In 1861 Private Patrick McCaffery, aged 19, of the 32nd Regiment, was serving at Fulwood Barracks. His commanding officer was Colonel Hugh Denis Crofton, a man who had served with distinction in the Crimean War but who appeared to be under the influence of his Adjutant, Captain John Hanham.
On Friday, 13th September, McCaffery, whilst on sentry duty outside the officers’ quarters, was ordered by Captain Hanham to take the names of some children who were suspected of breaking windows. McCaffery obeyed, but reluctantly. He was sent to the guardroom by Hanham and the next day was sentenced by Colonel Crofton to be confined to barracks for 14 days.
Later that morning McCaffery saw the two officers walking across the Infantry Square. He loaded his rifle, aimed and fired. The bullet struck Colonel Crofton, passed through his body and hit Captain Hanham. The Colonel died the following evening and the Captain on the Monday. (Preston Pilot of 21st September 1861)
On his arrest McCaffery said “I didn’t intend to murder, and I didn’t intend it for the Colonel, but for the Captain.” On 15th December 1861 he stood trial at Liverpool Assizes. His defence was poor and he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang. He was executed at Kirkdale, Liverpool, on 11th January 1862 before a crowd of 25,000. (Preston Guardian 11th January 1862)
The sympathies of the crowd were with McCaffery and his melancholy story gave rise to a halfpenny ballad, which was rumoured to have been banned by the military authorities. The ghost of McCaffery is said to haunt the old Officers’ Mess.
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