Fate of Pasha Liffey, 1905

In Summer 1905, Messrs May & Cyclops hosted a travelling boxing saloon tent in Blantyre. The business employed several “star” boxers who would take on local men for big prizemoney, usually generated by purse monies of the audiences.

One such fight took place between Blantyre’s Joe Smith and one of the travellers, Mr. Pasha Liffey. Joe went on to win the fight, which was extremely well attended. Published well in advance, the fight attracted many people from beyond Blantyre too and the name Pasha Liffey became well known in Lanarkshire. However, the name would be remembered for a very different reason, only a few weeks afterwards of this fight.

20 year old Pasha Liffey was a black native of Basutoland in Africa who had served with the British during the Boer War. He emigrated to Scotland after the war and took work with the “Savage South Africa Show,” a travelling fairground attraction.  He came to Britain in the company of a returning army unit which he had assisted during the Boer War by acting as a runner behind the lines.

He lived in Larkhall in Lanarkshire where a black face was an extreme rarity in 1905. Later he was promoted by the fair owners to join them on a travelling circuit and be their resident boxer and took on all challengers. The crowd loved battling Pasha for he could do no wrong and usually won. This was perhaps because he was only 9 stone, only 5 foot 2″ and would take on men significantly taller. (Joe Smith was a whole foot taller!)

Pasha was in Blantyre in Summer 1905 for a short time as part of the travelling boxing booth and the crowd soon got to know just what a formidable boxer he was. However on Thursday 10th August, 1905 he was released from employment by the travellers and did not take to this kindly. He set about to get drunk and headed home to Larkhall. The next day on Friday 11th August 1905, around 8pm he was thrown out of the London Hotel in Larkhall for being drunk.

Then, within that hour, a miner James Carberry was walking along the road in Larkhall when he saw a black man near a woman who was lying motionless on the ground. The miner approached and said that the man brandished a knife at him and threatened him if he came closer. However, the miner went nearer and the man threw the knife away and fled. He recognised the man immediately as being Pasha Liffey. When the miner looked closer he saw that the woman had been stabbed in the neck, bloodied around the face and neck and was clearly dead. Her upper clothing had been loosened. James attempted to chase Liffey but lost him. Liffey broke into the offices of a nearby coal mine where he stole some clothes to change into and where he left his own blood stained ones. Meantime, a lynch mob had assembled and had been out looking for him.

The following morning he returned to the scene and asked passers by the way to Hamilton. He was recognised immediately and the police were called. He was arrested shortly afterwards by Sergeant Stewart. Mary Welsh (63) was found with her throat cut and slashed, particularly on the left side where her windpipe was almost severed and she had died within a few minutes from blood loss. A post-mortem on Mary found that she had been raped too. When Pasha Liffey was arrested the miner who had seen him said that he had no difficulty in recognising him as the man that he had seen by the body of Mary Welsh holding the knife. When Pasha was arrested his hands and forehead were covered in blood and his knees were skinned and ruffled.

Mary Welsh had lived with her husband at 33 Dykehead Rows in Larkhall. Her husband said that she had previously been out to Larkhall to do some messages and when she got back she had forgotten to get his rum and so she went out again. Shortly after a lad came to her house and told her husband that his wife was in the street and he went out to see her lying on the side of the road in her blood with a wound in her neck.

Liffey was tried at Glasgow before Lord Justice Adam on the 24th of October 1905. The defence was that a) he was drunk and b) that he was a savage who knew no better. The jury didn’t accept the first of these which would have resulted in a manslaughter verdict, but did recommend him to mercy. Pasha Liffey (20) was convicted of the murder of Mary Jane Welsh, 63 and sentenced to death.

During the first week of November 1905, Mr Nat Cochrane, a solicitor in Hamilton came to Blantyre to collect the many petitions in Blantyre shops asking for some leniency in the death sentence. In the short time Pasha fought in Blantyre, he had become a favourite of the time, and there were those who found the death sentence barbaric, putting their names to a fairly large petition.

Leniency was not forthcoming and Blantyre petitions to no avail. Pasha Liffrey was duly hanged by Henry Pierrepoint at Glasgow’s Duke Street prison on Tuesday the 14th of November 1905.

Leave a Reply