The New Year of 1869 saw a man killed his wife after she became pregnant by somebody else, but was shown surprising leniency by a jury that found him guilty of manslaughter.
Robert Garbett, a 30 year old pipe maker, had been married to his 21 year old wife for three years but some time in 1868 they separated. They lived on opposite sides of the same court in Gildart's Gardens, Vauxhall, where Robert resided with his mother and Elizabeth lodged with a Mrs Seagrave.
In the middle of December 1868 Elizabeth told Robert that she was heavily pregnant to another man, but he offered to forgive her if she returned to him. She did so for one night, but they again argued and Elizabeth went back to stay with Mrs Seagrave.
On New Years Eve Robert went out and got drunk before getting into a row with somebody else in the court at 2am. Mrs Seagrave went out to see what was going on and in what proved to be a fatal mistake, invited him into her home where Elizabeth was still up. In front of other guests, Robert confronted his wife about her lover and she said something back that upset him, leading to him punching her. He then took a knife out of his pocket and stabbed her several times in the face, arm and stomach as she lay on the floor.
Mrs Seagrave went out and found a policeman, who immediately arrested Robert. Elizabeth, whose bowels were protruding, was taken to hospital where she died about 20 hours later. She was very advanced with her pregnancy, with the baby due to be born at any time.
Robert was tried at the Liverpool Assizes on 29th March. Witnesses, including a neighbour and Mrs Seagrave's 11 year old son, described how they saw the couple arguing and Elizabeth hit back once after Robert's first punch, only for him to then take the knife out of his pocket. He was described as a hard working and industrious man who had never previously been known to ill treat his wife.
In summing up, the Mr Justice Lush referred to Elizabeth's 'irregular life' but pointed out the differences between murder and manslaughter, in that for a reduced verdict to be returned they had to be satisfied that there had been a sufficient level of provocation. He also said drunkenness could not be used as an excuse for the killing.
The jury deliberated for only fifteen minutes before finding Robert guilty of manslaughter, leading to Justice Lush telling him that they had been very lenient. Describing the killing as 'on the verge of murder' he said he would sentence accordingly and taking no account of Robert's remorse, ruled that he must endure penal servitude for life.