Liverpool City Police

Liverpool Town Hall Explosion 1881


Constable Edward Creighton, who removed the explosive device from the Town Hall doorway


James McGrath

Mr MARKS, "That is the one you have in your hand now?"

Witness, "It is sir."

Mr MARKS, "Well don't squeeze it" [laughter]

Witness, "I found two medals on him, medals of "The Irish Republic" and some revolver cartridges, which fitted a revolver that was taken from him."

Mary DONKIN, "I am the wife of Robert DONKIN, and live at 15 Cottenham St, Kensington. I know the two prisoners, M'GRATH by the name of BARTON and M'KEVITT by the name of LYNCH. M'GRATH first called at my house five weeks last Saturday, the 7th of May. He saw a card in the window and came to take lodgings, he did not tell me what he was that night but, told me when he came on Monday. I told him to come on the Monday and he came at 7am, he said he was a cattle dealer, or working for a cattle dealer. When he came on Monday morning he had a sailor's bag with him, and a brown paper parcel strapped. He used to go out in a morning about ten to half past and stay out all day. He was very seldom in and perhaps would not come back at night. The first week he slept at our house almost every night. The first Saturday after he came I found a piece of gaspipe or sewer pipe in my backyard [piece of pipe produced]. It was a new pipe, from 3 to 4 inches in diameter.

I was in the yard on Saturday morning when M'GRATH brought it into the house, and I found it in the kitchen. A man named "Tom" used to come round and see M'GRATH. I saw M'GRATH tying a piece of string round the pipe while it was on Tom's knee, it was in brown paper. A week afterwards while cleaning M'GRATH'S room, I saw a long brown paper parcel under the bed, I brushed around it, it was very heavy I thought then it was a pipe. I missed the parcel a week subsequently.

 M'KEVITT first called on the evening of the 28th May and asked for BARTON, I said Mr BARTON, whom he described as a cattle dealer, wasn't in, but that I expected him. He went away, and afterwards, he, Tom and M'GRATH came to the house together, they went into the parlour and I heard a report of a pistol shot. Going into the parlour I found the three men there and said, "Whatever is that?" M'GRATH replied, "It is only that man there Tom, it is nonsense" There was a small hole in the door and M'GRATH said he would make it right. On the knees of one of the men I saw what I thought was a pipe. All three went out about 11pm, I believed M'GRATH'S business kept him out late and he had a key. I did not see M'GRATH and M'KEVITT again that night, but both were there next morning. M'GRATH told me he had brought M'KEVITT in because it had been to late for him to go home.

M'GRATH was often away, on Monday the 6th, he asked me whether M'KEVITT might come and stay with him for a few nights. I hesitated but consented, and M'KEVITT slept in the house that night, but M'GRATH did not, nor did he sleep there afterwards. He came to the house about 10 o' clock on Tuesday morning, and remained with M'KEVITT in the room until after dinner.

Next morning M'KEVITT brought in a piece of wood [produced] and took it upstairs, M'GRATH followed him then brought it down and put it in the scullery, and I heard the sound of a saw. He carried the piece that had been sawn off upstairs. I then heard a good deal of knocking in the room the men occupied, when the knocking stopped M'GRATH came down and threw some chips in the coal place, saying they would do for firewood. The men went out for the day and I heard someone in about 12.30am on Thursday, and go upstairs very quietly, but come down again in a few seconds.

The person came downstairs with difficulty and without shoes, I left my room and called out, "Mr LYNCH, do you want a light." but got no answer. Just then the out door was shutting, I thought a box was being removed, and I went into the men's room and found the box there, but the long brown parcel had been removed. Half-an-hour subsequently I heard someone come back and go into the bedroom. Later in the morning I knocked on the door and M'KEVITT answered, I asked him what it was he had come in for on the previous night, and added. "What is that pipe you are bringing in and out ?" He made no reply, however. M'GRATH came in at 10.30am on Thursday, and stayed with M'KEVITT an hour or two. They went out after dinner, at half past one and did not return. I had no tools of any kind in the room they occupied".

Dr O'FEELY, "I saw the piece of pipe on Saturday the 14th, but not after that. It was about yard long, and was iron. M'KEVITT did not tell me what it was, but I thought he might be a servant to M'GRATH. There was a butcher living in the house, but he had nothing to do with M'GRATH and M'KEVITT. He had no tools".

Rose KEARNEY, "I am the wife of Charles KEARNEY who is at present in London. I live at 43 Ashton St. I recognise M'GRATH as BARTON but don't know M'KEVITT. I first saw M'GRATH on Good Friday last, when he came to my house and took apartments. On the following day he entered into occupation, bringing with him a trunk. He first said he went to sea and afterwards said he was a cattle dealer. He did not appear to have any occupation, as he had no regular business hours. After breakfast he read the paper or played the piano. He stayed in my house on Thursday night the 9th, I remember him coming in at night about 11.30, and called for some coffee, I had none and said I would give him tea. He then asked for tea, two eggs and two cups, there was nobody with him then. That afternoon between 5 and 6, M'GRATH came to the door with another man, whom I don't know, and who had a bag of a dull black colour. M'KEVITT was not the man. From the way the man carried it, it was heavy, and I asked what it was, M'GRATH replied, "Mind your own business" They went into the parlour and five minutes afterwards I found the door fastened, the lock does not work, I don't know how they fastened it. They went out in about quarter of an hour, but took nothing with them, I went into the parlour and tried to open a cupboard there, but could not. M'GRATH came in alone between 7 and 8, and I spoke to him about the fastening of the doors, he replied I would have the cupboard that day or the next. On Friday night I came downstairs and found the prisoner had gone, on that night I found an iron pipe on a small sideboard in the parlour, it was full of bits of iron [pipe and pieces of iron produced] There was a small package, but I did not examine it and threw it with the pipe and iron into the midden. The green stuff now shown me is a portion of an old dress of my daughter's, the bit of old rug produced is mine."

Dr O'FEELY, "Other lodgers had access to the parlour. The green rag is a very common pattern."

Luke WEBSTER, "I am assistant to W and J. HUGHES, pawnbrokers, 116 Brownlow Hill. The hammer, saw and gimlet produced I have seen before. I sold them about three weeks ago to M'GRATH."

Mary Jane BOUFIELD, "I am daughter of Mrs KEARNEY, and live with her. The green rag produced is part of a cast off dress of my sister. The dress was not worn when it was cast off."

PC 737, John BROADFOOT, "Between 1 and 2 o' clock this afternoon I was in the house 11 Naylor St, and heard a knock at the door. I went to the door and got the two parcels of newspapers produced from a woman, addressed in print, "James M'KEVITT, 11 Naylor St, Liverpool" and bearing the Liverpool and New York postmarks."

Mr MARKS now proposed to put the newspapers as evidence. Dr O'FEELY, objected, pointing out the newspapers had come into the possession of the prosecution a fortnight after the event. Mr MARKS, agreed to withdraw the proposition, but, would call a witness. Dr O'FEELY, suggested though the witness proved the delivery of the newspapers to a person named M'KEVITT, it was not sufficient to show he was the receiver. Mr MARKS, said the M'KEVITT gave his address as 11 Naylor St.

Hugh M'LAUGHLIN, "I am a letter-carrier connected with the Liverpool post-office, Naylor St is my delivery district. I know 11 Naylor St and have been in the habit of delivering newspapers there to the name M'KEVITT for about twelve months. [packages of newspapers produced] Those I saw at the post-office today and are similar to packages I have delivered."
Dr O'FEELY, "I have never saw M'KEVITT at 11 Naylor St."

Dr Campbell BROWN, D. Sc, London and public analyst for Lancashire and Liverpool, "I have examined the fragments produced today, and I am satisfied that the explosive substance used to shatter the pipe was not gunpowder, because it had not left the black mark nor the peculiar odour which gunpowder leaves after explosion. It was one of the nitro compounds, of the nitro-glycerine class, the most common of which is dynamite. I have also examined a percussion detonator said to have been found on M'GRATH. I scraped out the contents, and on analysis found fulminating mercury, which is a very powerful explosive. It may be exploded by percussion or by heat. These detonators are used for exploding dynamite and such substances."

Dr O'FEELY, "The evidence that shows me that the substance was of the nitro-glycerine class is circumstantial."

George WILLIAMS, "I am chief superintendent of the Liverpool detective department. I was fetched to the detective office on Friday morning, the 10th, and arrived a little before 5am. On my arrival I found the prisoners in custody there, and took charge of the case as a subject of investigation. M'GRATH gave the name William Robert BARTON, and said he was a carpenter by trade, living at 15 Cottenham St, and that he had only been in Liverpool about 4mths, and had worked his passage across on the steamship Arizona. I noticed he was very wet and ordered him to be stripped and a blanket put round him. While this was being done he said, "I feel very poorly. This is a bad job. It was my contrivance this matter of the Town Hall. We were caught in the fact, and I suppose we will have to suffer for it."

M'KEVITT gave his correct name, James M'KEVITT, and said he worked at Leylands, No 2 Huskisson Dock, and that he lived at 11 Naylor St, Vauxhall Rd. I then said I would go to his residence, and he then said, "I have not known BARTON long, and as we were caught in the fact at the Town Hall, it is a pity I ever knew him." I and Inspectors MARSH and BOYES went to 11 Naylor St and found that what he had said was true. I and MARSH and BOYES went to 15 Cottenham St and found in the room pointed out by Mrs DONKIN as having been occupied by the prisoners, a hammer, gimlet, saw, chisels and other tools. Besides being used as a bedroom the place looked as if it had been used as a workshop. We also found some rope similar to that found in the street at the Town Hall. We also found wood chips in the coal place corresponding in length to the plug found at the Town Hall."

George MARSH, "I am detective inspector in the Liverpool police. From information which I and Head Constable MURPHY of the royal Irish constabulary received, I searched the midden at 43 Ashton St, where I found the pipe produced. There is a wooden plug in one end and in the other end was fastened an iron nut. Inside were five pieces of iron and four iron nuts. In the house we found a piece of iron piping and a piece of green stuff corresponding with that found at the Town Hall after the explosion."

Dr O'FEELY, "We had great difficulty in getting the nuts out. The nut at the end was not smooth with the edge of the pipe."

With this the case for the prosecution came to a close.

Mr RAFFLES, "What do you charge the men with? There is no question about the 9th or 10th sections of the Criminal Consolidation Act."

Mr MARKS, "The question I should like to have your opinion on is as regards the 12th section. After going into the matter. I think there is just ground for asking that the prisoners should be committed for attempting to murder."

Mr RAFFLES, "Have you a case bearing on the point?"

Mr MARKS, "I t is very difficult to get a case in point, and I can only arrive at one by a succession of theories."

Mr RAFFLES, "It is clear enough that if the watchmen had been at the door and the thing had exploded close to while they were there, they would have been killed."

Mr MARKS, "I should submit that the prisoners might be committed under the section for attempting to murder, as regards the constables."

Mr RAFFLES, "If you ask me I shall commit them under that section as well as under the other two."

Mr MARKS, "It is utterly impossible to prove intent in any case. It can only, as the standard works say, be arrived at from a succession of overt acts. If one of these policemen had been killed would it have been murder?"

Mr RAFFLES, "Certainly."

Mr MARKS, "There can be no shadow of a doubt about that I quote sir, the remarks of Mr Justice PATTISON in the case of the Queen v. Jones [C and P.258] Mr Justice PATTISON appeared to think it doubtful whether upon the repealed statute 7 Wm.1V. and 1. Vict, c, 85, s 3 [which was in the terms of the present statute], it must not appear, in order to make out the intent to murder that that intent existed in the mind of the defendant at the time of the offence, or whether it would be sufficient if it would have been murder had death ensued. He said, however, that the circumstance that it would have been murder if death had ensued would be a good ground whence the jury might infer the existing intent, as every man must be taken to intend the necessary consequences of his acts."

Mr RAFFLES, "We may have time by not arguing that here. I shall commit on the charge of attempting to murder, if you think it desirable."

Mr MARKS, "Then sir, I ask you to commit the prisoners on this charge in addition to the others."

Mr RAFFLES, "Very well. You do not object to this Dr O'FEELY ?"

Dr O'FEELY, "I don't object to my friend taking as many forms as he likes."

Mr RAFFLES, "The punishment is as severe under the 9th as under the 12th section."

Dr O'FEELY, "It is the same sir."

Mr R.ROBERTS, the assistant clerk to the magistrates, who had taken the depositions throughout, then read over the charges which were in the following terms :-

That James M'GRATH and James M'KEVITT did, on the 10th day of June, instant, at the city of Liverpool, feloniously, unlawfully, and maliciously place near a certain building, to wit, the Town Hall, a certain explosive substance, with intent to damage the said building, contrary to the statute in the case made and provided, also that they did on the 10th day of June instant, a the city aforesaid, by the explosion of a certain explosive substance, feloniously damage a certain building, to wit, the Town Hall, with the intent to commit murder, and also that they, on the 10th of June instant, unlawfully and maliciously, by the explosion of certain explosive substances, did damage part of a certain building, to wit, the Town Hall, whereby the lives of certain persons were endangered.

Mr RAFFLES, "Prisoners, have you anything to say?"

The prisoners [simultaneously], "No sir."

Dr O'FEELY, "They reserve their defence."

Mr MARKS now said that there was ample evidence against M'GRATH with regard to the explosion at the section house in Hatton Garden, and he would ask Mr RAFFLES to hear that case. Mr RAFFLES was not disposed to go further that day. Mr MARKS, thought in necessary, when there was evidence that the other case should be gone into, but Mr RAFFLES, would take one case at a time and would finish this one first. Mr Marks, wanted a committal that day as he would have to apply for a writ of habeas corpus.

Mr RAFFLES, now formally committed the prisoners to the assizes for trial on the charges that had been read by Mr ROBERTS.

M'KEVITT was at once removed to the cells below, M'GRATH was kept in the dock in order that the section house charge might be referred against him.

Mr MARKS proceeded with his case and the first witness was called.

William THEAKSTONE, who said, "I am a storekeeper at the police station and have charge of the section house in Hatton Garden. I went from the section house to the detective office at 11.10am on 16th May, which was a Monday, Whilst in the office I heard the sound of an explosion like the blasting of rock at 11.50am. Thinking it came from Hatton Garden I went there and found the entrance to the section house full of smoke, the door was open and there was a strong smell of gunpowder. When I got three paces in the lobby I found between the outer and inner doors, at the left-hand corner of the doorway, a piece of piping with some pieces of fuse round it still lighted. The gas had been extinguished and the light broken, when I relt the gas I found the floor strewn with broken glass and several pieces of piping were lying about. There were 40 persons in the house that night, most were in bed. The outer door is open until midnight, constables coming and going".

James COLLINGWOOD, "I am a detective constable. I was in company with Mr THEAKSTONE on the night of the 16th of last month, between 8 and 10 minutes to twelve, when we heard a loud report. We ran to the section house door and found the broken glass, the fuse and the pipe produced, as Mr THEAKSTONE has described. We saw no one about."

PC 318, William WOODWARD, "I live at the section house Hatton Garden and went in on the night in question at twenty minutes to twelve. The entrance light was then lighted, and the pipe was not there then. I stood at the entrance from half-past eleven until twenty minutes to twelve smoking a pipe.

John LATHAM, I am a joiner in the employ of Mr CORLETT, 3 Cottenham St, Kensington. I have seen the prisoner before, I first saw him on a Monday afternoon, 9th May, when he came to my master's place and said to me, "Will you make me two plugs?" I replied that I durs'nt make them, the master being out, he then said, "I only want two short ones, my water pipe is broken. I would like to get it done, they charge me so much." I thought, "Well poor fellow, I'll save you a shilling or two." I consented to make it. He told me that he had been working in the streets in America mending water pipes and could manage the thing himself. He said he was living in the neighbourhood. He produced two pieces of string showing the diameter of the plugs he wanted, I picked up a log and cut a piece off, and he measured it but, it was too small for what he wanted. He said, however, it might be cut, and I cut two pieces off and chopped off the corners, making the two plugs. When I made them, at his request, I drilled a hole through the centre of one. The plug now shown is one of the two I made, I know it by the compass mark and by its cut on the skew. The plug and the log produced are cut on the same slant. The prisoner made a mark on the log and the plug fits with a sixteenth of an inch. The broken pieces of plug in my hand show a hole into which the drill I used fits, these are the pieces of the plug I drilled. When I asked what he wanted the plugs for, he said that he should not be without water while mending the pipe."

Fletcher Thomas TURTON, deputy surveyor to the Corporation, "I went to Hatton Garden on the morning after the explosion and found nine squares of glass were broken. The casting of the water pipes and the inner doors was blackened, also the architrave, casing and door of the inspector's room. The inside architrave of the storeroom door was slightly forced from the wall, the lock was damaged and the brickwork slightly marked. Four panes of glass in the inside lamp were broken, the lamp being 4yds from the street. One square of glass was broken in the window of the landing, about 11yds from the street. The damage could amount to about £8.

Mr TURTON, "The breaking of the glass was the result of the concussion."

Mary DONKIN, a witness in the other case repeated the evidence she had already given. She could not, however, identify the broken pipe produced.

PC 553, Peter CASEY, "On the morning of the 10th of this month I apprehended the prisoner on another charge."

This was the case for the prosecution

Dr O'FEELY, asked whether Mr RAFFLES thought there was a case?

Mr RAFFLES, could not say that it was a strong case, but could not say there was none, especially after the joiner's evidence.

M'GRATH, who reserved his defence was then committed to the assizes for trial, the charges being identical in form to those in the Town Hall case. He was immediately removed from the dock and followed downstairs by his mother and brother, persons of very respectable appearance belonging it is said, to St Helens, who had obtained the magistrates permission to have an interview with him.


About half an hour after their committal the prisoners were removed from the Main Bridewell to Walton gaol. The authorities had no reason for alarm, or to apprehend there would be an attempt at a rescue, but Major GREIG and Mr WILLIAMS thought it prudent to take the same precautions as had been observed before. The prison van in which the prisoners were taken from Cheapside to Walton was carefully guarded, and was preceded and followed by cabs occupied by armed officers. The route taken was different from that usually followed by the vans when carrying prisoners from the bridewell to Walton gaol. The whole thing was very quietly done, and there were a few people present to watch the departure of the accused.

Liverpool Mercury, Aug 3rd, 1881 

James M'GRATH, aged 31 and James M'KEVITT, aged 30, described as sailors, were tried at the Liverpool Assizes, yesterday for the outrages at the Town Hall on the 10th June. Extraordinary precautions were taken by the police and intense interest was manifested in the proceedings. At 5 o' clock the jury retired, returning in 10 minutes with a verdict of guilty against the prisoners on the first count of the indictment, "for having feloniously, unlawfully and maliciously placed near the Town Hall a certain explosive substance, with intent to damage the said building" Sentence was deferred and a new jury was empanelled to try the second charge against M'GRATH, of having, by an explosion of gunpowder, unlawfully and maliciously damaged the police section house in Hatton Garden on the 16th May. The jury found the prisoner guilty as an accessory before the fact. Mr Justice LOPES, sentenced M'GRATH to penal servitude for life, and M'KEVITT to penal servitude for 15 years.

Liverpool Mercury, August 10, 1881

The Watch Committee has decided to recommend the Liverpool Council to grant the following rewards, out of the borough fund to the policemen and detectives concerned in the capture and conviction of the Fenians M'Grath and M'Kevitt for the outrages at the Town Hall and police station, £50 each to Constables George READE [712] and Peter CASEY [553], £25 each to Constables Edward CREIGHTON [884], George M'BURNEY [898] and Donald SINCLAIR [924], and £10 each to inspectors Stephen BOYES and George MARSH.

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