British Executions

Henry Bertram Starr

Age: 31

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 29 Dec 1903

Crime Location: 76 Lord Street, Blackpool, Lancashire

Execution Place: Liverpool

Method: hanging

Executioner: William Billington


Henry Bertram Starr was convicted of the murder of his wife Mary Hannah Starr 26 and sentenced to death.

He stabbed her to death on 24 November 1903 in her mother's kitchen.

They had married on 9 March 1903 and had a child on 21 August 1903 but by the middle of the year she had left him and was seeking a separation order and custody of their child. It was heard that Mary Starr had had to keep them both whilst Henry Starr was drinking and that in the middle of July 1903 he got up to strike her because she wouldn't give him any money and told her that he would knock it out of her.

After that Henry Starr went to live at his aunt’s house in Hardman Street, Blackpool and did not contribute to her maintenance and during her confinement gave her only 5/-.

He later visited Mary Starr and said to her, 'You think I have been with other women and I have'.

Mary Starr later wrote a letter to him which he returned with the words 'Returned with thanks HBS', written on it.

On 19 September 1903 they agreed to live together again and went to live with Henry Starr's aunt at Hardman Street, however, Mary Starr went back home on 1 November 1903 with their baby. She was described as having been in a very poorly condition and could scarcely carry the child, it being said that she was weak through shortness of food.

Mary Starr later sent a second latter to Henry Starr detailing maintenance of the baby after which she went to see a solicitor for advise after which a summons was taken out.

She took the summons out on Monday 23 November 1903, the day before the murder, at the Police Court for maintenance having obtained an order against him for 6s a week.

The next day Henry Starr went to the house where Mary Starr was living with her mother on 24 November 1903 and knocked on the door. He had been drinking heavily during the day and was in a state of intoxication at the time. Mary Starr let him in and they went to the kitchen where Henry Starr got a bread knife and then attacked her with it, stabbing her multiple times in the breast and neck. When the mother went to her assistance he attacked her as well.

He had previously been charged with the murder of a girl in 1896 but was acquitted at the Manchester Assizes. She had drowned in the River Ribble. At the time he was 24 years old and a book canvasser for a Carlisle firm. The girl was Eleanor Coulthard aged 16 who had been in domestic service in Chatburn.

Henry Starr had been a slater's labourer.

Following Henry Starr's execution, extracts of an open letter that he wrote to a Methodist lay preacher in Blackpool were published in the newspapers. The letter was described as 'remarkable' and was published 'for the benefit of young men'. extracts read:

'No man became a criminal, a villain all at once, but slowly, by imperceptible degrees, fell from steep to steep, till at last the tyranny of passions weighed him down to the dust, till at last there was no strength to resist the sudden assault, and he became as unstable as water, building every hope on the sand, trusting in vain to his own weak heart, seeing in the future a mirage by which he is ever deceived. 'Remember now thy creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say I have no pleasure in them'.

In my early days I wished to shape some forms of beauty out of the quarry of thought, but when life seemed to be tranquil there suddenly appeared the black vein of destiny, my first glass. 'Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish'. I had read the Bible, but its message was unheeded. After school days were passed, the associations were broken that might have kept me on the right track. I rarely went to church or Sunday school. Godless companions were all in all to me. In this, of course, I was like many others, thoughtless, careless, heedless of dangers, life seemed so bright and glorious.

I had passed the first milestone on the road to ruin, and could not see the skeleton at the board. Earnestly do I pray that all young men would look upon a wine shop as the first milestone on the road to Hades. It may be that some can take, and do take, a little drink, thinking it will never have any power over them. Well, I thought so, too, yet there came a time when drink was a demon, altering, changing my very nature. Every mistake, every error in life's journey has been in my own case through drink'.

In conclusion, Henry Starr then begged young men to be careful what they read and to above all, ponder before taking the downward path, drink, women, pleasure of whatever kind that the world can give in exchange for the 'peace that passeth all understanding' is hollow and vain. Saying, let them have the moral courage to despise the whiles of sin, the weakness of their own passions in time, and to learn from his example that the 'wicked are overthrown'.

He also wrote a letter dealing with his life's history to his solicitor in which he touched on the death of Eleanor Coulthard and his failings in business in which he again blamed drink and wrote, 'Unfortunately, a young lady with whom I was on familiar terms drowned herself. I was arrested, tried for murder, and acquitted, the jury not leaving the box. At this time my thoughts were centred on literary pursuits. I was a correspondent to various journals, but the influence of my trial at Manchester Assizes left my mind gloomy. This finished all my writing, and very often melancholy had such weight over my brain that suicide was my familiar word, with slight homicidal tendencies'.

He said that he next travelled for five years saying, 'drink again, ruin, disgrace, flight, the gutter, an outcast wandering aimlessly through England and Scotland. A sudden reformation after a chequered and strange life of ups and downs. Came back to Blackpool, married, a happy, brief life. Again drink, delirium, madness, murder, trial, condemned to death. The end of a wild, changeful, sad career. May it be truly said, 'After life's fitful fever he sleeps well''.

see National Archives - ASSI 52/88, HO 144/736/113826

see The Evening Post - Tuesday 24 November 1903

see Burnley Express - Saturday 02 January 1904

see Dundee Evening Post - Tuesday 24 November 1903

see Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Saturday 12 December 1903