20th March 1846

St Helier gunman is sentenced to death

It was 1am in Seward’s Café, a late-night St Helier coffee house. Travelling optician Simeon Levi was waiting for the steamer back to the mainland, and Seward, having refused to serve a drunk Thomas Nicolle, had thrown the latter out.

Nicolle wasn’t going to take the humiliation lying down. He came back with a shotgun and fired indiscriminately, killing Levi and injuring Mary Cook. On 18th March, he appeared in court, charged with murder.

Nicolle’s advocate argued that his client was only angry with the landlord, not Levi, and therefore should not be charged with Levi’s murder. Moreover, having drunk both gin and champagne on the night in question, he was hardly able to know what he was doing.

These arguments were weak and ultimately unsuccessful, and at 11pm Nicolle was found guilty by a majority of nine jurists to three. However, as Mary Le Gendre had done in her trial, which was running at the same time, he exercised his right to have the case heard again before a grand jury. This convened two days later, on 20 March 1846.

A brief hearing

Alas, for Nicolle, his appeal was in vain. The hearing was again over within the day, and the jury found him “more guilty than innocent”. The attorney general argued that he should therefore “be delivered into the hands of the executioner or executioners of the law, to be conducted by them to the place of execution, with the rope around his neck, and there to be hanged and strangled until he be dead”. Although this was the customary penalty for anyone found guilty of murder – and it was indeed passed – one of the judges had been in a minority in preferring to pass a sentence of transportation to Australia for life.

The date of his execution was set to be three weeks after the sentence was passed, to give him time to appeal to the queen for clemency. Nicolle’s advocate travelled to London to meet with the home secretary to discuss the case and the appeal for clemency, arguing that the verdict was not unanimous, the jury was composed of too few men, and Nicolle was insane.

The arguments were convincing, and the following month the home secretary recommended that the queen commute the sentence to transportation for life, likely pleasing that one more lenient judge.

An unnecessary post mortem

When the Western Times had reported the murder on 28 February, it was seemingly more enraged by the bill of £13, 12 shillings and six pence issued to cover the expense of holding Levi’s body and performing a post mortem, for which three doctors were required at a cost of £2 apiece.

As the paper pointed out, Levi had been in fine health and been killed by a shotgun, so it seems unlikely that a post mortem really was required to determine the cause of death. “The island has got a character for extortion, which may partly arise out of the disappointment of travellers in not finding everything so cheap as they expected; but where such rapacity predominates in the laws, what can be expected from individuals?” it asked.


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Other events that occured in March