This Week’s Inquests

It is interesting to read the reports from the various Coroners Courts around London, as they provide a great deal of information about not only how Londoners lived in the 19th century, but also about how a large percentage of them died.

On Sunday, 2nd September, 1888, Reynolds’s Newspaper, in addition to reporting extensively on the murder of Mary Nichols, which had taken place on 31st August, 1888, also provided readers with a round up of the inquests that had been held the previous day.



Mr. Henry E. Barnes, the deputy coroner for Westminster, held an inquiry at the St. Martin’s Vestry Hall concerning the death of William Henry Cook, aged thirty-eight years, a commercial traveller, lately residing at 2, Frith-street, Soho, who was drowned in the Thames.

Mrs. Julia Cook, the widow, stated that her husband had been in the service of Messrs. Welshman and Co., jewellers, of 72, Dean-street, Soho, for the last eighteen months, and, as far as she knew, gave them every satisfaction.

She knew nothing about his pecuniary affairs, as he was very reserved upon the subject.

On Monday morning, he left home at half-past eight – an hour earlier than usual – for the purpose, as she supposed, of going to business. There was nothing strange in his appearance, and he wished them all “good-bye,” as was his custom. He did not return, and on Wednesday morning she heard of his death.

He had never threatened to commit suicide.

Sophia Johnson, a sister of the deceased, living in New Bond-street, deposed that her brother called to see her on Sunday evening, when he told her that he was about to leave his situation. He did not seem despondent.


William Bain, of 63, Edward-road, Beckenham, manager to Messrs. Welshman and Co., said that the deceased had been with them for fifteen months. He was under notice to leave because Mrs. Welshman, the head of the firm, had taken her son into the business. He left his situation on Saturday evening, when he seemed quite jovial. He had a salary and commission. Sometimes he would take out £1,000 worth of jewellery, and his accounts were found to be quite correct.


William Thomas Harris, of 10A, West-street, St. Martin’s-lane, deposed that between half-past eight and nine on Tuesday night he was passing along the Thames Embankment, near Charing Cross Pier, when he heard groans proceeding from the water. Upon looking over the parapet he saw the deceased, who was fully dressed, swimming in the river. He was within three feet of the pier, and he appeared to have been trying to get on to it.

The deceased eventually swam as far as the sphinxes of Cleopatra’s Needle, and a crowd of persons, who had assembled, cheered the man for his plucky efforts to keep his head above water. He gradually lost strength, however, and sank for the last time after exclaiming, “I can’t go any further!”

Four policemen took hold of hands, and one was up to his neck in water, but they could not reach the drowning man.

No private individual tried to rescue him, although nearly 200 persons were looking on.

The water was ten feet deep.


Police-sergeant Harris, 20 E, said that he thought there were not more than fifty persons on the Embankment. When the deceased said he could not swim any longer, witness and three constables joined hands and endeavoured to rescue him, but their efforts were futile.

By the Coroner:- There was a boat on the Charing-cross pier, but it was unserviceable, being leaky.

The police-boat arrived from Waterloo Bridge just as the deceased had gone down.

Sub-inspector Law, Thames police, who found the body near the same spot five hours later, stated that there was no money in the pockets, but there were nine pawn-tickets relating to jewellery, and ninety imitation precious stones.

By the Coroner:- If the boat had been in good condition the deceased might have been saved.

Mrs. Cook, recalled, said that her husband was a good swimmer.


Dr. George Albert Hamerton, having stated that death was due to drowning, the coroner commented upon the conduct of the persons who made no attempt to save the deceased, and said it was a pity that the boat was out of repair.

The jury returned a verdict of ” Found drowned,” and added a rider expressing their opinion that if the boat at Charing Cross Pier had been in a proper state of repair the deceased’s life might have been saved, and they also came to the conclusion that the policemen, being non-swimmers, did all they possibly could to try and rescue the unfortunate man.


Dr. Danford Thomas held an inquest at the Ossington Coffee Tavern concerning the death of George Hill Rumsey, aged forty-two, a gasfitter, lately lodging at a beerhouse, 7, Homer-street, Marylebone-road.

The widow of the deceased, who had been separated from her husband, said that they were always, notwithstanding their separation, “good friends.”

She got her own livelihood, and did not trouble him for money.


The Coroner:- “Was he a temperate man?”

Witness:- “Well, at times he had more than was good for him, like a great many more of us.

Other evidence showed that on Tuesday night last, whilst the deceased was sitting in the taproom of the beerhouse where he lodged, he fell upon the door, was carried to bed, and was found by the landlord there the next morning, lying in an insensible condition. The landlord at once sent for a doctor, whilst the deceased expired within two hours afterwards.

At first, his illness was mistaken for intoxication, and so no doctor was then summoned.


Dr. James Morgan, of 15, John-street, Edgware Road, said that the deceased had ruptured a blood vessel in the brain, and died from the effects of apoplexy. The symptoms of apoplexy were often mistaken for signs of drunkenness, which they nearly resembled.

The jury returned a verdict in accordance with the medical testimony.


Dr. G. Danford Thomas held an inquest at Paddington Coroner’s Court on the body of Charles John Lodge, aged twenty-seven, a sailor in the navy, lately residing at 117, Belsize Road, West Hampstead.

It appeared that the deceased was on furlough, and was staying with his parents, when on Thursday last he and several of his mates hired tricycles, with which they rode to Edgware.


In returning in the evening, the deceased and a fellow seaman, named Fairbrick, were riding side by side near the kerb on the highway at Shooter’s Hill, Brondesbury, when an omnibus overtook them.

According to Fairbrick, as the bus was passing the tricycle, the horses swerved, and the one nearest the machine caught the tricycle and upset it. Lodge fell, and was kicked in the knee by one of the animals. Then two of the wheels of the bus passed over him.

Fairbrick, who was farthest from the bus, escaped uninjured.

A cabdriver, who witnessed the collision, said that the omnibus was in the middle of the road – a wide one – and there was room on either side of it for two tricycles to pass in safety.

Witness went to Lodge’s assistance, and removed him at once in his cab to St. Mary’s Hospital, where he was found to be dead.

The off-side driving wheel of the machine was smashed.

A lady passenger in the omnibus said that the sailor tricyclists proceeded at a rapid pace down Shooter’s Hill, and she apprehended an accident.

One of the sailors, replying to the coroner, said that they were ringing their bells during nearly the whole of their journey.


William Savage, driver in the employ of the London General Omnibus Company, asserted that the tricycle swerved towards the horses, and not the latter towards the machine.

Police Constable Rose, who was on the top of the omnibus, stated that the deceased and his companion and two other sailors seemed to be racing, and corroborated the driver.

Fairbrick said that he was used to steering a boat, and steering a tricycle was a similar thing. He was the steersman.

Dr. George Bird deposed that death was due to extensive internal injury.

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.”