Summerfield, Kate 1876 April 8th East Harnham
On Monday afternoon last an inquest was held at the “Rose and Crown.” East Harnham, before the coroner, Mr R M Wilson, on the body of Kate Summerfield, a girl between 11 and 12 years of age, who was found drowned on Saturday evening last, in the river at the bottom of Mr Jacob’s garden in the Close.
Edward Jacobs, the first witness sworn, said : About twenty minutes to six on Saturday evening I was at the bottom of my garden just by the river, when I saw what appeared to be a body in the water. I went to Mr Wallen, told him of the fact, and asked him to come up as soon as he could. Wallen came up with three or four others and took it out, and it then appeared to be the body of a female. I was first informed by Miss Lear that there was something in the river, but she didn’t know what it was. I was close by the body when it was taken out, and saw no external marks of injury.
Robert Wallen, upon being sworn, said : On Saturday afternoon I was informed by Mr Jacobs that there was a body in the water, and upon going up in a boat I found the body of a girl. I put her into the boat and brought her here. I saw no external marks of injury.
F F Lee, surgeon, said : I was sent for on Saturday evening to see the body of the deceased at the place where the jury saw it. It was by candle-light. There were two small grazed wounds close to the left eye, and two or three slight grazes over the knee, which were not improbably caused by the gravel. There were no marks of any violence or injury. There was frothy foam in the mouth, and in the nostrils ; the tongue was pale and was protruding between the teeth. The mouth was full of water with some food like soaked crust mixed with it, and a sour smell as if it came from the stomach. I mention this because there appeared to be some vomit on the outside of the jacket. These symptoms led me to the conclusion that she had been drowned. I think the age of the deceased to be probably 13.
Charles Summerfield, father of the deceased, was then sworn and said : I live at 66, Endless-street, and am a tailor by trade, but am now insurance agent. The deceased was my daughter and was 11 years of age the 9th of June last. As near as I can remember the last time I saw her alive was at half past eleven on Saturday morning. She was then in my house at her home. I was with the assistant superintendent, doing some books, writing, and she came into the room and said, “Papa, I broke your watch,” and I think she told me she had broken the spring of it. I said “you bad girl, whatever did you meddle with it for? I will beat you for that when Mr Richardson is gone,” Mr Richardson being the person with whom I was then engaged. I said, “now go on with your work,” and she went back, and I never saw her again alive.
She was upstairs dusting the room or something of that sort. I did not give her the punishment I spoke of, but I just gave her one pat on the side of her head with my flat hand. She didn’t say a word about making away with herself, and I don’t know that I heard her say anything of the sort personally. My wife said she had heard her threaten to do away with herself. Deceased was not my wife’s child as well as mine; her mother has been dead about nine or ten years. I have not been in the habit of punishing her frequently, but like all fathers at times I corrected her, although it was very seldom. I don’t like to say it now the girl is gone, but she was very self-willed. When she was chastised I always beat her myself, and never allowed her mother-in-law to do it, as I thought it was not right.
From half past eleven till a quarter to five I was with Mr Richardson, who stopped to dine with me about one o’clock. Katie was not there then, but I didn’t ask where she was, because she sometimes would not have her dinner till after she had finished her work. About a quarter to five, directly after Mr Richardson went, I said to my wife “Where’s Kate?” and she said she ran away soon after she came into me. I went out and looked about, and my son, about 13, was sent to see if she had been to Mrs Forest’s, my wife’s mother, and to Mrs Lake, in High-street, but could hear no tidings of her. My wife said she told she should go and drown herself. My wife is at home ill. She has only lately been confined.
The Coroner : What do you call lately? Six weeks ago, and she is now under Dr Gordon very ill indeed, not only from that, but from other causes.
Examination continued : My wife said she had heard her say it so many times she took no heed of it. She went to Scot’s Lane School.
The Coroner : I think I should like to be satisfied from Dr Gordon’s evidence that Mrs Summerfield is unable to attend, otherwise we certainly ought to have the evidence of Mrs Summerfield.
Thomas Hinley, schoolmaster of the British School, Scot’s Lane, said : The deceased was a pupil at my school, and was regular in her attendance up till the time of her decease. She was a child rather above the ordinary capacity, but of a very excitable temperament. She never made any complaint to me of her treatment at home, but on one occasion I noticed a mark on the side of her face, and said to her, “What have you been doing to your face?” to which she answered, “That’s where father beat me.” I should think that should be some months ago. Very little was sufficient to depress her spirits, and very little was sufficient to raise them again. Sometimes if she had a task she would burst into tears. She was not frequently kept in. She has, when kept in by me to complete her lessons, begged to be allowed to go, because her father would give her a beating for being late. She was a very intelligent child, but like many other intelligent children, when not fully employed, apt to get into mischief.
By a juryman : I don’t consider her an obstinate child, but certainly more troublesome than the average of children.
Francis Phillip Richardson was called and corroborated the statement of the deceased’s father, and the inquiry was afterwards adjourned, one of the jury remarking that he thought they ought to understand why the girl was frequently saying she would make away with herself. The Coroner also told deceased’s father that if his wife could not attend he must have Dr Gordon;s attendance.
At the adjourned inquiry held on Tuesday, Alice Brine, daughter of James Brine, fly proprietor, living in Endless-street, said : I knew Kate Summerfield, who lived opposite us, and we used to go to school together. I saw her on Saturday morning opposite Mr Hicks’s, and said to her, “look behind you, Kate,” as it was the 1st of April, but she did not look, and said, “No April fool for me this morning.” I went across to her, and saw tears in her eyes. She also looked very white and shook a good deal. I said nothing else to her. She asked me if I would go with her, but I said I couldn’t, as I was afraid my father would want me. She did not say where she was going. She took hold of my hand, shook hands with me, kissed me, and said, “Goodbye for I shall never see you any more.” She then went off straight down the street, and I went off home. She did not say her father had beaten her, or that there had been any disturbance at home. I have never heard her complain about her treatment at home, but I have heard her cry in school, and say she must go home or else her father would beat her. That was when her lessons were wrong.
—— Summerfield, wife of Charles Summerfield, said : The deceased girl was my step-daughter, and I remember her breaking her father’s watch on Saturday. She did not tell me of it before she told her father, but I heard her tell her father of it. She said she put a pin in it and broke the main spring. My husband said, “Katie, you have done so many things and I have forgiven you so many times that when Mr Richardson is gone, I shall beat you for this.” She said, “Father, don’t beat me, I won’t interfere with your things any more.” He went on with his writing and she came into the back room with me. She was crying, and I said, “Now, Katie, go up and do my room, there’s a good girl, and it will be all right when you have done.”
She said to Mrs Gulliver, a neighbour, that she had broken her father’s watch, and didn’t know what to do, and afterwards when I saw Mrs Gulliver, she told me she had gone through her house with her water-proof and hat, and said she was going to drown herself. I said, “Oh, nonsense, she is gone down to my mother’s or Mrs Lake’s, she will be back bye and bye.” I never knew her but once before say she would drown herself, and that was to her brother. I did not tell my husband or take any notice of it. She did not come home to dinner, and I didn’t say anything about it to him. Directly my husband had done his books he asked where Katie was, and I told him then what Mrs Gulliver had told me. He went into Mrs Gulliver’s directly, and sent my son to my mother’s and to Mrs Lake’s, in the High-street, but she was not found there. When she before threatened to drown herself it was when she fell out with her brother.
A Juryman said he should like to know why the deceased had threatened to drown herself, and one of the jury said there must be some cause, either the ill-treatment of her mother-in-law or something, but another drew attention to the fact that when she had previously threatened to drown herself it was through falling out with her brother, and that it was not to be attributed to her mother-in-law.
Mr Summerfield said he had heard statements of his cruelty to the deceased, but he brought neighbours living on each side of him, as he thought it would be satisfactory if he brought such witnesses to prove that he had not ill-treated her, neither had she been ill-treated by his wife.
The Coroner : I don’t know any of the witnesses said she was ill-treated. There is no doubt in the world this poor girl drowned herself. It doesn’t appear from the evidence that she was really beaten on this occasion further than having a box on the ear. We have Mr Summerfield’s own statement as to that, but it doesn’t stand alone, for Mr Richardson said the same thing. Mr Hinley said she was extremely excitable. This affair no doubt preyed upon her spirits, and she then went and drowned herself.
We have no evidence of cruelty of treatment, but from the statement of Mr Hinley, and this little girl’s, she was in fear of her father, without doubt. Mr Hinley says she was excitable and difficult to teach; she was clever, but a mischievous child and perverse. If Mrs Summerfield’s story is correct – that she opened the watch and broke the mainspring with a pin, it was extremely mischievous, and a thing which she ought to have known better then to have done. We may all have our own opinion whether she was kindly treated or not, but there is nothing which involves any charge against Mr Summerfield in this matter at all. This child misconducted herself, and he said he would punish her hereafter. We have the evidence of Mr Hinley, and this girl, Brine, which is much more valuable than that of any neighbours who might be called to say the child was constantly well-treated.
Mr Summerfield : I would say her mother’s father was in a lunatic asylum some time.
The Coroner : I have heard from other sources a corroboration that she was a very excitable child indeed, and she ought to have been treated with greater kindness and consideration. The evidence tends that there was some amount of blame attaching to the parents, as she was absent several hours together.
A juryman remarked that as she was absent so long and was of such an excitable temperament they ought to have inquired after her.
Mrs Summerfield said deceased had been out on several Saturdays from breakfast time till six o’clock, and she had no control over her whatever until her father came home, and he was too kind to her.
The Coroner : There can be no doubt this poor child drowned herself, and did it under such feelings of excitement you could hardly call her answerable for what she did.
A juryman wished to know whether the deceased returned home after leaving the first time as he heard that she had done so, and was spoken to a second time about it.
Mrs Summerfield didn’t know that she came back, and the jury returned a verdict in accordance with the view taken by the Coroner.