Now one of Liverpool’s many dock warehouses that have been converted to apartments, Waterloo Dock was once the site of a racially fuelled fracas that led to a foreign seaman being transported for seven years.
The dock itself was opened in 1834 and designed by Jesse Hartley, who would go on to design the Albert Dock. By the 1850s it was commonly used for Trans-Atlantic shipping, with faster services available due to the onset of steamships and also increasing demand with increasing Irish emigration to America because of the famine.
One of the steamships which carried emigrants from Waterloo Dock was the Squantum, which sailed to Boston and New Orleans. This 646 ton ship was launched in Massachusetts in 1846 and could carry around 250 passengers. It was on this ship that a disturbance took place leading to a man being stabbed and his foreign assailant facing transportation.
On Friday 15th July 1853 between 6pm and 7pm a row broke out between two groups of seamen on the ship, the Liverpool Mercury describing it as between groups of ‘Coloured and European’. The first mate Robert McCrae was called and went on deck to find Richard Williams ‘jawing’ at one of the Europeans. McCrare told Williams that if he could not get on with the Europeans then all Coloured men would have to leave the ship and went to grab hold of him to escort him off the vessel. Williams moved forward to head butt McCrae, who acted fast to defend himself by striking out with a piece of wood. This caused Williams head to bleed heavily and he was taken to his berth to be treated for his injury.
Just five minutes after going back to his berth Williams was back on deck where McCrae was walking alone. Approaching the first mate from behind, Williams stabbed him in the side and McCrae tried to hit back with a marlinespike, which missed. Williams then stabbed him again, this time in the arm, leading to McCrae staggering and falling into the dock, from where he was quickly rescued and taken to the Northern Hospital.
Williams was arrested as he attempted to leave the ship and faced a nervous wait in custody as McCrae was badly injured. By 23rd July he was able to be discharged and at the police court three days later his attacker was committed for trial at the next assizes. Appearing before Justice Wightman on 18th August Williams claimed to have acted in self defence, saying he had the knife in his hand at the time he was assaulted with the wood so there was no premeditation. This explanation was not accepted though as five minutes elapsed between that incident and the stabbing taking place. It led to Williams being convicted of stabbing with intent to do grievous bodily harm and he was sentenced to be transported for seven years.
Any slight hopes Williams may have had of resuming employment on the Squantum were dashed around the time of his release, when the ship sank with the loss of three lives off the coast of India whilst sailing from Boston to Bombay. Waterloo Dock remained in use for shipping until 1988 and is now apartments.