The murder of Lieutenant Clutterbuck of Birr Barracks in 1865

By Stephen Callaghan

A previous blog post detailed the murder in 1843 of Lieutenant and Adjutant Robertson Mackay of the 5th Fusiliers at Birr Barracks. Mackay was shot dead by a soldier he was drilling, Private George Jubee. Jubee ultimately being hung for his crime. Some twenty two years later a detachment of 5th Fusiliers were stationed in Birr Barracks, with the brutal murder of Lieutenant James Henry Clutterbuck taking place on the River Brosna.James Henry Clutterbuck was born in Watford, Hertfordshire on 16 May 1838. He was the son of Reverend James Charles Clutterbuck and Lousia Cluttercuck (née Capel). James and Lousia had five other children, all of whom were born in Watford. The family moved to Long Wittenham, Berkshire (now part of Oxfordshire) upon Reverend Clutterbuck being appointed Vicar of St Mary’s Church.

James purchased a commission in the 5th Fusiliers as an ensign on 23 August 1861. The regiment had its origins dating back to 1674. He further purchased a commission as a lieutenant which became effective on 3 March 1865. Before the practice was abolished in 1871, it was possible to buy one’s way into the army as an officer and gain further advancement through purchase rather than by merit. This practice ensured that officers were mainly of the upper class and it helped preserved the status quo. It also meant that officers were less likely to mutiny or engage in profiteering. At the time it would have cost £450 pounds to purchase a commission as an ensign, and £700 as a lieutenant, or about £27,000 and £42,000 in today’s money.

A detachment of 5th Fusiliers arrived in Birr from Curragh Camp taking up quarters in Birr Barracks in March 1865. On 8 July, Lieutenant Clutterbuck left Birr Barracks to go shooting on the River Brosna. He had employed the services of a Ballindarra man, Laurence King, to take him out on his boat hunting. King often offered his services and local knowledge of the area to officers of the barracks for the purposes of hunting and fishing. When Lieutenant Clutterbuck failed to return to the barracks late that evening great excitement and stir was caused in Birr. Police and locals went searching for the missing officer the next day and on Monday with a £25 reward offered for the recovery of the officer’s body.

Upon the searching of the River Brosna the young officer’s body was found by Constable Sheehan, striped of all clothes except for just his shirt. His body was removed from the river and brought to the station hospital in Birr Barracks where an inquest was held. The young gentleman officer had sustained a gunshot wound to the back of his head. Witnesses had seen King and Clutterbuck out on the river and heard gunshots. King had also been spotted returning from the river with two guns and a bundle of clothes. Other witnesses had spoken to King when he returned from the river, he appeared to be drunk and had mentioned he had shot an officer from the barracks. King, his father and mother were apprehended by constables and held in the Bridewell in Birr.

Lieutenant Clutterbuck’s grave and memorial window at St Mary’s Church, Long Wittenham, Berkshire.

Lieutenant Clutterbuck’s body was brought home by his father, where he was interred at St Mary’s Church, Long Wittenham. Later a memorial window would also be unveiled to his memory. Reverend Clutterbuck wrote to the editor of The Times expressing his gratitude to the people of Parsonstown for their sympathy.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES

SIR,- Although it is painful for me to write in

the freshness of my sorrow, yet it is but due to the

inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood of Par-

sonstown to offer them my grateful thanks for the

feeling shown by them on the occasion of the violent

death of my dear son, a Lieutenant in the 1st Bat-

talion, 5th Fusiliers, on duty at the Barracks of Birr

on the 8th inst. When I entered Parsonstown on

the 13th all the shops were more or less closed, and,

as I am informed, remained so during the four days

which elapsed between the finding the body in the

River Brosna and its final removal from the barracks

to the railway station, on its way to England. I

hear from Lieutenant Nicols, a friend and brother

officer of my son, that “the whole town and numbers

of the country people asked permission to follow,

not as a mob, but with greatest respect and

sympathy, no crowding, no talking, but a most

orderly assembly of feeling people, amounting to

nearly 2000.” At a special meeting of the town

commissioners, all the members being present

resolutions were passed, testifying “their regret

and indignation at the crime and the degradation

which must necessarily fall on their country as the

scene of so foul a tragedy,” adding expressions of

sympathy to my family, and offering a large reward

for the discovery of any of the property which, it is

believed, served as the temptation of this fearful

murder. In conclusion, I feel I owe, and I beg

to offer, my grateful acknowledgement to the officers

and others of the regiment for the kindness received

by my son while serving with them, and especially

a tribute of praise to Major Bigge and those who

were providentially on the spot for their zeal in

adding the unremitting exertions of Mr. Constable

Sheehan, by means of which my son’s body, now

lying at rest in out churchyard, was recovered, the

mystery of his death unveiled, and the sus-

pect person committed to take his trail on the

charge of wilful murder.

The insertion of this will oblige your obedient

servant

JAMES C. CLUTTERBUCK

The Vicarage, Long Wettenham, Abington, July 19

Bridewell where King was held
The Bridewell, Birr where Lawrence King was held following his arrest for Lieutenant Clutterbuck’s murder.

No evidence was found to inculpate King’s father or mother, so they were released. King was tried on 4 August before the Lord Chief Justice at the Tullamore assizes where he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging on 6 September. The King’s County Chronicle describes his execution at Tullamore jail and how a small crowd had gathered for the spectacle. The execution seems to have been somewhat botched with knot around King’s neck slipping out of place which resulting in him suffocating to death, however the only sympathy from the onlookers was a low pitched wail. After half an hour King’s body was cut down and placed in a coffin for burial inside the jail.

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