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.