THE KILLING OF WILLIAM WILSON
Old post office/Haymarket
In the early hours of Thursday morning on the 27th January 1859 Peter Ross was on his way home passing the General Post Office in the Haymarket, when he heard moaning and went to a man’s assistance. The injured man requested him to help him and Ross accordingly helped him up. He found he was covered with blood. Mr. J Marshall , another passer by assisted Ross to carry him into the post office archway. Wilson was taken to the Town Hall and a surgeon called to attend found the man lying in the Town Hall in a very exhausted condition and on examination found that the intestines were protruding from a punctured wound on the right side of the abdomen. just over the region of the liver. Wilson’s clothes were completely saturated with the blood. After the necessary surgical treatment the man was removed to a room in the building where he could be more comfortable but he died during the course of the day.
The newspaper report said that the victim a William Wilson, brass founder, had told police he had been set upon by four men. The police were dubious and felt that it was more likely that someone had taken Wilson’s drunken behaviour for a threat. It was not explained why they drew that conclusion. Perhaps Wilson was known to them as a drunken nuisance.
It was found that about the time a man of gentlemanly appearance was seen near the Post Office with a stick and a
dagger. Further investigations over the weekend by Inspector Sills of the detective force found the man to be George Plant, a traveller for the Soho brewery, who lived at 85 Tom Cross Lane in Brightside. Sills asked Plant to come with him to the Town Hall.
At the Town Hall Sills asked him if he had not, on the previous Wednesday night worn a hat with a round crown. He said he had, and further admitted he had a top coat, and carried a dagger in his hand. Sills then took him before the chief constable Mr. Jackson who asked where the dagger was. Sills went and found the dagger, the hat and the coat, and then told Plant he was charged with stabbing William Wilson who had died from his injuries . His reply was, ” Indeed! then I must see my solicitor” Plant was detained in custody till the next day till the coroners court convened.
George Plant having been duly cautioned made the following statement
Late last Wednesday night I was going home and when I had got down High Street , against Richards Drapers . I met a
man named Wilson rushing out of a passage. He took hold of me and without saying a word knocked me down. I kept him off while I was down with a small stick which I had in my hand. When I got up I said What have you done that for? If you don’t be quiet I will give you something. he replied, I’ll let you see what I have done it for.” During that conversation the two gentleman who have given evidence came up. I said this man has attacked me. While I was saying so he ran round me again and tried again to get hold of me In doing so he made a rush at me and fell upon the knife which I held before me. He screamed out ” Police” and I replied “I will stay until the police come. I stood up in my own defence; it was your own fault .” I then said to the two witnesses . I have only stood in my own defence as you see; I will stop until the police come and go with him. ” They walked away , and I , thinking it was no use staying by myself went direct home. I communicated to my wife what had happened. I had next morning to go to Manchester on Business, and did not hear anything of the occurrence till I saw an account of it on Friday Morning in the Manchester Guardian. I returned from the journey at half-past eight o’clock on Saturday evening. My wife told me that the man was dead. I had been in Mr. Bradley’s service a fortnight. I bought the dagger the day before I entered his service, and carried it with me for protection, having been once stopped on the Barnsley Road. On Monday morning I went to work as usual. I bought the dagger as protection, as I have to travel in country places with money .”
Sills found several witnesses including two who were present when he stabbed William Wilson. George Norton and Joseph Hawksworth. Neither witness saw any evidence of Plant having been knocked to the ground, or heard Wilson threaten Plant, other than try to take the stick and knife off him. Wilson said he had initially mistaken Plant for a friend who was a Cab driver. Norton knew Wilson from when he had worked in the same street, and felt Wilson was sober. Plant told Norton and Hawksworth that he had been stopped. but didn’t suggest he was being robbed . Wilson on being struck appeared stunned and then screamed reeling like a drunken man and then sat down on the causeway. Norton and Hawksworth were not sure whether Wilson had been stabbed or whether it was some sort of hoax designed to draw them in and then demand drink from them. Hawksworth said he had had been stopped in the street several times on all kinds of pretences by people seeking Liquor. Plus it was raining hard and Plant seemed like a gentleman, so they started off home leaving Plant to wait for the police. However soon after Plant overtook them on his way home. Wilson was left lying on the ground bleeding heavily till Ross found him.
PC George Smelter had seen Plant in Hanover-Street earlier on the Wednesday evening on the opposite side of the road with a naked dagger in his hand. He seemed excited to the PC but he wasn’t sure whether he was drunk. Plant had also drawn out his knife earlier to show a Mrs Emma Marples outside Fitzwilliam Inn at the corner of Broomhall Street and Fitzwilliam Street. She was able to pick him out in a line up at the Town Hall.
The Coroner in summing up, referred to the deadly nature of the weapon, but said as the injuries were inflicted during a squabble, the jury could scarcely be justified in returning a verdict of wilful murder. The Jury after deliberating for nearly four hours, found George Plant guilty of the wilful murder of William Wilson.
Plant’s case was transferred to the York assizes where the verdict was guilty of manslaughter. The judge felt that the nature of the weapon meant that Plant should be dealt with severely and sentenced him to transportation to Australia for life. Plant was transported on the 8th March 1860 to Western Australia. He was given a conditional pardon in 1872 and died in Australia in 1884 leaving an Australian wife and 2 children.