It is quite rare when a rugby player loses their life whilst still active. We all know of course of the tragic passing of Terry Newton in 2010. Here we will look at three different tragedies that saw Wigan players lose their life in peacetime.

John Hatton

John Hatton made his Wigan debut in November 1902 in a Wigan team that was struggling to be relevant - despite a few months earlier moving into their new home at Central Park. In that first season, Hatton managed to make 25 appearances as a forward for the first tea, but as the James Leytham era started to gain momentum from 1903-4, the strength of the Wigan team got better. Hatton found his first team chances dwindle - making 10 appearances in 1903-04 and only three in 1904-05 season. Despite this, Hatton was a sound player for Wigan's dominant "A" team. In 33 matches during the season of 1904-5, 27 matches were won, 2 lost and four matches drawn. Hatton played alongside players such as Bert Jenkins, Neddy Ralph and Windsor Jones, so he was in good company. Towards the end of April, Hatton suffered an injury which left him out of the game. Of course, the end of the season was a game or two away - and he would have had all summer to recuperate but something was wrong with John.

On May 22nd, 1905, John Hatton went to work during the early hours of Monday morning and took his own life. Here was how the inquest into his death was reported in the Wigan Observer:

John Hatton (27), of 4, Warrington-lane Terrace, who for the last two or three seasons was a prominent playing member of the Wigan Rugby Football Club, was found dead in a loft at the works of the Bolton Skin, Hide, and Fat Co., Scholes Bridge, Wigan, on Monday morning. He was found on the floor, with a piece of rope round hi neck and another piece having apparently broken being suspended from a beam. Prior to going to Wigan he was a member of the Warrington Club.


Mr. H. Milligan, the Borough Coroner, held an inquest on the body at the Borough Courts on Tuesday.

Edith Hatton, the widow, gave evidence of identification. She said her husband was a tripe dresser and worked for the Bolton Hide, Skin, and Fat Co. He had complained of his head aching at the beginning of the week, but did not take anything for it. He worked from Tuesday morning up to Saturday at dinner time. He went to bed at midnight on Sunday, and about an hour later she asked hi to fetch some milk. He came back again, and that was the last she saw of him.

The Coroner: The jury would like to know what motive your husband has had to do this? - I have not the least idea.

If he was in good health except a headache there must have been something else to account for it? - I don't know of anything.

William Cotton, who also worked for the same company, stated that he went to his work about five minutes to seven on Monday evening. He did not see deceased: he called him, but got no answer. Hatton usually went to his work about seven o'clock. another employee named Sutcliffe came to the yard and asked where deceased was. They sent to his home, but he was not there. About half-past eleven be had occasion to go in the hay loft, and he found him on the floor. Where he called a man called Whittaker, who wet into the loft. Witness did not notice a piece of rope round his neck.

Walter Whittaker said in consequence of what the last witness told him he went into the hay loft. He found deceased lying on his back with his arms out. On receiving no answer he examined him and found he was dead. The piece of rope (produced) was around his neck about the thickness of his finger in the skin. There was a similar piece tied to the beam, and it appeared to have been broken.

The foreman remarked that the rope was hardly as strong as a clothe line.

The Coroner (to witness): Do you know this man? - Yes, sir.

Can you enlighten us as to what caused him to do this? - I can't. I have not the least idea.

Edmund Wolstenholme, the secretary of the company for whom deceased worked, said Hatton had been employed by the company since they took it over in July last. He was a good workman, and gave satisfaction, and was fully employed.

Asked as to whether he could throw any light on the matter, witness said deceased had not been well for some few weeks, and told witness so. He had ruptured himself, and he thought it had preyed on his mind.

The Coroner: Did that seem to worry him? - Yes.

How long is it? - It has troubled him some two or three weeks.

Witness added that being an active man, playing football, &c. it had worried him.

The Coroner: He thought perhaps it would prevent him playing any longer? - Yes, I thought so.

The jury returned a verdict of "Suicide whilst of unsound mind."

Luke Aspey

Luke Aspey had a short term as a Wigan player. He made three appearances for the first team all coming in 1903. Strangely, Aspey and Hatton (above) started at the club more or less at the same time and played in the Wigan A team together in the forward line. Aspey, who was 28 years of age, would meet a tragic end in November 1903. Aspey had drowned attempting to save the life of a friend who had fallen into the water at Martland Mill. Here is his inquest:

The inquest on the body of Luke Aspey (28), of 97, Standish Lower Ground, who was drowned early on Wednesday morning, was held at the Royal Oak Hotel, Standish Lower Ground, on Friday, by the county coroner, Mr. Parker. It will be remembered that shortly after midnight on Tuesday four men were talking together near Martland Mill, when one, named William Harrison, who was drunk, jumped into the canal. Aspey went to rescue him, but he was not seen again, and Harrison was got out by another man.

John Aspey, the brother, was the first witness.

The Coroner: You are an electric car driver, and live at 244 Gidlow Lane?

Witness: I was up to eleven weeks ago when I was discharged.

The Coroner: You have no need to tell everybody you were discharged.

Witness: But I want everybody to know it. It is no use denying it when you don't know what you were discharged for.

Continuing, in answer to the Coroner, witness said his brother was a drawer. About twenty past eleven he was on his way home, when deceased and two other men passed him in the car going in the direction of Martland Mill Bridge. They were all sober. Witness added that there was some talk about the conduct of the other men. He should like to say something.

The Coroner said, if necessary, he would allow him to say something.

Arthur Worley, a collier, of 14, Lower St. Stephen-street, said about midnight on Tuesday he was with Robert Finney, William Harrison, Aspey and Peet, at Martland Mill, standing on the footpath about six yards from the canal, and then they noticed Harrison was missing. It was foggy, and Aspey ran round to the towing path. Witness then got through the railings and shouted to Harrison, who was swimming in the middle, to come to the side. Aspey shouted something, and then jumped in, and that was the last they saw of him. Witness went to Harrison's rescue, and brought him to the side. With the assistance of Finney, they got him out, and then Police-constable Riley came, and used artificial respiration, and brought him round.

Replying further to the Coroner, he said that Harrison could not have tumbled in the water. He either went underneath the rails or got over.

The Coroner: Was Harrison sober? - No, sir.

The Coroner: Was he very drunk, or how was he? - He was practically drunk.

The Coroner: I think if you, being a collier, say that he was practically drunk we may take it for granted that he was.

Worley also stated that he as the worse for drink, but he knew what he was doing. Aspey, Finney, and Peet were sober. Witness had been with Harrison from seven o'clock that night, and they had been to Shevington, to see about Harrison's new house.

William Harrison, who appeared to have suffered from his immersion, said he lived at Shevington now. He had been with Worley on Tuesday night, and they had a number of drinks. The last played they called at was the Royal Oak, and they took (some) whiskey from there. They met the other three, and drank the whiskey, witness having the biggest share. He didn't remember anything after that, until he was in his brother's house. He didn't recollect being in the canal at all. He had been in the water once before when he was drunk, but he didn't remember doing that. He knew he was wet when he got home.

The Coroner: You see what this has led to. Through you getting into the water this young fellow has lost his life. I think if I was you I would be more careful that you don't take drink to such an extent that you don't know what you are doing.

Harrison: I will never have a single drop as long as I live!

The Coroner: You will be on the safe side if you stick to that.

Robert Finney, of 101, Standish Lower Ground, who was at Wigan with deceased and Joseph Peet, said they had six drinks, and returned home, and met Harrison and Worley at Martland Mill. They got "mauling" about, and getting old of one another in fun. Worley told deceased he would give him a few tips, and they got to having a friendly wrestle. Harrison then had a do with Worley, and he (Harrison) was thrown. He got up and jumped into the canal deliberately. It was not an accident. Aspey then ran round, and they heard him jump into the water. Aspey was a good swimmer. Worley got Harrison out, and then the constable came up. Grappling irons were obtained, and Aspey's body was recovered.

A Juryman (Mr. Ball): Was it true that Harrison said if he could not get Worley down he would throw himself into the canal?

Witness: No, sir.

Joseph Peet, of 132, Standish Lower Ground, was next witness. He deposed to going to Wigan with deceased and Finney, and meeting Harrison and Worley. After the latter two had been wrestling, Harrison jumped into the canal. Worley had nothing to do with it. He did not push him in. Aspey jumped in, but they lost sight of him. Worley then went and got Harrison out. They kept shouting to Aspey, but could not hear him.

Police-constable Riley, of the Borough Police Force, was present, but the Coroner said they did not require his evidence.

John Aspey, who was allowed to remain in the room, in answer to the Coroner, said he was perfectly satisfied with the evidence. He should like to add that he considered those men who were present, did their best for his brother. There was a suggestion that they watched him drown, but he wanted to contradict that, and thank everyone for their efforts for trying artificial respiration.

The Coroner said if Harrison had been drowned, and might have been, that the enquiry would have been of a more searching and exhaustive character. It was a very narrow thing, whether he jumped in or whether he fell in as the result of the wrestle. He was, undoubtedly drunk, and he would be just as bad in the water as on the land. As regarded Aspey, he thought they would all come to the conclusion that he had come by his death accidentally in performing a courageous action. It seemed a pitiable thing that that thing should have happened, as it was through the excessive use of drink, not so far as Aspey was concerned, that had brought about the occurrence. The Coroner also referred to the efforts made by Police-constable Riley, of the Borough Police Force, who restored animation in the man Harrison. He applied artificial respiration for fifty minutes, and at the end he came round. It was a very meritorious thing to do, and he considered that everybody should learn how to be of use on an occasion such as that.

The jury returned a verdict of "Accidental death."