British Executions

Jeremiah Callaghan

Age: 42

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 12 Dec 1902

Crime Location: Bedwelty Workhouse, Tredegar, Wales

Execution Place: Usk

Method: hanging

Executioner: William Billington


Jeremiah Callaghan was convicted of the murder of Hannah Shea 38 and sentenced to death.

He cut her throat on Saturday 4 October 1902 near Bedwelty Workhouse in Tredegar, Wales with a pocket knife.

They had lived together for some years and had six children together, four of whom were still alive, but had separated and Jeremiah Callaghan thought that Hannah Shea was seeing other men.

At the time Jeremiah Callaghan was living in a lodging house in Tredegar whilst Hannah Shea was living in the workhouse with their children.

They had met up in Tredegar and gone around some pubs together and then whilst Hannah Shea was walking back to the workhouse Jeremiah Callaghan jumped on Hannah Shea and cut her throat.

It was thought that the motive for the murder was obscure, but thought to be apparently passion arising from drink and a violent temper.

The murder was described in the police report as a squalid tragedy in low life.

Hannah Shea had frequently been in and out of the workhouse.

Jeremiah Callaghan had worked as a mason's labourer.

Hannah Shea had come out of the workhouse earlier in the morning but was going back again the same night and Jeremiah Callaghan had been called from his work by his son and he went to meet Hannah Shea outside a public house where he charged her with drinking and knocked her down.

They then separated, but it was not known where Hannah Shea had gone.

Jeremiah Callaghan later went to Hannah Shea's father's house and asked for Hannah Shea there and told him that he would be hanged for her and that he would cut her throat, but it was observed that he had often uttered similar threats before and her father thought nothing of what he said, noting that he just thought that Jeremiah Callaghan was jealous of Hannah Shea

Jeremiah Callaghan  then had a glass of rum but it was said that he showed no signs of drink.

Jeremiah Callaghan and Hannah Shea met again at 5pm and it was noted that Jeremiah Callaghan was then in a bad temper. They then went to the Black Prince public house where they had three quarts of beer between the three of them and it was said that when they came out that Jeremiah Callaghan was considerably under the influence of liquor. His son said, 'My father fell down. He got up by himself', and 'Father was staggering, he fell down again', referring to when they were on their way to the workhouse.

A little further down they met a woman and it was said that Hannah Shea said, 'Are you going home' to which she said, 'Aye' and that Jeremiah Callaghan replied, 'I'll give you aye, you b-----', after which Jeremiah Callaghan's son said in evidence, 'My father rushed her from one wall to the other' and that he then ran away. Another witness said 'He put his hand in his trousers pocket and took out a knife', and said that he then cut Hannah Shea's throat so deeply that she almost died immediately.

The police report noted that the only question for the Home Office was the one of drink, with it being noted that he had been seen to fall down several times, but with one witness saying that when they saw Jeremiah Callaghan  fall over it was rough, although he was under the influence of drink .

However, a doctor that later saw Jeremiah Callaghan said that whilst he was under the influence of drink, he could talk and that there was not the slightest thing to suggest that he had been suffering from delirium tremens.

The master of the workhouse said, 'I thought he had been drinking. He could walk and talk. He seemed very cool and collected. He went into the yard, stood amongst the men there and then began dancing and capering about'.

Also a police superintendent said that when he found Jeremiah Callaghan in the workhouse yard with a number of other men that he was walking about smoking his pipe and said that he as very much the worse for drink but that he could walk and talk very well although he smelt very strongly of liquor.

When Jeremiah Callaghan  was sentenced the jury made no recommendation to mercy and the police report stated that though the facts show that Jeremiah Callaghan had been under the influence of drink when he committed the murder, that they did not prove that he had been in such a state of drunkenness that he had not known what he was doing, or to constitute irresponsibility for his acts.

Further, it was noted that it was a significant fact that Jeremiah Callaghan, who was said to have been in the habit of ill-treating Hannah Shea, had thrown her down in the street before he had stated drinking and that he had also on the day told her father that he would cut her throat and be hanged for her at a time when he was sober.

Jeremiah Callaghan made a number of statements after his sentence, one being:

'The whole cause of this trouble happened 12 months ago. A soldier of the RMEM returned from South Africa, I was drinking with him for several days, and I believe it was on the Friday afternoon he had beer and whisky in the house he was staying, we went there to drink, but quarrelled, and I went home, my wife was then at home, she went to fetch me a pint of beer in a tin jack, but she never returned, and sent my little girl back with the tin jack empty.

Sometime afterwards, I went back to his house thinking my wife was there drinking, there was two men there besides the soldier and a woman (a bad woman). I did not see my wife, they would not let me in, and this made me more sure she was there. I sent for a policeman and told him, in plain language what was going on in the house. The policeman eventually locked me up for creating a disturbance, next morning I was released and found my wife was gone to the workhouse. I made enquiries where she stayed the night before and another woman told me she stayed at her house. Afterwards my little girl (aged 9) told me she stayed at the house with the soldier and others.

It was and is still my belief she was drinking this beer and whisky until drunk and that these men took advantage of her. I pray to God she was not guilty. I could trust her anywhere or with anyone if sober. Her conduct towards me afterwards seemed altered, always trying to avoid me, but occasionally staying with me for a night or two when I happened to meet her, she would come out of the workhouse during my working hours and return again before I left work, all this used to make me suspicious.

On one occasion about 6 or 7 months ago we met and had some drink, we agreed to go to Rhymney to look for a house, when we got about half way to Rhymey on top of the mountain, the thought came to me to kill her and I had my knife at her throat, but my heart failed me and we turned back to Tredegar.

On the Saturday this happened, I knew she was coming out, the boy told me so the Sunday previous and I was on the lookout for her. I saw the boy and told him to wait till I had my money, and during the time I was unloading a waggon she went by on the other side of the street, I beckoned to her but she did not see me or pretended not to, when I got my money me and the boy went to look for her visiting several public houses and also her father's. I did not say a word to him about killing her, or hanging for her, but told him she only came out of the workhouse to get money from her eldest illegitimate daughter by another man to get drink. We found her after a time and I asked her why she did not stop when I beckoned her and if she was fooling me, she replied that she did not see me and turning to the boy she asked him if he had what she sent him for, he produced a order from the relieving officer to return to the workhouse that night, I made a grab for it, and in the scuffle it went down on the pavement, I did not knock her down as stated in evidence, but it was in my mind to give her a kick, but thank God I did not do it. We afterwards went into a public house and had some drink.

My wages was 12/2 that week and I had 7d besides, the police now have 6/- and I believe the remainder went in drink, except 7d. I paid to get my little girls boots out of pawn. I think my wife had a few pence left out of 3/- she snatched from me, but afterwards returned 1/6 and paid for a quart of beer and three pennyworth of whisky.

I do not remember that we quarrelled afterwards I went with her towards the workhouse. I was telling about a house that I knew was vacant, but we were both too drunk to see about it that night. I did not have hold of her wrist, but we were walking hand in hand.

All at once the thought flashed across my mind to kill her (As on the mountain going to Rhymney). I do not remember taking my knife from my pocket, but I have a faint recollection of doing the deed, neither do I remember seeing any people there or falling down but my knuckles was cut and the knee of my trousers. I did not know she was dead for certain till the Monday afterwards, but I had a suspicion by noticing the police watching me in my cell'.

An internal police report detailed Jeremiah Callaghan's voluntary statement and addressed each point and concluded that there was nothing material that could not be mitigated by other evidence and facts.

It was also noted in the same report that another consideration was a petition for his reprieve, claiming that he had suffered from delirium tremens two months before the murder, but it was noted that he had only been in the hospital for five days on that occasion and that his only delusion was that he could not sleep. A number of other points were also raised in the petition but they too were all thought to be either groundless or readily mitigated.

Jeremiah Callaghan  was convicted and sentenced to death and executed at Usk, Monmouth, on Friday 12 December 1902. Two representatives from the press were allowed to witness the execution. He was said to have walked unassisted to the scaffold.

see National Archives - HO 144/682/102522

see Western Mail - Tuesday 07 October 1902

see Western Evening Herald - Friday 12 December 1902