“I can shoot you” said the elder friend as he picked up the gun the boys found lying around. And so, he did.
Thus goes the family story of Walter Scott, passed down from Walter’s sister, Hilda Mary Scott, to her daughter Mary, my Grandma, and then to me. My Grandma loved to tell the tales of tragic death but it’s the beautiful, almost life-sized portrait of four-year-old Walter that has made his story so compelling. It is thanks to this portrait too, that I know so much about Walter’s story. My Dad inherited this picture from his Grandfather, Hilda Mary’s husband, Jesse, following Jesse’s death in 1977 and Aunt Clarrie, Walter & Hilda Mary’s younger sister wrote to my Grandma to tell of its history.
Walter was born on 27 March 1893 above the family grocer’s shop in Langthorpe near Boroughbridge. He was the fourth of the eight children of Maria Reynard & John Scott. The Scott family were relatively prosperous for the time although not without their own sad tales. The first-born son, Charles, had died aged just two from an infection caused by a scratch on a rusty nail in his playpen (another of Grandma’s tales).
It was also a close and happy family. Maria’s sister, Aunt Nellie (Sarah Ellen Reynard who married a distant cousin, William Reynard) was unable to have children and asked if she might adopt one of Maria’s. “Mother said No, she couldn’t spare any one of us” records Aunt Clarrie. Nellie & William were later to adopt a boy, William Watson, at some point after 1901.
When Walter was four, a travelling photographer, C Watson from Ripon, arrived in the village. Aunt Clarrie picks up the story. He was a beautiful little boy of 4 years old when that photo was taken. A traveling photographer came to the shop & asked my Mother if he could take his photo, so she said yes. It was so good, so later on, he asked if he could paint & enlarge it, in colour. It would cost £5 which was a lot of money in those days. However, they agreed & this picture was so beautiful it was sent to an exhibition & shown all around. My Mother was getting anxious about it, but eventually it came back & it was our pride & joy.
In the summer of 1900, Aunt Nellie asked if Walter might come and stay for a holiday and Maria agreed so Walter went to stay with his Aunt & Uncle at Birstwith. On 16 August, Walter asked his aunt if he might go with his friend, Edward Fraser, to collect eggs from the stable and cowshed and his aunt agreed, presumably thinking the thirteen year old Edward would take good care of the seven year old Walter.
Unbeknown to Aunt Nellie, one of the Reynard’s farm labourer’s George Smith, had been having trouble with his gun, a breech-loader, when he had been out shooting rats earlier in the month. The extractor had broken, the cartridges were too tight to remove and so he’d left the loaded gun by the door of one of the outbuildings. Edward, being a curious teenage boy found the gun and picked it up. Walter, being a frightened child, pleaded with him to put it down then turned to scramble over the railings to get out of the way. Too late, the gun went off shooting Walter in the back.
Uncle William ran to the barn after hearing the report, he picked Walter up and ran back to the house. The doctor arrived to examine Walter and found him in a sorry state with both flesh & ribs blown away. Walter’s mother, Maria, was also sent for. Walter, loyal to the end cried “Tell Teddie I forgive him. He did not know it would go off” as he died, we believe, in his mother’s arms.
Walter was buried at Kirkby Hill on 19 August, later joined by his parents, and the inquest the following day returned a verdict of “death by misadventure killed by the discharge of a gun” and the tragic end of a beautiful child.
With much gratitude to Walter Scott, my great, great Uncle, who, despite his short life left a story that has lasted a hundred years, Clarice Scott, my great, great Aunt, who told the story of Walter’s portrait, to my Grandma for passing on the tale and to Amy Johnson Crow whose 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge encouraged me to publish this series of stories.