Wheeler, Charles 1875 October 11th
An inquest was held on Friday evening at the Council Chamber by G Smith, Esq., coroner, on the body of Charles Wheeler, aged 72, who was found dead at his lodgings in St Edmund’s Church-street that morning.
The following gentlemen were sworn on to the jury : Messrs W Lapham (foreman), H S Hill, Silas Burt, C G Luxton, W Newbury, W Spearman, W Miller, T Alexander, P Bush, T C Oram, W Saunders and T Bound, and, accompanied by the coroner and Superintendent Mathews, they proceeded to view the body, which lay in a room in Block Place, St Edmund’s Church-street, and a scene of greater filth, desolation, and poverty as was there witnessed it is hard to conceive could have existed in our midst for any length of time without attention having been drawn to it. There was an accumulation of dirt, and in the room was found a piece of mil-dewed bread and a bone.
On returning to the Council Chamber it was found that Silas Burt, one of the jurymen, was missing, and after waiting nearly an hour, and messengers having failed to find him, another juryman, Mr James Harrington, was sworn in his place, and this necessitated a re-swearing of the other eleven. The new juryman had then, in company with Mr Mathews, who acted as the coroner’s officer, to proceed to view the body, thus causing another delay of about a quarter of an hour, but on their return the following evidence was taken.
R Gordon, surgeon, said : I was called on this morning to go to a room in Block Place to see the body. His age was stated to be between 70 and 80 years old, he died from syncope, and death may probably have been accelerated by want. The body was very thin and emaciated, but not more so than many old men. My opinion is that he died from syncope – failure of the heart’s action – or natural causes. I am medical officer of the Union.
The Coroner : Can you tell us whether he ever came to you for medical relief?
Mr Gordon replied that he had not.
A juryman : He kept the “Mitre” in this town once.
Mr Mathews said he was informed by the brother-in-law that the deceased had been in the receipt of 2s 6d a week from Lord Radnor, and that his parish relief was discontinued about five years ago. He believed the deceased was an old servant of his Lordship.
A juryman inquired whether Mr Gordon had noticed any vomit in a jug by the side of the bed. Mr Gordon said he had not.
The Coroner : Would you like Mr Gordon to make a post mortem examination?
The Foreman : I really think there should be one and the inquest should be adjourned.
A juryman : I believe the opinion among many of us is that the man was starved to death.
The Coroner : Do you mean that it arose from want of medical relief?
The juryman : No.
The Foreman : How long do you suppose it is since he had partaken of food?
Mr Gordon : I can’t give you an opinion.
The Coroner : I suppose the post mortem examination would enable you to do that? Yes.
The Foreman : I think the strictest investigation ought to be made in this matter, because we heard this evening, as we came down stairs, that he had been literally starved to death, and that was the appearance presented by the body.
A juryman : Yes, and from the appearance of the room.
Mr Mathews produced the piece of bread and the bone found in the cupboard.
Mr Gordon, in answer to the Coroner, said he could not positively say at present whether death had been accelerated by want.
The Coroner : The appearance of the body is not sufficient to justify the opinion that he died from want?
A juryman : Don’t you think he did.
The Coroner : There is nothing in the appearance of the body to justify Mr Gordon in saying that he died from want.
A juryman : The body seemed to me something like a bird picked; it’s nothing but skin and bones.
The Foreman : The report has gone about that he was starved to death, and whatever was the cause of death we ought to know. We must not come to any foregone conclusion.
The Coroner : Is it the wish of the jury that there should be a post mortem examination; if so we will examine the other witnesses.
A juryman : I saw him intoxicated about a month ago.
The Coroner said they could have the additional evidence and then they could decide whether it would be necessary to have a post mortem examination.
James Brittain was then called. He said : I live in Block Place, and I had known the deceased about five years. I saw him last on Tuesday morning when he was going into his room; he lived alone. He appeared in bad health but he did not complain to me. I don’t know what he had to live on. I have occasionally seen him take food into his room. On this occasion I did not speak to him.
By the Foreman : I don’t know whether he was a sober man generally; I can’t speak about that.
Witness : Yesterday, between ten and eleven o’clock, not seeing anything of him, I looked through the keyhole of the door, which was locked, and the deceased’s hat was hanging on the key. I poked a wire through and knocked it off. In half-an-hour or an hour afterwards I again looked through the keyhole and the hat was replaced on the key. I never called or spoke a word; I never heard anything more of him and no one went into the room.
By a juryman : I can’t say whether he had been out of his room since Tuesday last.
Ellen Yates said : I live at 40, St Edmund’s Church-street, and am the wife of Charles Yates, ostler, working at the White Hart. This morning I was speaking to a person named Mary Parnell who said she had not seen the deceased since last Sunday. I said, “It’s very strange you have not tried to open the door,” and she said she did not like to, as he was a strange person and did not let people go into his room. I thought he was either ill or dead, and she went to Mr Petty, his brother-in-law, who said he would come up during the day. She then went to work, and I asked a man living up the yard to get a ladder to see whether the deceased was really ill, but he did not do it. I then went several times up the staircase and looked through the keyhole, and then I thought I would try to open the door myself, thinking he might have a seizure; I tried to burst the door open but could not. This morning I tried it and it came open, the staple having fallen out.
By a juryman : I could see plainly through the keyhole; the key was in the door but there was no hat on it. I called “Wheeler,” but not receiving any answer I went in and on going to the bed found him dead. I then sent for Mr Gordon and Mr Superintendent Mathews.
By the jury : I have known the deceased for many years. Some times he would have a drink, and some times he would take a little too much. It was some time since that I saw him intoxicated.
Has there been any time you have seen him take food? No; he never allowed any one to go into the room.
The Foreman : Did he ever to complain to you that he was in want of food? He never complained to anyone. He was working at the Training College, and he worked there two days last week. I don’t know what his income was. I don’t know whether he had an allowance from Lord Radnor.
By the juryman : My opinion is he died from want of nourishment. That’s my opinion by the way the room is in.
Another juryman : Has he had any pay from the parish? Not for five years; it was stopped owing to its having been proved that he had been drinking.
George Petty said : I am an inmate of the hospital, in Trinity-street, and was brother-in-law to the deceased. I had not seen him for a month. I can you give no information as to his means of subsistence other than that during the last six months he had been allowed 2s 6d a week by Earl Radnor.
By the jury : For three months he had not done anything, until last Friday or Saturday. He has had no parochial relief lately. It was stopped because he was intemperate.
Has he been so recently? Yes.
How often? Up to the last two months, and that is the reason of his leaving off work; he used to make hay down in the Close, and they put him off.
By the Coroner : I can’t give any information as to the cause of death.
A juryman : How did he obtain money to get drink if he was only getting 2s 6d a week from Lord Radnor? He used to pledge anything he had.
Another juryman : It appears he paid 1s a week for the room and that would leave him 1s 6d to live on? I don’t believe he spent sixpence in food.
The Coroner addressing the jury, said they had heard the evidence and he thought it was clear that the deceased had brought it entirely on himself. He might have applied for relief if he had thought proper, but they had no evidence that he had done so and had been refused. If they thought a post mortem examination was necessary he was prepared to order one, but it was for the jury to consider whether it was so. They would be kind enough to consider this point and if necessary he would adjourn.
A juryman remarked that after the strong evidence adduced it would not be necessary, for it was quite clear he had never applied for relief, or to the doctor, and there was not the slightest hitch anywhere. He might have made a bad use of his money.
Another juryman suggested Mary Furnell should be called.
After the delay of another quarter of-an-hour she arrived and on being sworn said : I am a single woman, living in Block Place, and last Sunday at four o’clock, as near as I can judge, I saw him in my room. He was not very well. I cooked his vegetables and he had a bone or two of mutton. There was not much upon it, but it was nice picking; he said he was going to have soup. I did not see him until some time afterwards when I asked him to have some tea but he said he didn’t want anything. After stopping five minutes he said he should not get up any more that evening. He told me he was going to work in the morning, but I never saw him alive afterwards.
By a juryman : He has not had parish relief for some time and I don’t know that he has applied for it. I have never heard him he wanted a doctor. He cleaned his room himself.
Mr Mathews thought from the state of the room it had not been touched for years.
The jury, having heard the additional evidence, did not consider it necessary to have a post mortem examination, and after a few minutes deliberation returned a verdict, “that the deceased died from want and exhaustion, but no one but himself was to blame.”
The Coroner said that would be the verdict, the effect of which would be died by “Visitation of God.”
The Foreman said the jury wished to call attention to the state of the dwelling, which was a disgrace to civilisation, and ought not to be tolerated for another week. He did not wonder that outbreaks of fever and crime were not prevented in the City when such a place was allowed to exist, and considered that some steps should be taken at once to remove the inmates from the present place and place them in a spot where their sanitary wants were attended to. It was the wish of the jury that that rider should be added.
A juryman added : The room is not fit for a man to live in. I would not keep a dog or a pig in that room.
This concluded the proceedings. We are informed that the absent juryman was fined 10s, being one fourth of the penalty.
Letter in Salisbury Times 1875 October 18th
Sir — In reply to our worthy Mayor and Mr Alderman Hussey, who at a meeting of the Town Council on the 7th inst., thought fit to condemn the verdict of the jury held respecting the death of Charles Wheeler; who, I would ask, would Messrs Atkins and Hussey wish the public to believe, themselves (one of whom never saw the dead man or the room he died in), or the twelve jurymen who took the oath to elicit the truth. I think the people at large will soon decide which are right.
It is simply ridiculous for Alderman Hussey to make such a statement, that there was not the slightest reason for thinking the man died from want or starvation. My opinion is, that the poor man never tasted food or drink from the Sunday noon, and he was found dead the following Friday. Then, again, the doctor (Mr Gordon) stated that death might have been accelerated by want also. His Worship said it was possible, and probable, the man died from want, yet in the face of twelve jurymen and the doctor, his Worship and Mr Hussey, state that there was not the slightest reason whatever to say the man died from want, that the house he was living in was everything that could be wished for.
Again, if there had been plenty of the best of food in the room the poor man would have starved just the same, for he could not have helped himself to it, so it is clear he must have died from want. The jury’s verdict was “Death from want and exhaustion,” and that there was no one to blame but himself. They did not find fault with the doctor or the relieving officer, as they were never applied to. I believe at the time, and do now, that the man was starved, and that the room was in a dirty state, not fit for a person to live in.
With respect to Mr White, the Inspector of Nuisances, I can understand his missing that one room, as he tried to enter it four different times and did not succeed, so if he inspected eight rooms out of the nine and found them perfect models, he would naturally expect the ninth would have been a model also. In conclusion, I would recommend his Worship and Alderman Hussey not to find fault and condemn the verdicts of jurymen, as it may be the means of not ascertaining all the facts of such cases, and that is what jurymen are required for.
C G Luxton – One of the Jurymen. 68, Bedwin-street, Salisbury.