Liverpool, being a major port and
entry point into the U. K. had a large Chinese community. Lock Ah Tam,
at 54, had been a successful and well respected man who ran the European
branch of Jack Ah Tai organisation for Chinese dock workers, the Chinese
Progress Club and was superintendent of Chinese sailors for three
steamship companies in Liverpool.
He was married with three children and
had a reputation as a peacemaker, being able to sort out conflicts
However in February 1918 while having
a drink in the his club he was attacked and hit over the head by a group
of drunken Russian sailors. This blow to the head, although not at the
time serious enough to warrant hospital treatment, was to alter Tam's
personality completely - he began to drink heavily and have violent mood
His life deteriorated rapidly until on
the night of the 2nd of December 1925 he shot dead his wife and his two
daughters at their home, after a party. After the killings he rang the
police and told them to come and arrest him.
He came to trial at Chester Assizes in
February 1926 and was defended by Britain's foremost counsel, Sir Edward
Marshall Hall. The defence was one of insanity due to automatism caused
by an epileptic seizure brought on by the blow to the head seven years
earlier. This failed, as it could be shown that Tam did know what he had
done and that it was wrong, because he had telephoned the police
The jury returned a guilty verdict
after 12 minutes of deliberation and tears were seen running down the
face of Mr. Justice McKinnon as he sentenced Tam to die. He was duly
executed by William Willis on the morning of Tuesday 23rd of March 1926.
Lock Ah Tam
Born in Canton in 1872, Lock came to England as a
ship's steward. He settled in Birkenhead and became an organiser of
Chinese dockyard labour, rising to a position of some importance and
standing. The docks in the early twentieth century could be violent
places and he was often involved in fights with sailors. During one such
fight in 1918 he received a severe head injury.
After this incident his behaviour became increasingly
erratic. He started drinking heavily and, in 1924, was declared bankrupt.
On 1 December 1925 the family held a party to celebrate his son's twenty-first
birthday. After the guests had left Lock shot his wife and two daughters.
He telephoned the police and told them what he had done.
His defence, led by Sir Edward Marshall Hall, was one
of insanity and suggested that the man was in a state of automatism at
the time of the killing, induced by an epileptic fit caused by the head
injury. This did not impress the jury and they only took twelve minutes
to find him guilty and he was duly hanged at Walton gaol on 23 March