Cloak and Dagger Tale Lives on
Message from beyond the grave: The grave of Lt Walker
Here I looks at a mysterious death in Victorian Pembrokeshire:
For the most part, the trials held in the Shire Hall, Haverfordwest reflect the misery of human existence during the Victorian era.
A few, most notably those involving infanticide, allow a tiny glimpse of mercy; Mary Prout of Narberth was condemned to death for the murder of her child but was spared following a local petition being presented through the then-Home Secretary to Queen Victoria.
Also during the early 1870s, two Neyland women - a mother and daughter - were tried for the murder of the daughter’s child but were acquitted. And Hannah Williams of Fishguard was found not guilty of poisoning her husband.
But W D Phillips relates in Old Haverfordwest the details of another murder case in 1875 that was so unusual that it is considered unique.
In late May 1875, at Hubberston Fort, just outside Milford, some officers went into their mess to find Lt Philip Carroll Walker dying, a knife sticking out of his chest.
Also in the room was Dr Alder; both men had been drinking heavily.
Lt Walker gasped out that the men must not blame Dr Alder.
He said that he could see how it must look to them but Dr Alder was entirely innocent and what happened was an accident.
Lt Walker was rushed to the fort hospital where he lasted for a whole week.
During that period he sometimes deliriously, and occasionally with complete lucidity, kept altering his story.
At times it was “that Alder did for me... he killed me... for God’s sake get him” and the next day it would be “whatever you do, don’t blame Alder, that superb, brilliant, kind man... it was nothing at all to do with him.”
Lt Walker died on May 26, aged 26.
Tragically, he would probably have survived but for the fact he insisted on getting from his bed and, in so doing, opened his wound so hugely that he bled to death in a very short time.
When it came to court, the case was felt to be so complex that the most senior judge, the Lord Chief Justice Sir Alexander Cockburn, was sent to Haverfordwest to try it.
Holding Court: The jury deliberated for just two hours on the case of Lt Walker's death. Picture: Joe Masters.
The main problem was that the testimony of a dying man was admissible as evidence in court: the feeling being that a man that close to God didn’t need to be on oath.
Defending was Harding Gifford, who later became Lord Chancellor as Lord Hailsbury.
After the evidence had been heard, the judge told to the jury that he didn’t envy their role.
He told them that he had never heard such a difficult series of evidence statements... and that he could not help them in arriving at a decision.
After two hours or thereabouts, the jury found Dr Alder innocent.
W D Phillips creates some confusion in Old Haverfordwest, in that he shows a picture of Walker’s grave which he says is in Herbrandston but in the text that accompanies it states that the burial is in Hubberston.
And, after slashing my way through an extremely overgrown cemetery in Hubberston, I can confirm that the grave is in Herbrandston.
According to local legend, lichen and weathering have apparently allowed an image to in the shape of a hand holding a dagger to form on his grabe.
And so, with extreme scepticism, I trekked down to Herbrandston to take a photo of the grave where, of course, there was no such ghostly image
But, sceptic or not, on hearing that the image only appears on May 26 each year, I haven’t been since...