Bonnett, James

Bonnett, James        1877 December 22nd

An inquest was held at the Council Chamber on Wednesday afternoon by Mr W C Powning, deputy coroner, to inquire into the death of James Bonnett, who was found dead in a bed at a lodging house in Brown-street, on the morning of the same day. Mr Powning said in the unavoidable absence of Mr Smith he was called upon to act as his deputy. They knew for what purpose they were called together, and he had no doubt that from the evidence of the medical gentleman they would be able to determine as to the cause of death.

Dr Coates MD, deposed that about 10am on that day he was sent for by the police to see the body of James Bonnett at Stay’s lodging-house in Brown-street. On examining the body he found it partially warm, and deceased could not have been dead more than two or three hours. There were no marks of blows on the body; and the pupils of the eye were natural. Judging from what he had heard respecting deceased’s mode of living, and the appearance of the body, he believed that death resulted from excessive drinking and want of nourishment.

Stephen Stay, lodging-house keeper, residing at 45, Brown-street, said he knew the deceased, James Bonnett, who had been in the habit of lodging at his house, on and off, for a month. Deceased came to his house on the previous evening at about 7 o’clock. He (witness) met him at the door, and said to him, “You shan’t stay here if you get drink. By-and bye you will die in my house, and I shall have to be responsible.” Deceased looked him very hard in the face and said, “If I die in the street you will be responsible.” Witness then answered, “You shall stop the night, if you promise to go away to-morrow.” In reply, he (deceased) said, “I can get no place in the town, but I will go to the union.”

He then left his house, and on returning later in the evening – 8 o’clock – he saw that he had been drinking, and was “all of a shake.” Deceased sat in the kitchen until about nine, when he went to bed, and witness lighted him to his room. During the time he was in the kitchen he did not see him eat anything. Witness heard nothing from deceased’s room in the night; but in the morning he went to the room for the purpose of waking him, and he then found him dead. He was lying on his back with his clothes on. He did not send for any doctor, but at about nine o’clock that morning, he went to the police, and informed them of the occurrence.

A juror : Did you ever make the remark before that he might die in your house? Yes, several times. I always thought he would, for I knew he was drinking himself to death.

In answer to questions from jurors, he said he had not disturbed the body. He did not believe deceased had had a shirt on for a month.

Supt Mathews stated that he knew the deceased. At about nine o’clock that morning, he saw the last witness at the police station, when he told him that a man by the name of James Bonnett had died suddenly at his house. In reply to his question, “Had any doctor been procured,” he answered “no.” He immediately sent for Dr Coates and accompanied him to the lodging-house. He saw the body of the deceased in the same position as the jury had just seen it, and on searching the clothes found two pocket-books, some other papers, and a pawn-broker’s duplicate for a watch. The age of deceased was 45 years.

In answer to a question from a juror Dr Coates said he had made no post mortem examination of the body, but from what he had heard he believed that death resulted from what he had stated in his examination. He had been told by Stay that a penny loaf of bread lasted deceased four days.

A juror : As I think, there ought to be a vote of censure passed on Stay for allowing the body to remain in his house an hour-and-a-quarter without obtaining medical assistance, or acquainting the police of the affair. Several jurors expressed their concurrence with the last speaker’s remarks.

Another juror said that Stay should have seen that deceased undressed himself and got into bed before he left the room.

Stephen Stay, recalled, said before he quitted the bedroom, when he lighted deceased to bed, he saw that he had nearly undressed, and on returning shortly after for the light saw that he was into bed.

Mr Powning remarked that deceased might have dressed himself and fell back on the bed. Other suggestions were thrown out as reasons for why deceased dressed himself.

After a short consultation among the jury, the foreman, Mr Isaac Dare, intimated that the opinion of the jury was that deceased died from natural causes; and a juror added that it was their general opinion that Stay should be censured for being so dilatory in procuring medical aid and in acquainting the police of the fact.

Stay was again called, and Mr Powning said the jury wished him to express to him their strong disapprobation of his conduct. When he knew of this poor unfortunate man’s death it would have been nothing but a christian act for him to have procured medical assistance, or told deceased’s friends of the affair. As it was he went about his ordinary household duties, and in about one hour and a quarter after the lamentable occurrence, he went and acquainted the police of it. The jury also decided to allow Stay no fee.


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