Coleman, Thomas

Coleman, Thomas          1879 July 26th

Salisbury seems in a fair way, considering certain unfortunate events of recent times, to obtain a sad and unenviable notoriety. Of late we have recorded various cases of persons who have committed suicide whilst in a state of temporary insanity, and now again we have to record a similar sad event. This time it is that of a young man named Thomas Coleman, a florist in the employ of Mr Cross (Bedwin-street) who has recently succeeded to the business of Mr Hammond. The unfortunate man, following the precedent of Batten, committed suicide by hanging, and it is a remarkable circumstance that but recently, as was elicited at the inquest, he had evinced a certain amount of interest in that event, and that his body when first found was in a somewhat similar position to that of Batten.

Most of the facts connected with the present unfortunate case will be found in the evidence adduced at the inquest, which was held before Mr Powning (deputy coroner) and a jury (of whom Mr W Isworth was foreman) at the Council Chamber yesterday morning; but various reports which have been circulated in the city mention that at about half-past two – and which must have been shortly before he gave way to the suicidal impulse – deceased was seen asleep near to the very spot where he committed the act; and also that, unlike most other unfortunate people who commit such a dreadful act, he did not select a spot for its carrying out directly away from the eye of man. It appears that his body could have been easily seen from three views; from two points by passers-by, and from the third by the inmates of a neighbouring house. It might also be mentioned that the deceased had been during the day the only occupant of the house in Bedwin-street, and that the sense of loneliness might have intensified the feeling of depression that seems to have been almost natural to him.

The following was the evidence adduced at the inquest:

William John Cross deposed : I live at Ford, in the parish of Laverstock, and am a nurseryman. I have also a branch business at Bedwin-street, where the deceased, who was in my employ, worked. I believe he was about 27 years of age. He has been in my employ for the last four or five months. During the winter he had complained of pains in his side and head; but as the summer appeared he seemed better. About ten days or a fortnight since he again complained of pains in his head; but a day or two after he said he was better. I cannot at all think what was the cause of his committing this act. As far as I know he was a very steadily conducted man. In consequence of the pains in his head, I told him he had better have medical advice; but he declined and preferred to treat himself.

By a juror : The last time I saw him alive was about 8 o’clock yesterday morning, and he then appeared to have fulfilled all his duties the same as usual. The deceased slept at my house at Ford.

Henry Stephen Hill said : I am a whip and walking-stick mounter, and live at 61, Bedwin-street, next door to Mr Cross’ house. Yesterday afternoon about a quarter after four Mr Cross came to me and asked me to allow him to get over the wall of my premises as he could not enter at the front door of his own house. He had rang repeatedly but could not make his young man hear. I first got over the wall, however, and as I got into the passage which leads to the house I saw that the deceased had hanged himself. I at once rushed to him and taking my knife out, cut the rope, and supported him in my arms until Mr Wilkes and the police arrived. The rope – which was of small size – was attached to a spike which had been driven into the beam. Deceased’s toes when I first saw him touched the ground, and his legs were bent. There was a small box near to his legs from which apparently he had thrown himself off. He was quite dead, cold and rather stiff when I cut him down. I have not had much intercourse with the deceased, but last week, during a conversation, he told me that he suffered very much in the head and from indigestion, and he added that he at times had to go three months without eating any meat. In a later conversation the deceased evinced a great deal of interest in the suicide of Mr Batten and the funeral of Mr Coates. Yesterday I again had a conversation with him and previous to that he appeared very merry – in fact he was whistling.

Thomas Coleman, the father of the deceased, said : I live at Shirehampton, near Bristol, and am a gardener. My son’s age was 27, and he was single. For several years past he has been living away from home; but when he was home with me he complained frequently of a very bad digestion and of pains in the head. In his letters home he had repeated this, and complained generally of his bad state of health. I know of no cause whatever which would induce him to commit this act. There is no tendency to insanity in the family.

Mr W D Wilkes, surgeon practising in Salisbury, said : Yesterday afternoon I was called to see the deceased, and reached the house at about ten minutes to five. I found him dead. He had his hat on, his shirt sleeves tucked up his arms, as if he had been engaged in his work just previously, and there was a running noose of rope tight round his neck showing that death was produced by strangulation. I think from the evidence that I have heard that a feeling of depression came over him and that there as a sudden impulse to commit suicide and he at once acted upon it. This is the more likely as there was no one in the house to check depression. I think that for some time he had been in a depressed mental state. When I first saw the body it was partially cold, and deceased had apparently been dead about two hours.

This concluded the evidence, and Mr Powning having briefly animadverted to the chief points, the jury, after a short consultation, returned a verdict that “Death was committed whilst deceased was in a state of temporary insanity.”


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