The Coroner’s Verdict is final

Life expectancy was much lower in the Georgian era mainly due to lack of medicine, poor diet, hygiene and sanitation but, looking back through the newspapers of the day, Health & Safety and personal injury/accident lawyers would have had a high old time with many accidents and deaths resulting from guns accidentally discharging and killing people, fires in the home, deaths as a result of falling off horses and accidental drownings due to due to excessive alcohol intake appears to have been a common cause, as does being run over by a waggon … the list goes on. The eighteenth-century was clearly a dangerous time to live in, as demonstrated by this example

Whitehall Evening Post or London Intelligencer, December 14, 1754 – December 17, 1754

Reading, Dec 14. On Monday last an Inquisition was taken at Beaconsfield in Bucks, on the body of a woman, well known in that part of the county to be a common prostitute, who meeting with one William Clarke, at the Hare and Hounds at Red Hill in the said county, who was driving a cart, she got into the cart and calling at several places to drink gin, they were both intoxicated, and about half a mile from Beaconsfield the woman fell out of the cart when the man was asleep, and about two in the morning she was found dead on the road, several carriages having run over her head and body, but unknown to anyone who they belonged to. The jury brought in their verdict of accidental death.

The remainder of our post looks at some more unusual instances of death which were recorded by the Coroner as ‘accidental’.  There are certainly some verdicts which, if viewed today, could quite easily be regarded as murder or at least manslaughter, but the Coroner’s Verdict was recorded as accidental and his decision was final.

Coroners inquest Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library Banner

We begin with the Daily Advertiser, Friday, November 7, 1777

On Tuesday a pack of goods, weighing about three hundred and a half, fell from the Bengal India Warehouse, in New Street, Bishopsgate upon Mr. Netherhood, belonging to the above house, by which accident his back, thigh and both legs were broke and he died on the spot. On Wednesday the Coroner’s Inquest sat on the body of Mr. Netherhood, at the Magpye, a public house in the above street, and brought in their verdict – Accidental Death.

Lloyd’s Evening Post, November 21, 1798

Wednesday evening, a Coroner’s Inquest sat at the parish church of St. Laurence, Cateaton Street on the body of Norman, a private in the West Yorkshire Militia, who was unfortunately killed by a fall from the roof of the Manchester Coach the preceding day.

The 'King's Harms', British (English) School (a painting of the 'King’s Arms' inn in Manchester. As the sign on the façade shows, the artist misspelt the name of the establishment, hence the title of the picture). Compton Verney http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-kings-harms-54665
The ‘King’s Harms’, British (English) School c.1800 (a painting of the ‘King’s Arms’ inn in Manchester. As the sign on the façade shows, the artist misspelt the name of the establishment, hence the title of the picture).
Compton Verney

Whitehall Evening Post, September 1, 1798

On Friday morning last Mr. Benjamin Hale, a soap-boiler in Goswell Street, having been up all night at work, unfortunately lost his light, and, shocking to relate he fell into a pan of lees then boiling, by which he was so much scalded and mortification coming immediately on, that he died in the afternoon of the same day. The coroner’s Inquest was held on the body on Monday.

Bone House - Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
Bone House – Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Star, Friday, September 7, 1798

On Tuesday an Inquisition was taken at Stone, Bucks, before Mr. Burnham, his majesty’s Coroner, on view of the body of Edwin Smith, a boy about eight years old, who, as he was climbing upon the spokes of the wheel of a harvest cart, with an intent to get up and ride in the same, in consequence of the horses suddenly moving forward, he fell to the ground, the wheel passed over his boy and killed him on the spot.

The Harvest Wagon by Francis Wheatley, 1774. Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-harvest-wagon-46836
The Harvest Wagon by Francis Wheatley, 1774.
Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery

St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post, August 4, 1774 – August 6, 1774

On Wednesday night died, of a mortification in this thigh, Mr. Edward Paget, many years Master of the Queen’s Head Alehouse in Marsham Street, Westminster. His death was occasioned by being shot in the back part of his thigh, by standing too near one of the cannons going off on Millbank at the time of the boats passing by for the rowing match on Monday for Doggett’s Coat and Badge, which immediately mortified. The Coroner’s Inquest on Thursday morning brought in their verdict – Accidental Death.

The Race for Doggett's Coat and Badge by Thomas Rowlandson. © The Trustees of the British Museum
The Race for Doggett’s Coat and Badge by Thomas Rowlandson.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

True Briton, Thursday, October 4, 1798

On Thursday se’nnight, Joseph Beight, a well-cleaner of Damerham, undertook to clean a well in Mr. Coomb’s yard at Milford, near Salisbury, and when about to descend, a rope was procured, which Mr.  Coombs wished him to fasten round his body, that me might be pulled up in case of accident, which was rather to be apprehended, as the well was about 30 feet deep, narrow and very foul; he, however, unfortunately rejected this advice and was let down in the bucket, holding the rope in his hand only.

When about half way down, he called to the people above to let him go faster; but when they had turned three rounds more, he called ‘stop!’ and presently after, ‘pull up’, it was immediately discovered that he had let go the rope, and, overcome by the foul air, his body sunk by the side of the bucket, and obstructed its passage as it was drawing up. More assistance was then called, but from the exertion that was used, a link of the chain gave way and the man’s body sunk precipitately to the bottom of the well. Another man was let down, with the rope fastened round him, but he felt himself so strongly affected by the noxious effluvia, that he was obliged to be drawn up when he had reached half way.

Grappling irons were then resorted to and near an hour was spent in their efforts to draw the body up. No hope could be entertained of restoring animation and account of the time that had elapsed and the sad bruises the body had received. Mr. Whitmarsh held an Inquest on the body the next day, Verdict – Accidental Death. The unfortunate man was 54 years of age and has left a widow and eight children to lament the loss of an industrious husband an affectionate father.

Middlesex Journal and Evening Advertiser September 6, 1774 – September 8, 1774

On Saturday a chimney-sweeper went up a baker’s chimney, near the Maze Pond, Southwark, when the chimney was so hot that he had not the power to get down again, but was suffocated in a few minutes. The Coroner’s Inquest brought in their verdict – accidental death.

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2 thoughts on “The Coroner’s Verdict is final

  1. The same attitude was prevalent in the Nineteenth Century with accidental death being attributed to a wide range of cases. I noticed that there were many accidents caused on the railway with people walking alongside the track and their clothing being caught in the moving parts of the locomotive causing them to be killed.

    At one spot where a foot path crossed a railway line, after several accidents the jury was moved to suggest a bridge should be built by the railway company.

    Liked by 1 person

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