Date Of Execution: 16 Dec 1902
Crime Location: Bill Quay, Felling-on-Tyne
Execution Place: Durham
Executioner: William Billington
Thomas Nicholson was convicted of the murder of Mary Ina Stewart 7 and sentenced to death.
Mary Stewart had been to see her uncle on 16 August 1902 in a neighbouring village but left at 7.30pm to go home at Bill Quay near Felling-on-Tyne. However, on her way back Thomas Nicholson, who had earlier been to the pub met her and took her to a brickyard at a disused quarry where he raped and strangled her and cut her throat.
Mary Stewart's body was later found on the Monday afternoon 18 August 1902 and it was reported that she had been horribly mutilated and that the murder was of the worst possible type.
When the police questioned Thomas Nicholson he said that he had been drinking in the Masons Arms until closing time but when they questioned other people that had been in the pub they were told that he had left at 6.30pm and not returned.
When they searched his room they found bloodstains on his shirt and coat and a bloodstained pocket knife.
The evidence was described as circumstantial but he was convicted at the Durham Assizes on Wednesday 26 November 1902 and executed on 16 December 1902.
It was noted that the judge had pointed out in his summing up that the evidence was wholly circumstantial and needed careful sifting on account of certain discrepancies. He had further said that although he did believe that Thomas Nicholson had committed the murder, he did not think that the evidence was as clear as a jury generally required in a case of murder.
It was noted on 3 December 1902 in a police report shortly after Thomas Nicholson was convicted that further information had come forward stating that on the night of the murder that Thomas Nicholson had attempted to persuade another young girl to go away with him near the place where Mary Stewart was murdered.
However, it was also suggested that Thomas Nicholson's conviction was not safe, with one news report stating, 'There is a good deal of feeling abroad that the death sentence in the case of Nicholson, the Bill Quay murderer, should not be carried out, because the evidence did not show him clearly to be the man who committed the crime, and there is an unpleasant reflection in the minds of many people that a mistake may very easily have been made. At the trial, the impression was general that the jury would hardly convict, but they were not long in coming to the conclusion that he was guilty. It is difficult to know what to do in the matter. The murder was most foul and brutal, and if Nicholson did it, hanging is very nearly too good for him. But if there is a doubt about it, the question appears to me to be not whether he should be reprieved, but whether he should be set at liberty. There is, however, this view, that if at some future time it turns out that a mistake has occurred, it will be impossible to restore him to life again, but easy enough to release him if he is in penal servitude'.
Thomas Nicholson had been a cartwright and worked at Woodgate Farm in Bill Quay.
Mary Stewart was the daughter of a bricklayer and had lived at 16 Joel Terrace in Bill Quay.
It was noted that Thomas Nicholson had been under the influence of drink on the evening of the murder and that he had given a lying account of his whereabouts at the time and did not go into the witness box to give an account of his proceedings on the day of the murder.
Much of the evidence resolved itself into a time-table of events for which it was noted that constant reference to a plan shown at the trial was required in order to follow, the details showing the paths that Thomas Nicholson and Mary Stewart would have taken and how they would have met.
The timetable was detailed as:
It was also later added that another little girl came forward to give evidence after Thomas Nicholson's conviction to state that on the night of the murder that Thomas Nicholson had tried to get her to go away with him near the place where Mary Stewart was later found dead. However, the time is not detailed.
As such, the police report stated that the bulk of the evidence pointed conclusively to Thomas Nicholson, who was under the influence of drink, being alone on the path which Mary Stewart would have to cross to reach her home, and at the same time. It was additionally noted that there was the further evidence of blood being found on his coat, his shirt cuff and the front of his shirt and that his shirt showed signs of having been sponged over both back and front.
The report stated that when the police called on Thomas Nicholson to give an account of himself on 16 August after 6pm that he declared that he had gone to Shell's public house (the Mason's Arms) and had remained there until closing time, which it was noted was evidently false and that when he was charged with Mary Stewart's murder that he just hung his head down and made no reply.
The police report noted that not only did Thomas Nicholson give a false account to the police of his proceedings, but that at the trial he did not go into the box to give any subsequent explanation. It was noted that no comment was made on that by either the counsel for the prosecution or the defence, which it was observed might have been very right, but it was said that his conduct at the trial and him not going into the box weighed very heavily against Thomas Nicholson in the subsequent consideration of his case with it further being stated in the police report to the Secretary of State in relation to his consideration for a reprieve that they did not think that it would be unfair to Thomas Nicholson to say that it would have been the obvious course, going into the box to give evidence of their innocence, that would have been taken by any innocent person.
It was noted that although Thomas Nicholson was convicted that there still remained the discrepancy in evidence as to the time that the three witnesses said that they saw Thomas Nicholson and his friend near the telegraph post and it was suggested that that point could well be taken up by the police in a report to determine whether they could offer an explanation for it and as to whether they could provide further information on the three witnesses.
The police report to the Secretary of State also suggested that the police could also be asked about what they already knew about Thomas Nicholson noting that a man that had committed such an act as the murder of Mary Stewart may not improbably have been guilty of improper conduct towards other children on other occasions, referring to the case of Joseph Lowe, March 1901, as an example, which it stated resembled the current case in many particulars.
The clothing of both Thomas Nicholson and Mary Stewart was examined by the analyst to the County of Durham.
With regards to Thomas Nicholson's clothing the analyst said, 'On the coat a bloodstain was found, on the left-hand side just above the pocket, and another on the right-hand side below the pocket. On the waistcoat there were no bloodstains found. On the trousers a bloodstain was found on the left-hand side below the pocket. On the shirt several bloodstains were found. There were, however, no traces of the presence of spermatozoic stains'.
With regards to Mary Stewart's clothing he said that his examination was rendered extremely difficult by the fact that her clothes had been saturated by water and that myriads of bacteria had formed. He added that there was no satisfactory evidence of the presence of spermatozoic stains, but that there were traces of blood on her chemise, drawers, and two petticoats.
The analyst said that when he examined the knife that he had been given by the police he said that he found a stain of dried blood on the blade near the haft, but noted that he could not say how long the stain might have been there.
Mary Stewart's uncle, a ship's plater who lived at 16 Joel Terrace, said that on 16 August 1902 that he was at his mother's house and that he saw Mary Stewart there and said that she left at about 6.45pm accompanied by her friend, and that he did not see her again until her body was found in Wood and Skinner's brickyard the following Monday afternoon.
A widow that lived at 33 Cromwell Road in Felling Quay said that Mary Stewart and her friend called at her house at 6.50pm on 16 August 1902 on their way to Mary Stewart's aunt's house in Gosforth Terrace, noting that she didn't see Mary Stewart alive again after they left.
Mary Stewart's 11-year-old friend, who lived in Heworth High Lane said that she had gone to Mary Stewart's house on 16 August 1902 and had left there with her at about 6.50pm to go to Gosforth Terrace, going via Cromwell Terrace and then across the 'Hilly Fields', noting that they arrived safely and did not meet anybody on the way. She said that when they arrived that she asked Mary Stewart's uncle the time and said that he told them that it was 6.55pm. She said that they stayed until 7.30pm when they set away. She said that she had to go in the other direction to Mary Stewart, but said that she watched her until she went down into the hollow, noting that Mary Stewart waved her hand at her and that after that she saw nothing more of her.
Mary Stewart's uncle, a labourer, who lived at 8 Gosforth Terrace, said that Mary Stewart and her friend arrived at his house at about 7pm on 16 August 1902 and that they left at about 7.30pm. He said that Mary Stewart had to go in a different direction to her friend and that he watched Mary Stewart walk off until she disappeared into the hollow and he lost sight of her. He said that it was a light night and that he didn't notice anyone else about at the time. He said that he didn't see her again after that. He noted that it would have taken her between 8 and 10 minutes to have walked home from there.
The inn keeper at the Mason's arms in Bill Quay said that on 16 August 1902 during the afternoon that Thomas Nicholson and his friend came into his house and remained there until between 6pm and 6.30pm when they left together. He said that whilst they were there together that they had nearly two or three gills of beer and heard Thomas Nicholson remark as he was leaving that he was going to the 'Town', which he took as meaning Newcastle.
He said that Thomas Nicholson had been dressed in a dark jacket, suit and cap and that after he left he didn't see him again.
A miner that lived at Jonadab said that he had been drinking in the Mason's Arms on the afternoon of 16 August 1902 and that he had seen Thomas Nicholson and his friend there. He said that Thomas Nicholson was slightly under the influence of drink and paid for a glass of beer for him and later left the house at 6.15pm and that he didn't see him again there that night, noting that he himself stayed there until 10pm.
A married woman that lived in Joice Terrace, Bill Quay, said that she had been passing the Mason's Arms at about 6.40pm on 16 August 1902 when she saw Thomas Nicholson standing at the door. She sad that her uncle had been coming out at the time and that Thomas Nicholson told her to take him home.
A driller that lived at 12 Prospect Terrace in Bill Quay said that he had been crossing the Hilly Fields at about 6.55pm on the evening of 16 August 1902 when he met Thomas Nicholson and another man coming over from the Mason's Arms in the direction of Heywood Terrace, and said that as they passed Thomas Nicholson asked him, 'Where are you going', and said that he told him that he was going to the shore. He noted that it was about half way across the Hilly Fields that he saw Thomas Nicholson. He said that Thomas Nicholson was wearing a dark suit and a dark cap. The driller said that he went on to the shore and did not see them again and noted that there had been no one else about.
A widow that lived at 10 Back Terrace, Bill Quay, said that she had been sitting on her door step at about 6.50pm on 16 August 1902 when she saw Thomas Nicholson coming across the terrace. She said that he went down Back Ann Street and into his own house and then returned again with a piece of bread in his hand. She said that he went straight along Back Terrace and then along Heywood Terrace and then onto the Hilly Fields. She said that he appeared to have had a drink in him and that he was dressed in a dark suit with a white muffler. Her evidence was also backed up by a miner.
A cartman that knew Thomas Nicholson well who lived at 13 Morley Avenue, Bill Quay, said that on 16 August 1902, between 7.15pm and 7.30pm that he was standing at the west end of Heywood Terrace when he saw Thomas Nicholson coming towards him. He said that he asked Thomas Nicholson where he was going and said that Thomas Nicholson replied that he was going to Felling and that he might get to Gateshead to buy a suit of clothes. The cartman said that he noticed that Thomas Nicholson was the worse for drink and told him that he had better stay at home and that he had had plenty to drink, but said that Thomas Nicholson told him that he was 'all right', and that by way of emphasising that he struck the wall with his fist. The cartman said that he watched Thomas Nicholson go along the footpath over the Hilly Fields, noting that there were no other people about at that time.
He said that he later saw Thomas Nicholson at 4.30pm on the following Monday afternoon at the watering trough near the Co-operative Stores with his cart and said that Thomas Nicholson said to him, 'That is an awful job that has happened here'. He said that he replied, 'Someone will get to know about it'. The cartman noted that Thomas Nicholson had come from Bill Quay and that the finding of Mary Stewart's body was known by that time.
A plater's labourer said that at about 7.30pm on 16 August 1902 that he and two other men were shaved in a barber's shop in Pelaw and that they left at about 8pm and went down to the Mason's arms. He said that when they were about 150 yards from the inn that they met Thomas Nicholson and his friend and said that Thomas Nicholson said, 'What cheer', and that he replied 'What cheer Tommy' back. He noted that there was no one else about other than his two friends. He said that Thomas Nicholson had been dressed in a dark suit and a white muffler and noted that he seemed to have had a drop to drink.
His two friends corroborated his evidence and one of them noted that he was one of the search party that had searched Wood and Skinners brickyard on the Monday afternoon and that it was he that had found Mary Stewart's body lying against the railings on the inside of the brickyard. He said that the body was covered with long grass and that he had seen blood on Mary Stewart's underclothing and also noticed that she had been cut and mutilated. He said that after he found her body that he raised the alarm.
After hearing the man's evidence at the inquest the Coroner noted that the place where Mary Stewart's body was found was 100 yards from Gosforth Terrace and about 150 yards from the Mason's Arms.
Thomas Nicholson's friend, a joiner that was employed at Walker Colliery and who lived in Swinburn Terrace, Bill Quay, opposite Thomas Nicholson said that on 16 August 1902 at about 4.30pm that Thomas Nicholson asked him to go to Shell's to have a drink, but that he refused. Shell was the name of the landlord of the Mason's Arms at the time. He said that he refused at first, but eventually went. He said that they had three or four glasses of beer and left at about 6.30pm and then went to another person’s house where they stayed for about 15 minutes. He said that after leaving the other persons house that Thomas Nicholson took the road to Felling, but said that as he could not go that way they returned by the back of the Mason's Arms over the Hilly Fields home.
He said that they first went into his home where they stayed for about three minutes, by which time it was about 7.30pm and that they then went to Thomas Nicholson's house where he stayed for about ten minutes before going back home, leaving Thomas Nicholson at his house. He said that he stayed at his own house until about 8.30pm and that he then went to find Thomas Nicholson who he had heard had gone back out again. He said that he went to the Mason's Arms but could not find him and that he then went to the Swan Inn at Pelaw, arriving at about 9pm and stayed for about half-an-hour or so and then went to Bill Quay.
He noted that he had not been wearing a watch and that the times that he mentioned were guesses. He added that he had looked at the clock when he and Thomas Nicholson had returned home at 7.30pm and again when he left at 8.30pm, noting that he thought that his clock at home was a little fast. He said that he had not been under the influence of drink.
He said that the next time that he saw Thomas Nicholson was at his mother's house after 4pm on the Sunday afternoon. He said that he conversed with Thomas Nicholson's mother and brother and also had a word with Thomas Nicholson who came out of another room. He noted that Thomas Nicholson's mother told him about Mary Stewart being missing and said that he thought that when she did so that Thomas Nicholson had just gone out of the room, adding that at any rate Thomas Nicholson made no remark about it.
The friends wife corroborated her husband’s evidence and said that shortly after her husband and Thomas Nicholson went out to Thomas Nicholson's house at 7.30pm on 16 August 1902 that she saw Thomas Nicholson come out of his house with a piece of bread in his hand. She said that she then saw him go up the back street into Back Terrace. She said that her husband, who was still in Thomas Nicholson's house came home shortly afterwards and remained in until 8.30pm.
She said that between 9.15pm and 9.30pm whilst she was standing at the back door with a neighbour that she saw Thomas Nicholson come up the lane, noting that he had no cap on and was wearing a dark suit of clothes and had a muffler round his neck. She said that he went into his house but came out shortly after wearing a cap and a pair of brown cord trousers, noting that he had no coat or waistcoat on. She said that he came across and asked whether her husband was in, but said that she replied 'No', and said then that Thomas Nicholson's mother and father immediately afterwards came out and took hold of him and took him into the house. She said that her husband returned home later.
She said that on the following morning, Sunday 17 August 1902, that she got up at about 3.45am to make some food for the baby and that when she looked out of the window that she saw Thomas Nicholson come down the back steps and into the back lane and stand at the back door. She added that she didn't see what became of him after that as she had to attend to the baby and that she could not say whether he returned to the house or went away. She said that it was light at the time and that she was sure that the man that she saw was Thomas Nicholson.
At the inquest, a blacksmith gave evidence to say that whilst searching for Mary Stewart that he found 1s 3½d on the grass near the brickfield hoarding.
The wife of a miner that lived in Swinburn Terrace corroborated part of the evidence given by Thomas Nicholson's friends wife who saw Thomas Nicholson come out in his trousers and cap at 9.30pm on 16 August 1902 and ask her friend wither her husband was in as well as seeing Thomas Nicholson's mother and father come out and say, 'Come on you---- fool', and take him back into the house.
An 11-year-old boy that lived at 10 Gosforth Terrace said that he had been returning home from Bill Quay at around dusk on 16 August 1902 and had seen Thomas Nicholson walking backwards and forwards near the quarry top, noting that he had been wearing dark clothes. He said that he didn't speak to Thomas Nicholson and that he didn't see Mary Stewart.
A police inspector stationed at Felling said that at 1am on the morning of 17 August 1902 that he went to Thomas Nicholson's mother's house and saw Thomas Nicholson and asked him to give an account of himself after 6pm on 16 August 1902 and said that he said, 'I had never been out of Bill Quay that night. I went over to Ed Shell's public house and remained there until closing time. The only persons I saw were the landlord and two other men'. He was then asked if he had passed along Holly Avenue on to the banks, to which he replied, 'I went along about six o'clock to Shell's'. When he was asked where the suit of clothes that he had been wearing on the Saturday night were he said, 'I don't know' and then turned to his mother and asked, 'Where are they mother?' and she replied, 'In Lightfoot's pawnshop, Felling Shore'. When the police then took him into custody and charged him with the murder of Mary Stewart Thomas Nicholson hung his head and made no reply. The pocket knife that was taken in evidence was then found in Thomas Nicholson's trousers’ pocket.
When the police went to the pawnbroker in Felling Shore he told them that he had received the coat, vest and trousers in pledge between 1am and 10am on the Monday morning.
The medical practitioner’s statement read, '18 August called to 8 Joel Terrace, saw dead body of Mary Ina Stewart lying on bed in house a healthy child well nourished, fair skin, very light hair. Clothes were wet. I judged it to be dead about 2 days. Marks of compression and bruising round nostrils and mouth. Mark, a bruise, on right chest. 2 abrasions behind left ear. Abrasions windpipe in front. In middle line top and back of head, 3 small circular wounds about equidistant about 1⁄16 inch across. The right of these other 2 similar wounds.
On examining clothes, drawers had been torn right up to waistband contained a great deal of blood as also did chemise. On separating the legs, a large wound seen extending from lower part of vagina to outside left side of rectum. This a very clean cut wound about an inch and a half in length of skin. It penetrated inwardly about an inch, surfaces for the most part quite clean cut, except towards the inner end where they were frayed out. Hyman was frayed out. Private parts very much bruised and tears in them. Legs contained numerous bruises particularly on the fronts of them, and one of them had a similar puncture to those described on the head.
On stripping child’s clothes off there were several marks of bruising and compression in upper part of chest. Another mark of bruise in front of pelvis. Also two punctures on one arm similar to those on head.
Two days after made post mortem. Examined chest and abdomen first. Parts were those of healthy child, right side of heart and veins contained dark fluid blood. Other abdominal organs normal. When coming to pelvis vault of vagina perforated right through into peritoreal cavity. Hole about an inch in diameter and having a band of tissue stretching across it. Next examined skull. Wounds did not penetrate right down to the bone. Between scalp and skull several extravasations of blood. Brain tissue membrane and tissue healthy.
Conclusions I come to. That marks on skull produced by blows during life and would cause unconsciousness. That punctures on head, arms and shin were caused by some blunt instrument either after loss of much blood or after death as surroundings were scarcely blood stained. The markings around nostrils and mouth were due to throttling with the right hand and while from the fraying, particularly of what I take to be the thumb marks on outside of right nostril, child struggled yet pressure was not intermittent as would have been evidenced.
Death had been from smothering and loss of blood and shock. The wound in the vagina was made after the child had ceased struggling and was dead. The cleanness of the cut, it could not have been done with person struggling. It could not have been of so clean a nature. I find 3 pieces of grass in the vagina, in the canal. This knife could have caused the big wound. These wounds are done with one hand.
Object, I believe the perforation to be due to violence with a man’s person. I think that happened after the wound was inflicted with the knife. I think wound was with the object of allowing penetration.
Knife is an ordinary pocket knife with a thorough worn blade. I think wound inflicted by knife held in right hand. I consider there would be a considerable flow of blood.
I saw this shirt on the 20th. It would depend which way the blood went. I should expect to find more blood on the shirt. It was a cut, not a thrust. I should undoubtedly expect blood in clasp and hinge of knife if not washed. I should expect blood if connection had taken place as I suggest. Shirt had been sponged over both back and front before I saw it on the 20th. It was quite apparent that it had been. Not so much sponging in front of shirt as on back. The amount of injury was very much more than was necessary to kill a child. The bruisings indicate a considerable struggle.
There would be no bleeding from any wound except that in the perineum. Child must have been on its back. I saw the child’s under clothing very much saturated with blood. Two large patches of blood had been attempted to be removed by sponging or washing. A flow of blood rather than a rush'.
The analysts statement read, 'I made analysis of a lot of clothes I received on 21 August. I examined them extending over 3 days. A black coat, black waistcoat, black trouser and a striped shirt. On coat stains of blood. On coat I cut out pieces for analysis. Left hand side 3 stains on coat, one on the left sleeve, 2 just above the pocket. They are small, another hole on right sleeve. No trace whatever of blood on waistcoat. Trousers left leg above knee a considerable spot, on same side another one. Shirt on back two spots. Largest one more than an inch across, ½ an inch the smaller one. 5 places on the front, on right sleeve one place. I could find no trace of spermatic stains.
Child's clothing. It had been sodden with water. I could find no satisfactory evidence of spermatic stains. Blood in considerable quantity difficult from wet.
A knife handed to me. I opened blade. I found blood close to end of blade. I removed it to test. No traces of blood on hinge inside. I can say they are recent stains but cannot say as to days. Quite consistent with the time when I got the shirt'.
When the defence summed up they said that there was an almost unparalleled absence of direct evidence against Thomas Nicholson and noted that in order to bring him into connection with the crime that they must have a strong chain of evidence. The defence noted that at least half a dozen witnesses had been in the locality of the murder at the time it was committed and that the paths over the waste ground were used as highways and added that the waste ground was of such a nature that anyone could have been there.
The defence noted that the bloodstains were proper evidence but said that innocent blood was as red as other blood and asked whether the blood stains on Thomas Nicholson's clothes were of such a character and in such quantity as one would have expected to find after the commission of such a crime.
The defence then asked the jury whether they were satisfied beyond doubt that Thomas Nicholson was the man that had committed the crime, noting that they need remember that a man was innocent until proved guilty. He also warned against considering suspicion, noting that it was inhumane and not fair and that he was sure that they would not act upon it.
The defence also noted that one of the witnesses, a woman, who gave evidence identifying Thomas Nicholson, had picked out a man fully six inches shorter than Thomas Nicholson at an identity parade.
When the defence detailed the pawning of Thomas Nicholson's clothes they submitted that there was nothing serious in it and added that it was one of those things that was so easy to draw an inference of guilt from if they believed him guilty already, but said that if they were to give him a fair trial the fact sank into contempt and insignificance. The defence noted that Thomas Nicholson had had the clothes on still on the Sunday and that it was not until the Monday that they were pawned which had often happened before.
The defence then asked the jury to weigh all the evidence most carefully, stating that it was not one of those cases where there was a middle course, noting that if Thomas Nicholson was found guilty that he would be hanged. The defence noted that there was never a case in which the extreme penalty of the law if he was guilty, was better deserved, but observed that if they read the riddle of the night wrong, if they put the pieces of that puzzle together awry, if it was true that the man that had committed the crime was considerably shorter than Thomas Nicholson, or if Thomas Nicholson had been in such a position at 7.55pm that made it impossible for him to have been in the place where the crime was committed and to have then been where he was seen near the Mason's Arms 20 minutes afterwards, and that they still convicted him that they would not only be convicting an innocent man, but sending him to his death under circumstances of ignominy and shame which would go far to deprive him of the very thing that could be a stay to a man brought face to face with his death and his belief in a God of justice and mercy. The defence then concluded that the only way to avoid that was to scrutinise jealously, laboriously and painfully the evidence and only the evidence before them, and that it was that alone that would make it possible for justice to be done.
When the judge summed up he noted that someone had committed a terrible murder. when he addressed the matter of time he noted that the evidence of the three men that had seen Thomas Nicholson by the telegraph pole at 8.30pm was entirely inconsistent with the evidence of Thomas Nicholson's friend and his wife, but that he was not sure that it was so inconsistent with any other parts of the evidence and added that if their evidence was left out then the prosecution had presented a clear case, adding that if Thomas Nicholson had committed the murder then he probably did it after meeting the three men by the telegraph pole. The judge also added that it was to his mind a suggestive point that Thomas Nicholson had changed his clothes when he had got home. Further, when he addressed the issue of the blood on Thomas Nicholson's clothes, he said that he did not think that there was anything but the quantity of blood on his clothing that might have been expected.
The jury retired at 6.15pm to consider their verdict and returned 35 minutes later with a guilty verdict.
When Thomas Nicholson was asked whether he had anything to say about the verdict he made no reply.
Thomas Nicholson was hanged at Durham on 16 December 1902. It was a double execution with Samuel Walton being executed the same day for the murder of his mother-in-law. It was noted that it was not expected that either men would actually hang as Samuel Walton had cut his throat beforehand which it was said usually brought about a commutation of the sentence and that Thomas Nicholson had been convicted on circumstantial evidence. It was reported that any hope that either man would be reprieved was dashed after the official notices were placed on the prison doors, which read: 'Capital Punishment Amendment Act, 1868, 31, 32 Vic., chap. 24, section 7. The sentence of the law which was passed upon Thos. Nicholson, found guilty of murder will be carried into execution at 8am tomorrow. Signed, William HE Chaytor, Sheriff of Durham; CWB Farrant, Governor. Dated, Durham Prison, Dec. 15th, 1902'. It was also noted that it was the first time that such notices had been posted prior to executions in Durham.
It was reported that the night before their executions was terribly stormy and followed by a sombre morning and that just before 8am a large number of curious folk gathered outside the gaol, it being noted that the outline of the building was just discernible in the in the breaking morning light. It was noted that the number of spectators was unusually large which it was said could be accounted for by the fact that two men were to be hanged, the like of which had not happened in Durham since 1873, although it was noted that in 1874 and 1875 there had been triple executions.
Amongst the officials to arrive, including the police surgeon, chaplain, the Under-Sheriff and Acting Sheriff’s Officers as well as the two Executioners there were a selected number of pressmen who were shown to their positions near the execution chamber and immediately in front of the two dangling ropes.
They were said to have both retired to rest at an early hour and were both apparently reconciled to their fate. It was said that they both rose and partook of the communion and shortly afterwards had a light breakfast of tea and bread and butter.
It was said that both men, Samuel Walton and Thomas Nicholson had greatly changed since their convictions. Samuel Walton's calm demeanour had been replaced with an agitated and highly strung nervous condition whilst Thomas Nicholson, who was described as having presented a somewhat bright boyish face at the time of the trial was pale, worn and haggard and evidently haggard and appeared as though he had been crying.
Both of the men were dressed in the same clothes that they were tried and sentenced in. It was reported however that they both walked fairly firmly to the scaffold whilst the chaplain was reciting the opening sentences of the burial service for the dead. The nooses and caps were then placed over their heads and it was reported that just before their heads were covered that Samuel Walton, probably touched with a sense of commiseration for his youthful companion in a time of dire need half turned to Thomas Nicholson and said, 'Good morning lad, keep thee heart up!'.
It was said then that the caps were pulled down and in the solemn silence, broken only by the agitated words of the priestly exhortation, the bolt was pulled and the drops fell.
It was reported that both men were allowed drops of from 6ft to 7 ft and that death appeared to have been instantaneous.
It was reported that it seemed almost incredible that in so short a space of time that two men had been launched from this world.
It was further noted that the time from the men leaving the pinioning chamber to the sentence being carried out was only about one minute and that it was 7.59am when the bolt was drawn and that it was not until the sonorous sound of the Cathedral chimes broke the quiet of the morning air and the minute bell sounded that it could be known that the execution had been carried into effect, it being noted that the custom of ringing the minute bell prior to the executions and the displaying of the black flag had been stopped.
It was noted that there were many that felt that at the time when Thomas Nicholson was convicted of the murder of Mary Stewart that the circumstances, although very damming to any suggestion of his innocence, yet left a certain loophole for doubt. It was reported that following Thomas Nicholson's execution that there was no indication of any formal confession of guilt from him but that reticent as the authorities were said to be, that there was no doubt that Thomas Nicholson in effect admitted his guilt with some mental reservation that someone else should have been with him and shared his fate. However, it was added that there was no suggestion of his innocence, it being added that on the contrary, by more than one expression, he had indirectly admitted his guilt and the justice of his sentence.
Both Samuel Walton and Thomas Nicholson were interred in the precincts of the Durham gaol in plain deal coffins inlaid with shavings which were painted black.
Much of the geography of the area has changed since the crime. The entire area around the Mason’s Arms and Dodd’s Hall has reverted back to woodland, the entirety of Joel Terrace has been demolished, with the Ship Inn standing alone now as the Cricketers arms and most of the works around Felling Shore Road having been developed. The Waste Hilly Ground and the quarry, disused in 1902 is now Bill Quay Community Farm. However, the north side of Gosforth Terrace still appears to be in place.
Mary Ina Stewart was buried in St Mary’s churchyard with a large polished stone column grave stone that reads ‘Erected by a sympathetic public, to the memory of Mary Ina Stewart, who died August 16th 1902, Aged 7 Years’.
see National Archives - HO 144/683/102625
see Cheltenham Chronicle - Saturday 23 August 1902
see Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Friday 22 August 1902
see Sheffield Evening Telegraph - Wednesday 10 September 1902
see Shields Daily Gazette - Wednesday 10 September 1902
see Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette - Tuesday 16 December 1902