This is the second report published in the Somerset and Wiltshire Journal on Saturday 23rd July1892, on the inquest into the death of Samuel Martin, rural postman for Mells, who had been found dead in a pond two weeks prevbiously.
VERDICT OF FELO DE SE.
The adjourned inquest concerning the death of Samuel Martin, postman, who was found dead in Mells-park on Sunday, the 10th inst., was held on Wednesday afternoon at the Talbot-inn, Mells, before Mr. W. Muller, coroner, and a jury of whom Mr. W.A. Fussell was foreman. The inquiry was adjourned from the previous Wednesday I order that fuller and more definitive evidence might be obtained and also that a post-mortem examination might be made.
Mr. George Crawford Helps, medical practitioner, stated that on the previous Thursday he made a post-mortem examination of the body, about 90 hours after it was taken from the water. He examined all the internal organs, and from their condition, chiefly of the heart, lungs and stomach, he came to the conclusion that death was no doubt due to suffocation by drowning. The contents of the stomach largely consisted of semi-digested cheese and water. He found no trace of opium or its sorts. The brain was normal and healthy, with the exception of the congestion caused by drowning. Deceased had a very large brain for a man of his size and there was no sign of decay. Very rarely would they find any peculiar sign in the brain of a suicide. Occasionally they might find a little deficiency, somewhere, but it was not so in this case.
P.C. Redman handed the Coroner a piece of paper discovered by deceased’s son among the old papers ad letters found in the pockets of his clothing. The constable said he had no doubt that the note inscribed on it was in deceased’s handwriting. It read as follows:
“You had better pack this box off to Birmingham by the first train, before you hear of anything that has happened. You will find some money in my purse in the box. I could not stand it any longer. Good-bye, my love Harriet, for ever.—Sam.”
Mrs. Walters was allowed in the room whilst the next witness was giving evidence.
Mary Wilks, widow, living at Wadbury-cottage, said that as she was coming from Mells-station about 11 p.m. on Saturday week, she met Martin in his trap. In his conveyance with him was a woman and a perambulator. He was driving very quietly and she heard him say: “I will do it; I will do it.” The woman then with him said: “Don’t talk like that; what shall I do?” There was only one woman in the trap and witness did not notice who it was. Not being interested, witness did not at the same time pay much attention as to what they were talking about.
The Constable said that since the first stage of that inquiry he had seen Mrs. Walters, who still adhered to her previous evidence, but added that when Martin brought the laudanum to her house she jumped at him and snatched the bottle away as he said he was going to take it. Her husband made motions to her as to what would happen if anyone took some.
Mrs. Walters, who had been molested by some of the villagers and who looked haggard and miserable, said in answer to the Coroner that she was enceinte. The conversation between her and Martin on the way home from Frome had nothing to do with that matter. She did not tell him of her condition, and did not know whether he knew anything about it. Martin was a friend of her husband, and nothing more. There were no improper relations between him and her. She swore that. She heard what the last witness said, but did not remember that such words passed between her and the deceased. She had had a drop of beer that evening, but was sober. She had no further statements to make with reference to the letter Martin read to her in Frome: she never saw him after he read it until they started back to Mells.
The Coroner said that Mrs. Walters wished to make him and the jury believe that her relations with the deceased were such as might exist between a young married woman and a married man. Referring to the letter written from Birmingham, Mr Muller repeated his statement that is was not usual for young married women to invite married men to meet them, and said there were some marks at the end of the letter which might mean nothing or might mean kisses. He found it very hard to believe that nothing of an improper nature took place between deceased and the witness. However, it was not his duty to form an opinion upon that, but it was the jury who would have to form an opinion. Why did she snatch the bottle of laudanum from Martin?
Mrs. Walters answered that he said he was going to take it, whereupon she exclaimed: “My God, you shan’t take it in my house, or near my house.” She was too frightened to think of asking Martin why he intended to take the laudanum.
The letter directed to his brother Alfred which the deceased read to Mrs. Walters was as follows:
“If you hear of anything do not be surprised, and do remember to bring the enclosed to show any judge or jury. I can’t stand it much longer. I only wish to say I love all my children dearly. Good-bye. –Your loving brother, Samuel Martin.”
“P.S. –Do not let that woman at Mells Post office have this to destroy. I trust you will let the gentlemen see it as my last wish. Good-bye, good-bye, for ever.”
The other letter found in the box, and which was read at the first stage of the inquiry, commenced as follows:
“Gentlemen, -I am driven to take this foolish step through having a dirty, ungrateful, jealous wife, which has not washed a shirt or pair of socks or any other washing apparel for me for over three years. Last year for instance I did not change my shirt but twice, as I bought one late in December 1890, wore that till it fell off my back in shreds in May 91. My brother, Charles Martin, can prove this, as I sent the stinking rags to him by post. I put on a new one in change and wore that till September. Then I changed again and wore it till early this year.”
The deceased also said that he got a friend of his to wash a shirt for him, and that made his wife more jealous than ever; he then gave other particulars on the same subject and contradicted the charges brought against “that poor innocent woman” (Mrs. Walters).
In answer to questions, Mrs. Walters said that if she had know Martin was going to do away with himself she would have told someone else. He said he should have had no food if she had not got him a bit and something to drink. He complained of there being nothing at home for him. When he last left he r house on the Saturday night he was not drunk and did not look the worse for liquor, though he had had some beer. He was quite capable of taking care of himself. He only had one glass of beer at her house. Martin could converse with her husband better than she could.
The Coroner said it was evident that Martin threatened to take some laudanum, but the result of the post-mortem examination showed that had now a very indirect bearing on the case.
Mrs. Walters said she had been married four years. Her child was nearly two years and four months old. Martin did not want her to go away with him and she did not wish to go away with Martin. He did not threaten to do what he did if she did not go away with him. In driving home to Mells on the evening of the previous Saturday week, Martin’s talk bore chiefly on politics and the election. He was always on to her about his home, saying it was not comfortable and he had no wife.
Mr. T. Rossiter (a juryman), said that although Mrs. Walters told them that she wished Martin would not come to her house, yet she was in the habit of going to Frome with him. She could not expect them to believe that she did not encourage the deceased’s visits, when she used to put herself in his way and ride back and forward to Frome with him.
The Coroner said the same thing had been forced upon his mind by the unsatisfactory manner in which witness gave her evidence. She appeared to have hardened her heart and mind and to the great sin she had committed had added that of a brazen lie. Had she confessed and told him the whole truth he would have felt that she had been more sinned against than sinning.
Mrs. Walters: I have not told you a lie at all; I have told you the truth; I have owned to the letter I wrote.
The Coroner remarked that she owned to everything she could not help owning to, but to things of which there was not absolute proof she did not own and prevaricated in a manner that made him agree with the opinion arrived at by one of the jury. Whatever might be the verdict of the jury this was a matter which would haunt her till the end of her days.
Charles Ebenezer Martin, brother of the deceased, a postman living at Frome, said he last saw his brother alive on the Saturday evening in Bath-street, Frome. Witness was hurrying along and did not stop hardly a second, but the deceased (who was walking with himself) made some remark witness’s boy coming with him in his trap from Mells. Deceased did not look particularly strange. Witness had seen him before at dinner-time. He had not seen his brother’s wife for two or three years and deceased never said anything about her. Witness never received the shirt which his brother said in the letter quoted above he had sent to him by post. Deceased never complained to him of his wife not washing his clothing. Their two families were on friendly terms at a distance. He thought his brother’s wife was a good wife. Lately the witness had met his brother in the streets with a woman, who he believed was Mrs. Walters. Some one told him he had seen his brother’s horse and trap out in a lane whilst he was staying with a woman, but witness did not think there was any foundation for that. He did not know whether his brother was in pecuniary difficulties.
Mrs. Walters, in a reply to a question, said Martin gave her no money on the Saturday before his death except what was in two purses handed to the constable by her. The “order” mentioned in her letter from Birmingham to Martin was a Postal Order sent to bring her back; she afterwards paid him back again for it.
The Coroner said that was one of the most unsatisfactory cases he had before him for some time. He had almost to draw the answers from the brother.
Louisa Brown, a widow living at Vallis, was censured by the coroner for not coming to the court without a constable being sent after her. She said she had known Mrs. Walters for twelve months and Martin for 20 years. She did not go into Frome with him on Saturday week, but came back in his trap. Mrs. Walters was also with him. Witness met them at the Ship-inn and rode to the place where she could go down to her house in the vale. Mrs. Walters sat next to Martin. There was not much talking. What was said was mainly concerning the number of people about the town and the election. There was also some conversation between Martin and Mrs. Walters, but it was not loud enough for witness (who was rather deaf) to hear. She never heard Martin say that he was going to “do it.” He seemed very cheerful. Mrs. Walters for some time lived close to the witness, who did not know one word against her. She left there about Christmas and during the time she lived near witness Martin did not come to see he, to witness’s knowledge. Since then Martin had been down to witness’s place to fetch Mrs. Walters on about half a dozen occasions, but never stayed. Mrs. Walters husband was some times there. On the Saturday evening in question Martin came to witness’s house after a parcel of clothes. Witness knew nothing of the alleged intimacy between Mrs. Walters and Martin except what she had heard.
Mrs. Martin, the widow of the deceased, was called in and asked if she had since her husband’s death looked into his effects. She replied that she and her son had only run through some bills. The house property her husband had was highly mortgaged. On Monday a bill was brought to her for £100 for money borrowed by her husband; which she was not aware was owing. The debts were more than she expected, and she thought her husband was in money difficulties. She could not say whether there was enough money to pay everything in full. As yet they had not brought anything to a balance, and so could not tell. From what she could hear £500 or £600 was the amount of his debts. The £100 referred to was borrowed three or four years ago. She knew of no money having been borrowed during the last 18 months. She had plenty of clean shirts in her house for her husband, and had always tried to persuade him to appear better than he did; they had even had “words” over that subject.
Mr. Fussell (foreman of the jury) said the deceased had lately been spending money recklessly.
Samuel Ernest Martin, son of the deceased, said he had not lived at home for more than two years. He had been looking through some of his father’s papers and besides seeing the account for £100, he found that £195 was borrowed on some property in Dyer’s Close-lane, Frome. There was also two houses and a field on Innox-hill in his father’s possession. He did not know whether his father was solvent.
Mrs. Martin said her husband formerly owned a house in High street, and she did not know he had sold it until two or three years afterwards. He husband was for some time in difficulties with a Frome builder, but how it was settled she did not know.
The Coroner then summed up at some length, beginning by remarking that he thought they had all the evidence they were likely to get. The whole case was very unsatisfactory. First of all they had to satisfy themselves as to what the man died from. There was no doubt he died from suffocation, the result of drowning. The evidence must also satisfy them that the deceased drowned himself in a remarkably deliberate manner. There was no suggestion that anyone else did it: the taking of his life was his own deliberate act. Then came the serious question: What was the deceased’s state of mind at the time he took his life? He had left behind him certain letters, in one of which he said he was greatly agitated, though sane; but the letters themselves did not at first sight strike one as being written in great agitation. When they examined the contents they found statements therein were more or less exaggeration or absolute falsehoods, at least so far as his wife was concerned. She denied his statements and his brother Charles did not remember having received the “stinking rags” the deceased said he sent him last year. There was much that led them to think that Martin’s mind was in some degree affected. After a reference to the other letter, the one that was read to Mrs. Walters, the Coroner said there was very little in the oral evidence they had taken to assist them in arriving at any decision as to the man’s state of mind. He was not prepared to say that if a man took his own life his mind was affected or unhinged. He always preferred to have some further evidence that the man was insane. Generally there was evidence to arrive at some such result. It must be clear that for some considerable period this man had been on terms of very great friendship, and he would almost say of intimacy, with a young married woman who had given evidence before them. They had been able to judge of the way and manner in which she denied that anything of an improper nature ever took place between herself and the deceased. He thought that the jury, as men of the world, though living in a country village, before absolutely believing the woman’s statement, would weigh the surrounding circumstances. The Coroner then went over several points in the evidence which seemed to support the contention that Mrs. Walters was improperly intimate with the deceased and he also dealt minutely with the events of the day previous to his death. It was evident, he said, that on the Saturday Martin had the idea of taking his own life, which he carried into effect on the following day. Then came the point as to how did that idea arise, and that as to that they had very little evidence. If they believed that the relations between the two people were improper and intimate, and the result of that intimacy may have resulted in the condition in which that young woman was now in, the deceased having become acquainted with that fact, and wishing to avoid the public scandal that had been working up for some time and to rid himself of the shame and disgrace that would fall upon him, he might have determined to take his own life. That was a matter that they must consider. There was no evidence that the man had any delusive reasoning or feared any imaginary evils. Mr. Muller said he was not prepared to say that moral cowardice (as suggested in the present case) was insanity. He did not place much reliance on the theory that the man drowned himself because of his pecuniary losses. If they could see any circumstances that in their opinion were sufficient to unhinge the man’s mind, they would be justified in returning a verdict that he was temporarily insane; if it was not so, they must hesitate to do their duty as the facts warranted. The case was a most lamentable one and it was sad that Mrs. Walters should have come there to tell them only partly the truth instead of the whole truth. If she had told them the truth as she ought to have done, it might have induced him to speak less strongly than he had: the manner in which she had given evidence almost put her beyond the pale of sympathy which was generally extended to a woman. The man either directly or indirectly told her that he was going to take his life and it was her bounden duty to go and inform the police of what his intentions were.
P.C. Redman here handed to the Coroner a letter, which he regarded as having an important bearing on the case and which was passed round to the jury, but was not read aloud.
In reply to Mr. Fussell, Mrs Martin gave the jury to understand that she did not fall out with her husband until he took up going to another woman.
The jury took some time to consider their verdict in private. When the court was again opened it was announced that they found the deceased met his death by drowning, and that he deliberately and feloniously killed himself, in a great measure in consequence of the improper conduct between himself and Harriet Walters; the jury also severely censured Mrs. Walters for the manner in which she gave her evidence.
Mrs. Walters was called before the court and the Coroner censured her according to the terms of the verdict. He said that if she had a woman’s heart she would suffer remorse untold for what she had brought upon Martin’s wife and children. She ought to have taken steps to prevent him coming to her, but this Coroner was afraid she encouraged him. She added to her other sins by not communicating with anybody upon the deceased threatening to do way with himself. Directly of indirectly she hurried the man out of this world in a most terrible way. He hoped the case would be a lesson to her and that in future she would conduct herself respectably, devote her attentions to her husband and child, and not go about after other men.