A husband was acquitted after his wife died following a row over payment for a coffin for their dead child, whose body was laid out in the house when the deed took place. It was a case where the reluctance of those present to give evidence against him seemed to play a key part in the not guilty verdict.
The macabre incident took place in Maguire Street (where the Wallasey tunnel approach now is) on Friday 11th October 1867. A man named Mr Mackay delivered a coffin to 30 year old beerhouse keeper James Hobin after his one year old son Alban had died. James invited Mackay down to his cellar for a glass of ale, but his wife Eliza refused to give him the ale tap despite the pleas of two other people present, Mr and Mrs Croft.
When James began to get angry Eliza succumbed and gave Mrs Croft the tap then went down into the cellar, followed by her husband. An argument then broke out over the cost of the coffin and James was seen by the Crofts and his servant Margaret Mulholland to strike a blow at heavily pregnant Eliza, although it was said that she didn't cry out.
The following day Eliza showed Margaret a wound on her belly, from which the intestines were part protruding. A doctor was sent for and Eliza told him that she had fallen on the spout of the kettle, but after he expressed doubts at such a story she admitted that she had been stabbed with the ale tap. This led to a police officer being called by the doctor and James was arrested and taken to the Bridewell in Chisenhale Street on a charge of wounding.
Eliza died on the Sunday morning and the inquest was held before the coroner Clarke Aspinall on 15th October. Medical evidence produced showed that the wound had come from a knife or other sharp instrument but Margaret and the Crofts were sketchy with their evidence, leading to criticism from the coroner who implied they didn't want to incriminate James. After Mr Croft took to the stand again he admitted her had seen James put something in his pocket after hitting Eliza and the jury returned a verdict of wilful murder, leading to James being committed for trial at the assizes.
James was no stranger to the court, having been before them for failing to keep to the terms of his beer license on many occasions. He avoided now being on trial for his life when prosecutors opted to press ahead with a charge of manslaughter only. His defence was that Eliza had fallen down the stairs and in response to him having a bloodstained knife on him when arrested, his counsel said that if he had stabbed with it, he would have disposed of it or at least cleaned it up. It was also stated that Eliza was a violent woman who had hit him with a shell earlier that day, leading to the jury acquitting him after just a few minutes deliberation. Baron Martin then discharged him from the dock.