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The Accidental Shooting of William Charles Challis 1833-1885

William Challis aged 52 had come to the Bayham Estate from his home in Moorfields, London with 3 friends: Thomas Emms – a retired publican, Frederick Eldridge of The Cat public house and William’s neighbour Alfred Weller, a licensed victualler. They had been invited by William’s brother in law, George Huntley, the head keeper on the Bayham Estate, to come down for rabbit shooting. They all travelled by train to Frant Station.

William Challis had trained as a blacksmith but had moved into hot water pipe fitting in the growing world of London housing development. At the time of his death he was employing 2 workers in his pipe fitting business. William had married Jane Ann Jeffery from Brenchley in 1865 and they had had 4 boys. At the time of William’s death Alfred William was 17 and training to be an Engineer Fitter with his father, William Charles was 15, Arthur Amos was 13 and Christopher George was 11.

It rained on the fateful day and the head keeper released the ferrets at about 11 o’clock. Men were shooting most of the day only stopping for a lunch of bread, cheese and beer at the keeper’s home. They finished shooting at about 5 o’clock and Alfred Weller was showing his friend William an injury on his right hand which was wrapped in a handkerchief. He had been shooting left handed since hurting his hand. Having served as a soldier he was used to guns historically but had not been out much in recent years. His breach-loading double barrelled shotgun had been lent to him by a friend in London and was not cocked. At the inquest Alfred Weller stated that he had no idea how it happened but then suggested that the handkerchief may have caught the trigger.

William was shot in the hip at close range. He exclaimed, ‘You have shot me Alf!’ Alfred Weller caught him as he was falling and called out to the others to help. William in Alfred’s arms is reported as saying, ‘I know this will kill me. Oh dear! What shall I do for my wife and family?’

George Huntley the keeper transported his brother in law in his trap to Tunbridge Wells Hospital. William was conscious and aware that he was dying. He wanted everyone to understand that it had been an accident.

The surgeon stated that the deceased had died within 48 hours. He estimated that William Challis’ wound indicated that the gun was discharged within 2 feet of his body, his hip was fractured in 4 places and the right kidney and intestines contused. The deceased had told the doctor several times that it was an accident.

The Jury at the inquest returned a verdict of accidental death.

William is buried in Tunbridge Wells Cemetery, but there is no memorial to mark his grave space in B7 117.


Within 6 months William’s wife Jane Ann (nee Jeffery) aged 44 had married her cousin Thomas Jeffery aged 30, a sailor with no money and a drink problem. Thomas must have had charm and was used to travelling the world. Jane’s mother died later the same year and the following year Thomas, Jane and the younger boys travelled to Melbourne, Australia where they had mutual relatives.

Jane was already forgiving drunken outbursts, demands for money and physical abuse. However the cycle was to repeat itself over the following years and when Jane became aware that Thomas was having sex with other women (including a Mrs Grundy whose husband had caught Thomas in their bed and called the Police) she gave detailed evidence of his neglect and abuse to the Divorce Court in Victoria in 1894 after 8 years of marriage. Her husband did not contest but disappeared having been charged with the court fees.

Jane did not marry again but died aged 82 and was buried in Geelong, Victoria. None of her sons stayed in Australia.

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