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Alexander Fletcher Jones - 1854 - 1878
Accidentally shot in a train at Sea Mills

Alexander Fletcher Jones was the fourth son of William Jones of Lochmaben, Dumfriesshire. His early education is not recorded but he was admitted as a Scholar of Brasenose College, Oxford in the autumn of 1872 at the age of 18. He obtained first class honours in Mathematics in 1875 and Natural Sciences in 1876 remaining at college until 1877. He then took up a teaching appointment at Clifton College, Bristol.

On the tragic day of 16th February 1878, two parties of the Clifton College Cadet Corps went to the firing range at Avonmouth. The range was situated to the north of the Avonmouth Hotel at the terminus of the Port and Pier Railway more or less on the site of Holesmouth Junction at the north end of St Andrew’s Road. The Cadet Corps was attached to the Administrative Battalion of the Gloucestershire Engineer Volunteers – the first party was in charge of Sergeant William Elton and Alexander Jones, who was a Lieutenant in the Corps was in charge of the second. Firing took place on the 200 and 300 yard ranges and both parties returned by the 5.35 pm train from Avonmouth to Hotwells.

As the train stopped at Sea Mills, conversation between Sergeant Elton and one of the cadets, Edward George Hemming, turned to some previous shooting where Elton was not present. Hemming put his Sneider Enfield rifle on his knees and demonstrated how timid a boy was in shooting, waving his gun about. Unfortunately in the rush to catch the train, Hemming had not unloaded the rifle which went off. The bullet went through the compartment wall passing between Lt Colonel Edward Plant and Mr John Grenfell. It hit Alexander Jones, killing him instantly, and lodged in the compartment wall (whence it was cut out by Mr Pritchard, surgeon, of Chesterfield Place). As Jones was obviously dead, the train proceeded to Hotwells where Mr Pritchard attended confirming the death.

The inquest took place at the Clifton College sanatorium on the 18th February. Mr H S Wasborough was the Coroner, also present were Dr Percival, Headmaster of Clifton College, Mr G W Hemming QC (father) and Mr Appleton, solicitor of Oswestry who watched proceedings on behalf of the friends of the deceased. The Coroner made it abundantly clear to the jury at the outset that he expected them to return a verdict of accidental death. In his summing up he said, “In a case like this one could not help feeling deep sympathy with the family of the deceased but he could not help thinking that they should extend their sympathy to the young man who had been the innocent cause of the death of this young officer”. The jury did as bidden.

It may well be that Alexander Jones was responsible for his own fate. He was in charge of the range where Hemming was shooting and therefore he had to check that all rifles were unloaded and cartridges returned as cease-fire. One does wonder whether the inquest would have been as sympathetic if the father had not been such an eminent lawyer or if the deceased had been a more eminent or longer serving member of staff.

Mr G W Hemming (1821-1905) was appointed the Official Referee in 1877 and edited the Equity Law Reports from 1865 to 1894. Edward Hughes Hemming was the oldest surviving son and was born in 1860. From Clifton, he entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, joining the Royal Engineers in 1880. He was mentioned in despatches during the 1914-1918 War, became CMG in 1915 and was promoted to Major-General in 1919. After the war, he acted as Deputy Housing Commissioner for Lancashire and Cheshire to 1921 when he retired to Castle House, Newbury where he died in 1943.

Sun 29 Jul 2001