A stumble into a foreign seaman by a drunk man on Christmas Day 1863 led to an altercation that ended up with his cousin dead after being fatally stabbed.
Joseph McGrath, a 22 year old dock labourer spent Christmas night that year in Holden's public house in Upper Frederick Street with his brother John, cousin William and another man named Thomas Gallagher. They each drank two quarts of ale whilst standing at the bar and at 1045pm two seamen from Manila, Lorenzo Carpur and Nariso Vrumea came in and stood at the other end.
About five minutes the two seamen left but William McGrath was staggering and fell backwards into one of the two foreigners, standing on his toes. Lorenzo and Carpur went and stood in the doorway of the pub, one of them having said they would get revenge. This led to Gallagher going and having a word saying they didn't want any trouble and they should return to their lodgings, only for a knife to be produced.
Gallagher returned into the pub and the four men stayed until closing time but when they left both seamen were still outside. Vrumea grabbed Joseph McGrath by the shoulder and both fell to the ground grappling, but Joseph managed to free himself and ran away. Vrumea chased after him and stabbed Joseph in the belly as he turned around to see how close the two men were together.
A policeman named Roberts was alerted by the screams of a female passer by and chased after Vrumea, apprehending him as he tried to discard the knife. Joseph was taken in a bearing barrow to the Southern Hospital, his intestines protruding. William had also been stabbed but his injuries were not too serious.
The prognosis for Joseph was not good and a magistrate Mr Mills went to take a deposition from him the following day, in which Joseph stated that he had said nothing provocative at all and he thinks he may have been mistaken for either his cousin or Gallagher, who had interacted with the two foreigners. All he could recall was somebody saying 'This is one then' being dragged to the ground, chased and stabbed. Joseph then died on Boxing Day night of hemorrhage and shock.
Both men were charged with murder but at the Assizes on 24th March 1864 the Crown only proceeded with the case against Vrumea. This was after his offer of pleading guilty to manslaughter was rejected by Justice Willies. The two surviving McGraths gave evidence as did Gallagher, while Constable Roberts described how he saw the fatal blow being struck. The defence counsel Mr Russell said that there could have been confusion as to who had struck the fatal blow, but his case was considerably weakened by Vrumea's initial offer to plead guilty to manslaughter anyway,
In summing up the judge said that their had been provocation by William McGrath and Thomas Gallagher, and that as the incident had all happened so quickly a murder conviction would not be appropriate. He left the jury to decide on whether Vrumea was guilty of manslaughter and they determined after just a few minutes that he was. The prosecutors told the judge that the landlady of Holdens had said the two men were in their every day for six weeks and had never caused any trouble, and as such he would not be pushing for a severe sentence.
Before sentencing Vrumea Justice Wills decided to proceed with the case of Carpur, who had been charged with wounding. Given he had came to court expecting to be tried for his life, he was happy not to contest this charge and the judge went on to sentence him to 18 months imprisonment. He then turned to Crumea, telling him that it was necessary to make an example of him so that other sailors did not resort to knives to settle quarrels. However he took into account the fact he was not of bad disposition and imposed a sentence of eight years penal servitude. This was explained to him by the Spanish Consul, who had been present in court throughout the trial.