1846 manslaughter conviction after pub brawl
St Helier was a busy port in the mid-19th century. The Chronique de Jersey provides a good record of ship movements, and also of the troubles the crews go into when tavern brawls got out of hand.
On Wednesday 17 December 1845 the newspaper reported that 23 ships had entered port and 16 had left the previous week. They came and went to a surprising variety of ports, including Guernsey, Southampton, London, Hartlepool, Newcastle and Liverpool; St Malo, Granville and St Brieuc, in France, and such overseas ports as Lisbon and Havana.
This could be a headache for Constable of St Helier Pierre Le Sueur and his Centeniers, who were kept busy removing drunks from the streets, breaking up tavern brawls and investigating more serious crimes when arguments between sailors turned to violence.
Among the arrivals on the 12th had been the Comus, a coal ship from Hartlepool, skippered by Capt Gotterel with John Noon as mate. As soon as the crew were allowed ashore they began drinking.
William Le Gros' inn in Mulcaster Street was a favourite tavern close to the piers and on the night of 13 December 13 it was packed with seamen including Noon, who had booked a room for the night with friend Thomas Hodge, a crewman from the schooner Syren.
But by 11 o'clock that night Hodge was found lying dead on the floor by Constable’s Officer Jean Du Parcq, and a fight was still in progress.
The Constable was called, along with Henry Luce Manuel, another Constable's Officer, and they questioned everybody present. Most were sailors from the Syren, who had been sitting at the same table, drinking, laughing and joking when the mistress of the house took exception to their language.
Noon, well the worse for wear for drink, refused to be quiet and the landlord ordered him out. He refused and while Hodge was trying to manhandle him outside, he was stabbed in the thigh with a knife.
Hodge fell to the floor holding a large gash in his leg which was bleeding profusely. This is when the brawl started, allowing Noon to escape before the police arrived. A doctor was called for but Hodge had already bled to death from a severed artery.
Constable Le Sueur, Centenier George Le Cronier and Constable's Office Manuel went to the Comus and Le Cronier found Noon asleep, although he denied that he was the wanted man and then escaped again during the confusion which followed. After another scuffle he was detained and taken to prison.
He refused to confirm that he had been at the tavern with Hodge and became violent, breaking the furniture in his cell. Constable Le Sueur decided that he had sufficient eye-witness statements to charge Noon with murder and he was brought before the Royal Court two days later.
First court hearing
Defended by Advocate Francois Godfray Noon appeared before Bailiff Jean de Veulle and entered a plea of ‘not guilty’.
Constable Le Sueur presented the case and said that the accused's hat had been found in Le Gros' inn and identified by several of the seamen present that night.
Capt gave evidence that, when he had last seen Noon, he had been perfectly sober. This was at 7 o'clock on the evening of the fight.
Other witnesses were called who identified Noon and the bloodstained clothes of Thomas Hodge, which were exhibited to the Court.
Advocate Godfray asked for more time to prepare his case, to which the Court agreed, despite the opposition of the Attorney-General.
As was common at the time, a second trial was followed by the ultimate hearing before a Grande Enquete on 10 February 1846, presided over by Lieut-Bailiff Edward Leonard Bisson, with fellow Jurats Philippe Winter Nicolle, Charles Bertram, Jean Le Couteur, Philippe Picot, Jean Pelgue, Philippe be Gallais and Francois Arthur.
The jury comprised Jean Chevalier, Richard Du Parcq, Thomas Sorel, Jean Binet, Henry Mahy, Philippe Fauvel, Daniel Trachy, Jean Alexandre, Jean Marett, Charles Le Gallais, George Coutanche, Thomas Monamie and James Dumaresq.
Noon admitted stabbing Hodge but said that he did not mean to kill him, and the Court found him guilty of manslaughter rather than murder, undoubtedly sparing his life. The Court decided to petition the Queen for a sentence of transportation for a period of at least seven years, with all his property confiscated.
The records of the Privy Council that only a fortnight later, in the presence of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, at Buckingham Palace, the Court’s findings were upheld and the Queen ordered:
- "John Noon to be transported out of the Island of Jersey to Van Diemen's land, or some one or other of the Islands adjacent thereto, for the term of seven years. The period of his transportation to commence from the 10th day of February 1846."