“West Lavington Shooting Fatality”
“Tragic Discovery at Midhurst”
On Thursday 26 April 1917, the West Sussex Gazette reported the death at Pendean House, West Lavington, of 55-year old Lieut-Col. Peter Clouston Bulloch two days earlier.
The newspaper reported that Colonel Bulloch had been discovered by his chauffeur lying on the floor of the drawing room at Pendean House on Monday evening “suffering from a serious gunshot wound”. Two local doctors were summoned immediately who were later joined by the eminent surgeon, Dr. David Ewart OBE from Chichester. Despite this medical attention, Col. Bulloch died from his wounds at 7 o’clock on Tuesday morning.
The following day, an inquest was held at Pendean by the deputy coroner for West Sussex, Mr. F. Blagden Tompkins. The coroner’s jury found that death was due to “an accident caused by a revolver while being cleaned by (the) deceased”. The fatal bullet had entered the left of the chest and passed out through the right shoulder.
Rather cryptically, the report adds “the fact that (the) deceased was to have been a witness in a certain case that day had not worried him”.
Peter Clouston Bulloch was born at Blythswood, Glasgow on 19 January 1862. His father, Matthew, was a whisky distiller & blender and Peter followed in his father’s footsteps.
In December 1883, he joined the 1st Lanarkshire Volunteer Artillery with the rank of Lieutenant, aged 21. In February 1891, he transferred to the Middlesex Royal Garrison Artillery Volunteers with the rank of Captain and retired in April 1906 with the rank of Honorary Lieutenant Colonel.
He married Florence Mary Mather, the daughter of Sir William Mather MP, at St Mary’s Church, Prestwich in Lancashire on 20 April 1898 and they had two children, Grace Esme Millicent, born 18 August 1899 and Douglas Clouston, born 10 January 1905. The family moved to Pendean House, West Lavington in about 1900, by which time Peter Bulloch had disposed of his distillery interests.
Col. Bulloch was heavily involved in local affairs, serving on West Lavington Parish Council and Midhurst Rural District Council, where he was chairman of the Public Health Committee. He was a member of the West Sussex County Appeal Tribunal and the Midhurst Board of Guardians. Finally, he was a churchwarden at St. Mary of Magdalene Church, West Lavington.
“Alleged Slander: Bepton School Teacher v. Farm Carter”
In the same edition of the West Sussex Gazette, there was a report of a case heard on Tuesday 24 April in the King’s Bench Division of the High Court before Mr. Justice A.T. Lawrence, involving Miss Edith Marshall, for many years an assistant teacher at Bepton School, and Mr. Frank Tupper, a farm carter. Edith claimed that Tupper had slandered her by “imputing unchastity” with a married man, namely Mr. P.C. Bulloch, on Midhurst Common as a result of which she had been dismissed by the school.
Edith told the court that she had met Bulloch quite by chance when she was walking to the cemetery. She had spoken to him for about five minutes, handed him a list of bicycle owners that she had collected and then she “went on her way”. In his defence, Tupper said that he had merely stated that he had seen Edith meet a married man “without any evil motive or spite against her”. If the managers of the school had come to a wrong conclusion, it was not Tupper’s fault, and she should be directing her complaint against the managers for wrongful dismissal.
The court heard that Mr. Bulloch had died that morning but that he had been quite prepared to “meet the case” and to appear as a witness.
The jury were unable to reach a verdict and were discharged, with the foreman stating: “The evidence is so absolutely opposite, we are unable to arrive at a conclusion”.
After the shooting, Mrs. Bulloch settled in the rural parish of Moy, Dalarossie & Tomatin, situated 15 miles south of Inverness, in the Highlands of Scotland, where she died in 1950, aged 76.
Their daughter, Grace, appears to have never married; she died at Barcombe, near Lewes in February 1978.
Her brother, Douglas, was commissioned into the Black Watch in January 1925 as a lieutenant. He married Eleanor Stewart Fraser in a society wedding in Inverness Old Church on 15 January 1930. Eleanor’s father, the late Alexander Fraser, served with the Cameron Highlanders in the First World war, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was killed at the Battle of Festubert in May 1915.
On 5 February 1933, Lieutenant Douglas Clouston Bulloch, aged 28, was found fatally wounded in his car, two miles from his home at Chappell, near Colchester. He was found with a gunshot wound to his head, with his revolver in his hand. The coroner’s enquiry heard that Douglas had been suffering from a severe bout of influenza but, despite his doctor’s advice, had “got up too soon” as his wife and young child were also ill, and returned to work, where several of his unit were also “down with influenza”. The coroner’s verdict was that Douglas had died from a “self-inflicted wound and was not responsible for his actions”.
Frank Tupper was born in Bepton in 1870 and was married with three daughters. In 1911, he was living at “Tyelands” off Severals Road in Bepton. He remained in the Midhurst area where he died in 1954, aged 84.
Edith Emma Marshall was born in Bepton on 14 January 1886, the third child of Joshua Marshall (1849–1924), an agricultural labourer, and his wife Alice née Strudwick (1860–1952). Edith was baptised at St Mary’s Church, Bepton on 7 March 1886.
In the early censuses, the family’s address was recorded as “The Street” or “Bepton Road”, but in 1901 Edith was living with her parents, Joshua and Alice, and four younger siblings at Henchers Farm in Bepton. Joshua was still employed as a general labourer, while 15-year old Edith has no recorded occupation.
Ten years later, at the 1911 census, she was still living with her parents together with four younger siblings, now at “Heathlands” in Bepton, where Joshua was employed as a “hay & straw tyer”. Edith, now 25, was employed by Sussex County Council as a “supplementary elementary teacher”.
Despite being dismissed following the alleged slander in 1917, Edith was quickly re-employed by the local authority as a schoolteacher. In the 1921 census (taken on Sunday 19 June), 35-year old Edith (spelt “Edyth”) was living with her mother and two siblings at “Heathlands Villa”, Bepton. Her occupation was recorded as an “Elementary School Teacher” at Kirdford School, near Billingshurst, employed by the West Sussex & Chichester Joint Education Committee.
In late 1932, Edith (now 46) married 55-year old Alfred Pennicott, the Police Superintendent at Midhurst. He had been married before, but his first wife, Rose, had died in June 1931; there appear to be no children of either marriage. At the 1939 register, Alfred and Edith were living at Sandycroft in Chichester Road, Midhurst, where they were still living 25 years later when Alfred died on 30 March 1964.
Edith died at Otara Nursing Home, Kingsley Green, between Fernhurst and Haslemere, on 9 January 1973, aged 86.
In 1921, the judge in the High Court case, Mr. Justice Lawrence (1843–1936) was raised to the peerage and appointed Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales as Alfred Lawrence, 1st Baron Trevethin.
I first spotted the articles in the West Sussex Gazette in 2017 when I was researching the casualties on the Bepton and West Lavington war memorials and was immediately intrigued by this little tragedy. At the time, I considered that the coroner may have arrived at a “convenient” verdict and that, perhaps, Col. Bulloch’s death was not an accident. To me, it seems too much of a coincidence that he should shoot himself the day before a court was due to hear about his alleged infidelity.
A few other thoughts on the matter:
100 years ago, society was far more deferential than today. The coroner and the colonel no doubt knew each other socially and probably served on the same committees.
Although Bulloch was referred to as “Colonel” in the reports of his death, in the report of the slander case he is referred to as “Mr. Bulloch”. He never served with the regular army, but only as a volunteer in the Territorial Army.
One remarkable point is the speed with which the inquest happened – just the day after the death.
Today, Edith would not have been dismissed because of an alleged relationship with a married man.
Also, today she would not be able to afford to take a case of slander to the High Court in London.
Aberdeen Press and Journal:
17 January 1930. Military Wedding
1881 England Census
1891 England Census
1901 England Census
1911 England Census
1939 England and Wales Register
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966
London, England, City Directories, 1736-1943
Scotland, National Probate Index (Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories), 1876-1936
U.K., City and County Directories, 1600s-1900s
U.K., City and County Directories, 1766-1946
Ballymena Weekly Telegraph:
11 February 1933. Car Tragedy at Roadside. Bullet Wound in Head
16 January 1930. Inverness Military Wedding
7 February 1933. Scots Officer Shot in Car. Flu Victim’s Devotion to Duty
Dundee Evening Telegraph:
16 January 1930. Pipers at Black Watch Officer’s Wedding
1921 Census of England & Wales
London Daily News:
6 February 1933. Officer Shot in Car
The London Gazette:
16 January 1930. Highland Wedding
West Sussex Gazette:
26 April 1917. West Lavington Shooting Fatality
26 April 1917. Tragic Discovery at Midhurst
26 April 1917. Bepton. Alleged Slander: School Teacher v. Farm Carter