1860 Shot in the Backgammon – One Bullet Two Dead in Aldershot Double Murder

In October 1860 a disgruntled soldier, Private Johnson, picked up his rifle, shoved it into the back of his Lance Corporal who was playing Backgammon, and fired. The bullet tore through Lance Corporal Chipp and headed straight for Corporal Coles. But did he mean it? This is the full story of how it happened and why…

Aldershott Barracks 1866


Herts Guardian, Agricultural Journal, and General Advertiser – Saturday 06 October 1860

On Saturday afternoon last, about two o’clock, the central block of the permanent barracks at Aldershott, was the scene of dreadful tragedy, involving  a deliberate murder, attended with the sacrifice of two lives, under the following circumstances: A lance – sergeant, named Owen Chipp, and John Coles, corporal of the 41st Regiment, were sitting together in the quarters of the former at the barracks, playing quietly game of draughts, when James Johnson, a private soldier,  opened the door, and entering the room, walked behind Sergeant Chipp, and then deliberately placing the muzzle of his rifle in the middle his back, instantly fired, when the bullet passed through the body of the unfortunate man and entered the breast of Corporal Coles, the ball passing also through the body of the latter, and being then flattened against the wall. Sergeant Chipp, after being shot, rose, staggered a few paces, and then fell dead between the two bedsteads. Corporal Coles, on being struck the bullet, fell back and instantly expired. The alarm was given, and assistance was speedily at hand. The murderer was at once secured and taken to the guardhouse, whence he was conveyed by a police constable, two privates, and a corporal, to the police station. The only cause at present assigned for the perpetration of the diabolical act is that Johnson who was recently confined to barracks for three days for insubordination, on the report of Sergeant Chipp, against whom he in consequence entertained a rancorous feeling of resentment. 

Victorian Backgammon set


The inquest was held at the Queen, Aldershott, before Thomas Pain, Esq, coroner, on Tuesday. 

The first witness was Private John Mulchay, who described his having seen deceased playing draughts. He added: I watched the game and did not notice anything particular until I heard the report of a rifle. I then saw Sergeant Chipp jump up from the form and make a grasp at the rifle in Johnson’s hand, saying at the same time, “You villain, you have shot me!” The prisoner said nothing. Corporal Cole also got up and cried, “God, I am shot!” The two deceased had been sitting opposite to each other at the table, which is not quite two feet wide. In the morning, about seven o’clock, the prisoner was ordered to clean the grate, and he was not doing it to Sergeant Chipp’s liking, he said he would put him the guardroom. 

The colour-sergeant said, “Don’t do that, make him do the [fire] grate.” He was using a dirty brush taken out of the coalbox. The prisoner said would rather be put in the guard-room than be threatened to be put there. Sergeant Chipp then ordered him to put down the brush, and told two men to take him to the guard-room. I didn’t see him after that till about eleven, when he left the guard-room and came to his own room. He had been before the colonel of the regiment, and he told me he had got twelve days’ extra drill. 

South Eastern Gazette – Tuesday 09 October 1860

Private William Cox, 41st Regiment, said: I saw the prisoner on Saturday morning last at the hospital waiting to be inspected before going to drill. He said, “I’ll have some one’s life before night if I get punished for this crime.” He was talking to the other prisoners then. I saw him going to the guard-room after the men were shot, and he then said he did not mean to shoot Corporal Cole, but he meant it for Sergeant Chipp. 

The prisoner: Who was in conversation you when you heard me use those words? 

Witness: You were speaking to other prisoners, but did not notice to which of them particular. 

After some other evidence, confirmatory of the main facts stated above, the coroner addressed the prisoner with the usual caution, after which the prisoner said, “That morning I was pat into the guard-room by the deceased. I had no ill-feeling against him, neither did I make use of the expressions about shooting him or any other man. I was ‘ scaled’ by the colonel, and when came back I went to my barrack-room and threw off my tunic and went to the canteen and had some ale there. I went to my room again and took down my pack and began to clean things. I got ready for marching order parade, and when ready did no more till after dinner time. When I had my dinner I took my rifle out of the rack, and I wanted to have it well cleaned. When I had done so, and while I was half-cocking the piece— there had been a cap on it—unfortunately it went off. As soon as I heard the sound of the piece the deceased got [up from from] the form and said he was shot. I knew not the time, I was so much thunderstruck, whether I was shot, or no. I didn’t know how the piece had loaded. I remember being out at ball practice the day before, and that I had not fired all my ammunition.

A British Military, Pattern 1853, Third Model, .577in Caliber, Single Shot, Muzzle Loading, Single Shot, Rifle/Musket. Long arm of the British Military, and the most common style of the P/53, which was manufactured between 1858 and 1863.

Mr. Kennedy, the rifle instructor, said that every man who had fired his ammunition was not to load again, on account of not seeing the target.  

I loaded my piece not heading his words, and took home my piece loaded. Through being in a hurry for pack parade, I did not notice that the piece was loaded at the time I was cleaning it. I remember being out at ball practice the day before, and having to fetch home my piece loaded, as I had not fired all my bullets. 

The above defence caused a necessity for other evidence, and Superintendent Howard called other witnesses, the first of whom was Phillip Kennedy, the bugleman, who said: Saturday morning I was on duty outside the guard-room, and I heard the prisoner say “I’ll make the [expletive]’ s head bleed before night.” 

I didn’t notice whether Private Cox was there. I did not hear the deceased’s name mentioned at all. 

By the prisoner: You were not talking to anyone in particular at that time. It was when you were coming out of the guard-room after being “scaled.” 

Prisoner (to witness): You never said nothing worse than that. 

The coroner went through the evidence, and doing so he reminded the jury that neither at the time of the shocking occurrence nor at the time of his arrest did the prisoner once assert that the deed was the result of an accident. On the contrary, he said enough to induce the belief that the act was premeditated, and the plea had only been made since his arrest. The room was then cleared, and, after a short time, a verdict ” Wilful Murder” was unanimously returned. The inquiry lasted from eleven till three. The jury  afterwards assembled to hear the reading of the evidence in the case of the corporal, after which a verdict of ” Wilful Murder” was again returned. 

While the inquest was going on the funeral took place, and hundreds of military men and civilians, including the regiment, were present.

Herts Guardian, Agricultural Journal, and General Advertiser – Saturday 06 October 1860


The guilty man was sentenced to death, the execution to be carried out in January. 

His end was was watched by a crowd of 3,000 people at the county prison Winchester. The Derbyshire Courier reported what happened and a small admission Private Chipp made before going to the gallows.

Derbyshire Courier – Saturday 05 January 1861

Aldershot is these days known as the home of the British Army but back then it was only a new camp made up of wooden huts. It’s impirtance grew with the outbreak of the Crimean War

In January 1854, the British Government‘s War Department purchased areas of heathland around the small village of Aldershot at £12 an acre. By 1861, around 8,000 acres had been purchased.[3]

It was originally only envisaged to set up a tented camp for summer use; however, following the outbreak of the Crimean War, it was necessary to accommodate a large number of troops, over a longer period of time and so two hutted camps, one north and one south of the Basingstoke Canal, were constructed. Between 1854 and 1859, around 1,200 wooden huts were constructed by a local civilian contractor, at a cost of £100,263.[4]


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