Lucas, Ann 1876 April 23rd
On Tuesday afternoon last an inquest was held before the City Coroner, Mr G Smith, at the “Rising Sun,” Castle-street, on the body of Ann Lucas, 19, a domestic servant in the employ of the Rev. Mr Armfield, of the Close, the poor girl having been accidentally drowned on Easter Monday.
The Coroner, in opening the proceedings, said they were assembled to inquire into the cause of the death of the deceased, who met with her death by drowning, caused by the upsetting of a boat on the River Avon, on Monday afternoon. He understood there would be some conflicting evidence as to the cause of the upsetting of the boat, but after they had viewed the body and the witnesses had been examined he might have something further to say.
The body, which laid in an adjoining outhouse, was then viewed; after which the evidence was taken, the first witness called being,
Dr Gordon, who said : I am a medical practitioner in Salisbury. On the 17th of April, between 6 and 7 o’clock in the evening, I was called to see a woman who had been taken out of the water. She was quite dead when I saw her. The body had every appearance of having been drowned, and in my opinion death resulted from suffocation. There was a mark on each side of the temple which might have been caused by getting her out of the water.
Selina Downton, who was in the boat with the deceased when the boat upset, was the next called, and said : I am a domestic servant to the Rev. Mr Armfield, in the Close, and the deceased, Ann Lucas was my fellow servant. At five o’clock yesterday (Monday) evening we together left Mr Armfield’s and went straight up Castle-street to get a boat at Mr Sheppard’s. We hired one, and went up the stream, no one being in the boat but the deceased and myself. It was going up the stream this accident happened, before which we met several boats. Another boat was coming down the stream with two boys in it, and it knocked against our boat. My impression is that when the other boat knocked against ours the deceased must have caught hold of it, and the boys rowed away, causing our boat to upset. We attempted to get out of the way of the other boat by rowing across the river towards the bank. The other boat struck us before we reached the bank. When the boat upset no one was present besides the boys and ourselves. A boy took me out of the water, but I don;t know which one it was. The deceased was sitting at the stern of the boat, and I was rowing. The deceased was not steering.
By a juryman : I have been in the habit of rowing in a boat before.
Examination continued : The boat went over on the right side, the side which was struck by the other boat. I was insensible when taken out of the water. The boys were quite strangers to me, and I do not know whether they meant to annoy us. There was plenty of room for them to pass without touching us. I was saved from drowning by taking hold of an oar someone held out to me.
James Andrews, a boy residing in Church-street, said : I am billiard marker at the Salisbury Club. I was on the river Avon in a boat last evening, the boat belonging to Mr Sheppard, and had one companion with me, but don’t know his name. They call him “Jim.” We started about quarter to four, and on our return saw two young women coming up the river. They were coming up on the right side of the stream, and we were going down on the left. If they had continued as they were coming there would not have been room for us to pass. We called to them to get out of the way, and had no sooner said the words than we saw the boat capsize. We did not strike their boat at all until after the heads and bodies of the last witness and the deceased were in the water. I saw the boat containing the young women cross the stream towards the bank on the left hand side of the stream going up. Their boat upset on the side towards us. After we saw them in the water we rowed as fast as we could to get help, and called to two in a boat in front. We were about three yards from the boat in which the deceased was when it upset.
By a juryman : Both the deceased and her companion had an oar.
Examination continued : Those in the boat which were in front put out an oar which she caught hold of, and they caught hold of her hands and got her into the boat. We attempted to save the deceased, and put out an oar, but we did not succeed in saving her. She was in the middle of the stream, and it was too deep for her to stand up. I heard one scream out, but could not tell which it was. The deceased appeared to be sensible when I first saw her, as she was paddling about. While we were attempting to save the other the deceased sank. As near as I can say the deceased was struggling in the water about three or five minutes. She was taken out of the stream on the right hand side of the bank, looking towards Stratford. Neither my companion nor myself can swim. I account for not being able to render earlier assistance to the deceased through not being able to get our boat out of the mud, and it was hitched in the weeds, so that we were unable to turn. After the accident the boat was nearly half full of water.
A juryman remarked that as to what the witness had said with reference to the mud, he thought he could plenty of evidence to prove there was a foot or a foot and a half of water above the mud.
Mr Sheppard, boat proprietor, said there was more than that.
A juryman (to witness) : I ask you to say whether you struck any other boat other then that containing the deceased person? No.
You are quite sure of that? Yes.
What words were used by you, or the other person in the boat with you, to these girls previous to your striking them? I never spoke to them; and only called to them to get out of the way.
Another juryman : You were using bad words up there.
Another juryman : What words were used by you or your comrade. This is a very serious matter, you know? I said nothing but for them to get out of the way.
James Laney, 17, the boy in the boat with the witness Andrews, said : I live at the top of Castle-street and work for Mr Keynes. Last evening I went up the river in a boat with the last witness, who is a friend of mine, but I have not known him long. We went up to Stratford Bridge. We were coming down the stream on Mr Keynes’s side, and I was rowing. We both cried out to two young ladies who were coming up the stream in a boat on the left hand side to get out of the way. Each of them had an oar, and their boat was going across the stream, apparently to get out of our way. I think one of them sat rather on one side, pulled hard, and the boat tipped towards us. Our boat first struck theirs after theirs had capsized, and as near as I can remember, our boat was ten or eleven yards from theirs when we saw them fall into the water.
We rowed as hard as we could to their boat, and called for assistance to some young men who were going down the stream in front of us. They came back and we all rendered assistance. The two young men in the other boat, and myself, saved Selina Downton. I put the oar towards Selina Downton’s hand and she took hold of it The two in the other boat then took hold of her hands and dragged her into their boat. I saw the deceased close to the other girl in the middle of the stream, splashing about, and trying to keep her head above water. I should think she must have been splashing about in the water five minutes. Before she sank we rowed towards her to try and save her, but we could not do so, so she got further away from us. I afterwards saw her taken out of the water by Mr Sheppard on Mr Keynes’s side. I know my companion’s name was Andrews, and I don’t know but what he knew my name was Laney. I am quite sure neither out boat nor either of the oars struck the boat in which the young women were until after they were in the water.
In reply to a juryman, the witness said there were only the two boats in question there at the time the accident occurred, whereupon it was remarked that if such were the case there was plenty of room for them to pass.
Examination continued : The first thing which called my attention to the matter was hearing a splash in the water. I saw my companion in the stable last night, but have had no conversation with him about the accident since it occurred.
By a juryman : We had perfectly free action when we were endeavouring to get the deceased and her companion out of the water, and we did not get stuck in the mud. As I endeavoured to catch hold of the deceased she went away from me towards the bank.
A juryman : While your boat was approaching that containing the girls what were the words you used? We never spoke any more than to ask them to move.
The witness further said he saw the deceased rise three times, and she then went under. The boat was half full of water, but it didn’t turn upside down.
Alfred Raymon, a page-boy to Mr J Wilkins, was called and said : I went up the stream last night with George Powell, in one of Mr Sheppards boats. When we got opposite Mr Keynes’s nursery gardens we met two girls in a boat, but I did not know them at all. They were the deceased and her companion. We were going down the stream and they were going up. My companion and the deceased spoke when we met, but I don’t know what it was he said. We had passed them about 40 yards when we heard someone cry for help, and upon immediately looking round saw two females splashing in the water. We turned immediately. George Powell called to two other young men who were coming up for assistance, but instead of coming they turned their boat and went back again. We went on and rendered assistance. As we were going up the stream the witness Selina Downton was paddling towards us with her hands, and when I handed her one of the oars she laid hold of it. We caught hold of her arm and she was then got into the boat. I did not see Laney put out an oar to either of them. I saw two females in the water about three yards apart, and after we had saved Selina Downton we looked for the other, but she had disappeared. When we got Selina Downton into the boat Powell ran to Mr Sheppard’s for assistance, and I went down to Mr Sheppard’s with Selina Downton. We heard no hallooing or shouting before we passed the boys in the other boat.
A juryman said he could not understand what the other boys were about, as Raymond and Powell had to turn back, and then managed to save one, while they didn’t save either, but it was pointed out by the Coroner that they lost valuable time in going after the empty boat instead of the deceased.
Andrew Sheppard, living with his father at 95, Castle-street, said : I am a shoemaker by trade. I was in my father’s boathouse on Monday, when a boy came down and told me there was a girl in the water. I got the boy into the boat, and rowed off directly, and when we reached about 100 yards the other side of the railway arch we found the body of the deceased. We got her out on the bank with the assistance of Mr Wright and my father, and brought her to the “Rising Sun.” When we took her out of the water she appeared quite dead, and she must have been in the water from twenty minutes to half an hour. I might have been sooner, but there was no one to direct me as the boy seemed so confused. There was a man on the bank who would have rendered assistance, but was prevented by his wife, who screamed out.
A juryman remarked that he ought to have a medal.
By a juryman : I think the girls must have been catching after the other boat, or they must have been run into. I do not think one of the girls having pulled hard, or “caught a crab” would have caused the boat to have turned over. I should not let anyone have a boat. I had seen Selina Downton with a boat several times before.
By the Coroner : Supposing the girls had been frightened by the other boat coming, and they both leant one side of the boat, that would probably have caused it to turn over.
Thomas Lucas, father of the deceased, residing at Bodenham, said : I am a labourer. I have seen the body of the deceased, whom I recognise to be my daughter. She was 19 years of age.
The Coroner then read over the evidence, and referred to the discrepancy between that given by Selina Downton and the two boys, she having said that the boat in which the boys were struck their boat before it upset, while the boys said just the contrary. It was also pointed out by one of the jury that one of the two boys said he put out an oar, which was not corroborated by his companion, and those who really saved her were those two in the boat on in front.
The Coroner thought it a most un-English thing for the persons who were called to render assistance to turn their backs, and not render assistance to those in the river, and he wished he knew their names, so that they might be reprimanded. There appeared to be no evidence that there was any improper language or any hallooing or shouting, but there were a few discrepancies which it would be well to take into consideration in considering their verdict.
The Rev. Mr Armfield thought that as to minute points the witness Selina Downton was as likely to be wrong as right, on account of the excited state she was in.
Mr Sheppard, the proprietor of the boats in question, was afterwards called to speak as to a fresh mark on the boat which had been used by the deceased and her companion. He said he had examined it that (Tuesday) morning, and discovered a fresh mark on the Fisherton side going up the stream, which was just such a mark as would be made by another boat running into it. He was not sure the mark was not on the boat when the females started with it. The same boat had been used several times during the day. It had not been used since the accident.
The Coroner thought that there was not much weight to be attached to the evidence of the last witness, and the jury then considered their verdict. It was remarked that there was the statement of the two boys on one side and of the girl on the other, and one said he would rather believe the girl’s version of the affair than that of the two boys.
Ultimately a verdict of “Accidental Death” was returned. The foreman of the jury (Mr Butler), however, said he had lived on that river 50 years and kept a boat himself, and he didn’t think there was proper caution used in letting out these boats. He thought they were let out indiscriminately, and there ought to be more care taken. There was also another thing to which he wished to allude, and that was the Sunday trading business with the boats, which he thought ought to be done away with. It had nothing to do with this case, but there was a clergyman present, and the thing could be stopped, as the river was the property of the Commissioners.
Mr Sheppard : I am very agreeable.
The Rev. Mr Armfield spoke in high terms of the deceased girl, saying although she had been with them such a short time she had gained the esteem of all, and although he was away when he heard of the accident he felt it his duty to be present at the inquiry.
The witness Alfred Raymon was recalled and complimented for the manner in which he had acted.