Thursday, 30 October 2008
You - The Jury - Conclusion
For those of you who missed part one of this story, may I suggest you go back and read it now before you continue.
Of the few that took part, none of you came up with the conclusion of the inquest findings - the words that had to be entered on the death certificate.
Thanks to those of you who did offer your ideas as to what might have happened.
I can tell you that the verdict given was “Found Drowned”.
Now, this is annoying because it solves nothing - but it was common practice. Since registration began in 1837 and well into the last century, it was a verdict given to any body, taken from any stretch of water, unless there were evident and obvious signs of violence or foul play.
A person could be walking along a riverbank, accidentally fall in and, being unable to swim, forfeited their life. A person could wilfully throw themselves off a bridge intending to end their life, but, unless they had left any sort of note or witnesses came forward to state they were suffering from depression, the same verdict was given. Only in the event of stab wounds, gunshot wounds, throat-cutting, bludgeoning to the head or a ligature around the neck would the case be treated as murder. So, hundreds of people died in unexplained circumstances and were classified as “found drowned”. One has to wonder how many of them could, in fact, have been murder victims.
“Found Drowned” was also a kind verdict to give for the relatives of the deceased. Remember, in those times suicide was still considered a crime - the crime of murder - self-murder. A suicide could not be buried in consecrated ground and the stigma of such a death fell on the family.
As for myself , I have always concluded it was suicide and for the following reasons:-
1. There was no proof the gentleman had been knocked down by a bicycle. Nobody seemed to have witnessed the accident, no cyclist came forward to admit to it and there were no signs of injury. The gentleman did not seek medical attention at the time. All that remains is what he told his daughter. Several days had passed after the “accident” by the time his daughter came to stay, she then stayed for around a week. I would have thought that any brain injury caused by such an accident would have shown itself by that time. Any concussion, brain haemorrhage or skull fracture would surely have thrown up symptoms apparent to his daughter and his landlady. Also, there would have been an autopsy and a doctor did give medical evidence at the inquest. No mention was made of brain injury or possible tumour.
2.Why was he not working when the daughter came to stay? Of course he could have taken a holiday to be with her but….. maybe he used the excuse of being knocked down to explain his absence from work. He would not want to admit he had lost another position. In the telegram he said “sorry you went” - not sorry you had to go back or sorry your holiday had come to an end. This could mean that the daughter decamped back to London because there had been an argument between them.
3. This gentleman left his homeland ten years before and settled in London. He had almost certainly lost his job back home. Could that have been caused by his drinking habits? Prior to that he had no connection with England whatsoever. The family were poor and times were very hard. He had children to think about, how to feed and clothe them.
4. He had already suffered tragedy in his life. His eldest daughter had collapsed and died within a week, at the age of sixteen. Two months later his wife died at the age of 35 from a bacterial infection. This left him with two sons aged 8 and 4 and four daughters aged 15, 13, 6 and 3. The three year old had been born brain damaged and was destined to spend her entire life in institutions once it became apparent she would not be able to attend school.
5. Within a couple of weeks of burying his wife, the family uprooted to England. The prospects were much better. The salaries would be higher. This gentleman could write a good hand and had obviously benefited from what education he had received. Although they settled in a poor area of London ,he did obtain gainful employment as a clerk with a shipping company, a similar position to one he had held back home. The eldest daughter would have taken the place of her mother and brought up the rest of the children whilst he was working. That daughter was the one who attended the inquest.
6. He had been a man of reasonably sober habits before tragedy struck. It can only be assumed that the loss of his wife and daughter prayed on his mind. He would also be missing his homeland, relatives and friends. It was only after moving to England that he really took to the drink. He did not have a happy relationship with his two elder daughters, the youngest of whom ran away on several occasions because he became handy with his fists. The relationship in the household must have been very strained.
Little is known thereafter although it does seem likely that he lost his job in London at some point. The children were grown up, the two sons both went to sea, the daughters married.
7. It could have been the loss of his job that sent him to the boarding house in that seaside town, another area he had no connection with. However, there was a port nearby and his work involved shipping. He might have moved from London for that very reason. He had no connection with the town and no reason to be there unless he had employment in the area.
His drinking obviously continued - evidenced by the number of bottles found in his room. Had he, unbeknown to his family, lost another position because of his liking for alcohol? What was he going to do? His family were grown and had lives of their own, his drinking had spiralled out of control, his job possibly lost and with no prospect of another. This could be the reason for the possible argument with his daughter and why she left.
It also transpired that the Insurance Policy for the large sum was worthless. He had not kept up the payments on it. He was only 45 years of age but must have felt that he had nothing left.
I think he had had enough. I think he had gone into a depression, maybe he had been depressed for a long time. Little could be done about depression in those days. Did he see shades of the madhouse descend upon him, or the workhouse, a place to be avoided like the plague? People lived in utter dread of the workhouse in those days. He was probably a very lonely and unhappy man. It was the tenth anniversary almost to the day of the loss of his eldest daughter. She died on the 13th September and he walked into the sea on the 14th September. It would also have been only a couple of months to the anniversary of the death of his wife.
Of course, the coroner and the jury did not enquire into his past life at the inquest, as far as we know, but the newspaper report was brief and who knows what the daughter told them that was not reported.
I think that on that September morning he had reached the end of his tether. He saw no future. That would account for him not sending that last telegram to his daughter. He intended to do so and then changed his mind. He left the boarding house without his wallet and carrying no identification. He remarked he did not want to see many more mornings in this world. I think he deliberately walked into the sea in an act of utter desperation. The black eyes were probably acquired whilst he was in the water. Remember, nobody had mentioned his eyes before, those injuries must have been caused after he entered the sea.
I think that the jury might well have suspected suicide, but taking pity on the family - and ensuring he could receive a Christian burial, they gave the verdict of “Found Drowned”.
His family were later to fabricate a story about how he met his death, totally by accident, at the London docks. They said he had been hit by something being unloaded from a ship, had fallen into the water and, being caught between the quayside and the ship, had drowned. Patently untrue. I feel that they knew, in their hearts, what the real truth was and maybe they felt guilty. Each generation of his family was told this false story.
It was I who discovered there had been a web of deceit. It was I who managed to eventually unearth the newspaper report concerning the inquest - and I who traced his death certificate.
So, why did this story intrigue me, why did I spend so much time and effort trying to piece together the likely solution and finding every scrap of information that I could?
It was because - that gentleman who walked into the sea on that September morning in 1906 was my Great-Grandfather.