A man whose wife died within an hour of him beating her was found not guilty of manslaughter due to her having an underlying heart problem.
On the morning of Sunday 13th October 1839 a lady called Susan Bibby sought the help of Elizabeth Aspinall who lived in a court of Summers Gardens in Kirkdale. This was situated near the corner of Westminster road and Sellar Street. Susan told Elizabeth that her husband William, who worked as a labourer, had been beating her and asked to lie down. As Elizabeth was examining Susan's head the injured woman began vomiting and a doctor was sent for, but within half an hour she was dead.
A crowd had now began to gather around the Bibby household, where William was standing with his back to the wall holding a hammer. When two passing police inspectors went to see what was going on, he threw the hammer down and made no attempt to resist being apprehended.
An inquest took place on 14th October before the coroner Mr P F Curry. A neighbour named Elizabeth Powell told how she had seen William beating Susan through a window, and that she had heard them quarrelling several times in previous weeks. Mrs Aspinall said that Susan was about 41 years of age and a sober woman who had told her prior to slipping into unconsciousness that William hit her with his fists and that she felt like she was dying. This put paid to rumours in the neighbourhood that William had used the hammer to hit his wife.
A young girl named Sarah Rustage said she had heard screams from the Bibby's house and they both came out. She described Susan as staggering and did not see William in possession of any weapon. Another man named Edward Barrow deposed that he had see William hitting Susan but he didn't intervene as the last time he tried to stop a man beating his wife they both turned on him. John Knowles was another man to scared to intervene, saying he had heard that William threw stones at anybody who tired to interfere with his domestic affairs.
The surgeon who had been sent for, Dr Bradbridge, said he carried out a postmortem and found effusions on the chest and brain, but no injuries apart from marks on the neck. Susan had spirits in her stomach and he felt that death was accelerated by the quarrelling and that a fall may have been the cause. The doctor also said that Susan had been known to him for some months due to a heart problem. To summarise, he said, death may have been hastened by violence but not caused by it.
William, who was deaf, was given the depositions of witnesses to read but chose not to put any questions to witnesses. He instead made a statement saying that they had argued as she had broken open a box containing the rent money but denied any knowledge of doing so when he confronted her.
In summing up, Mr Curry said it was one of the most extraordinary cases he had ever dealt with. There was no doubt that violence had been used but it was not necessarily the direct cause of death, however he said that a verdict of manslaughter or murder could still be returned if it hastened it. For murder though, the coroner said there had to be malice aforethought, which didn't appear to be the case. As such he told the jury they needed to decide if the cause of death was manslaughter or a disease of some standing. After some deliberation the jury returned a majority 12-3 verdict of manslaughter.
At the assizes the following April, William appeared before Mr Justice Coleridge. Elizabeth Powell repeated how she had seen him beating his wife, but under cross examination Dr Bradbridge admitted that he could not be sure the death had anything to do with the beating and injuries. He could only say that death might have been hastened by them, but he would not seven wear to that.
Given the evidence of Dr Bradbridge, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty under the direction of the judge and William was freed.