Sunday, 8 February 2015

Stabbing Over Grog

An Indian man who stabbed a fellow sailor to death after a quarrel in 1862 had a lucky escape from the hangman's noose after being convicted of manslaughter.

John Lloyd (probably an Anglicised name that he was given) was a native of Madras who joined the Ethiopian on 11th October at New Calabar in what is now Nigeria for a voyage to Liverpool. That evening he was acting steward and got into a row with another crew member, Benjamin Jack, who he believed had drank too much grog.

Jack, who was much bigger and stronger, pushed Lloyd in the chest causing him to fall backwards by about four feet. Lloyd then went into the pantry and got a carving knife, an act that was seen by another crew member James Barber, who told him to be careful. Lloyd said he wouldn't do anything and returned to the deck where Jack was holding a winch handle. Seeing the knife, Jack dropped the winch handle and tried to get it from Lloyd, but a struggle ensued during which Jack was stabbed.

Lloyd then hurried to the medicine cupboard and took all the laudanum that was on board. The captain came to deck and found Jack's body, which had blood protruding from a throat wound. After being put in irons the second mate ordered crew to prepare a coffin so that Jack could be buried at sea, leading to Lloyd joking that two would be needed due to the laudanum he had taken. Lloyd then suffered a mentally torturous voyage to Liverpool, having survived his suicide attempt but knowing a murder charge awaited him on arrival.

Lloyd was tried at the South Lancashire Assizes on 18th August 1863. Fellow crew members gave evidence as to what they had seen and Jack's difficult character, while Lloyd insisted he had the knife already as he the argument began. His defence counsel suggested a manslaughter verdict was more appropriate due to the provocation, but in summing up the judge said that if Lloyd had got the knife out of the pantry with the intention of causing harm then it was murder.

After a few minutes deliberation a manslaughter verdict was returned and the judge told Lloyd that he was lucky, as there had been no justification to get the knife and the presence of others on the ship would have protected him from an attack by Jack. He was then sentenced to a term of penal servitude for ten years.

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