Monday, 20 January 2020

Bootle Paraffin Lamp Tragedy

A Bootle woman was charged with manslaughter after it was alleged that her daughter died as a a result of her throwing a paraffin lamp that exploded. However due to conflicting evidence she was cleared when the case came to court.

Sixty year old Alice Leonard sent the afternoon and evening of Saturday 19th November 1910 drinking with her landlady at her lodgings in Aber Street, Bootle, which was situated off Irlam Road. At around 11pm she went up to the room that she rented where her 21 year old son William was sleeping. 

The pair started quarrelling and when Alice slapped him, causing his nose to bleed, they were broken up by Alice's married daughter Annie Walsh. William attempted to hit his mother with a mug and it resulted in a paraffin oil lamp coming off the mantelpiece. William moved out the way and it hit the floor and exploded, setting fire to Annie's clothing. 

Annie rolled around in agony and although a neighbour extinguished the flames, she died in Bootle Hospital soon afterwards but not before she was able to make a disposition. She stated that her husband was a patient at Rainhill Hospital and her mother did not touch the lamp.

File:Bootle hospital 1.jpg
Bootle Hospital (Sunwukong 88 shared under
Creative Commons sharealike license)
An inquest before the coroner Samuel Brighouse at Bootle Police Court heard conflicting evidence. William said that his mother had accidentally swept the lamp in his direction whilst rushing at him as he threw a pint mug at her. The landlady Mrs Books said she saw and heard nothing, while a female warder from Pacific Road police station said Alice had admitted throwing the lamp. A verdict of manslaughter was returned.

When Alice appeared at the assizes the following February, the Daily Post headlined the case A DISGRACEFUL STORY OF A DRUNKEN WOMANHOOD. Alice's landlady Mrs Brooks said she had been drinking with Alice on the night in question and admitted being locked up for drunkenness many times. After telling the judge she had one child, he responded "you ought to be ashamed of yourself, go away". 

Just as he did at the inquest, William Leonard told the court that his mother had not picked up the lamp, but knocked it accidentally. Annie's dying deposition was read out, in which she had stated that she herself he picked up the lamp and dropped it.

After hearing the evidence the judge directed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty, as the only two witnesses to the incident had both said Alice did not  pick up the lamp  and it was an accident.

Prior to discharging Alice, the judge told her that it was a discreditable and disgraceful case and that it was sufficient punishment knowing her daughter's death was a result of her drunken habits. Describing her and Mrs Brooks as a "disgrace to the city" he remarked that he hoped she would abstain from drink for the remainder of her life.

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