British Executions

William Cavanagh

Age: 29

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 18 Dec 1917

Crime Location: 1 West Street, Newcastle

Execution Place: Newcastle

Method: hanging

Executioner: Thomas Pierrepoint


William Cavanagh was convicted of the murder of Henry Arthur Hollyer 27 and sentenced to death.

He stabbed him in the chest at 1 West Street, Newcastle on 21 June 1917 after which Henry Hollyer died on 25 June 1917.

Henry Hollyer had been a seaman and had met four petty officers from his ship at a public house in Newcastle. They were then joined by four women and after some drink had been taken they all went to the room of one of the women where more drink was consumed and they had a 'sing-song'.

However, towards midnight, William Cavanagh, a civilian and another civilian came in and later a disturbance arose between William Cavanagh and one of the sailors that soon developed into a scrimmage during which, without provocation William Cavanagh hit Henry Hollyer in the face and felled him, unconscious, to the floor and then, as he lay there helpless he stooped down and stabbed him in the back with a knife. He and a friend then threw him out into the yard outside where he stabbed him four more times inflicting two fatal wounds.

William Cavanagh was described as a cook but was in effect a travelling thief and had 27 previous convictions, three of them in 1908, 1920 and 1915 being for assaults with intent to rob.

He came from Glasgow but prior to the murder had lived in Newcastle where he had associated with a prostitute who had recently come from Glasgow.

Henry Hollyer had been on board HMS Indomitable which was in the Tyne at the time and he and the other petty officers had met the prostitute that William Cavanagh had been associating with along with four other women in the public house before going back to 1 West Street to have a 'jollification'.

William Cavanagh and another man, who also had a bad character, later joined the group, with the prostitute introducing William Cavanagh to the seamen as her husband.

Although it was noted that they had been drinking, it was heard that there was no reason to believe that William Cavanagh was so drunk that he had not known what he had been doing.

The quarrel arose about midnight over William Cavanagh and his friend not doing their bit like the sailors and the four women and two of the petty officers left the house. However, William Cavanagh's friend followed them out and struck one of them in the mouth knocking four teeth out after which he returned to the house.

Before the four women left there had been a scuffling and flinging of glasses and as William Cavanagh's friend returned to the room William Cavanagh struck Henry Hollyer a heavy blow with his fist causing him to fall to the ground. William Cavanagh then pulled out his pocket knife and stabbed one of he other petty officers in the face and then stooped down and stabbed Henry Hollyer in the back as he lay.

The other two petty officers then left.

The prostitute said that she then told William Cavanagh and his friend to take Henry Hollyer away and they lifted him and William Cavanagh's friend struck Henry Hollyer in the face. They then carried Henry Hollyer down into the yard, each taking one of his arms and when they got out William Cavanagh was seen to strike Henry Hollyer several blows to the chest as he lay on his back.

Meanwhile the two other petty officers, including the one that was stabbed in the face, called the police who went to the yard where they found Henry Hollyer and removed him to the hospital. They then forced an entry into the house where they arrested William Cavanagh, his friend and the prostitute.

Henry Hollyer died in hospital on 25 June 1917. Beside the wound to his back, which was inflicted before the four sailors left, he also had four stab wounds on his neck and chest, one of the latter having pierced his pericardium and the other the lung, both of which were fatal, it being noted that the stab wound to his back would probably not have been fatal.

It was noted that it was clear from the evidence that William Cavanagh stabbed Henry Hollyer first in the back while he lay unconscious on the floor of the room and then afterwards stabbed him four times as he lay in the yard. As such, it was noted that even if it could be said that the first wound had been inflicted in the course of a fight, nothing could excuse the deliberate finishing off of a helpless man.

As such, the police report stated that there were clearly no grounds for reducing the crime to manslaughter.

William Cavanagh's friend and the prostitute were both charged with manslaughter in connection with Henry Hollyer's death but no evidence was offered against the prostitute and William Cavanagh's friend was found not guilty at the judge's direction.

Although William Cavanagh didn't give evidence, he said from the dock that he had no recollection of what had happened in the house and said that he was sorry for having caused Henry Hollyer's death.

He was convicted at the Newcastle Assizes on Monday 11 November 1917 with a recommendation to mercy but was executed at Newcastle on 18 December 1917. It was noted that whilst the jury had recommended William Cavanagh to mercy that they had not known of his criminal record.

see National Archives - HO 144/1486/351951

see The Scotsman - Tuesday 13 November 1917