Murder of John Nisbet, 1910
When cashier John Nisbet was found dead in his railway
compartment it was clear robbery was the motive. The search began
to find Nisbet's murderer: his fellow passenger John Dickman.
An ill-fated journey
On Friday 18 March 1910, John Nisbet, a cashier of the Stobswood
Colliery Company, was travelling on the 10.27 Newcastle train to
On alternate Fridays he travelled from Newcastle to Widdrington
to pay the wages at a colliery near the station. On this particular
day Nisbet carried cash to the value of £370 in a small leather
At Newcastle, Nisbet was recognised by a number of people.
Charles Raven saw him making for the platform. He was accompanied
by another man whom Raven knew by sight but not by name. Two other
colliery cashiers, Hall and Spink, who knew Nisbet, saw him walk
along the platform with a man wearing a light overcoat and get in
the compartment behind them. At the rear of the train, an artist
named Hepple saw Nisbet, a stranger to him, pass by his seat with
John Dickman, a man he knew.
At Heaton, the second station from Newcastle, Mrs Nisbet
normally met her husband and had a brief talk with him before the
train went on its way. When Mrs Nisbet eventually found him, she
saw another man in the compartment with him. The train had stopped
in the shadow of a tunnel but she saw the man's profile and also
saw that the collar of his light overcoat was turned up.
At Stannington, Hall and Spink alighted. As he passed Nisbet,
Hall nodded in friendly fashion and Nisbet responded. Both Hall and
Spink saw that Nisbet was not alone.
Morpeth was the next stop. On arrival a man alighted and handed
the ticket collector his ticket. The collector didn’t pay much
attention but observed the man was wearing a loose overcoat. The
train stood for four minutes at Morpeth to take water and John
Grant, a platelayer, joined it as a passenger. He walked past the
carriage in which Nisbet had been sitting and said later in
evidence that he saw nobody.
Discovery of a body
When the train reached Alnmouth a porter opened the door of
Nisbet’s compartment. It appeared empty but he saw three streams of
blood oozing across the floor and found under the seat the body of
a man, face down. There was a hard felt hat beside the body and a
broken pair of spectacles. The porter called the guard and station
master. It was Nisbet, with five bullet wounds in his head.
The Stobswood Colliery Company offered £100 reward for information
leading to the arrest of the murderer. Information reached the
police that Dickman had been seen in company with Nisbet.
On 21 March, Inspector Tait of Newcastle City Police travelled to
Dickman’s home and ‘invited’ him to the police station where he was
interviewed by Superintendent Weddell.
He made a long statement accounting for his movements which did
not agree with evidence the police already had. Dickman was charged
with Nisbet's murder.
The case against him depended largely on the question of
identification. As has been said, Charles Raven knew Dickman by
sight but not by name. He knew Nisbet quite well and saw both men
walk towards the platform at Newcastle. But he did not see them
enter the compartment together.
Hepple, the artist, knew Dickman but did not know Nisbet. He was
only able to say he saw Dickman on the platform. Hall, one of the
cashiers, knew Nisbet but not the accused.
The bullets found in Nesbit’s head were of two different calibres
and at the times and all through the trial, it was assumed that two
revolvers had been used by the murderer. It is now known that only
one was used and that the murderer had made the smaller bullets fit
by packing paper round them. The murder weapon was never found.
Evidence is presented
A professor of medical jurisprudence at Durham University
examined the prisoner's clothing. There was a dark stain on the
left front of the coat and efforts appeared to have been made to
rub it off. The professor could not say whether it was blood or not
but there was definite traces of blood on a pair of gloves and
inside the pocket of a pair of trousers.
It was obvious that robbery had been the motive. But the
prosecution, of course, were under no obligation to prove motive
because, as Lord Coleridge said at the trial: “motive, if the facts
are clear, is irrelevant.” A month before the trial, a colliery
manager found, the bag Nisbet had been carrying on the day he died.
The bag was found at the bottom of an air shaft at the Isabella Pit
about one-and-a-half miles from Stannington
It had been cut open and the money was missing. The manager had
previously spoken to Dickman about the difficulty of working the
pit because of water.
When Dickman went into the box on 5 July 1910, he admitted that he
knew colliery wages were paid on Fridays and that he had travelled
over the route on a previous Friday.
He denied he was wearing the overcoat described by witnesses and
produced two others. He said the gloves had not been worn for at
least three months but could not explain the comparatively fresh
bloodstains. The marks on the trousers, he said, might have
occurred when he was cutting his corns and the oil on his coat
could have come from his bicycle. He denied that he knew of the
existence of the Isabella Pit.
He said that after leaving Morpeth Station he walked for 30
minutes and then had to lie down in a field because he suffered
from piles. Dickman made a bad impression on the jury. They took
two and a half hours to find him guilty.
Dickman was hanged on 10 August 1910. It was said afterwards that
he had been strongly suspected of the murder of a Jewish
moneylender at Sunderland in 1909. A year later, it was held that
the murder of Nisbet was an accident arising from his employment as
a cashier, which involved more than ordinary risk, and that
therefore his widow was entitled to receive workmen's