Francis John Chesshyre WALKER (1850–1871)
St Mary Magdalen section: Row 17, Grave D70

Walker grave

[Front of grave, facing south wall and shown above]  IN MEMORY OF FRANCIS JOHN CHESSHYRE WALKER

[Back of grave, facing north, not shown] BALLIOL COLLEGE, BORN AUGUST 10 1850, DIED
[Right-hand short edge]
OCT. 30 1871

Francis John Chesshyre Walker was born at 76 Cambridge Terrace, Paddington on 10 August 1850 and baptised at St John's Church, Paddington on 4 September. He was the eldest son of John Edward Walker (born in Manchester in 1808/9) and Mary Frederica Bury (born in Thornton, Lincolnshire in 1824/5). His parents were married at Scarborough on 15 May 1849 and had the following children:

  • Francis John Chesshyre Walker (born 76 Cambridge Terrace, Paddington on 10 August 1850 and baptised at St John's Church, Paddington on 4 September)
  • Henry Chesshyre Claughton Walker (born 76 Cambridge Terrace, Paddington on 31 May 1852 and baptised at St John's Church, Paddington on 16 June)
  • Alice Mary Walker (born at 76 Cambridge Terrace, Paddington on 3 February 1854 and baptised at St John's Church, Paddington on 8 March)
  • Bertha Frances Entwisle Walker (born at 22 Porchester Terrace, Paddington on 31 July 1855 and baptised at St John's Church, Paddington on 10 August)
  • Roland Edward Chesshyre Walker (born at 22 Porchester Terrace, Paddington on 25 July 1858 and baptised at St John's Church, Paddington on 25 August)
  • Mary Beatrice Walker (born at 36 Alpha Road, Paddington on 13 February 1860 and baptised at St John's Church, Paddington on 18 May).

Francis’s father was a barrister, and at the time of the 1851 census he was living at 76 Cambridge Terrace, Paddington with his wife Mary and Francis, who was just eight months old. The family had a footman, cook, nurse, and housemaid.

In about 1859 the family moved to 36 Alpha Road, Marylebone, and they were there at the time of the 1861 census with their six children: Francis (10), Henry (8), Alice (7), Bertha (5), Roland (2), and Mary (1). They now had eight servants: a Swiss governess, a nurse and under-nurse, a lady’s maid, a footman, a cook, and an upper- and under-housemaid.

Francis was educated at Eton College, and then won a place at Balliol College (where his father had obtained his M.A. in 1834 before being called to the bar). He was matriculated on 15 April 1869 at the age of 18, and passed Moderations. He was reading for Greats when on the night of Sunday 29 October 1871 he committed suicide in his rooms at Balliol College (No. 4 staircase, back quadrangle) by shooting himself through the heart:

† Francis John Chesshyre Walker died at Balliol College at the age of 21 on 29 October 1871 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 3 November (burial recorded in the parish register of St Mary Magdalen Church).

All the members of Balliol College then in residence officiated at his funeral on Thursday 3 November 1871. His body was taken into Balliol chapel, where a portion of the burial service was read by the Master of the College, Benjamin Jowett, who also officiated at the graveside in St Sepulchre’s Cemetery. This implies that not all those who committed suicide prior to the Act of 1882 were buried after dark and without a religious service.

The inquest

A three-hour inquest was held in one of the lecture rooms in Balliol on the day after the death, and it was attended by Walker’s father, who had been sent for from London. The jury was composed partly of members of the University and partly of citizens, and the Master (Benjamin Jowett) and other members of the college were present. A full report can be found in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 4 November 1871. The main evidence was as follows:

  • Walker’s bedmaker, Henry Pearson Reddish, described how, as he commenced lighting the undergraduates’ fires at 6 a.m., he saw Walker in an easy chair, wearing a nightshirt, and thought that he had fallen asleep while reading. When he realized that he was dead, he showed the body to Harry George Wedderburn, an undergraduate in the room opposite to Walker’s, and they told the Master and the Porter and sent for a doctor. Reddish saw an empty pistol-case on top of the chest of drawers in Walker’s bedroom with an open lid, and saw the pistol on the hearth rug between the body and the fender.
  • George Walter Webb, gunsmith of the High Street, said that on the previous Friday he had sold the revolver to Mr Walker, who said it was to be a present for his brother.
  • Henry George Wedderburn, undergraduate, said that just after 9.30 p.m. Walker had invited him to his rooms for a cigar and a glass of wine and was in pretty good spirits, but he did complain of a severe pain in the back of his head. When Wedderburn left at about 10.30 p.m., Walker went out too, saying that he was going to see another Balliol undergraduate, Lord Elgin (Room No. 2 in the back quad). Before going he invited Wedderburn to breakfast on the coming Tuesday.
  • Victor Alexander Bruce, Earl of Elgin, said that Walker had come to his rooms at about 11.15 p.m the previous night and stayed until about midnight. He also complained to him about the pain in his head.
  • John Edward Walker (of Oakley House, Alpha Road, London), Walker’s father, said that his son’s health had been a source of considerable anxiety to his family for some time. He had suffered from nettle-rash for more than five years, which kept him awake at night, and he became very ill in 1870 after suffering severe sunstroke when he rowed from Oxford to Eton. Around September 1870 he began to suffer from great depression of spirits and a headache, and the doctor suggested that he should not return to Oxford that term. He was taken to Brighton, but continued to suffer from great depression there, and “one day in a half-serious manner he said he could understand people making away with themselves”. He was decidedly better when he visited Scotland, and he then joined his family in Homburg and went on to Switzerland. The doctor thought he was fit to return to Oxford on 12 October 1870.

The Jury found that the death of the deceased was caused by his own act, and that at the time he shot himself he was suffering from temporary insanity.

His father died in Hastings in 1885, and mother in Hitchin in 1901.

Some of Francis’s siblings
  • Henry Chesshyre Claughton Walker (born 1852) became a Lieutenant Colonel in the army. He married his first wife, Ellinor Charlotte Parkyns, on 30 December 1879 and his second wife, her sister Augusta Mansfield Parkyns, in 1899. He died at 25 Courtfield Gardens, Earls Court on 4 December 1913.
  • Bertha Frances Entwisle Walker (born 1855) married the Revd Alfred Sutton in Marylebone in 1881. At the time of the 1891 census they were living at the Vicarage in Bridekirk, Cumberland with their children Mary, Ida, and Bertie, and four servants, and were still there in 1901. Bertha Sutton died in the Kensington district at the age of 51 in 1907.
  • Roland Edward Chesshyre Walker (born 1858) took holy orders. He married Amabel Mary Wigram, daughter of Robert James Wigram and Leonora Jane Alexander, in the Hitchin area on 7 January 1903. He died on 25 April 1936.



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