Murder at Hamnish

1864 – Husband kills Wife

Mary Ann Watkins, 24, (in some newspapers reported as Elizabeth Watkins) was a poor but hard working woman living at Hamnish with her three young children;  she had fallen out with her husband, Thomas Watkins,  two years earlier when he discovered her with another man, and when he left her they were forced to go into the Leominster Workhouse.

Eventually, Mary and her children left the Workhouse and whilst lodging at the house of George Smith in Hamnish,  managed to get by through washing for others, and similar work, and whilst she was undoubtedly struggling it was a far better life for her little family than in the Workhouse.

Thomas went into the Royal Marines, where he served for about a year and a half,  but then he deserted the regiment and returned to the Hamnish area, sleeping rough at times, or going to his wife’s lodgings and staying for a couple of days.  He was worried that Mary was going to turn him in and told a Mrs. Rebecca Martin that he would make sure that she never had the chance.

Before too long, there were whispers that Thomas had deserted the Marines and that he had been seen locally,  one report said that he had clogs on with iron plates on the bottom, but nobody put much store by it until one night Mary was returning from work through a field and was badly attacked.

Late that night of 18th January 1864,  a man named Lippett heard moaning coming from the side of the footpath, and on investigation found Mary in a dreadful state and covered in blood.  Despite desperate attempts to revive her, she never regained consciousness and died from her serious head injuries, which included one gash so deep that the brain showed through.  The skull seemed smashed to pieces, and it was later discovered that the injuries were inflicted with a bill hook.

The chief suspect was her husband, partly because of known threats of violence towards his wife, and partly because marks of a person wearing clogs were found next to where the murder occurred, but it took some time to track him down.

At his trial, desperate attempts were made by his defence to reduce the charge to manslaughter but the Judge and Jury were having nothing of it, and Thomas was found guilty of Murder…..the black cap was produced, and the death sentence duly passed.  He was hanged in April 1864