The captain of a vessel who struck a crew member for not carrying out an instruction was cleared of killing him due to there being no conclusive evidence as to the cause of death.
On 22nd November 1883 the Estrelia sailed from Cork to Liverpool on a voyage that took two days. When the vessel was about two miles from the mouth of the River Mersey the captain John Martin gave orders to the second mate John Sullivan to set the main topsails.
Sullivan, who was under the influence of drink, refused and was punched in the face by Martin, causing him to fall to the deck, hitting a metal spar as he did so. On arrival in Liverpool Sullivan went to the North Dispensary where his swollen jaw was bound up and he was told to return there the next day. He failed to do this and three days later the 60 year old was found dead at his home in Rose Place.
On the same day that Sullivan had died Martin had appeared at the police court on a charge of assault and was allowed to pay £3 to settle the matter. He now faced arrest again, being taken into custody to attend the coroner's inquest. After a post mortem revealed that Sullivan died from pressure on the windpipe as a result of a fractured jaw, leading to a manslaughter verdict being returned.
After Martin was charged with manslaughter he was given bail set at £50. He then surrendered himself to the Liverpool assizes on 7th February 1884. During his trial sufficient doubts were raised about Sullivans health in general, as it was shown he had kidney disease brought on by excessive alcohol consumption.
Mr Aspinall, defending, said that the evidence was not sufficient to justify a conviction and the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, leading to Martin's release from the dock.