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Updated: Jan 8, 2021

Figure 1: Doctor Philip Cross in his youth



On the 10 January 1888, Doctor Philip Cross was hanged at Cork Gaol for the murder of his wife, Mary. What drove Doctor Cross to such measures? Love? Yes, but for another woman.



Philip Henry Eustace Cross was born on 15 April 1824 at Shandy Hall, Coachford, Co. Cork.[1] He was educated by private tutor and in 1843 attended Trinity College, Dublin.[2] At the age of twenty-five he joined the British Army as an assistant surgeon and served in various locations around the world fighting in the Crimean War, for which he received a Sebastopol Clasp and the Indian Mutiny, receiving an Indian Mutiny medal.[3] In August 1869, he married Mary Laura Marriott, sixteen years his junior, in St. James’ Church, Piccadilly.

Figure 2: Date of Birth per Canada, British Regimental Registers of Service, 1756-1900

Six years later, on the 14 April 1875, Cross retired from the Army at the rank of Surgeon Major.[4]

Discharge date from British Army per Royal Hospital Chelsea: Admission Books, Registers, And Papers

Figure 3: Discharge date from British Army per Royal Hospital Chelsea: Admission Books, Registers, And Papers

He returned to his ancestral home in Cork, with his four children, two years later his son Henry was born.

Shandy Hall, then and now

Figure 4: Shandy Hall, then and now


Miss Skinner

In October 1886, twenty -year-old Evelyn Forbes Skinner left the employment of Mrs. Teresa Caulfield of Classes and was employed as a governess at Shandy Hall. However, she only remained three months. According to Cornelius McCarthy, a labourer employed by Doctor Cross, after the arrival of Ms. Skinner, the relationship between Doctor Cross and his first wife deteriorated. He recalled how he heard the doctor say ‘he wished the devil would come and sweep her out of the house.’[5] McCarthy also recalled how Cross would hand him letters addressed to Miss Skinner, Kilenanure, Tullow, County Carlow to be taken to the post office. Further confirmation of the relationship between the doctor and the governess was ratified by William Poole, manager of the North-Western Hotel, North Wall, Dublin. He recalled how he saw the couple in March 1887 enter the premises and go upstairs together. The following morning, they left by boat for England and returned on the 21 April. This trend repeated itself on the two additional occasions.

Philip Cross and Evelyn Skinner

Figure 5: Philip Cross and Evelyn Skinner


Demise of Mary Laura Cross

Mary Laura Marriott Cross

Figure 6: Mary Laura Cross

Miss Frances Caroline Kirchoffer of Dripsey House recalled how she was at Shandy Hall three weeks before Mrs. Cross died. ‘The late Mrs. Cross was not at the luncheon that day. I saw her that day. She was in bed when I saw her. She was looking ill.’ [6] Miss Kirchoffer recalled that Mrs. Cross told her she had fainted and that she thought she had a heart complaint from what Doctor Cross told her. Two weeks later she asked Doctor Cross about his wife’s health. He told her that illness was as bad as can be and told her that Mrs. Cross had typhoid fever. Miss Mavinia Jefferson, of Kilburn, an old schoolfellow of Mrs. Cross, was also present at Shandy Court in the weeks leading up to her death. She recollected that towards the end of May 1887, Mrs. Cross was very unwell, complaining of pain about the heart. Her eyesight was also very poor. A few days before her death, Miss Jefferson left Shandy Hall as she felt that Doctor Cross did not want her in his home (although in his letter to his sister-in-law, Cross says she left of her own volition). She also verified that no nurses attended Mrs. Cross as he was treating her himself. Another doctor, Godfrey, an uncle of Cross did call, and thought that Mrs. Cross was suffering from a bilious attack.[7]

Death certification of Mary Laura Cross.

Figure 7: Death certification of Mary Laura Cross.


Death and suspicion

Mary Laura Cross died on the 2 June 1887 and was buried on the 4 June in Magourney Old Cemetery.

Final resting place of Mary Laura Marriott Cross

Figure 8: Resting place of Mary Laura Marriott Cross.

On the 17 June, Doctor Cross travelled to London where he married Miss Skinner and they returned to Shandy Court as husband and wife. This event seems to have come to light, when Mrs. Caulfield of Classes received a letter from Miss Skinner’s mother in Germany, informing her of the marriage of Doctor Cross and Miss Skinner.[8] The peculiar events raised suspicion and at the end of July, the body of the first Mrs. Cross was exhumed. Doctor Pearson, Professor of Materia Medica in Queens College, Cork (University College Cork) performed a post-mortem on the body. Doctor Cross was arrested by District Inspector Henry D. Tyacke on the 28 July 1887 in George’s Street, Cork and charged with having poisoned his wife, Mary Laura.

DI Tyacke's correspondence to the Coroner

Figure 9: DI Tyacke's correspondence to the Coroner

A magisterial investigation was held in the County Grand Jury Room before Mr. J. C. Gardiner, R.M. Following the investigation, the magistrate determined that the case should be sent for trial. The Prison register records Cross as being nearly six foot, with grey hair, hazel eyes and a fresh complexion. He had a variety of tattoos; a lion on his chest, stork on his left arm, death head and cross and bones on his right, in addition to a monkey and dog on his left leg.[9]

Description of Philip Cross per Prison records.

Figure 10: Description of Philip Cross per Prison records.

Doctor Cross was brought to trial in December 1887. Doctor Pearson presented the evidence discovered as a result of the post-mortem conducted on the body of Mrs. Cross. He found no evidence of Doctor Cross’ diagnosis of typhoid fever, but did find white particles in the gullet, which were arsenic; he also found traces of the element in the spleen and kidneys, the quantities sufficient to cause death. He also found traces of strychnine. [10] James Kiloch, an employee of Messrs. Gouldings, said under questioning, that Doctor Cross had bought a pound of arsenic from him on 2 September, 1886 for sheep dipping. [11]


Figure 11: Letter from Philip Cross informing the Marriott's of the death of Mary Laura.

During the trial the final hours of his wife were recollected. On the 2 June 1887, screams were heard coming the bedroom of Mrs. Cross. Doctor Cross went downstairs, and brought up a bottle of brandy, a few moments his wife was dead. The following morning, the staff were informed of the demise of Mary Laura Cross. The accused, retorted by admitting whilst having wronged Ms. Skinner, he did the decent thing by marrying her, but the notion that he murdered his wife for such a purpose was outrageous. On the 16 December 1887, the jury retired for forty minutes, and returned with a verdict of guilty.

Shortly before his hanging, a memorial was presented to the Lord Lieutenant asking for a reprieve. Mr. Charles Butterfield, a dental surgeon in Cork, made a statutory declaration that Mrs. Mary Laura Cross had asked him could he procure arsenic for her and inquired if he had heard that the poison was good for the complexion.[12] However, the reprieve was not granted and thirteen days after his second wife gave birth of his son John, Doctor Philip Cross met his maker on the 10 January 1888 at Cork County Gaol. ‘The executioner was Berry, who allowed a drop of about five and a half feet … it was stated that the culprit’s coat and collar were removed to allow the halter to be properly adjusted, and that the neck of the culprit appeared to be broken by the shock.’[13]

Figure 12: Birth registration of John Cross, son of Philip and Evelyn Skinner.



In his will, Philip Cross left his property to his brother Edward, in trust for Sophia Mary and Henry Eustace, children from his first marriage. He also asked that the property be bequeathed to his son Philip Richard and financial payments be made to two more daughters – Elizabeth Laura Marriott and Henrietta Emeline. In addition, he asked that £400 be set apart for the use of ‘the male child born of my wife on or about the 23rd December 1887. He is not yet baptised. I desire him to be called John.’[14] He also left his second wife Evelyn, a legacy of £60 a year, to be paid in six-monthly instalments. However, the payments would only be paid as long as she remained a widow – if she married again, the money would stop. Philip made it clear that the money was to go towards caring for their son – so if she remarried before he was 21, the money would then go directly to him until he reached that age. The madness of Philip Henry Eustace Cross left an ugly mess; his first family fatherless and motherless, his second family, Evelyn and baby John, alone.

In 2016, Briery Gap presented a musical documenting the events of 1887 and 1888 with Irish American actor Patrick Bergin playing Doctor Philip Cross.

Briery Gap Poster of Murder at Shandy Hall

Figure 13: Briery Gap Poster of Murder at Shandy Hall


[1] Canada, British Regimental Registers of Service, 1756-1900.

[2] Alumni Dublinenses - 1924 Edition


[4] Wo 23 - Royal Hospital Chelsea: Admission Books, Registers, And Papers 1702-1876

[5] Belfast Newsletter, 7 September 1887

[6] Belfast Newsletter, 9 September 1887

[7] Freemans Journal, 22 July 1887

[8] Irish Examiner, 22 July 1887

[9] Irish Prison registers 1790-1924

[10] The British Medical Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1408 (Dec. 24 1887), 1399

[11] Belfast Newsletter, 16 December 1887

[12] Belfast Newsletter, 2 January 1888

[13] The Evening Chronicle, 10 January 1888

[14] Belfast Newsletter, 15 February 1888

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