A prisoner who stabbed another to death whilst in Kirkdale Gaol was extremely fortunate to evade a murder conviction and was instead transported for life after being found guilty of manslaughter.
George Metham, who had already returned to England after being transported for seven years, was coming to the end of a custodial sentence at Kirkdale in May 1825. He was transferred to another part of the prison where inmates could mix more freely, but taking advantage of these privileges led to the killing that would see him take to the seas again.
Metham took a sum of money with him when he moved and managed to add to this by successful gambling. However a group of prisoners led by William Hudson decided to rob Metham of this money, but their plan was communicated to him by another inmate. Methan sent word back that he had a knife and would use it if attacked.
On the evening of 16th May Metham finished in the workshop at about 8pm and was taken to the day-room by a turnkey. Metham had the knife on him at that point as he had been using it to cut bread, and he quickly hid it in his clothing without shutting it. On entering the room where the other prisoners were he stood with his back to the wall, ready to fight off any attack if it came.
For several minutes some other prisoners, who were unaware that Metham had been tipped off, tried to entice him away from the wall but he stayed where he was. Eventually Hudson went up and grabbed Metham by the collar, then tried to bundle him to the ground. Metham responded by drawing the knife and stabbing his attacker in the belly.
Hudson died two days after the incident and Metham was charged with murder and appeared before Justice Bayley at Lancaster Assizes on Saturday 20th August. That he had stabbed Hudson to death was not denied, it was just a case of determining whether or not it was self defence. A prisoners gave evidence stating that Hudson had planned to rob Metham, while another old how there had been no previous ill feeling between the two, with Metham having twice given Hudson tobacco in the preceding days.
The only evidence in respect of any intention to cause harm came from Metham himself, whose testimony did not do him many favours. In admitting that he had the knife in anticipation of the attack, the judge suggested that this could be tantamount to premeditated murder given the robbery should not have caused any physical harm and the idea of a prisoner having money in gaol was absurd. However, it was also pointed out that Metham admitted to having used the knife to cut bread just beforehand and may not have had time to close it before hiding it from the turnkey. Another factor in Metham's favour was that he only had the knife as a precaution and did nothing to provoke any attack.
After deliberating for an hour the jury returned a verdict of guilty of manslaughter, the foreman saying they believed it was of the most aggravated character. The judge wasted no time on a prisoner who had already been transported once, telling him that this time it would be for life. On 1st August 1826, Metham arrived at Van Dieman's Land (now Tasmania) aboard the Woodman, on which he sailed with 149 other convicts.