When two labourers fought each other in Vauxhall in 1896 one of them produced a fatal weapon leading to him being jailed for sixteen years for manslaughter.
On the afternoon of 6th June 1896 dock labourer Robert Devine collected his wages and was walking along Athol Street when he was met by 21 year old John Donnolly who attacked him. The two men sparred for a while before being separated by a policeman, who sent each of them on their way.
Later in the afternoon 24 year old Devine went to Sumner Street where Donnolly lived and shouted 'if you want to fight come and fight fair.' Donnolly did so and avoided the first punch that was thrown at him, but he then grabbed Devine by the waist, turned him around and stabbed him two or three times in the back and once in the thigh. Devine's widowed mother then arrived and saw her son prostrate on the ground with blood coming out of his back. Donnolly said to her 'I will do for you and your daughter and make a clean sweep of your family' and stood aside as his mother dragged Mrs Devine by the hair and threw her to the ground.
Devine was taken to the Northern Hospital where he died at 8am the following morning, one of the knife blows having penetrated the cavity of his chest. Prior to his death he had been able to give a deposition stating that Donnolly had burgled his house the previous weekend and that his actions meant that he 'was not able to help my poor mother.'
At 10pm on the evening of Devine's death Donnolly handed himself in to police on Great Howard Street and was charged with wilful murder at the detective office, to which he replied 'He came at me with a big stick.' At the inquest Devine's sister confirmed about the burglary and said that she had thrown boiling water over Donnolly to get him out of the house. She stated that Donnolly had been bullying her brother for nine months and on one occasion through spiked railings through their window.
When Donnolly was tried at the assizes on 31st July his defence counsel said that he had not been the first of the two men to use violence and a manslaughter verdict was more appropriate. The jury agreed with this without leaving the box but the severity of the attack led to a severe sentence being imposed, Justice Cave handing him a term of sixteen years penal servitude.