The shooting of a station master

Mr Edward Adolphus Walshe was not a popular station master. He ran a tight ship at Dover Priory station in Kent, Southeast England. In the 1800s, the job of a station master was tough, but was rewarded with a high social standing and they would be given a station house to live in, so they didn’t have to travel too far to work. However, it meant they worked long hours and spent most of their lives near the trainlines, the rhythmic clacking and chugging a constant backdrop to their days. Walshe, like all station masters, would have had responsibility for all staff at his station and was a figure of authority.

He hated sloppy work and did not think highly of young carriage cleaner Thomas Wells, frequently berating him for doing a poor job. The feeling was mutual. Wells was once heard telling a colleague that if Mr Walshe fired him, he would get his revenge. Sure enough, in May 1868, Walshe told Wells that his conduct was not good enough. Even worse, he’d been seen firing a pistol while on duty, which Wells firmly denied. Walshe told him to go away and think about his behaviour, probably planning to sack him very soon if his attitude didn’t improve.

As Walshe sighed after the trying conversation and sat back in his office to study the day’s timetables, he jumped in surprise as Wells burst back into the room clutching a rifle. Wells said nothing and calmly shot stationmaster Walshe in the head, killing him instantly. Wells hid in an empty carriage but was soon found by police. His earlier anger forgotten, he handed over the rifle willingly and walked quietly to the police station.

An insanity defence was presented, as Wells had fallen off a train a few weeks before the murder and landed on his head. His family testified that he shouted and swore at the slightest provocation and had once dragged his mother out of her bed in the middle of the night. But as no medical advice had been sought after his accident, and nobody else other than his family thought there was anything wrong with him, the defence plea was ignored.

Thomas Wells was hanged at Maidstone Gaol on 13th August 1868. He is remembered for more than just his rage-filled murder, as he was the first person to be executed in private inside a prison, rather than publicly. Unluckily for him, the hanging was botched, and he slowly suffocated to death. As an interesting footnote, some people argued that the popular Illustrated Police News was a bad influence, as a copy was found in Wells’ pocket after he was arrested. Whether reading stories of murder and mayhem encouraged the young man to do it, or whether he was always destined to become a killer, is something we will never know…