A man who stabbed another to death in Vauxhall Road escaped a murder conviction due to him being outnumbered during a fight.
On the night of Saturday 14th July 1838 three friends John Colburn, Thomas Halligan and Pat Maude, who together worked in a soapery in Canning Street, were drinking at Mr Lane's public house on the corner of Naylor Street and Vauxhall Road. At midnight the landlord refused to serve any more ale and the three men went outside to decide and began speaking together about where to go next.
Whilst there they got into an altercation with a 30 year old called James Highams, at one point all three surrounding him whilst he was on the floor. Moments later he was kicked into the road but he then came back, stabbed Halligan and ran away, soon being caught by Colburn. Halligan, a was then taken to the Dispensary by Maude but died about two minutes after arriving.
Mr Whitty, the head constable, took Maude and Colburn to the Vauxhall Road Bridewell to where Highams had been taken. Colburn confirmed it was him who stabbed Halligan and at the inquest on the Monday morning a verdict of wilful murder was returned after 20 minutes consideration by the jury. Highams responded to this by saying he still had the marks on him from being knocked down two or three times.
At the Assizes on 16th August, the prosecutor went through the evidence and said that he would not be pressing the capital charge, but instead allow the jury to determine if the evidence merited a verdict of murder.
Whilst giving his evidence, Maude was admonished by the judge for admitting kicking Highams whilst Colburn had already restrained him. Maude said that he had done so as he had struck Halligan and at that point didn't know that he had been mortally wounded. A female friend of Highams, Mary Sweeney told how he had said 'chaps thats not fair' as he was on the floor and surrounded and that Halligan had then moved forward to attack him again before being struck with the knife.
In summing up, the judge said that Highams had first been subjected to a cowardly attack as it was three on to one, and he had only used the knife after first being struck himself. This led to the jury returning a verdict of manslaughter and Highams being sentenced to two years hard labour.