A teenager who killed two farm workers in an arson attack was hanged in 1882, bringing to an end what he described as a 'short life and a merry one.'
Originally from County Mayo in Ireland, Bernard Mullarkey came to England in 1879 at the age of 16. He had a brief spell in the army with the 95th Regiment of Foot, from which he deserted, before taking a series of labouring jobs and eventually ending up in Maghull where he worked for a farmer named John Sumner.
Mullarkey slept in an outhouse on the farm with three other workers, a father and son both named Thomas Cruise, and a man named Thomas Jordan. There appeared to be no ill feeling between them at first but during the month of September 1882 Mullarkey began to tell the others he would 'swing for them' and set fire to the outhouse. He also made a threat to do so whilst in conversation with a fellow drinker in a local pub.
On the 25th of that month, all four men went to Bradley's provisions shop in the evening and on returning to the farm, Mullarkey told the others he was going to the washhouse and they went to sleep in the loft. Soon afterwards though, one of them men was awoken by screams and saw that the barn was alight. As they desperately tried to put the flames out with sacks, one of them looked out of the window to see Mullarkey standing in a courtyard, having got the horses out of danger. Rather than get a nearby ladder to help, Mullarkey instead went away to find Mr Sumner and by the time he arrived back one of the three men, the elder Thomas Cruise, was dead.
After putting out the flames a police sergeant who arrived on the scene asked Mullarkey what he knew. Giving his name as Charles Rogers, he said that he had fallen asleep drunk in the washhouse and woke to find the building on fire, having no idea how it had started. The policeman was able to establish that the fire had been started from below the loft, indicating that none of the three men in there could have been responsible. Mr Cruise's body was also found to have received a blow to the head before the fire had started.
A Coroner's inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder and Mullarkey was committed for a trial that took place at Liverpool Assizes on 17th November. The evidence against him was largely circumstantial as nobody had seen him start the fire or enter the outhouse. However, in summing up, Justice Day pointed to the threats made a few days before, his odd behaviour at the time of the fire and the fact that those giving evidence as to his conduct had no reason to lie. Damningly, he also said that if Mullarkey set fire to the building knowing somebody was inside then it was murder. The jury took just seventeen minutes to return a verdict of guilty.
On being sentenced to death by, Mullarkey replied : 'Well sir, you can only judge a fellow on this earth. You can not judge me in the next, where we shall all be judged. I am as innocent of the crime I am going to swing for as the child who is not born yet.'
Whilst awaiting his fate in Kirkdale gaol Mullarkey was visited by two cousins, but he refused to allow his parents to spend what little money they had on coming to see him. In his final letter to them he wrote that he had been an indifferent son, but his life had been 'a short and merry one.' On 4th December Mullarkey got up at 6am, had a good breakfast and was attended to by Father Bonte. He was hanged by William Marwood, having walked firmly to the scaffold..