Posted by: Graham | July 7, 2009

Wed July 6th 1910 Dickman hanged for murdering Nesbit Cashier of Widdrington Hanged Aug 9th

John Dickman was convicted of the murder of John Nisbet (not Nesbit) a colliery cashier on a train between Newcastle and Alnmouth and was hanged at Newcastle Jail on the 10th August 1910.

John Dickman

John Dickman

John Nisbet’s body was found on the train at Alnmouth Station by a porter. He had been shot five times in the head. A bag containing £370, he was was bringing from a bank in Newcastle, to pay the colliery wages was missing. It was later found at the bottom of a disused mine shaft near Morpeth.

John Dickman was brought up in Great Lumley in County Durham, only nine miles from Burnhope. However, the murder and subsequent trial was a sensational one and it became news around the world. Dickman had been a clerk at the Morpeth Colliery and then had drifted around. He became a profesional gambler, but by the time of the murder he was overdrawn and owed money and had had to pawn items with pawnbrokers.

Dickman was convicted on largely circumstantial evidence, which led many to question the conviction.

Dickman was on the train and knew Nisbet. Several witnesses testified that they saw Dickman with Nisbet. Professor Robert Boland of Durham University gave evidence that he had found blood on a glove and on a pair of trousers that Dickman had worn on the day of the murder and that Dickman’s Burberry overcoat displayed signs of being rubbed vigorously with paraffin, which could be used to remove blood stains. Dickman’s poor financial details were brought into evidence. Dickman had bought a ticket to Stannington, but got off in Morpeth, so had to pay an excess fare. Dickman’s explanation of the reason for this was very vague.

All of this evidence was very circumstantial; no murder weapon was ever found (in fact forensic evidence suggested that two different guns had been used, which would be very strange for a single murderer), no one witnessed the murder, but what seems to have been damning for Dickman was his lack of defence other than denial and unconvincing account of events. The jury took more than two and a half hours to reach their guilty verdict. The judge said “in your hungry lust for gold you had no pity upon the victim whom you slew” and pronounced the death sentence.

There was a strong campaign on Dickman’s behalf and Churchill as the Home Secretary became involved and asked for further investigations. However, in the end he concluded that the sentence should stand. The Court of Appeal had also decided that the original verdict was safe.

Dickman was the last man hanged in Newcastle Jail. He went to his death with dignity and a stoicism, still protesting his innocence. The Newcastle Evening Chronicle reported that Dickman “marched to his execution as erect as a soldier, never flinching, even when the rope came into view.” The hangman was John Ellis.

Subsequently a prisoner confessed to the murder and many have thought his trial a major miscarriage of justice. However, others have linked Dickman to another unsolved mystery of the murder of Caroline Luard, who was shot near Ightham in Kent in 1908. There were even allegations of a conspiracy to frame Dickman for the Nisbet murder.

The case has been the subject of a number of books and television programmes. We will never know in the end, whether Dickman was a double murderer, the murderer of Nisbet or entirely innocent.  However, this was a major case reported on from the USA to Australia.


Real Crime
Newcastle Train Murder


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