Friday, 20 January 2017

Sailor's Brawl Ends in Stabbing

An Italian seaman who interfered in a fight between two others and stabbed one of them to death was transported for life.

Shortly before midnight on Wednesday 3rd January 1855 two seamen were fighting outside the Black Bess pub in Charles Street, which was situated off Roe Street. One of the men, a Scot named William Steele, clearly had the upper hand over his opponent, Antonio Harmur who came from France.

Without warning a man came out of the Blue Anchor inn and stabbed Steele in the breast before running back inside. After a cry of murder police immediately arrived at the scene and one of the officers apprehended someone fitting the knifeman's description in the yard of the Blue Anchor. He was Marchetti Giovanni, an Italian. During this confusion Harmur had run off but was caught by another officer. A search of the area where the fight took place led to a pocket knife being recovered.

Steele was taken in a cab to the North Dispensary but he died before getting there. He was a mate on board the Aberdeen registered ship Dreadnought and didn't speak a word after falling.

The following morning Giovanni and Harmur were brought up before magistrates and remanded pending the outcome of an inquest which took place on 5th January. It was presided over by the Deputy Coroner, Mr Statham. Thirteen witnesses to the incident were called and a verdict of wilful murder against both men was returned. They were then committed to the assizes on a coroner's warrant.

On 30th March the two sailors appeared before Baron Parke, the trial lasting several hours due to both needing interpreters. The Liverpool Mercury reported that Charles Street was 'almost entirely inhabited by females of the most abandoned character.' The reason so many sailors were in the street that night, the paper said, was because an 'exhibition' was being given by women in the Blue Anchor.

Baron ParkeThe court heard how the fight started when Steele had pushed a lady called Sarah Jones, who had promised her services to Harmur. Initially the Frenchman had not wanted to get involved in an altercation, but eventually agreed to do so and took off his coat for Jones to mind. Several witnesses then stated that they had seen a fight go on, during which Giovanni came out of the Blue Anchor and stabbed Steele before running away. Dr Arnot from the dispensary said that death was instantaneous, the knife having passed through the chest into the heart.

Harmur's counsel said his client had no case to answer and Baron Parke agreed with this discharging the Frenchman. Giovanni's lawyer though had a much harder job and the best he could come up with was that 'all the witnesses were from the lowest grade of society.'

In summing up the judge said the jury had to determine if the crime was manslaughter or murder, given it had happened somewhat in the heat of the moment. After a short consultation they returned a manslaughter verdict and Giovanni was sentenced to be transported for the term of his natural life.

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