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  • Writer's pictureStephen Callaghan

The tragic end of Captain John Pilkington

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

Captain Pilkington's grave.

John Edward Maxwell Pilkington was born on 9 September 1856 at Carrick House, Queen’s County. He was the son of William and Isabella Pilkington.

The 1871 census records John as a pupil attending a school on Belvedere Road, Croydon, London.

Initially serving in the Donegal Artillery Militia as a Lieutenant, he was commissioned into the 28th Regiment of Foot as a Sub-Lieutenant having passed his army entrance exams in September 1876.

On 11 September 1876 he was promoted to Lieutenant and then transferred vice F. J. Curtin to be Lieutenant in the 61st Regiment of Foot, effective 24 May 1879. The transfer was subsequently cancelled and Lieutenant Pilkington stayed with the 28th Foot.

The 1881 records Lieutenant Pilkington in Hythe, Kent as an instructor of musketry at the Hythe School of Musketry.

While stationed in Parsonstown with the 28th Foot, he married Elizabeth Frances Fulton on 10 June 1883 in St Brendan’s Church of Ireland Church. John’s residence listed as Oxmantown Mall. Elizabeth’s address is also listed as Oxmantown Mall, and her father is recorded as Richard Robert Fulton, formerly of the Royal Irish Constabulary.

On 14 November 1884 he was commissioned as a Captain and was also to be seconded for service as a probationer for the Army Pay Department. On 9 December 1884, he became Paymaster of the Gloucestershire Regiment.

In March 1890, Captain Pilkington was placed on half pay on account of ill health. Prior to being placed on half pay, he had been a patient at Crichton Royal Asylum in Scotland, which was a psychiatric hospital. He had been admitted on 14 May 1889. After being placed on half pay he was admitted to the asylum again on 10 September 1891. He retired from the army on half pay on 21 December 1891. The 1891 census recording him and his wife as staying on Portland Road, Kensington, London.

In the interviewing years, Captain Pilkington settled with his wife in Parsonstown. On 16 January 1897 Captain Pilkington was admitting to Crichton Royal Asylum again. Research is ongoing to establish why Captain Pilkington had been admitted to the hospital several times.

On 20 July 1898 at 10:30 pm in his residence at Oxmantown Mall, John was found dead in the drawing room. A recently fired fowling gun lay close by, it having discharged into John’s head. A court of inquiry ruled that the gunshot wound was self-inflicted, but it could not be determined if it was accidental or otherwise. Considering Captain Pilkington had been an instructor of musketry he would of been very familiar with long guns, its likely his death by his own hands was intentional.

The dead caused quite a stir in the town with various pieces appearing in the newspapers. They record that the evening before “Captain Pilkington had been out walking during the evening, and appeared in his usual good humour, there being in his demeanour to suggest that he contemplated self-destruction.”

Captain Pilkington’s funeral took place on 22 July in St Brendan’s Church of Ireland Church and proceeded onto Clonoghill Cemetery. Along the route businesses were closed and blinds in houses drawn as a mark of respect to the popular officer. Upon arriving to the cemetery, the burial service was read.

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