Henry Hadley (died 1914)

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Henry Hadley
Born 27 March 1863[1]
Cheltenham, England
Died 5 August 1914(1914-08-05) (aged 51)
Gelsenkirchen, Germany
Cause of death Gunshot wound
Nationality English
Education Cheltenham College
Occupation Language teacher
Known for Circumstances of death
Relatives Erasmus Darwin (great-grandfather)

Henry Hadley (27 March 1863 – 5 August 1914) was an English civilian who was fatally shot in Germany, allegedly while resisting arrest, on 3 August 1914, the day before the United Kingdom's entry into the First World War.[2] He is sometimes described as the "first British casualty" of the Great War.[2][3] He was a great-grandson of Erasmus Darwin.

Early life and family[edit]

Hadley was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.[4] His father, also Henry Hadley (1812–1874), had been a senior doctor in the British Army, serving as a surgeon with the 40th Foot and the Rifle Brigade, in Australia with the 11th Foot and 99th Foot,[5] at the Castle Hospital at Balaklava in the Crimean War, before retiring in 1861 with the honorary rank of Deputy Inspector-General of Hospitals.[6] His mother, Alpha Clementia Dunn, was from Hobart, Tasmania.[7] His paternal grandfather, also Henry Hadley (1762–1830), was the physician of Erasmus Darwin and married Darwin's illegitimate daughter Susannah Parker (1772–1856) in 1809.[8]

He was educated at Cheltenham College,[9] attended the Royal Military Academy Woolwich,[10] and served as a lieutenant in the 1st West India Regiment from 1887 to 1890.[2][11][12] He later became a teacher of languages.


Hadley had been teaching in Berlin for three or four years,[9] but decided to move to Paris following Germany's declarations of war against Russia on 1 August 1914 and then France on 3 August, and its ultimatum to Belgium, in the preceding days.[2] At 1:25 pm local time on 3 August, Hadley and his English housekeeper, Elizabeth Pratley, caught a train to Cologne from Berlin's Friedrichstraße station, intending to change trains there.[2]

A conductor on the train became suspicious of his behaviour, and Hadley became involved in an altercation while the train was stopped at Gelsenkirchen station.[13][14] It was later claimed that Hadley had spoken in several foreign languages, did not appear to know where he was travelling to, argued with a waiter in the dining car, and made gestures at German officers.[14] After briefly returning to his seat, he was shot in the stomach while in the train's corridor by a Prussian military officer, Oberleutnant Nicolay.[2][13]

Hadley was taken by ambulance to the Evangelische Krankenhaus in Gelsenkirchen, and died there at 3:15 am local time on 5 August – just three hours after the UK declared war on Germany.[14] He was buried in a pauper's grave in zone 11, division 9[2] of the Protestant cemetery at Gelsenkirchen,[3] but the exact site of the burial is no longer known.[15]

Elizabeth Pratley was interrogated as a potential spy, at a military prison in Münster, but was eventually released, without charge,[2] to the Clemenshospital in Münster, and finally allowed to return home in November 1914.[2] She then informed the British government of Hadley's death, on 26 November 1914.[2]


The British government received a communiqué from the German government, via the then-neutral American embassy in Berlin,[13] declaring that Lieutenant Nicolay insisted that he had acted in self-defence, saying that Hadley had appeared to be reaching for a weapon,[2] and did not respond to the warning "hands up or I will shoot".[13] A court martial cleared him of all blame[13] and he was promoted to Captain[2] within a few months of the incident.[13] Nonetheless, the British government continued to regard the case as one of murder.[2][13] They issued a statement, published in The Times on 17 April 1915, which quoted the German communiqué, and protested at the acquittal of Nicolay.[14] A statement by Hadley's cousin S. Eardley Wilmot was published on 20 April 1915, also doubting the German official account, and cited the case as an example of "Prussian brutality".[16] Other English periodicals made comparisons to the Saverne Affair, in which an unarmed Alsatian shoemaker was severely wounded by a Prussian officer wielding a sabre, but the officer was ultimately acquitted of any offence at court martial.[17]

In 1917, the German authorities revealed that some of Hadley's possessions had been sold by a court-appointed administrator and the proceeds used to pay the costs of his hospital treatment.[2] Subsequently, more of his belongings were returned to his family, via the neutral authorities in The Hague.[2]

He was largely forgotten until British author Richard van Emden published a book in 2013 that provided details of his death.

See also[edit]

  • HMS Amphion, a British scout cruiser, sunk by a German mine on 6 August 1914, with around 170 killed
  • Private John Parr, reputedly the first British soldier killed in the First World War, on 21 August 1914


  1. ^ College, Cheltenham (1890). Cheltenham College Register, 1841-1889. Bell. p. 333. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Van Emden, Richard (15 August 2013). Meeting the Enemy: The Human Face of the Great War. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9781408821640.
  3. ^ a b "12/08/2013". The One Show. 12 August 2013. BBC One. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  4. ^ Henry Hadley in household of Henry Hadley, "England and Wales Census, 1871"
  5. ^ Photograph of Surgeon Henry Hadley
  6. ^ The London Gazette, 4 June 1861, p.2353
  7. ^ Family Notices, The Courier, Hobart, Tasmania, 3 December 1851
  8. ^ The Life of Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin, p.143
  9. ^ a b Blundell, Nigel (13 August 2013). "Henry Hadley: The tragic tale of languages teacher who became Britain's first WW1 victim". Daily Mail. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  10. ^ Henry Hadley, "England and Wales Census, 1881"
  11. ^ The London Gazette, 29 April 1887, p.2383
  12. ^ The London Gazette, 7 January 1890, p.95
  13. ^ a b c d e f g "A Murdered Englishman". Grey River Argus. 12 June 1915. p. 7. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  14. ^ a b c d "Murder of British Subject. Shot By Prussian Officer., Foreign Office Statement", The Times, Saturday, 17 April 1915; pg. 8; Issue 40831; col F
  15. ^ "Erstes Weltkriegsopfer starb in Gelsenkirchen", Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, 12 August 2013
  16. ^ "The Murder of Mr. Hadley. A Cousin's Version", The Times, Tuesday, 20 April 1915; pg. 9; Issue 40833; col C
  17. ^ "Denounce Germany for Hadley murder", The New York Times, 18 April 1915