This is a particularly painful story -a forgotten one too – from our past. The death of Jack Walters was certainly unexpected and no one can know what really happened, but it was Saturday night on Wind Street and there was a fight. Oh yes, history does repeat itself.
Jack was 22 and he was a musician. He was a trumpeter in the Militia but, most importantly, Jack worked as a drummer at the New Theatre, where he played most nights. In August 1896 the audience were thrilling to a musical drama, A Woman’s Life, which had transferred from London. It was a dark tale, reaching a dramatic conclusion with the poor woman’s death on the steps of the workhouse, which no doubt required some atmospheric drum-work.
At the end of the performance, Jack wandered back towards the house he shared in St David’s Place with his new wife Lucy, who was eighteen. His precise movements were hard to establish but he was definitely seen in the George Hotel shortly before 11pm, and then subsequently in the Conservative Club. When he got home, he seems to have argued briefly with his neighbours for some reason and then gone inside. He seemed tired and went straight to bed but in the early hours he woke up screaming.
‘Oh God, Lucy! Strike a light quickly. I am bleeding to death!’
He was covered in blood. Lucy went to get help from her mother and then called his father, who summoned a doctor. Jack was taken to Swansea Hospital and the police were called to take a statement from him, but he died before they arrived. All Lucy knew was that he said he had been kicked in the lower abdomen in an argument with a sailor. Jack was not the first and certainly not the last to have found themselves in that situation late at night on Wind Street, but it has always been something to avoid in my view
There had been a row at the entrance to Salubrious Passage, opposite the Post Office, and Jack had intervened to stop a French seaman beating a young boy called Richards, who was selling newspapers. In response, the sailor had turned his attentions to the drummer and ‘kicked Walters in a very dangerous spot and at once disappeared.’ Ouch.
When he had been first examined, the doctor said it couldn’t have happened, as there was no bruising. However, the cause of death established at the hospital was haemorrhage due to rupture of the urethra, which must have required considerable violence. And if it wasn’t the French Sailor with the Big Boots then who was responsible? Jack may have argued with his neighbours but no blows were exchanged and such an ungentlemanly attack on a man was frowned upon at the Conservative Club, even then. It was a rupture caused by violence on the part of some persons unknown.
Swansea was a much more cosmopolitan place in those days and Wind Street was very close to the docks. It was a time before passports and scrutiny. Sailors from all over the world would wander into town to drink and to enjoy all those opportunities for evening entertainment that the town could provide, though that rarely involved a visit to the New Theatre to see a gritty musical about a woman’s suffering. Of course, once the ship had sailed, then most indiscretions were left behind on shore. A sailor might never ever return to Swansea. Next time it might be Llanelly. Or Barnstaple.
There were at least six French ships in the North Dock on that Saturday night and four others in the South Dock. Perhaps the French Sailor with the Big Boots was on the Dauntless which had brought onions from Roscoff. Or he might be from the crew of the Gauntlet which was carrying potatoes. But why should he be serving on a French ship? He could have been on any of the ships in Swansea that night.
Jack had died, casually and carelessly. If it was the French Sailor with the Big Boots who did it– well he’d got away. It was always going to be more convenient to believe that a Frenchman did it. A foreigner; not a neighbour; not someone you knew.
But whoever it was, Lucy Walters was widowed at the age of eighteen.
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