This is the first report published in the Somerset and Wiltshire Journal on Saturday 16th July1892, on the inquest into the death of Samuel Martin, rural postman for Mells, who had been found dead in a pond the previous Saturday.
On Wednesday afternoon last an inquest was held at the Talbot-inn, Mells, before W. Muller, Esq., Coroner, concerning the death of Samuel Martin (aged 47), rural postman for Mells, who was found dead in a pond on the previous Sunday under circumstances which pointed to the conclusion that he drowned himself with some deliberation. Mr. W.A. Fussell was foreman of the jury.
P.C. Samuel Redman said that about 5 p.m. on the previous Sunday, in consequence of a request from a man named James Bainton and from Bertha Martin (daughter of deceased), he proceeded to Mells-park. On the bank of the pond and near the bathing house he found a coat, vest, cap and scarf, part of a postman’s uniform. Inside the hat was marked the name “S. Martin.” He found footprints leading to the rails round the head of the pond. On looking into the water he saw what appeared to be a bag. When he got to it he found the head and upper portion of deceased’s body right inside the bag, and with assistance got the body out of the water, the depth of which was from five to six feet. Deceased had on his shirt, trousers, boots and stockings. Witness had him removed to his home. On searching the clothing in the right-hand pocket of the coat he found one bottle and in the left-hand pocket another. [These were produced and the Coroner said that one smelt of rum and the other brandy.] He also discovered several business papers and letters, but nothing to explain the reason for drowning. In the waistcoat pocket was found 2s. 5d. Witness said he had known Martin for a long time. The last occasion on which he saw him alive was about 9 p.m. on Saturday, when he left the Ship-inn, Frome, with two women in his trap (Mrs. Harriet Walters and Mrs Lucy Brown, the latter being a widow). He then appeared to be sober and he was generally a sober man. Witness knew there had been disagreements between deceased and his wife, and Mrs Martin had often complained to him of her husband’s violence, also of an intimacy between deceased and Mrs. Walters. Owing to what he had himself seen he gave some credence to the charges. The constable proceeded to state that on Sunday evening he went to Mrs. Walters’s house and asked her if she knew what Martin did with a box he took away to Frome. She said it was in her house and handed it to witness; she also gave him the key of it, two purses and deceased’s watch and chain. In one purse was £2 10s. in gold; in the other was 4s.11½ d. in silver and bronze. In a drawer in the box were two sealed letters, which he now produced.
The Coroner read these through. They were directed to deceased’s two brothers, Alfred and Charles, and were evidently written with the idea that they would come before a Coroner’s court. Both were dated on the Saturday, and in them Martin said he was driven to take the step he intended from having a dirty and lazy wife, who had not washed a shirt for him for a long period of time. He gave many particulars on this matter. The other woman against whom his wife made imputations was perfectly innocent. He said he was quite sane, though excited.
P.C. Redman said the letters were in deceased’s own handwriting. Witness had always looked upon Martin as a sane man, but had seen him excited and in a temper. He had seen deceased’s horse and trap tied up many evenings near Mrs. Walters’ house for two or three hours.
Mary Martin, widow of deceased, said she last saw her husband alive about 10.20 a.m. on Sunday, when he left her house with a parcel of meat. He had not come home until 3.15 that morning, and she had waited up for him. At 6.45 the previous evening he had left to take the letters to Frome. Staying out late was a usual thing for him. They had not been living happily together the last 18 months, and matters had been getting worse. Her Husband had lately been strange and excited, and he was very hot-headed. The unpleasantness between them was owing to his being on friendly terms with Mrs. Walters. When she spoke about it he flew into a temper. Witness had never spoken to Mrs. Walters, who had a husband and one child. Mrs Martin said she had been married 20 years and had six children living. There were no words on Sunday between herself and her husband. They had not been cohabiting for some time (about seven months). Her husband had threatened to take his own life and her’s too. Just before he went out on Sunday morning he asked for some bread and cheese: he came downstairs and went straight away after some of the children good-bye and saying he was sorry for what he was going to do. The assertions made by deceased in the letters read were not true.
The Coroner said that although he was averse to it, there was necessity for them to go into the matters which had been a subject of scandal in the village, in order to see what bearing they had upon the mind of the deceased.
Harriet Walters, a woman who appeared to be about 28 years of age, wife of Joseph Walters a grinder, who was both deaf and dumb, living at Sidney-valley, Mells, said she had been acquainted with deceased since the beginning of March last. Since then he had come to their house four times a week or less, at night when he returned from Frome. He came because he was acquainted with her husband, and brought articles for them from Frome. Her husband sometimes asked her to give Martin some food and drink. Deceased generally came between 8 and 9 o’clock and stayed about an hour, but not longer. Shortly after 7 o’clock on the previous Saturday evening, she got into his trap at Great Elm, and rode from thence into Frome with him. After reaching Frome she did not see him again until they started back between 9 and 10 o’clock. Mrs Brown was with her. Martin brought her right back to her home, near Mells Iron Works, and he left the house between 11 and 12 o’clock. He came back again between 12 and 1 o’clock with some things he had conveyed for her from Frome. About 1 o’clock he had supper with her and her husband.
The Coroner said the witness was not going to make him believe that they had postponed supper till 1 o’clock
Mrs. Walters said they had their supper when they could. It was about half past two when Martin left them last, but she was not certain as to the time, for she did not look at a clock herself. Martin did not come back because she asked him, and there was no foundation for the attacks made upon her character concerning her relations with deceased. She had several times told him it was his place to go home to his wife and children; in reply, he said he had no home and no wife, but loved his children. She also told him that his visits to her husband’s house were causing her to be disliked about the neighbourhood.
The Coroner said witness had matters in her own hands.
Mrs. Walters replied that her husband would not let Martin go, though she had told him to.
P.C. Redman here put in a letter sent to Martin by Mrs. Walters when she was staying in Birmingham at Whitsuntide, and in which she asked him to meet her and thanked him for the “order”
Mrs. Walters, at the Coroner’s request, read the letter through. It commenced with “Dear Samuel” and ended with “Yours affectionately, Harriet Walters”. In explanation of it the witness said that Martin was going to Birmingham for a day’s trip and would take her husband back. She signed it as she would another letter.
The Coroner said he was afraid he could not believe the witness. It was not usual for married women to ask married men to meet them.
The constable said that at the end of Whitsun week he recollected seeing Martin coming back from Radstock with the woman’s husband.
Mrs. Walters said the box before referred to was brought to her house on Saturday by Martin when he brought her goods. He wanted to send it to her relations, but she refused. The letter Martin had written to his brother Alfred he read to her when they were in Frome, but she did not take much notice of it at the time. She told him he was a very foolish fellow to think he was going away. She did not go to either Brighton or London at Whitsuntide.
The Coroner said it was sad that a young woman should prevaricate in the manner in which the witness did, and he was perfectly satisfied that there was some foundation for the charge the wife made.
Mrs. Walters was quite sure Martin did not say to her on Saturday: “I shall do it; I will do it.” Neither did he say: ”Don’t my dear; if you do, what will become of me?” He did not use shy words that would imply he was going to do something unusual. Just before witness went to Frome, Mrs Vincent, a neighbour, asked her to bring back some laudanum. This she forgot to do, but Martin, who heard Mrs Vincent ask witness if she had brought it back, said he had some at his house she could have, and when he came to witness’s house the second time on Saturday night he brought some in a small bottle, which was labelled “Poison.” Mrs. Walters said she did not like the stuff in her house; so on the next day she emptied the contents down a sink and threw the contents in the river.
The witness having left the room, the Coroner said he thought it would not be his duty to close the inquiry that day. Although the ultimate result might be the same, the woman’s statements must be verified in some way. The man undoubtedly made statements to the woman, and if what had been suggested was true she certainly had added to her other sins by not giving information to the police if Martin had expressed his determination of doing away with himself. They had as yet had no evidence as to what state of mind the man was in when he drowned himself.
Mr Horwood, one of the jurymen, said he met Martin about 11 o’clock on Sunday morning. Deceased, who was a ringer at the church, said he did not think he should ring there again, but Mr Horwood did not attach any importance to the remark.
Sarah Ann Olding, wife of Frank Olding, coachman to Mr Horner, and who lived in one of the park lodges, said that about 11a.m. on the previous Sunday, the deceased brought her a parcel of meat she had ordered. He made an observation about the weather; there was nothing strange in his appearance, except that he looked sleepy and heavy. He was carrying under his arm what appeared to be a mail bag. She paid him for the meat and identified one or two of the coins produced which were found in his pocket. Martin left her and went in the direction of the pond where his body was found.
Mrs Martin, recalled, said no laudanum was kept in her house.
Mrs. Walters was also recalled, and the Coroner told her that she did not fully understand her position. She had been making various statements, and not one of them had entirely agreed with another. There was a great deal of hesitation and prevarication in her answers. The results might be very serious, and he was determined to have the whole of the facts before him. It appeared that on Saturday the deceased made statements to her and on Sunday morning took his own life. He cautioned her to consider what had happened, and next week to give them the whole facts and not a part. It was quite clear that her relations with Martin, if not criminal, were very improper. That conclusion he had been driven to by her letter and the way in which she had given her evidence. It was a serious matter to take an oath and deliberately avoid speaking the truth. He would give her a week to consider the matter and at the end of that time would expect her to tell them the truth. In the meantime the constable would find out all the facts and he should expect her to give him all the assistance she could.
Mrs. Walters, in replying to a question, said that before Martin went home the last time he threw the two purses and his watch across the table to her. He either said she was to give them to his brother, or keep them: she did not know which. She maintained that she had spoken the truth.
The Coroner: between this and next Wednesday tell the constable the whole truth.
The inquest was adjourned till 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday next. A post-mortem examination of the body was ordered to be made.