Tag Archives: coroner

Running out of steam

6 Apr

I don’t know how it happened. Yesterday I barely touched my family history and this evening I haven’t even opened my copy of Family Historian or my family history folders.

Am I suffering from genealogy burn out?

Last night I found myself idly flicking through my files, clicking on individuals in Family Historian, almost at random. I could see plenty of work to be done, and I did add a few details, but I just couldn’t summon up the enthusiasm to actually do any serious work. Even the GEERING family have lost their appeal.

Tonight was even worse, I didn’t even make the effort to do any research. Now I am starting to feel guilty, perhaps I should stay up late and force myself to do some research or some organising, but it is getting late and I should be going to bed.

It wasn’t that there was anything else that was more interesting to divert my attention today (it’s only an election after all!). I did listen to an interesting programme on BBC Radio 4, Between Ourselves which was about the life and work of two Coroners, which in a way was family history related, although in a modern context.

I don’t think I could live with myself if I didn’t do some research tomorrow, so I think I will have to chain myself to the computer and force myself to climb back up my tree and start swinging through the branches until someone catches my eye. Hang on, I think I can hear my ancestors calling now…

Dissecting the newspaper report of the inquest into the death of Jane GEERING

30 Mar

Yesterday I posted the newspaper report of the inquest held into the death of Jane GEERING. Today I am going to break it down to provide more detail and explain why the information contained in the report is so important.

An inquest was held on Wednesday at the Terminus Hotel, before L. G. Fullagar, Esq., coroner, touching the death of Jane Gearing, single woman, aged about 76.

The Terminus Hotel was probably the public house at the top of Station Road (now called simply The Terminus), a short distance from Cobden Place and about the same distance again from the common pond. It seems common practice for inquests to be held in public houses.

The fact that her surname is spelt GEARING is perhaps not surprising and not necessarily a problem. At this time Jane was the last of the GEERING family living in Hailsham, and there is no reason to suggest that the exact spelling her surname was known to anyone else in the town.

James Foster stated that he and deceased lived at Cobden-place, Hailsham. Witness last saw her alive on Monday night about half-past nine o’clock when she was going to bed. He noticed nothing particular about her. Witness did not see deceased again until he found her in the common pond dead. She was drawn to the shore by a rake being tied on the end of a pole. Deceased had got so that her landlady (Mrs. Carey) could not bear it any longer, and so asked her to look out for fresh apartments.

It is not clear whether James Foster lived in the same house as Jane. In the 1871 census Jane was living with Walter and Elizabeth Carey at 11 Cobden Place, but there is no sign of a James Foster in Hailsham.

The report suggests that James Foster was the person who discovered Jane’s body in the pond, but this is not clear. From his evidence it sounds like he was certainly there when her body was being recovered with a rake on the end of a pole.

I would like to have known what it was that the landlady “could not bear” any longer. Perhaps it was her physical appearance or health referred to later in the inquest in the surgeon’s evidence.

Mrs. Elizabeth Carey gave evidence much to the same effect.

Jane’s landlady gave evidence, but evidently this confirmed what had previously been said by James Foster.

Mr. James Pymar Billing, surgeon, stated that about half-past nine on Tuesday morning he went to the common pond and saw deceased being taken on a stretcher to a shed close by. Witness directed her to be taken to the Home, where he thoroughly examined her. She had apparently been dead about an hour. There were no external marks upon the body, but she was covered with fleas and vermin, and was in a filthy state. Witness stated that he had not the least doubt that she died from drowning.

The surgeon who examined Jane gives evidence next. His evidence suggests that Jane died about 8:30 on Tuesday morning. He is certain that she drowned, and graphically describes her state, which sounds rather unpleasant, but presumably this was as a result of her normal lifestyle rather than when she drowned.

The use of the word Home (with a capital H) suggests that this wasn’t just Jane’s home or his home, but rather some specific house, possibly a workhouse which may have served as an infirmary.

Edwin Isaac Baker said he was a bookseller and stationer, and had known deceased all his life. Witness allowed her an annuity of £20, as her brother left him property on that condition. She was a very peculiar woman, and suffered intense pain with her head, and had very weak nerves. Witness saw her on Monday, and she seemed very comfortable.

For me this is the most interesting part. The annuity of £20 explains Jane’s occupation (annuitant) on the 1871 census. It is the circumstances of this annuity that are of most interest.

This suggests that after the death of Ann GEERING (Jane’s aunt) in 1864 the property passed to at least one of her nephews, possibly John James GEERING, who in turn left it to Edwin Isaac Baker when he died in 1866. As you can see there is a whole website about Edwin Isaac Baker and his photographs, including photos of the inside of his shop.

If this is the case then this effectively provides the proof that I am looking for which links the GEERINGs in Hailsham to the GEERINGs in Lewes. Clearly the will of Ann GEERING is going to be critical to my research, and it also means I need to see if John James GEERING did leave a will.

If that wasn’t enough, this also provides further evidence of what became of the GEERINGs shop. Thomas Geering wrote in his book Our Sussex Parish that the shop had been taken over by a bookseller, the newspaper report suggests that this was Edwin Isaac Baker. This agrees with other evidence from maps and photos about the location of the shop.

The jury returned a verdict of “Found drowned,” but there was no evidence to show how she came into the water.

So ultimately we know Jane drowned, but we don’t know how she ended up in the pond. Was it suicide? A tragic accident? Murder? Unfortunately we will probably never know.

One thing that stood out in the report is the timeline of events. It is not immediately clear what happened when, all the references are to days of the week, so it is not really clear which dates they were on. It is crying out for a proper timeline of events.

Newspaper report of the inquest into the death of Jane GEERING

29 Mar

I had hoped that I would be able to find a newspaper report of the inquest into the death of Jane GEERING. Usually they provide more information than the inquest itself, and quite often they are the only record of the inquest.

I had checked several of the county newspapers for a report but had drawn a blank, so I moved down a level, and tried to locate the local paper that would cover Hailsham around that time. It wasn’t clear, but it seemed likely that Eastbourne would be the place and there were two newspapers that were published around the right time, the Eastbourne Chronicle and the Eastbourne Gazette.

Eastbourne Library has copies on microfilm of both newspapers and sure enough they did cover Hailsham, and they both had reports of the inquest into Jane’s death. They are both almost identical, the version below is from the Eastbourne Chronicle dated Saturday 19th September 1874.

DEATH BY DROWNING. – An inquest was held on Wednesday at the Terminus Hotel, before L. G. Fullagar, Esq., coroner, touching the death of Jane Gearing, single woman, aged about 76. – James Foster stated that he and deceased lived at Cobden-place, Hailsham. Witness last saw her alive on Monday night about half-past nine o’clock when she was going to bed. He noticed nothing particular about her. Witness did not see deceased again until he found her in the common pond dead. She was drawn to the shore by a rake being tied on the end of a pole. Deceased had got so that her landlady (Mrs. Carey) could not bear it any longer, and so asked her to look out for fresh apartments. – Mrs. Elizabeth Carey gave evidence much to the same effect. – Mr. James Pymar Billing, surgeon, stated that about half-past nine on Tuesday morning he went to the common pond and saw deceased being taken on a stretcher to a shed close by. Witness directed her to be taken to the Home, where he thoroughly examined her. She had apparently been dead about an hour. There were no external marks upon the body, but she was covered with fleas and vermin, and was in a filthy state. Witness stated that he had not the least doubt that she died from drowning. – Edwin Isaac Baker said he was a bookseller and stationer, and had known deceased all his life. Witness allowed her an annuity of £20, as her brother left him property on that condition. She was a very peculiar woman, and suffered intense pain with her head, and had very weak nerves. Witness saw her on Monday, and she seemed very comfortable. – The jury returned a verdict of “Found drowned,” but there was no evidence to show how she came into the water.

There are so many details in the report that it almost demands a sentence by sentence analysis, to provide explanation, further information and it’s importance to my research.

Sometimes everything works!

27 Mar

Today was one of my best family history days for a long time. Almost everything seemed to work as it should, buses and trains ran on time, libraries were open and it didn’t rain until I got home.

I had decided that I needed to get out and visit Hailsham, Sussex. I had looked on Google Street View, but decided it would still be a good idea to visit and see the town for myself, to get a feel for the place and see what resources were available.

Getting to Hailsham involved passing through the seaside town of Eastbourne, which meant the opportunity to stop in at Eastbourne Library and view some microfilms and other resources in their local studies room.

Then it was on to Hailsham to spend some time wandering around the town, getting a better idea of the layout and taking some photos, whilst following up a couple of leads and visiting the library

So what did I achieve that made it so worthwhile?

  1. Two slightly different newspaper reports of the Coroners inquest into the death of Jane GEERING, from Eastbourne Library.
  2. Copies of four maps of Hailsham High Street, including the all important tithe map of 1842, which confirms the location of the GEERING’s shop.
  3. Visited Hailsham church and took some photos. There are not many legible headstones still standing and the ground was very wet.
  4. Went inside the shop which now stands on the site of the GEERING’s shop. Quite how much of it is original is not clear.
  5. Found all the missing baptism entries for my GEERINGs from a set of transcriptions and indexes at Hailsham Library.
  6. Visited and photographed the row of houses (Cobden Place) where Jane GEERING was living before she died.
  7. Walked the route from Cobden Place to Common Pond, a short journey (less than two minutes walk).
  8. Got some photographs of Common Pond and of the pub where the inquest was held (The Terminus Hotel) assuming it hasn’t changed it’s name.

I didn’t get chance to visit the cemetery where I believe Jane GEERING was probably buried, but that can wait until another visit. I will need to visit later in the year anyway when the Hailsham Heritage Centre is open.

I still can’t believe how much information just keeps turning up about my GEERINGs. I still haven’t conclusively proved to my satisfaction that these are my ancestors, but all the evidence so far is pointing to that conclusion.

I couldn’t have achieved so much without the help of two particularly helpful librarians, one at Eastbourne and one at Hailsham. Who cheerfully answered my questions and dug out material for me. Thank you.

Death certificate of Jane GEERING (at last something interesting)

25 Mar

This is the third of this month’s certificate order, actually it is for Jane GEARING, but hopefully that is close enough for me to have the right person, probably the daughter of James GEERING my 5x great-grandfather.

This is by far the most interesting of the three certificates, but like the other two it doesn’t provide the evidence that I was hoping for. Jane died on the 15th September 1874 aged 76 years. Her occupation is given as singlewoman, which matches her census entries.

The place of death is the most interesting I have seen, usually it only gives a village or town, sometimes a workhouse or hospital if I am lucky. Jane’s certificate gives a very precise place of death, Common Pond, Hailsham.

The cause of death gives more clarification, “Found drowned in the Common Pond”. Not surprisingly the informant was the Coroner for East Sussex, after an inquest held on the 16th September 1874. The death was actually registered on the 21st September 1874.

This of course opens up more avenues of research, the official coroners report (if it survived) and any newspaper reports her death and the inquest. Also it poses so many questions. Was it suicide? Was it a tragic accident? How was she found? Had she gone missing?

Perhaps I shall never find the answers to these questions, but she has provided yet another interesting story, and of course more research to add to the growing to-do list.

The good news is that Common Pond, Hailsham still exists, although the common itself has all but disappeared.

Shocking discovery in the search for Wybrants KINGHORN

14 Aug

I have been trying to convince myself these last couple of days that I am not getting obsessed with Wybrants KINGHORN, and that I am right in investing time and money in finding out more about him even though he is not a direct ancestor.

Tonight that all changed because waiting for me at home (not quite on the doormat, but near enough) was a copy of his death certificate. I knew he was only 34 when he died in 1866, so I suspected something unusual, but I wasn’t quite prepared for what I found.

I went to the informant part first because I was hoping to find out that his wife was the informant and I would then have her/their address. But no, she wasn’t the informant, it read “Information received from Edwin Lankester Coroner for Middlesex inquest held 31st October 1866″. My mind starts wondering whether the Middlesex Coroners records have survived and where they would be now.

My eyes moved across to the cause of death, and I gasped in disbelief Manslaughter, I couldn’t believe it someone had killed him. I read on, by wounding eye with an Umbrella. No, that can’t be, what sort of murder weapon is that? Still there was more against Joseph Taylor alias Welsh alias Joe the Grinder P.M. My god how many alias does one man need! And a nickname as well “the Grinder”, he sounds a real nasty piece of work. Whatever could have happened? At first I wasn’t sure about those initials at the end, I thought it was a surname (Pitts), the writing was getting indistinct, there wasn’t much space left in the box for the registrar to write in! Looking at it again I realised it was P.M. for post mortem.

Suddenly my doubts had gone, my decision to continue searching for Wybrants had paid off, the best £7.00 I have ever spent. It is a shame I am busy tomorrow or I would be up in London first thing tomorrow morning, hammering on the door of an archive (don’t know which one!) screaming to be let in so I could find out more. I can feel a days holiday coming up next week, which gives me a bit of time to find out where to look.

Wybrants death occurred at Middlesex Hospital on the 27th October 1866, and now I am left wondering what happened to his wife after that, and did they have any children. The list of questions have for Wybrants and his family seems to grow longer every day, but I am still nowhere nearer finding out where he was in 1851 and 1861.

The tragic death of George MITCHELL

21 Apr

When I heard from a family member that my great grandfather George MITCHELL had died as a result of a kick from a horse, I knew that I just had to find out more details.

I already knew when he was buried (10th January 1951) and where (West Dean, Sussex), in fact I had already been and located his grave and from the inscription on the kerb stones knew the exact date of death.

I had the GRO reference, so I could have ordered a death certificate, but that would give me very little detail that I didn’t already have. Instead I guessed such a story would have made the local newspaper, even though he was “only” a carter, not a public figure.

I was correct. Not only was there a report of the Coroner’s inquest (in two separate local papers) but also a report of his funeral as well.

The inquest heard evidence from George’s son Lawrence, who had witnessed the accident. He told how on New Year’s Eve his father had let the 11 year old horse out of the stable (where it had been kept for several days due to bad weather), so that he could clean it out.

Once George had cleaned the stable he took the horse by the mane to lead it back, then the horse reared and kicked him in the side of the face and he fell to the ground. A doctor was called and George was taken to St. Richard’s Hospital in Chichester where he remained, unconscious, until his death on the 4th January 1951, aged 77 years old.

The coroner returned a verdict of “Death by misadventure” but was unable to say whether the injury, “a fracture to the base of the skull and accompanying brain injury”, was caused by the kick from the horse or when George fell to the ground.

The report of the funeral was unexpected, and also contained more detail than I would have expected. I am including the full report as an example of what can be found by searching local newspapers:

The funeral of Mr. George Mitchell (77), who was fatally injured on New Year’s Eve and died in St. Richard’s Hospital on January 4, took place at West Dean Church last Wednesday. The Rev. J. B. Hunt conducted the service. Mr. Mitchell lived at Warren Farm, Chilgrove, for 52 years and worked 29½ years for Mr. Knight, 4 for Mr. Ruff and 18 for Mr. Heyler, the present tenant. His wife died in 1939. They had 14 children, 58 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren, and four generations were born in the same house. Chief mourners were Messrs. Henry, Robert, John, Laurance, Walter, Alfred and Edward Mitchell (sons), Mrs. N. Cutler, Mrs. D. Clark, Mrs. D. Daughtry, Mrs. E. Elliott and Mrs. R. Treagust (daughters). The inquest on Mr. Mitchell is reported in our Chichester news on page 2.

West Sussex Gazette, 18 January 1951.

There is so much information contained in that single report that I can follow up on and verify with other sources (proof that it shouldn’t be trusted 100% is evident by the fact that some of the names are spelt wrong). It is hard to think of another source where you will find the names of someone’s previous employers and the length of service for each of them.

I think I did have all the daughter’s married names, but it is a good check for my research. Then there are those 58 grandchildren, I think I have details for about seven or eight of them so far!

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