Unsolved Murders

James McNally

Age: unknown

Sex: male

Date: 1 Jan 1936

Place: SS Cameronia

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

James McNally was stabbed on the SS Cameronia on the High Seas on New Year's Day 1936.

A trimmer was tried for his murder but acquitted.

It was heard that the trimmer had struck James McNally on the head whilst aboard the British Liner Cameronia on the High Seas and within the jurisdiction of the Admiralty of England.

The SS Cameronia was a steamship in the Anchor Line.

James McNally had been a fireman onboard the ship.

As well as the charge of murder against the trimmer he was also charged with the attempted murder of another seaman who he had struck over the head with a blunt instrument and inflicting grievous bodily harm on another seaman who he struck on the head with a can.

It was suggested the trimmer had thought that some money had been stolen from him.

The trimmer was arrested when the SS Cameronia docked at Southampton from Singapore on Monday 6 January 1936.

It was heard that at about 6.30 or 6.45 James McNally and some two other men were asleep in the same cabin when they were attacked. Another man that was in the cabin said that he was awoken by a thud and some groaning and that when he looked he saw the first thing he saw was a piece of wood coming down on one of the seaman's heads. He said that he didn't see who was holding the wood but said that somebody then hurried away.

At the trial is was heard that that somebody was the trimmer.

It was later heard that the trimmer had later gone into the forecastle where he said to another sailor, 'I done it'.

It was also heard that the trimmer had said to the second engineer, 'These two men have robbed me of £2 5s. They cut the pocket out when I was asleep. I want these men searched and their lockers searched'. It was heard that the trimmer had appeared very angry at the time. It was said that he had also later pointed at his pocket and said, 'Look at this.They had £2 5s from me. What would you do?'. It was also heard that in a further statement he had said, 'I hit him all right'.

It was also heard that the trimmer had also met the other seaman in an alley way and had spoken to him and then hit him on the head with a dixie and said, 'Get down with the others'.

It was also said that the trimmer said to another seaman, 'I have fixed those two down there. They won't 'roll' anybody else'. The seaman said that he took the term 'roll' to mean that he would not rob anyone else.

James McNally was buried at sea after the ship left Gibraltar.

When the ship reached Southampton and the police inspector saw the trimmer, he said, 'I picked up a piece of wood. I only say that what I did was in self-defence. I only want justice. I reserve my defence'.

It was later heard that a seaman that had been working in the stoke hole with one of the other men said that the other man who was hit on the head with the piece of wood later in the cabin had left the stoke hole without permission and when he returned shortly afterwards he was in an agitated condition. The seaman said that he then saw the seaman take some money from his pocket and count it. He said that he saw three 10s notes and some silver and noted that it was unusual for a man to be counting money while working in the stoke hole.

However, it was noted that when James McNally and the other man that was attacked in the cabin were searched that neither of them had had any money on them.

It was said that the prosecution stated that the trimmer had attacked James McNally and the other two seamen purely and simply from the motive of revenge upon the mere suspicion that they had robbed him.

At the trial in March 1936 the trimmer said that he did not remember hitting James McNally. He said that when he found his money missing he went to the forecastle where the men were and questioned the other seaman over it. He said that when the other seaman looked around, apparently for a boot or shoe to use as a weapon he closed with him, stating, 'I only acted in self-defence'.

He was acquitted of the murder of James McNally as well as the attempted murder of the other seaman but was convicted of unlawfully wounding the third seaman that he had hit with the can in the passage and sentenced to nine months imprisonment.


*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.


see Portsmouth Evening News - Tuesday 03 March 1936

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 07 January 1936

see Western Daily Press - Saturday 04 January 1936

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 07 January 1936

see Western Morning News - Friday 10 January 1936