Fatal shooting at Pendean – Accident or not?

“West Lavington Shooting Fatality”

“Tragic Discovery at Midhurst”

On Thursday 26 April 1917, the West Sussex Gazette reported the death at Pendean House 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”.

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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 the late 1900s, 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.

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“Alleged Slander: Bepton Schoolteacher 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 Col Peter 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 Col 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”.

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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.

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 in 1886. In the 1911 census, she was living with her parents, Joshua and Alice, together with four younger siblings, at “Heathlands” in Bepton. At the time of the shooting, she was 31. It is not known what happened to her after the court case.

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.

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I first spotted the articles in the West Sussex Gazette 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.

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.

I would love to know what happened to Edith. Did she find another job? Did she ever marry and have children?