By Richard T. Cooke
An air of suspense settled over Cork Prison on Sunday’s Well. A tumultuous gathering outside among the reporters and crowd indicated that an important event was about to take place. The prison clock struck eight: a lever was pulled; the planks of a trap door parted; a thundering crash resounded; and the hangman stepped aside, his odious task completed.
Thus, was the fate of Dr Philip Cross of Shandy Hall, Coachford, Co. Cork, who was condemned to death for having planned and perpetrated the murder of his wife. It was January 10th 1888.
It’s interesting to relate some of what is known about this notorious wife killer.
In 1869, with the rank of Major to his credit, Dr Cross returned from India on leave, where after a whirlwind courtship, he married Laura Marriott. Afterwards he was posted to Canada, and it was here that he settled into blissful married life.
Mrs Cross found army life unpleasant and so, the couple returned to Shandy Hall, the childhood home of Dr Cross, now inherited by him from his late father. With his retired pension of £250, annually, they settled comfortably.
Dr Cross was disagreeable by nature and spurned the neighbours, who regarded him with contempt. Well-known among the landlords and gentry, he was notorious for keeping his tenants and local peasants ‘in their place’ so to speak.
Mrs Cross realised she’d have a lot to contend with being married to such a man, nevertheless, she bore him five children. A governess was now a necessity and on the advice of a neighbour, she employed a girl named Effie Skinner. This character reference later proved to be a farce.
In 1886, Miss Skinner took up residence as governess at Shandy Hall; soon afterwards, advances towards her by Dr Cross became apparent. This became common knowledge among the ever-curious servants.
Owing to the fact that Mrs Cross discovered the growing intimacy between her unfaithful husband, and this attractive young woman, she had no choice but to dismiss her. She let the outcome of this dismissal in the hands of Dr Cross, who hastily persuaded Miss Skinner to go to Dublin, where he arranged to meet her the following day.
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own