Thomas was born in 1897. In 1901 he was living with his parents, older sister Jessie and younger sister Janet at 65 Strand Street, Whitehaven, Cumberland. After 16 years of marriage, his father became estranged from Margaret around Christmas 1910 and Thomas was living with his mother and siblings at 17 Scotch Street, Whitehaven on the 1911 census. At some point they moved to 10 Victoria Villas, Hensingham.
Thomas died after attending a party in Whitehaven on 31st May 1915 which was held to celebrate his sister Jessie's marriage on Whit Monday a week earlier. He and his sister, Janet (aged 14), were walking three of their friends (aged 13 and 14) home around 10.00 p.m. Thomas had his sister and one of the female friends on each arm. They were passed by an older man, James Hallett (aged 26), with a women on each of his arms and some words were said which Thomas took as being derogatory towards the girls. The two men got into a fight which led to Thomas suffering a fatal injury and dying a short while later.
His father gave evidence at the inquest and said that he and his son "had always been on affectionate terms". He said his son had always been strong and healthy and was a barber's apprentice to a Richard Smith in Roper Street, Whitehaven. Thomas had a slight speech impediment.
I have now been able to obtain a copy of the Whitehaven News which describes the inquest almost word for word. The Coroner and a jury heard evidence from both sides which was sometimes contradictory. It really came down to who the jury found most believable. Having said that, the Coroner gave a very succinct and useful summing up of the case (direct quotes in purple) ........
MURDER OR MANSLAUGHTER
He gave a fascinating summing up of the difference between murder and manslaughter which could probably have been repeated in Court today. He said he was not going to say much to them respecting murder and asked them to dismiss that charge out of their minds and consideration. However he said manslaughter is the killing of a human being without malice but if two persons engage in a fight, the fight is unlawful and if one died through the commission of an unlawful offence although the other did not intend to kill, or did not intend any injury at all, he was guilty of manslaughter.
This young lad, he was only a young lad of seventeen and a half years, was coming alone into the town of Whitehaven from his mother’s house accompanying home younger persons 13 or 14 years of age. They had been to the mother’s house where a small party had been given, the sister of the deceased having been married the week before. In coming along the road innocently, probably enjoying themselves, but doing no harm to anyone, they overtook Hallett with two females. Hallett's acquaintance with the females seemed very slight; he seemed to know one but not the other. When coming along, the deceased and his company were interfered with and spoken to, and he (the Coroner) could not help thinking it was offensively, although it might have been in joke. It was an insulting joke, whatever the words, whether they were “Shame, Shame being out with girls this time of night” or “Give over doing that”. There was no reason for one or the other to have said these words.
The deceased did what he (the Coroner) would say was perfectly right and reasonably represented it, and made use of the observation “We are not going to be insulted”.
Then what happens ? One was a youth, seventeen and a half years of age, and the other a man, an insurance agent, 26 years of age. What took place ? It was for the jury to say which side of the evidence they were prepared to believe.
The Coroner said that whether Hallett first struck or not, if they believed the evidence of the sister, that Hallett was the aggressor, and if they found that there was a fight which Hallett could have avoided, and that Hallett took part in it and exchanged blows, although he could have got away then it was an illegal act in which he was engaged, and the verdict was manslaughter.
The jury retired to another room to consider their verdict and on their return, after an absence of 5 minutes, the foreman said:
“We are quite unanimous on the verdict of manslaughter against James Hallett in bringing about the death of this young man, Thomas Hector McQuilliam. We also wish to express our appreciation of the kindness shown by Mrs Mossop and her two sons. We think the efforts of Messrs Mossop and their mother in helping this young man were above all praise. “
Hallett was formally committed by the Coroner for trial at the next Assizes and was given bail of £20 on his own assurance and two third party sureties of £10 each. As the Whitehaven News isn't yet online, I haven't been able to track down details of the trial or even whether he was found guilty. Whatever the verdict, it is undoubtedly a sad tale of a brother looking to protect the reputation of his younger sister but coming up against an older and larger man who really should have avoided the situation escalating unnecessarily with fatal consequences.
I thought it would be interesting to find out what became of James Hallett. Although I still don't know if he served time for the manslaughter of Thomas McQuilliam, I have found his death certificate. He died aged 46, a "watchmaker master" at St Nicholas Chambers, Lowther Street, Whitehaven on 17th December 1935. What is interesting was that one of the causes of death given on the certificate was "gassing in the Great War". Presumably after the trial, immediately or subsequently we don't know, he must have signed up and been sent to the trenches. I wouldn't want it on anyone but perhaps this was justice coming from the grave.
One question I haven't had answered, is whether convicted prisoners at this time in our history were given the choice of serving their sentence or going to the front instead ? It would have made sense.
Updated by Simon 24th February 2015