Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Killing of an Unknown Seaman

In 1873 a man was convicted of manslaughter after causing the death of a seaman whose identity was never established.

On the 23rd November that year the schooner Emma was lying in Garston Docks when William Sargent, a 32 year old ship's mate, got into a row with a fellow crew member over a flannel shirt. The other seaman, an Irishman who had joined that day and whose name wasn't even known, struck a blow on Sargent and mentioned that he had a knife.

Sargent, who was scrubbing the deck at the time, then hit back with his brush and inflicted a wound over the right eye. This was not thought to be serious and was dressed by a chemist, with the man then going to bed but he died in the night. 

The following month Sargent found himself up before Justice Quain at the Liverpool assizes, charged with manslaughter. Witnesses agreed in cross examination that the deceased was drunk at the time and had said on shore that it was his fault he was attacked. However in summing up the judge said that there was no evidence a knife was produced and Sargent had time to escape the situation.

After the jury returned a guilty verdict, his defence counsel passed a reference from Sargent's officer at the Royal Navy reserve, saying he had been a member since 1867 and always attentive at drill. Justice Quain then said that due to the previous good character and the rashness of the act which he acknowledged did not intend to cause serious harm, he would be lenient. He then sentenced Sargent to three months hard labour.

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