A Family Legacy

Mayor Thomas McNoughton

When Thomas McNaughton died the family wanted a quiet funeral. On Monday 20 July 1896 his body was borne by carriage from his home at 3 Queens Square Blackpool to Blackpool Cemetery at Layton at midday, while the bells of Christ Church and St John’s peeled. Following the hearse was a landau laden with tributes. In attendance were councillors, doctors, senior council employees and the Chief Constable.

Thomas embodied the second generation of Blackpool Council and his era coincided with Blackpool's golden age. The Tower, the tram system, current St John’s, the Town Hall, the Winter Gardens and The Grand were all built between 1860 and 1901. Blackpool Tower is a symbol of this astonishing enterprise.

The tram system allowed people to live further from the centre, and suburbs developed. So farmers sold agricultural land for building, the tram system had a customer base and builders and their employees benefited, and housing needs were met. The expansion fuelled further expansion. Councillors were businessmen who promoted their interests by promoting the growth of the town.

Dr Thomas McNaughton was in the thick of it. He was born in Glasgow and after a start in business he studied medicine. Photographs of Thomas show a burly man. He was an outstanding student, won many prizes and was chosen by his professor to demonstrate anatomy to other students. When he qualified he worked in Cumbria and Bolton. In April 1873 he married Miss Jane Ann Dickson at Marton Church.

At his funeral Rev N S Jeffrey said plaintively that Thomas came to church even when he was ill: "Unfortunately medical men did not come to church in great numbers now." He did not know why.

Thomas McNaughton died on 16 July 1896 on the Steamship Columba out of Glasgow. He had suffered from heart problems and seemed to be recovering. He always found that a holiday in Scotland restored his health. When Blackpool was incorporated in 1876 he was one of the first aldermen (for Claremont) until 1892. He was twice mayor in 1879 and 1880. He became a magistrate in 1887. In addition to his medical practice he was involved in many local businesses such as the Metropole. As the funeral orations took place and Thomas McNaughton was praised for his courtesy, something about Thomas McNaughton was not said.

Thomas’s half-brother, Daniel attempted to assassinate the Prime Minister, Robert Peel and successfully killed Robert Peel's secretary, Edward Drummond. He was incarcerated in a lunatic asylum. Daniel's trial resulted in a change to legal practice.

Daniel M'naghten (this is how it was usually spelled) was the illegitimate son of Daniel M'naghten Senior, who was also father to Thomas McNaughton. When Daniel's mother Ada died he lived with his father's family and was trained as a woodturner in his father's factory. He then worked as an actor for three years and in 1835 started business in Glasgow as a wood turner. Daniel prospered. He was sober, frugal and anxious to learn. He studied politics and taught himself French. He was a political radical and employed other radicals.

In 1840 Daniel sold his business and stayed in London for two years. He briefly visited France. In 1842 he returned to Glasgow and attended lectures on anatomy. He complained to various people including MPs and his father that he was being persecuted by "The Tories."

On 20 January 1843 Edward Drummond, the secretary of the Prime Minister Robert Peel, was walking towards Downing Street from Charing Cross when Daniel drew a pistol and shot him. Before Daniel could draw a second pistol he was overpowered. It is thought that Daniel had intended to kill Robert Peel. (Remember that in those days the faces of politicians were not well known). Drummond did not appear to be badly hurt and he walked away, but later died. His death was probably caused by medical treatment. The most common medical intervention was bleeding, when a vein was opened and blood taken. This had gone on for two thousand years when a naval statistician demonstrated that it had the effect of shortening life. It is possible that the overall effect of the medical profession has been to shorten life, that was indisputably the case in 1843. A contemporary pamphlet by an Army doctor blamed the death on excessive bleeding.

During the trial Daniel's father took charge of Daniel's legal defence. They offered evidence that Daniel was suffering from mental problems or what we would call paranoid delusions. Daniel was convinced that "The Tories" were planning to kill him. So convincing was the case that the prosecution declined to proceed and Daniel was transferred to an asylum.

Queen Victoria was unamused. She had been a victim of assassination attempts herself. As a result, the House of Lords examined the case and produced what are called the M'naghten rules, which set the legal test for criminal insanity which still apply today.

There are grounds to say that all assassinations are conspiracies. Most puzzlingly was that Daniel had £750. That is equivalent to £75,000 today - a lot of money for a wood turner who hadn't worked for two years! It is entirely possible that Daniel was under observation by the early intelligence services. It was a time of social unrest and the authorities may have kept tabs on a wealthy radical who employed other radicals and took trips to France. Finally there was the speed and decisiveness with which his legal defence was assembled. However the most likely explanation is that Daniel was mentally ill.

Did Thomas McNaughton, respected Mayor and pillar of the community, know Daniel M'naghten, assassin? Daniel was born in 1813, and Thomas in 1834, so there was a sizeable age difference. Daniel and Thomas's father (also called Daniel) made no effort to conceal his illegitimate son. He employed him and came to his aid when he was on trial. Following the death of Edward Drummond, Daniel Senior could have had kept his head down, but instead he intervened decisively. Daniel's behaviour towards his illegitimate son was very decent. At a guess Thomas may have met Daniel but that they were not closely acquainted. An interest they did share was anatomy; Daniel attended lectures.

I do not know where Daniel is buried, possibly an anonymous grave at Broadmoor, but you can visit Thomas McNaughton's magnificent tomb in Layton Cemetery. Although Thomas McNaughton had a profound impact on Blackpool during his lifetime and is embedded in our local history, Daniel’s legacy lives on through the McNaghton rules, which has had a profound impact of its own, nationally for over 150 years.

Martin O’Callahan

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