IT was almost with reluctance that a senior prosecutor addressed a Winchester judge at the outset of a murder trial in which a man was alleged to have savagely murdered his wife in front of their traumatised young daughter.

“This case is one of the saddest I can ever remember,” lamented Mr Ravenhill. “I shall best discharge my duty by laying the facts before the jury as briefly as possible leaving my friend [the defence barrister] to elicit such facts as he is able in favour of the prisoner.”

Thomas Dean had lived for many years with his wife, Susan, in a small semi-detached cottage, and all three went to bed normally on the night of July 9, 1879, but about 6am the following morning the 10-year-old girl, Elizabeth, was awoken by her mother screaming: “What are you going at now?”

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She ran to top of the stairs where she was horrified to see her father, a 50-year-old labourer, at the bottom of them standing over her mother and mercilessly slamming a bill-hook into her head half a dozen times. She ran to the nearest window and shouted “murder” which brought several neighbours rushing to the scene and to find Dean rubbing his hands in front of a fire before bizarrely asking one: “How are you this morning?”

On arrest, Dean sought to put the blame on his wife. “I killed her because she was unfaithful to me.” Then after a pause, he added: “I know no more of what I have done if I had never been born.”

At the inquest, it was revealed Dean had long harboured feelings of jealousy towards his wife and had apparently struck her several times after they had left a club a few weeks before the fatal attack. She stayed away from their home for about a week before being persuaded to return.

Trial of a bombing in London that was switched to Winchester. This isa picture of the court room in Old Great Hall..

Court in Winchester's Great Hall.

The daughter told the hearing her mother was in fear of her father because she heard her say so. He had once threatened to choke her but she had never seen him being violent towards her.

Asked by the coroner what she thought was the matter with her father, the girl replied: “Out of his mind, I think.”

After being told death must have been instantaneous, jurors returned a verdict of wilful murder and Dean was sent for trial.

Denying murder, he was forced to hear his daughter with tears streaming down her face relaying her harrowing evidence in the highly subdued atmosphere of the Great Hall. Though he still tried to paint a picture of a disloyal wife who had long terrified him, several witnesses were called to prove his accusations were wholly untrue and she had been a good wife and mother.

The defence attempted to convince the jury Dean did not know what he was doing at the time, initially calling Dr Lush who testified about his “delusions” of his wife’s infidelity. His evidence was supplemented by Dr Clapham, the county jail surgeon, who expressed the belief that although he knew the difference between right and wrong, he was of “unsound mind” about his wife’s faithfulness.

However, in his summing up, Mr Justice Cotton said mere delusions were insufficient to acquit a defendant. “The law says you [the jury] must be thoroughly satisfied that the prisoner, at the time he committed the act, did not know right from wrong.”

The panel took little time in returning a conviction but with a recommendation for mercy.

“That will be forwarded to the proper quarter,” said the judge, donning the infamous black cap to pass the sentence of death. “You have taken a proper view in not admitting what the defence had attempted to set up.”

But within days, the Home Secretary, Viscount Cross, intervened and Dean was confined to a hospital.

Ordinarily, the trial would have taken place in Salisbury as the crime was executed in the hamlet of Worton, near Devizes, but three counties combined in November for what was termed the ‘Hants, Wilts and Dorset Winter Gaol Delivery.’

At the sessions, the judge dealt with one other alleged murder, committed thousands of miles away.

James Mulligan, 30, had been indicted for the wilful murder of Charles Summers at Havana, the capital of Cuba. The stabbing happened on the British-registered ship, the Barbarian, and under legislation, the case could only be taken in England.

Mulligan, a cook, had been helping to unload coal brought from Greenock in Scotland when another sailor from a barque lying alongside interfered with the winch which caused a knob of coal to fall onto the mate’s head. Hearing him complain, Mulligan advised the perpetrator to quickly get back to his ship when Summers, a steward, came along and ordered him to return to the galley.

Mulligan protested he had done his work but Summers, who was the more powerful of the two, pushed him along the deck to the galley where they went out of sight. Minutes later, a shipman found Summers dead near a door leading to the gangway. Blood was streaming from his side and Mulligan was trying to lift him up.

The fatal confrontation however had been witnessed by two sailors on the barque who saw Summers rush at Mulligan who grabbed a knife from a shelf in the galley and plunge it into the steward who died instantly.

Mulligan hurled the blade into the water and grabbing hold of the steward’s serge, pleaded: “Go out of this.” After the men confirmed to the mate what they had seen, the cook was clapped in irons and brought back to Southampton to stand trial.

Viscount Cross

Viscount Cross

Jurors heard Summers had earlier that day, July 1, been drinking when he fought with another man with a sling shot, and Mulligan appeared to be choking when he grabbed him by the collar. Furthermore, it appeared that Summers looked as though he would strike with the sling shot when he made a grab for the knife.

At the conclusion of the evidence, the defence barrister Mr Matthew beseeched jurors to acquit him. “All the prisoner did was to protect his own life, threatened by a man excited by liquor and by heated blood from a previous fight. He is this guilty of no crime, not even manslaughter.”

But in his summing up, the judge told the panel: “In order to justify a man killing another, it must be shown that the one striking the fatal blow had resorted to it only as the extremest necessity - must, in fact, had previously retreated from the one attacking him as far as he reasonably could do so. Had the knife been in in the prisoner’s hand when the steward pushed him to the galley, I might have stopped this case as a charge of murder, but it must be remembered he took up the knife when the steward was holding him, apparently to prevent him from leaving the galley that way, another being open to him.

“No doubt the act was done in the heat of blood. The point it seems to me for you to consider is this. Was he at the mercy of Summers, and, snatching the knife, did he strike the blow in self defence, thus reducing the offence to one of manslaughter?”

Jurors acquitted him of the capital offence but convicted him of manslaughter. Passing a sentence of 15 years penal servitude, the judge remarked: “The use of a knife renders this offence so serious that the punishment must be a severe one.”

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