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.