[From Laughton's Reminiscences, 1916]
One morning, early in the month of December, 1864, I was seated in my office, then at the end of Athol Street, when there came a hurried knock at my door, followed immediately by the entrance of a heated and excited youth. He stood not upon the slightest ceremony, but at once blurted out, " Please sir, Pat Gallagher's killed a man, and is arrested, and he wants you to come and see him." This certainly was exciting news. " When and where did it occur? " I enquired. " At the foot of Burnt Mill Hill, Sir, about an hour since, and the body has been taken into a house at the Crescent, close by." 'Tell Gallagher," I said, " that I will go and see the place where it happened, and then come to him."
This event, under any circumstances, would naturally have been exciting. The very fact of a man being murdered in our quiet little Island, in those days, was a thing which had not occurred within the memory of any, then living person; moreover poor Pat Gallagher, when I was a student, had been in Mr. Bluett's office as an errand and general utility lad, and he was a great favourite with us, being obliging, good tempered, and thoroughly dependable. We could always trust Pat to do what we told him. He had left the office some years before, and subsequently had had a hard life of it as a job cardriver. He had a wife, who, I suspect, was not the helpmeet she ought to have been. Pat, however, was a sober, cool, hard working, careful chap, and gradually got on, until he achieved an old broken-down sort of coach, with three or four scraggy, fibbing horses, of which he made the most. The coach, horses, and Pat himself, were of the third-rate Tipperary type, and travelled between Douglas and Ramsey, there being no railway in those days. The traffic was not heavy and Pat only slowly began to gather trade. The coach got an occasional dash of paint, he himself being the artist, whilst the harness was " improved " and kept together by bits of rope. His horses were his first care, he always fed them before he took bite or sup himself, until they almost began to look sleek and skittish; in fact, Pat visas working up the coach business to be what would now be termed a " dividend paying concern."
At this juncture, observing that he was steadily improving the passenger and goods traffic, a few new arrivals in the town, who knew not Pat, having a small capital amongst them, and being essentially of the horsey kind, determined to run a coach on the Douglas and Ramsey Road, in opposition to poor Pat.
This was his ruin. The opposition coach and horses were superior in every way, and travelled faster; moreover, by reducing the fares by one-half, it was hoped to run their rival off the road in a week or two. This indeed they very soon did.
Upon this particular day Pat started with his coach to Ramsey without a single passenger, and with only two small parcels, the joint charge for conveying which was sixpence
No sooner had he started from the Market Place. at the usual time, ten o'clock, than the opposition coach with fourteen passengers and piles of luggage, followed in immediate pursuit a man in a red coat at the back of it triumphantly sounding the bugle. Of course as the two coaches drove through the streets the townspeople made their own remarks on the superior appearance of the opposition coach and the decadence of the old one. This Pat well knew, and his mortification was great.
The two conveyances proceeded on their way, and when at the foot of Burnt Mill Hill, the bugler on the opposition coachEdwin Wilmot by namejumped off ran forwards, and coming close to Pat's vehicle, began to banter him as to what a heavy load of passengers and goods he was carrying, what splendid horses he had, and what a full cash box he'd carry back to his wife; telling the poor fellow to give his (Wilmot's) love to her, and say he wished her a merry time of it. At this Pat, having a quick Irish temper, became enraged, as well he might; and seizing the thin end of his driving whip, he made one sweeping blow at his tormentor, and then drove on. Several witnesses beheld this. Wilmot rushed (one of the witnesses at the trial said " staggered ") across the road, stooped, and fell on a heap of broken stones, and was picked up dead.
By this time Pat and his coach were half-way up the hill, he not having observed what had taken place behind him, after he had struck the blow. The people shouted to him to come back, whereupon he got down from his coach, and returned to the spot where Wilmot was lying. Finding him dead, the poor fellow, in great distress and terror exclaimed, "My God ! I've killed the man ! " and, with his face as white as a sheet, he helped to carry the body into a house; and then drove his coach on as far as Laxey, half-way to his journey's end. There he put up his horses, and voluntarily gave himself up to a constable, saying that he had killed a man in Douglas. Accordingly he was taken in charge, driven back, and immediately placed in the lock-up, prior to being removed to Castle Rushen Gaol. Shortly before the hour appointed for the inquest, I inspected the locality, and more especially the heap of stones on which the man had fallen. Upon viewing the body I found that the wound was on the left temple). This was the side which the whip would have struck, if it did actually hit the deceased; but it was likewise the side upon which the deceased had fallen; so that either the blow from the whip or the fall upon the stones might have been the cause of his death. It will be seen that this became the crucial point in the case.
The Jury adjourned to the Court House to take the evidence. Witnesses were examined as to the position of the deceased, and of the prisoner, at the moment when the blow was aimed at him. A little girl said that she heard the sound of the percussion of the whip against the head of the deceased, other witnesses swore that immediately upon the blow being delivered the deceased ran or staggered a few steps and then fell upon the stones. Each witness swore positively that it was the blow that killed Wilmot, of that they entertained no manner of doubt. I endeavoured to elicit one or two facts which might have a tendency to modify their opinions, but they were not to be shaken. Had not the Jury with their own eyes seen the corpse, and the wound, and the blood?, and it seemed to me as though any intervention on my part, upon behalf of my client, filled them with righteous indignation causing them to view my efforts with a distinctly unfavourable eye, moreover. Pat was an Irishman, and a Roman Catholic, and those circumstances, with a Manx Jury, were not in his favour. I made no attempt to address them, nor to unfold the line of my intended defence; and without leaving the box. they at once found an unanimous verdict of " Wilful Murder " against the Prisoner, who was removed, manacled, to Gaol.
The next phase of this remarkable case was the Enquiry before the Indicting Jury. This is peculiar to the Island. In England, after the committal of a prisoner he remains in Gaol until the Assizes come round. The Grand Jury, assembled in their own private room, without any judge being present, have evidence brought forward against the prisoner, no counsel appears before them on either side, and they then say whether there is a sufficiently strong case against him to send him for trial to the Assizes, which is then being held in the same building. Should they be of the affirmative opinion they find what is called a " True Bill ", if of a contrary opinion, the prisoner is forthwith discharged.
Our practice is quite dissimilar. In the place of the Grand Jury, we have what is called an Indicting Jury.
This Indicting Jury is presided over by one of the Judges of the High Court and assumes, in every detail, the aspect of a regular trial. The Attorney-General, appears for the Crown, and the prisoner may be- and commonly is - represented by counsel, with full power to examine and cross-examine witnesses and address the Court in the usual manner. The one difference between the proceedings of an Indicting Jury and the final trial is, that in the former case, the Judge charges the Jury " that if there be a reasonable 'presumption' of the guilt of the accused it is their duty to indict him, otherwise he is discharged", whereas, in the latter, which takes place before the Court of General Gaol Delivery, the Deemster directs them " that if there be a reasonable 'doubt' as to the guilt of the accused, it is their duty to find him not guilty."
My client in due course was brought before the Indicting Jury upon the charge of " Wilful Murder "; and the late Mr. Craigie and I were retained for the defence.
Mr. Craigie was my senior but knowing the very keen interest I took in the fate of poor Pat, he kindly permitted me to take a leading part in the conduct of the case, he giving me the great benefit of his more extensive knowledge and experience. We agreed that it would be unwise at this stage to open out our full defence, but we concentrated our efforts upon endeavouring to lead the Jury; if not altogether to acquit the accused, to indict him for " Manslaughter" only.
We gathered together as much evidence as we could, as to the provocation, and the want of premeditation. There was one piece of evidence which told heavily against us. One witness stated that the whip which the prisoner used upon that particular day was loaded with lead; and it was not forthcoming. I suppose Pat, thinking that it would tell against him, had got rid of it between Douglas and Laxey. He told us that he had lost it, but the poor fellow was so utterly frightened and bewildered that we could not make much of him, and the whip never was found. In those days the prisoner was not permitted to be examined at the trial, hence we could not give his account of what took place. (The Law of the Isle of Man, since that period, has been altered, whether for good or evil may be questioned.)
The end of this second trial was a verdict of " Manslaughter" brought in against the Prisoner, by the Indicting Jury.
The great and final struggle was now to come on before the Court of General Gaol Delivery and I devoted my whole energies to the case. Mr. Craigie, having a large practice, was unable to give the time to it that I was determined to do. I had, moreover, made up my mind to get Pat clear off, by a verdict of " Not Guilty," if the thing was within the bounds of possibility. The newspapers made hostile comments, and I was warned and advised by more than one of my brother advocates to confine my efforts to procuring as light a sentence as possible. In an ordinary case I daresay that would have been the prudent course, but this, to me, was not an ordinary case. I felt for Pat as though he were my own personal friend. I had known him so long, and liked him so much, and many a good and obliging then had he done for me without fee or reward.
I saw very clearly that to win a verdict of " Not Guilty" I must be able to raise, in the minds of the Jury, a reasonable " doubt " as to whether the blow of the whip was the actual cause of death. If I could do this, then the Deemster would direct them to give such reasonable doubt in favour of, and not against, the Prisoner.
Accordingly I invited several medical gentlemen to a conference, with a view to their giving evidence at the trial. The following gentlemen attended:The late Dr. Oliver, then residing in Douglas, a clever man in his profession, and the author of one or two learned standard works; Dr. Wise, then occupying the position of Surgeon to His Excellency's household, he had also a very large practice, and was generally recognised as a most able practitioner, the late Dr. Standhope Templeman Speer, a very accomplished practitioner; and the late Dr. Green, a medical man then practising in Ramsey. We discussed the case at considerable length. I explained to them the locality, and the size and shape of the wound upon the head of the deceased, and exhibited three broken stones taken from the heap, of which I had possessed myself at the time, and by contact with which the wound might have been inflicted. The next question we considered was, which would be the more probable cause of death, a blow from the whip, or the heavy fall upon the broken stones. This, we discussed exhaustively; and finally they agreed that death caused by the fall upon the stones was the more likely, for the following reasons. First, had the deceased man been struck with the butt end of a large driving whip, loaded with lead, with such force as to cause immediate death, he would at once have fallen where he was struck, and would not have been able to " stagger" or " rush " all the way across a thirty feet road; second, the fact of the deceased running towards the heap of stones rather seemed as though his intention in doing so was to pick up one of these to fling at the prisoner, in retaliation for an attempted blow, third, they were of opinion that the sudden headlong fall of a heavy man, which deceased certainly was, with his left temple against a protruding stone, would be more likely to cause instant death than the blow of a whip. Thus I secured a very strong body of evidence for the trial.
The Court of General Gaol Delivery, presided over by Sir Henry Loch, assisted by the two Deemsters and the Clerk of the Rolls, was called together for the l 9th May following, and was held in Castle Rushen. I shall not soon forget that memorable day.
I left Douglas in a carriage, no railway being in existence, at eight o'clock, after a scratch breakfast, which I was scarcely able even to taste. I was in Court, without bite or sup, from 10 a.m. until midnight, when the verdict was given, examining and cross-examining witnesses and addressing the Court and the Jury. I suppose the intense excitement sustained me at the time but I was weeks before I recovered from the effects of it.
The Prisoner, as in England, is permitted to challenge peremptorily, without cause shown, twenty of the Jurors who are ballotted for. I availed myself largely of my right. At length Dr. Oliver's name was called, and the Crown would have had the right under the Circumstances, and knowing too, that I intended to call him as one of my witnesses, to challenge him. The acting Attorney-General, the late Mr. Adams, did not, however do this, not considering it necessary as he was wellknown as a highly honourable professional gentleman
The Jury being sworn, the evidence for the Crown proceeded. The facts were proved, as upon the former occasion, but the memories of one or two of: the witnesses rather failed them, and I satisfied the Jury that their present evidence was, in some respects, different from that given at the earlier stage. The girl who had previously sworn that she saw and heard the blow on the head upon being gently cross-examined by me, said " that she could not be positive that she had heard the blow struck "; then I asked her " whether it was not a very still day?"; and she said "it was." "She then thought that she would have heard the blow if it had struck the deceased": then, upon being pressed, " she would not be certain that the whip had struck the man, but that he 'ran' across the road, and it might have been for the purpose of picking up a stone to fling at the prisoner."
The case for the Crown being closed, I called Dr. Wise, who was decidedly my strongest witness. I had frequently heard him give evidence for the Crown in criminal cases, and I had the most perfect confidence that he would not be shaken upon cross-examination. He abundantly justified my opinion. His evidence in chief was given clearly, powerfully and concisely, and, I could see, produced a very strong effect upon the Jury in favour of the prisoner. He clearly proved each point which had been discussed in our conference.
The acting Attorney-General keenly felt the great importance of this evidence, coming as it did from a gentleman in Dr. Wise's position. He proceeded to cross-examine him, which he did with consummate skill and ability, but the witness was immovable; moreover, he gave solid reasons for his opinions, which enhanced their value. This really was the " Fight for the Standard." The cross-examining Counsel, Adams. and the witness were equally able men and the contest was most exciting; and moreover, so satisfactory. from my point of view, that it was not necessary to ask another question, and therefore I called my next witness. He, and the remaining witnesses were scarcely asked a single question upon cross-examination; and then Mr. Adams moved to be allowed to recall his medical witnesses, as the evidence I had adduced had been a surprise. This I did not oppose, and the Crown witnesses were re-examined, and subjected, each of them, to a severe cross-examination by me. There were only three of them, the late Dr. Fleming, the late Dr. S. Nelson and another, whose name I forget, all occupying a high position in their profession. Two of them deposed that to the best of their opinion the blow from the whip was the more likely cause of death, and the other said that either the blow or the fall might have been the cause. In cross-examination, however, they each were forced to admit the possibility of the fall being the cause. This sufficed for my purpose, which was to raise a reasonable doubt in the minds of the Jury.
Mr. Adams having addressed the Jury for the Crown, and I having replied, the Deemster Drinkwater summed up in his usual able and most impartial manner. I particularly recollected his dwelling upon one part of the evidence. He drew the attention of the Jury to the undoubted fact that there was one person, and one person only, who must have known whether the whip hit the deceased, and that person was he who held the whip in his hand, and who, therefore, must have known whether it had missed its aim, and consequently met with no resistance, or whether it had been stopped by striking against a hard material, such as the skull of the deceased. That man was the Prisoner at the Bar; and he had admitted " he had killed a man," and had given himself into custody. As to whether the blow or the fall was the more likely to cause the death it would be for them to consider, and as they had a medical man on the Jury they would, no doubt, listen to his opinion.
In my address to the Jury I had anticipated this telling point, by the following reasoning. I said, " Gentlemen, you may possibly be told that the prisoner himself admitted his guilt. I do not think, however, that, taking into consideration the circumstances under which be made the statement in question, you will place much weight upon it. you will bear in mind that after the prisoner had struck at the deceased, and before the latter had had time to get across the road, the prisoner had driven his coach up the hill, and therefore had seen nothing of what had been taking place behind him. If he had thought that the man was dead he would not have gone on and left him; the proof of this being that directly he heard the shout he at once jumped off his box and ran back, and then to his horror found Wilmot dead. Not knowing the fact of his having fallen heavily on the stones, or there, being any other cause for his death, in a moment of abject terror, he exclaimed that he must have killed the man. Surely the Jury would not bind him strictly to a momentary shout of horror such as that, as if it had been uttered deliberately and with a knowledge and calm consideration of the surrounding facts ? How could he know what was the cause of his death ? The evidence of skilled Medical men was greatly in favour of death by the fall, and not from an unproven supposed blow! Had the prisoner been fully aware that he had actually struck him with a loaded whip his conduct would have been very different; he would have pretended he had missed, and attributed his death to the fall. His exclamation was the act of an innocent and frightened man; who, though previously believing he had not hit the deceased, yet seeing him there dead, and knowing of no other cause, exclaimed as it were, "Good God! I must have hit the man, for there he is dead."
The Jury retired to consider their verdict, and remained a very long time absent. At length they returned into Court, as the Castle clock was striking the hour of midnight.
A death-like silence prevailed, although the Court was crammed to the very doors.
The Deemster after having, in the usual form, called over the names of the Jurors, said, " Gentlemen, are you agreed upon your verdict?"
The Foreman: " We are, sir."
" How say you. Is the Prisoner at the bar guilty of the crime with which he stands charged, or not guilty ? "
The Foreman: " Not Guilty."
Upon this there was a tremendous outburst of cheering; and I went over to the " George " and abundantly made up for my long and anxious fast.
Poor Pat Gallagher! I must say that the final verdict gave me unqualified satisfaction, for Pat was far and away more sinned against than sinning. He survived the trial for many a long year, living in Douglas, where he continued as formerly a sober, hard-working and well-conducted fellow.
With reference to this trial, a good thing was said by the late Mr. T. C. Callow, advocate. He remarked to me, " Well Laughton, the first verdict was ' Wilful Murder'; the second 'Manslaughter'; and the third 'Not Guilty.' I do believe that if he had been tried again the Jury would have awarded him a Testimonial! "
Dear old Craigie, with whom I appeared in this case, ended his life very sadly. He had but one child a daughterto whom he was devotedly attached, and she, at the age of five or six and twenty married a young medical man, and went to reside in England. About a year afterwards, the husband died suddenly, after a few days illness. Craigie went over to the funeral, and returned to the Island evidently in great distress of mind, having left his daughter behind him. In a few months she came back and lived in her old home, but she was then suffering from a disease which quickly had a fatal ending. Her death completely crushed her father, who retired from his practice in Douglas, and went to live in Peel. He was utterly broken down in mind as well as strength and spirits, and never recovered from the effects of his bereavement, soon following his loved daughter to her last resting-place. Within a month, his widow, whilst visiting the grave, caught a chill, and died three weeks later.
The sad and sudden fate of this entire family was very keenly felt in Douglas, where they were exceedingly popular, especially with the members of the legal profession.