John Avery Heritage
Member Southampton Heritage Federation
 Sharing local history with the community
In 1967 the Queen Mary set off on her final voyage to Longbeach, California. This watercolour by Eric Crompton records the farewell.A stone carving on the RSH Hospital Chapel.An afternoon stroll on Plymouth Breakwater
John Avery is a Fellow of the Huguenot Society of Britain and Ireland, a member of Southampton
Heritage Federation, City of Southampton Society [Honorary Life Member], Friends of Southampton Old Cemetery [Honorary Life Member],  Friends of  Town Quay Park, National Federation of Cemetery Friends, The Southampton Fryatt Plaque, Devon Family History Society, West Country Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust , Landmark Trust, National Trust
Copyright 2018

   Home      The Murder of William Pearson

Only a little is known of the background of George Henry Parker who also used the name Hill. His birth was registered in the Aston district [Birmingham] in the summer of 1878 and it was thought that he had 2 or 3 brothers. What is known is that he had been discharged from the army and had a chip on his shoulder in that he believed that he had been dealt with unfairly. He seems to have been a binge drinker but whether this was the cause of the end of his army career or as a result of his discharge is not clear. By August 1900, we find Parker in Portsmouth where he had befriended Mrs Elizabeth Sarah Rowland of 24 Prince Albert Street, Eastney. Lizzie as he called her, recalled that he treated her with kindness and affection and that he was of a very affectionate nature, generous but at times of a short temper. Apart from occasional visits to the theatre the pair spent their time drinking in bars – on the odd occasion he took too much liquor and passed out. Parker returned to his family as he was out of work and his constant expenditure on drink soon exhausted his funds. He told Lizzie that his father would help him out with funds and find him a job and he would return. Parker arrived back in January 1901 and was welcomed with Lizzie to afternoon tea at her mother’s nearby house and they resumed their carefree but somewhat drink led relationship. Lizzie [and presumably her mother] had omitted to tell George Parker that Lizzie was married to James Rowland, a private in the Scottish Rifles on service in India and that her wedding ring was tucked away safely in a drawer in her room.

After his arrival at Portsmouth on 12th January they visited a couple places of entertainment and continued their by now familiar routine of visiting the local bars. Parker decided that before returning to London they should stay together overnight at Southampton so on Wednesday 16th they travelled there by train.  On the following morning as they headed to Southampton West Station they called in at a snug bar to consume more drink and Parker urged Lizzie to stay there as he needed to do some business in the town. In late Victorian England it would be unusual for any reputable lady to sit unaccompanied in a pub but he must have assured her that his mission would be a short one. Parker headed to Bernard Street and purchased a revolver and ten rounds for seven shillings and five pence. Lizzie was not aware of the transaction nor had noticed it in his pocket on his return.  Unless they had come across the dealer whilst out walking around the town, it does raise the question as to how Parker knew the location of such a dealer in Bernard Street.

Lizzie claimed that Parker took but one glass of porter when he returned to the snug and then they left to go to the station and he urged her to accompany him on part of his journey to London promising that he would return to Portsmouth on the Saturday. He bought her ticket to Portsmouth having checked that she should change at Eastleigh just 10 minutes or so up the line and somewhat oddly purchased his own ticket to Eastleigh, not Waterloo. They both boarded the 11-15am train and at Eastleigh he got off to see her onto the Portsmouth train before dashing back to the London train.

Mrs Rhoda King, wife of Thomas George King, a printer, of 35 Exmoor Road had purchased a third class ticket to London as she was to be away a few days to visit a sick relative. She was the only occupant and travelled in the rear carriage with her back to the engine adjacent to a toilet. At Eastleigh a young man boarded [Parker] and sat also with his back to the engine near the door of the carriage, both being in corner seats. She took little attention of him except to note that he had a persistent cough and at times became quite restless. They continued to Winchester when another passenger [William Pearson] joined them and sat in the corner seat opposite Mrs King. There was no sign of recognition between Mr Pearson and Parker and Pearson read his newspaper for a while then appeared to be dozing in response to the rhythm of the train. Just before approaching Surbiton, Parker went into the lavatory and was in there about two minutes.  As the train passed Surbiton, Pearson changed his seat to the other side of the lavatory door.  Mrs King took her ticket out of her purse and lowered the window to check the progress of the journey. She heard two loud shots and spun around, she had not felt the bullet grazing her cheek but the warm blood caused her hand to touch the wound. In shock she focussed on her two companions, Pearson lay still with a shot wound to the temple with blood pouring out and Parker holding the pistol staring at his victim. Mrs King cried “What have you done?” and Parker replied “I did it for the money, have you any money?” It is usual for a robber from a mugger to a highwayman or bank robber to demand money by producing a firearm but less likely to kill the individual first before robbing the individual.

 Their attention was drawn back to Pearson who had gurgling noises in the throat and then the final silence of death. Parker removed a cigar case, a purse and a sovereign from Pearson’s pockets, the sovereign he offered to Mrs King almost as an inducement for her silence which she refused. Her two handkerchiefs were now blood soaked and suddenly reflecting the caring nature that his lady friend at Portsmouth had noticed in his character, Parker offered his own handkerchief but was urged instead to cover the wound and face of the dead victim. Almost as a shock reaction to his misdeeds Parker began incessantly talking that he was from Birmingham and on Saturday night was going to Liverpool [but had earlier promised Lizzie that he would go to Portsmouth] and then to South Africa [however the Union and Castle lines were the principal liner trade to South Africa from London and Southampton and not from Liverpool]. Mrs King realised at this stage that she had to fight for her own survival so offered him one shilling from her purse and went on her knees to beg for her life. This had the effect of calming him down and he mused as to whether he should place the weapon in the hand of the dead man to appear as a suicide. Mrs King told him to throw the gun out of the window and perhaps the bullets from out of his pocket. Parker began to take the advice and lowered the window on the door and hesitated as a repair gang were working that stretch of line. At last he threw it out and Mrs King remembered that it was near to some glass roofed buildings at Nine Elms [this later was helpful for the police when the weapon was recovered].

Mrs King was quite a feisty lady and her calmness helped to keep her alive. As they reached Vauxhall, Parker sprang from his seat and jumped onto the platform. On removing the personal effects from the dead man he had the good fortune to take Pearson’s ticket as otherwise the ticket of Southampton to Eastleigh would have raised questions at the barrier. Mrs King called for help and shouts of “Stop that man” were heard as he ran out of the barrier. A following porter spotted a constable on point duty and urged him to join the chase. Parker eventually after a long chase,  ran into the coke gas chamber rooms of the South Metropolitan Gas Company works and employees joined the chase cornering Parker in the dark chambers next to a parked coal truck. The constable arrested him and took him to Larkhall Lane police station and belatedly Parker realised that Mrs King had triumphed in the situation. He made the remarks “I wish I had killed the woman and then I would have got away had I had killed her”’

Such a thankfully unusual event on a train journey soon attracted the press and rumours began to spread through the LSWR network to Southampton. One person thinking that they were serving a good deed rushed to Mr King at his print works to tell him that his wife was dead having been shot on the train. Mr King passed out at the news and went into deep shock but later a policeman called to tell him that his wife was in St Thomas’ Hospital and that the wound was superficial. Mrs King gave clear lucid statements about the event and after 8 days in hospital was released. She made a very credible witness at the coroner’s inquest and the trial. The judge commended her for her clear thinking and action.

A group of maintenance men searched the track and near to Wandsworth Bridge and retrieved the gun and the police got the dealer in Southampton to confirm it was the weapon sold to Parker.

On Friday, 1st March 1901 Parker appeared at the Central Criminal Courts before Mr Justice Phillimore. His lawyers advised him to plead not guilty on the grounds of diminished responsibility. His defence Mr P. Clark argued that years of heavy drinking with the likelihood of DT’s had produced temporary insanity. The jury was not convinced and the judge sentenced him to execution by hanging.

Parker gave reasons for the shooting both under police interrogation and via letters sent from prison as he awaited his fate.

He claimed that Pearson, a well to do farmer and the brother in law of a London barrister, had caused him harm during his army service and this was an act of revenge. The fact that Pearson boarded the train at Winchester and randomly chose a carriage and seat suggests that Parker had never previously made his acquaintance. Mr Pearson had had no connection to the army.

Parker wrote to Lizzie his friend at Portsmouth and a letter of apology and sympathy to the Pearson family and to his father and variously signed as George Henry Hill  and some as Parker.

Parker claimed that as his life was a miserable one and his lady love was in a very unhappy existence that he had purchased the gun so that when he returned to his love two days later at Portsmouth, he intended to shoot her and himself if he failed to get more money from his father which would end their misery. Lizzie was shocked at this revelation and said her life was not an unhappy one and she had no knowledge that he owned a gun. In writing to his father he confessed a life long weakness to spend, spend money often leaving him penniless. He accepted his fate but emphasised it was completely out of character and queried his own sanity.

Improved control on the sale of handguns in the UK began in 1903, with the Pistols Act, which required the production of a Game or Gun Licence before buying certain kinds of pistol was introduced. 

snowfall Southampton Old Cemetery courtesy FoSOCSeamen's strike at Southampton 1966Royal Blues at Bournemouth c 1949 photo by Derek Amey local historians Jim Brown and John Avery deep in thought. Image Ann MacGillivray Veronica Tippetts addressing Court Leet Oct 2nd 2012. Image Will TempleJohn Melody Southampton Town Crier at Court Leet 2012. Image Will Temple