On the morning of Monday, 7th September, 1891, Walter Hargan, who had been convicted of murdering two men in Kingsland, East London, in September, 1890, was freed from the Sussex County Gaol at Lewes.
At his trial the previous year, he had been sentenced to twenty years penal servitude, which many people considered to be an overly-harsh sentence, and, following a public outcry, the Home Secretary, Sir Henry Matthews, commuted his sentence to one of twelve months.
Following his release, a newspaper reporter was on hand to greet him, and The East And South Devon Advertiser duly published an interview with him on Saturday, 12th September, 1891:-
THE KINGSLAND TRAGEDY
RELEASE OF WALTER ALFRED HARGAN
“At seven o’clock on Monday morning, Walter Alfred Hargan was released from the Sussex County Gaol at Lewes.
That Hargan was to be released was not generally known, therefore only a few persons assembled at the gaol to welcome the prisoner.
Among those who were there were Mr. Charles Vernon Young, who acted as the solicitor for the defence, and Sergeant-Major Hargan, brother to the convict, both of whom congratulated Hargan upon his release.
Hargan went to the residence of Major Truman (late Royal Horse Artillery), at Hassocks, Sussex, and, having received that officers congratulations, he proceeded to London.
INTERVIEWED BY A REPORTER
On arriving at the solicitor’s offices, he was interviewed by a reporter.
He seemed to be in good health, but he was very pale, and he admitted that he could not have kept up under the imprisonment much longer.
It was the hope at first, he said, and the subsequent knowledge that he would be speedily released, that kept his spirits up and had the hope been very long deferred he did not know what might have happened.
The circumstances of the Kingsland tragedy and the subsequent agitation on Hargan’s behalf are too well known to need anything but a brief recapitulation.
A SUMMARY OF THE CASE
Late in July last year, Hargan protected the landlady of a public-house in Hertford-road, Kingsland, from the violence of a number of roughs, and when he left the house he was followed by three men, who menaced him, and he shot two with his revolver.
Their names were Wheeler and Lambert.
SENT FOR TRIAL
Hargan was committed from the North London Police-court on the charge of double murder, but was convicted of manslaughter, and strongly recommended to mercy by the jury, several of whom afterwards expressed their regret at having convicted the prisoner at all.
Mr. Justice Charles, notwithstanding the recommendation of the jury, passed the extreme sentence of twenty years’ penal servitude.
PROTESTS AGAINST THE SENTENCE
Hargan had just left the army, having held with honour for several years the position of colour-sergeant in the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment, and both in the regiment and among the general public there was a general protest against the sentence imposed upon him.
A committee was formed (some of the officers of the regiment being among its members), and, with the legal assistance of Mr. Young, an agitation for the remission of the sentence was organised, and in a short time Mr. Young was able to present to the Home Secretary a memorial signed by over 70,000 persons, ranging from field labourers to peers of the realm, praying for a reduction or the total remission of the sentence.
The matter was brought several times before Parliament, and Mr. Matthews reduced the sentence to one year’s imprisonment, and that term, dating from the commencement of the September sessions of the Central Criminal Court, expired on Monday.
IT WAS SELF-DEFENCE
Hargan, in his statement to the reporter, went over the main facts of the tragedy, and expressed his sorrow for the deaths of the two men, Wheeler and Lambert. He mentioned, however, that he only acted in self-defence, and said that it was his firm belief that his life would not have been worth a minute’s purchase had the men got hold of him.
He meant, he said, to disable them with the only weapon he had, and that, unfortunately, was a revolver, but the shots took fatal effect.
Hargan went on to say that the serious view some of the police-officers first took of the case quite weighed him down, and he thought his own life, saved at such cost, would be given up in vindication of the law.
“My solicitor,” he continued, “however, put new life into the case, and into me also. Not only did he cheer and encourage me every time he saw me, but he arranged the evidence in such a manner that I thought the truth in my case must prevail.
I was more than disappointed at the result of the trial, and for some time I was ignorant of the efforts that were being made on my behalf.
TAKEN TO PENTONVILLE PRISON
It was the 12th of September when I received my sentence, and I was at once removed to Pentonville Prison.
Every newcomer – when one is in such plight oneself one takes an unaccountable interest in others whose company would be objectionable under other circumstances – was full of news of the petition to the Queen and of the efforts of my brother and Mr. Young and my many other kind friends on my behalf.
There was no opportunity for regular conversation, but somehow I heard all this and knew what was going on.
I had hoped for a total remission of the sentence, but, knowing how severely the carrying of revolvers had been commented on during the trial, I did not, on reflection, think I should have that good fortune.
REMOVED TO LEWES GAOL
On November 11, I was removed to Lewes Gaol, and the task of work I found very difficult (viz, to pick oakum).
On December 19 the news of the reduction of the sentence was communicated to me by Captain Crickett, the governor.
I was overjoyed at hearing that my friends’ efforts had been crowned with success, and it would be no exaggeration to say that the governor and all the prison officials seemed very pleased too.
After that, I spent six weeks in the bakery, and the remainder of the time was made up in mat making.”
HE WAS TREATED KINDLY
“Have you any complaint to make as to your treatment?”, asked the reporter.
“None whatever. I could not have been more kindly treated by the governor and the prison officials.
As to living, do you ask? Well, that was poor.
There was porridge and brown bread, quite wholesome and in fair quantity, but only one ounce of bacon and four ounces of preserved meat a week.
I don’t think that I can be expected to look very robust on that, but I feel very well.
But, after 12 months of close confinement, the sensation of being free is delightful.””