A LOVE story which saw a sailor swap the sunshine of the West Indies for the windswept coast of West Hartlepool should have ended “happily ever after”. Instead, it finished in tragedy.
“Things certainly began happily enough, when Jamaican sailor Thomas Thompson fell in love with a lass called Emily, marrying her in 1885 and settling in Hartlepool,” said historian Norman Kirtlan.
The man who had swapped life on the open sea for the love of a Hartlepool woman would face the rest of his days in prison.Norman Kirtlan
“Trouble started, however, when Thomas was called back to his ship. After several months on the high seas, he returned to find Emily three months pregnant - and the mathematics just didn’t add up.
“None the less, after she reassured him the baby was his, Thomas was overjoyed. But, when Emily gave birth to a blue-eyed, blond-haired boy, all the old suspicions were soon stirred up again.”
The good-natured sailor decided to give the child “seven weeks, to see if its skin would turn dark” he later told the police. When the boy remained fair-skinned, however, Thomas exploded in anger.
“Madam, that child is not the child of a coloured man. You are a white woman and I am a coloured man. That child should be more like me than it is if it had been mine,” he yelled at his young wife.
Emily initially denied infidelity, but later claimed her doctor had made her pregnant “while curing her ailments”. Thomas, who loved her deeply, forgave her - and cared for the baby boy as his own.
However, after swapping his career at sea for one in the shipyards, Thomas was left broken-hearted one day in March 1899 - after returning to his Ada Street home to find the little lad had disappeared.
Despite demanding answers from his wife, Emily would only state: “I will not tell you. All I will say is that he has been taken away to be educated.” With that, Thomas had to be satisfied.
“His infinite patience was then stretched to the limits when Emily took in a lodger, West Indian sailor Isaac Phillips, with whom the heartless woman got on like a house on fire,” said Norman.
“Nightly, as Thomas retired upstairs to bed, Emily and Isaac would remain downstairs. She refused to join her husband, despite his pleas, while Isaac engaged her in hours of laughter and whispering.
“Bursting with jealous emotions and anger, Thomas demanded that Issac leave the house, but the man simply refused - and Emily, taking his part, refused to allow him to go.”
As the days and weeks followed, so Isaac and Emily grew closer and closer. At night, lying alone in bed, Thomas was driven to distraction by their whispers - provoking him to hit Emily at least once.
Indeed, so desperate did Thomas become that he even stopped a policeman to ask for advice. But the officer, having attended several domestic disputes at 50 Ada Street, offered little help.
“I cannot interfere between a man and his wife,” he told Thomas. “If your wife says the lodger can stay, you’ll have to get a solicitor to get him out! “
Seething with jealousy, and not knowing where to turn,Thomas visited an ironmonger and bought a small handgun. It was another few weeks, however, before the whispering pushed him to murder.
The first the world knew of the tragedy at Number 50 was on May 15, 1899 - when Emily’s “fancy man” Isaac dashed from the house, telling neighbour William Liddell to “Fetch a policeman”.
He then deposited a smoking gun into Liddell’s arms, revealing “Thompson has shot his wife”, before running back inside - where he discovered Thomas about to assault Emily once again.
“Philips, a ship’s cook, bravely intervened - only to have his throat slashed open by a knife that Thompson was concealing. Thompson then attempted to rip out Philips’ windpipe,” said Norman.
“When PC Taylor arrived breathlessly at the house, he ran upstairs to find Thompson kneeling over a blood-soaked Philips. Emily Thompson was quite dead in the next room, shot through her breast.
“Philips lingered on for a few days. But he was critically injured and, when pneumonia set in, he passed away as well.
“Thomas was now a double murderer and his trial would follow weeks later.”
Thompson made a “flimsy attempt” to blame the whole tragedy on an accident - but the jury refused to believe him. After the man was found guilty of two murders, there was only one sentence - death.
The jury did, however, recommend that mercy be shown and shortly before Thomas Thompson was due to hang, he received the news that mercy had indeed been shown.
“The man who had swapped life on the open sea for the love of a Hartlepool woman would face the rest of his days in prison. And all because of those whispers,” said Norman.
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ALSO IN THE NEWS IN 1899
• Hartlepool Electric Tramways Company - a subsidiary of British Electric Traction - purchased the assets of Hartlepools Steam Tramways Company in January 1899.
On March 10, 1899, the firm opened a Clarence Road to Foggy Furze line - as well as one from Stockton Street to Ward Jackson Park - using five Brush Electrical Engineering Company trams.
• Two Hartlepool ships built in 1899 suffered tragic ends. The Harriet was mined and sink near Long Sand Light Vessel in March 1916, while the Kilnsea was wrecked in the China Sea in 1929.
• West Hartlepool Cricket Club - founded in May 1855 - joined North Yorkshire and South Durham League in 1899.
Immediate success followed, with ‘A’ Division Championship wins from that year until 1902, and then again in 1908 and 1913.
• Hartlepool’s Grand Hotel, built from red brick with yellow terracotta in the style of a French chateau, opened in 1899 - and was originally a British Railway Hotel.
• New life was breathed into Heugh Battery - originally built to protect the port and shipbuilding centre of Hartlepool from attack in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars - in 1899.
Advances in weapon technology over the years had seen Heugh downgraded to a volunteer practice site by 1893, but in 1899 the site was reactivated and new MK VII coastal defence guns installed.
The battery went on to make history in 1914, when it engaged three German battleships in shore-to-ship combat - the only such action by a British battery during the entirety of the Great War.
• North Eastern Railways began to construct its Hartlepool-Seaham connection in 1899. Viaducts were built over four large denes - the most spectacular being at Seaton Carew and Hawthorne Dene.