The Murder Of Thomas Sullivan

Violence was a commonplace occurrence in the Victorian East End. Much of it was fuelled by drink, and, judging by the newspaper reports of the era, drunken brawls could easily end up in murder.

Reynolds’s Newspaper, on Sunday the 9th of September 1866, published the following story about yet another murder in Whitechapel.


On Monday, at the Thames Police Court Timothy Murphy, aged 29, an Irish labourer, was charged with the wilful murder of his countryman, Thomas Sullivan, a plasterer.

Police-constable 44 H deposed that on the previous Saturday night, soon after ten o’clock, he was called to the house, No. 34. Royal Mint street, batter known as Rosemary Lane, Whitechapel, and there saw the body of the deceased lying on a floor in a back room on the first floor.

Several women were in charge of the body.

The exterior of the Thames Police Court.
The Thames Police Court. Courtesy of Adam Wood.


He looked for the prisoner, who, he was told, had murdered the deceased, and could not find him. At last, he heard he was in a room above that in which the deceased was lying.

The prisoner’s wife opened the door with a key, and he saw the prisoner in the room. He told him that he was charged with stabbing a man.

The prisoner said, “He called me a ——- Fenian.”


He conveyed the prisoner to the station-house, and when he was charged. with the murder, he said, “I was drunk and can recollect nothing about it.”

The prisoner was intoxicated, and he had two black eyes.

There was a good deal of blood on the floor of the deceased’s room and on the landing outside the door.

He could not find the knife with which the deceased was stabbed, but that morning Mrs. Sullivan, the widow of the deceased, brought the point of a knife to the station-house, and said that she found it on the landing near the door of her room.

He saw Mrs. Sullivan that morning at ten o’clock, and she was then a little the worse for liquor.


Mary Ann Sullivan, the widow of the deceased, here entered the court.

She was tolerably sober, but somewhat excited.

She stated that her husband came home at two o’clock on the Saturday afternoon.

He quarreled with the prisoner in the course of the day.

At night, soon after ten o’clock, the prisoner’s wife came downstairs and made a complaint to her and her husband that Murphy was upstairs breaking the things.


The deceased immediately rushed upstairs, and she followed him in a minute afterwards.

She found her husband lying on the floor, with his body half in and half out of the room, and he looked very pale.

Murphy was bleeding, and he appeared to be gnawing her husband. Their faces were close together. Her husband said, “Murphy, you have bit me. Don’t bite me.” Her husband never spoke again.

When she first went upstairs someone was holding a candle on the stairs, and, by that light, she saw all that took place. She struck the prisoner several times, and she tried to drag him off her husband. She also took the key from the door, and struck him with it.

At last, she dragged the prisoner off her husband by the hair of his head. Her husband then rolled over, laid his hand on his side, and died.

She sent for a doctor, whose attention was unavailing, and she said to the prisoner, “You murderer, you have slain my husband.”


In answer to questions by Mr. Partridge, the witness said that the prisoner insulted her and her husband, and used very bad language. He asked her husband if he could take the belt.

That morning she was washing the blood-stained floor, when she felt something in the flannel, and found that it was the point of a knife.

She took it to the police at the station-house.


Mr. Lewis Loane, a medical practitioner, said that on the Saturday night, at half-past nine o’clock, the prisoner entered the shop he was in, and said he wanted his head dressed.

He told him to go to the hospital.

The prisoner then said, “I will go and knife him. I will have my revenge.”


Dr. John Loane deposed that he saw the deceased on the Saturday night, and that there were three wounds on the body, one on the left side of the chest, over the seventh rib, a punctured wound, one behind the left ear, an incised wound, and a third over the right eyebrow.

The first wound was half an inch in depth, and it was obstructed by the seventh rib.


Mr. Partridge observed that before he committed the prisoner it was necessary to have the result of a post-mortem examination, and accordingly adjourned the case to Tuesday, the 11th.