a complete rage. William was arrested on 10th September and transferred to Liverpool a few days later. he told the police officer who transferred him that it was a 'bad job' and that he wouldn't have done it for a thousand pounds now.


William was tried on 16th December, the medical evidence showing that Ann had died from pluro-pneumonia aggravated by violence. The only defence that could be offered was that William did not intend to cause death but he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by Judge Mellor, who informed him that he would pass the jury's recommendation for mercy to the Home Secretary.

Whilst in Kirkdale awaiting his fate William seemed confident of a reprieve but no appeal was forthcoming and his execution was fixed for 4th January 1875. John McCrave and Michael Mullen, who had been involved in the Tithebarn Street Outrage, joined him on the scaffold. Worthington, clutching a white handkerchief, was the first to be pinioned in what was an extremely efficient operation, all three dying instantly when the bolt was drawn.                                                        

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Double Booking Postpones Execution

A sixty year old man that killed his lover who was only half his age was hanged at Kirkdale, but faced the agony of his execution being postponed at the last minute due to the Hangman's services being required elsewhere.

Richard Spencer was born in 1812 and from the age of five was brought up by his grandparents, his mother and father having emigrated to Australia. They wished for him to join them and sent funds over to England, but he chose not to go there. At the age of sixteen he married in Manchester, and remained with his wife for nearly 25 years before separating, both accusing the other of too much drunkenness.

Whilst in his mid forties Spencer got involved with Elizabeth Wharton, who lived in Liscard but travelled to Liverpool every day to hawk fish and poultry. Spencer ran his own fishmonger business and was quite well off, and he persuaded Wharton, who he described as 'a fine buxom Cheshire lass' to live with him, despite her still being in her teens. For fifteen years they lived happily together in Breck Road, where Spencer's business was a success, but towards the end of the 1860s things weren't so successful. This, coupled with Wharton turning to drink led to Spencer becoming depressed and in ill health, leading to him going to see his sister in Yorkshire in the summer of 1872.

To raise funds when Spencer was away Wharton sold much of the furniture and also some valuable pictures, which was particularly upsetting for him. When he returned they lived in Coniston Street for a brief period and then moved to Gregson Street, where he intended to start up in business again. Spencer was jealous of Wharton's friendships with other men, although there was no hint of what horror would take place early in the morning of 9th August when Spencer shot Wharton before attempting suicide.

The couple went to bed on the previous evening without having had a drink, but about 7am Wharton was awoken by a blow to the head, with Spencer saying he wanted them to die together. She managed to get away to a neighbour, who went to the property and found him with a wound to the forehead and bleeding from the ear. The police were called and on their arrival, he handed the officer a revolver and begged him to put him out of his misery.

Both were taken to the Royal Infirmary, where Wharton was able to give a deposition stating that Spencer was a heavy drinker who had often threatened to kill her, leading to her sleeping with a knife under her pillow. She denied ever being unfaithful and died three days later. Spencer recovered and was handed to the police on 26th September, telling the court as he was committed for trial that Wharton's drunken habits had led to his furniture being sold. At his trial Spencer claimed that he was trying to shoot himself but missed, causing a bullet to hit Wharton instead. However this didn't convince the jury and he was found guilty and sentenced to death.

The execution at Kirkdale was fixed for 6th January but two days beforehand it became apparent that William Calcraft was also required for an execution at Durham on the same day so it was put off for two days. When Spencer was told of this, he was distraught, having thought he was being given news of a reprieve and also claiming that he didn't even know it was meant to be taking place on the 6th. On the morning of 8th January Spencer, who was said to have aged twenty years whilst in the condemned cell, had to be helped to the scaffold, with the Liverpool Mercury describing  that 'the unhappy wretch was launched into eternity with scarcely a struggle.'

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Mouse Killer Stabs Partner

A 30 year old man whose barbarous tendencies had cost him his job a few years earlier ended up being hanged after he killed his partner when she renewed her acquaintance with an ex lover.

In the 1850s Thomas Edwards worked as a gas fitter in Liverpool, but was dismissed from his employment after he was caught roasting a mouse alive over a burner on his employer's premises. He then joined the army and went to Crimea, although his regiment did not see any action.

London Road c1900 (www.liverpoolpicturebook.com)
On his return to Liverpool he resumed a relationship with Isabella Tonge, who according to the Liverpool Mercury kept a 'disreputable house' in a court off Norman Street on London Road. They had two children who died in infancy and Edwards worked as a jobbing butcher, fetching meat from the abattoir and aking it to shops. He didn't drink and begged Tonge not to make a living from the streets, as he felt he could earn enough to keep the two of them.

In November 1862 a man named Thomas Sullivan, a former lover of Tonge's who had been away doing penal servitude for robbery returned to Liverpool. He went straight to Norman Court and immediately resumed intimate relations with Tonge, who didn't hide the fact from Edwards.

On the evening of 26th November Edwards returned to the house at about 7pm and was told by another lodger that Sullivan and Tonge had been out since noon. Edwards went out for some ale and rum, his first alcohol for four years, which he drank before falling asleep on the sofa. At 2am the couple returned and Sullivan told Edwards it was no business of his where they had been, but the three of them sat up for some time on friendly terms, along with the lodger Jane Wilson.

To avoid any awkward situations Tonge suggested that the two men slept upstairs with the women downstairs. All parties were agreeable to this but Edwards came back down soon afterwards and carried out a frenzied attack on Tonge, stabbing her nineteen times in the neck and breast. As Tonge desperately tried to defend herself with a poker, Wilson tried to intervene and was stabbed in the arm, but her screams of 'murder' were heard by passers by who shouted for the police. Sullivan was awoken by the commotion and came downstairs, to which Edwards reacted by stabbing him in the thigh.

Edwards left the property but inexplicably came back shortly afterwards to change. While he was leaving again a police constable arrived and Edwards invited him in to see his 'work.' The officer was greeted with the sight of Tonge, who was barely alive, lying on the floor. Edwards was taken into custody while Tonge and Sullivan were taken to the Royal Infirmary.

As he being taken to the Bridewell Edwards said he had stabbed Tonge to get revenge and hoped that she was dead. On arrival he told the keeper that if Tonge survived and he was transported as a punishment, then he would return on his release to finish her off. Edwards claimed he gave her all his earnings but she was still unfaithful to him, and he had warned her the day before of his intentions if she continued seeing Sullivan. One of the wounds had punctured Tonge's lung and there was very little chance of survival and she died on 2nd December as a direct result of that injury.

Tonge had been able to make a deposition in which she said that she had been keeping Edwards by prostitution and he threatened to kill her if she didn't give this up. On the night of the murder she claimed he had asked for money and she refused to give any, leading to the stabbing.

Edwards showed little interest in the impending court proceedings, showing a resigned acceptance to his fate. When asked if he had anything to say before sentence of death was passed he said there was little point. There was little doubt about his guilt given he subsequently stated his intention to kill, but the jury did recommend mercy on the grounds of the provocation caused by the relationship between Sullivan and Tonge.

Whilst in prison Edwards remained remarkably calm given what was coming, and chatted happily with the turnkeys. However when the Home Secretary refused to commute the sentence to life imprisonment his mood changed and he spent much more time reading the bible and praying. His mother had her final tearful farewell with him on Friday 2nd January, the day before the execution was due to take place. On the same day he executioner Calcraft hanged a 70 year old man who had killed his wife in Worcester, before heading up to Kirkdale to spend the night at the gaol.

On the morning of the execution the build up was quite low key, with only 500 estimated to be in attendance at 11.30am, half an hour before it was due to take place. Suddenly though, according to the Liverpool Mercury, 'hundreds of wretched looking men and women, and ragged children', were making their way up Scotland Road and Vauxhall Road towards Kirkdale. By noon there were about 10,000 present as Edwards took his place on the scaffold, saying 'Lord Have Mercy Upon Me' three times before the bolt was drawn. His body remained hanging for an hour before being buried within the precints of the prison.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Man Hanged For Killing Wife Who Wouldn't Get Back With Him

A man who came to Liverpool from his Birkenhead lodgings in the hope of winning back his wife's affections stabbed her when she refused to resume normal marital relations, leading to him being hanged after she died two months afterwards.

On the 8th June 1860 Thomas Gallagher, a 40 year old shoemaker, took the ferry to Liverpool and went to Copperas Hill, where his daughter from an earlier marriage lodged with a lady called Mrs Detreks. Whilst visiting her he was told that his wife was likely to call around some time that day and he then went for a drink, calling back on several occasions in between visits to pubs to see if Mary was at the property. The couple had been separated for about a month and having secured accommodation and work in Birkenhead, Gallagher was hopeful she may return there with him.

Finally at about 6pm Mary, who was Gallagher's third wife, was there and the couple went into the parlour. Shortly afterwards Mrs Detreks heard cries of 'murder' and ran in to the room, where Gallagher was in the act of stabbing Mary with a knife that had been on the table. She quickly called for assistance from a neighbour called Mr Shepherd who managed to wrestle the knife from him. Mary was taken to the Infirmary suffering from four wounds, one of which had pierced the bone, while Mr Shepherd kept hold of Gallagher until the police arrived. Before the police got there, Gallagher told Shepherd that he wished he had killed her for all the aggravation that had been caused. On arrival at the Bridewell, Gallagher was told of his charge and replied to the keeper that he was sober and he wished that he had finished her off.

Mary regained consciousness and despite doctors giving her little chance of survival she was able to give a deposition from her hospital bed. She explained that she was living at 45 Summerseat in Vauxhall and that he wanted her to go to Birkenhead with him, promising to mend his previous ways drunkenness. However because she was keen to go back to her property as she had left their younger children alone, Gallagher got the wrong impression and stabbed her without provocation. Despite this, she said she forgave him with all her heart.

Even though she was critically injured, Mary battled on and she was joined in hospital by Gallagher's daughter, who was suffering from consumption and would die a few weeks later. Mary remained alive until 6th August, dying of complications caused by the wound to the shoulder, which had caused a number of abscesses. A post mortem revealed that her internal organs were healthy and concluded that she had died from 'exhaustion consequent upon the injuries she had received.' The following day, the coroner's court brought a verdict of wilful murder and he was committed for trial at the imminent Assizes on a charge of murder rather than attempted murder.

Gallagher was tried on 16th August, with Mrs Detreks and Mr Shepherd giving evidence. Gallagher defended himself and said that he was drunk, and that he had no intention of seeing his wife that day, it was only when his daughter said she would be around that he made sure he met her. The judge's summing up was brief and to the point. Dismissing drunkenness as an excuse, he said that if the evidence was believed, then Gallagher was guilty of murder, as he had picked up the knife and told others he wished he had finished her off. It took just a few minutes for the jury to return a guilty verdict and Gallagher was sentenced to death. He replied to the judge that he only knew what he had done when he was told the next day and that he had never been in gaol before.

Petitions asking for commutation of the sentenced were raised by two of Gallagher's brothers, one of whom lived in his native Dublin and the other in Liverpool. Gallagher's former employer, who lived in Great George Street, gathered hundreds of signatures from that area. The grounds set out for a reprieve were that the crime was committed in the heat of passion and Mary's refusal to go to Birkenhead with him had been an act of provocation. However, the Home Secretary refused to intervene and the execution, which was to take place in public, was set for Saturday 8th September. Gallagher himself had never held out any hope and spent most of his time in jail praying before bidding a tearful farewell to his two youngest children, who were now in the care of the workhouse, the day before the execution.


Spectators began to gather at 7am, entertaining themselves by playing leapfrog and pitch-and-toss. By noon the crowd had risen to 20,000, most of whom were described by the Liverpool Mercury as from the 'lower order of society.' Amongst the gathering were the crew of an Egyptian frigate which was berthed at Sandon Dock. As Calcraft prepared to draw the bolt, Gallagher shouted 'Blessed Jesus, Mary and Joseph, assist me in my last agony.' As soon as the body was lifeless most of the crowd dispersed although a handful remained until it was cut down at 1pm and buried in the precints of the prison.