The Death Of William Lees

On Saturday the 16th of October 1876 The Exmouth Journal published the following article published the following story that highlighted the case of a poor man in London, and the way in which he – as was the case with so many of the Victorian poor –  had been let down by officialdom:-


Mr. Coroner Humphreys and a jury of sixteen people were engaged the other day for the second time in the consideration of this sad case.

The evidence revealed the following facts:-

William Lees, 68 years of age, a labourer, had fallen into very necessitous circumstances. When he could raise the money he lived at a common lodging house, and when he could not he slept in the street.

On Friday week he presented himself, and, being in arrears, was expelled by the deputy, Walker, with sufficient violence to cause him to fall down the steps and cut his head open.

He was then locked up and had his wound dressed, and, the next morning, was charged with drunkenness and fined one shilling.


On Saturday night he slept in the open air, but on Sunday a costermonger named Henry Wright, who also lodged at the same house, found him very ill and unable to stand, in the Bethnal Green Road, and, fetching his barrow, he conveyed him to 22, Swan Street, where his mate and he paid the cost of his night’s lodging and for something to eat.


Next day he was discovered in bed by the charwoman very cold and ill, and Wright, on being told of the fact, said that he ought to have good medical attendance, and again bringing his barrow into requisition, took him to the relieving officer, who at once sent him on to the workhouse without waiting to write an order.

However, on the doctor not being in, the man was put into the receiving ward and was not attended to through the night.

The next morning Dr. Burgess saw that he was suffering from acute pneumonia, and he died in the evening.


The jury delivered the following verdict:-

“That the deceased died from congestion of the lungs, accelerated by a blow or fall, and the jury are of the opinion that the conduct of the master in neglecting to summon medical assistance is highly censurable, and they request the coroner to convey this expression of opinion to the master.

The jury further considers that the doctor should not leave the house without appointing a deputy in attendance to act for him, and they request the coroner to convey this finding to the guardians of the parish.’’


The deputy, Walker, was then called in and admonished, and the master was informed of the finding of the jury.

Thirteen shillings and sixpence was collected for the man Wright.