Tag Archives: inquest

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.

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