Gaspard, John 1880 February 7th
An inquest was held at the St Nicholas’ Hospital on Monday morning, by Mr George Smith, city coroner, and a jury, of whom Mr C Symons was foreman, on the body of an old man named John Gaspard, woodman, who was a member of the institution, and came by his death under the circumstances related in the following evidence.
The first witness examined was Mr F Fawson Lee, and he stated : I am a medical practitioner, living at Salisbury. I attend the inmates of this hospital, and for some time “off and on” Gaspard has been under my care. Nearly three years ago he had a very severe illness, and went almost out of his mind. Though he recovered from that, he had not been quite himself since. For the last three months or so he has been worse than usual, and still more recently symptoms of insanity developing themselves, I, a fortnight ago, certified him, failing the workhouse, as a fit inmate for the asylum.
The magistrate, however, refused the order. Bodily, as well as mentally, deceased was a very weak man. For the last few days he had festerings ingrowing to the toe-nails, and as he could not be induced to stay in bed, it became worse. I saw him on Saturday afternoon, and this morning I was called to see him on account of his having been found dead in bed. Deceased was getting old, was very childish, difficult to manage and very feeble; and I should not have been surprised at any time to hear of his death.
When I saw deceased this morning, he was curled up on his left side, having, however, sufficient room to breathe. The pupils of the eyes were contracted, and from that I should say he died in his sleep. I believe he died from natural causes.
A juror : I think you said he was a man qualified for the asylum? I thought his case warranted his being confined in an asylum.
The juror : And the magistrate refused. I don’t know what the jury will say to that.
Another juror : You don’t think, Mr Lee, he died from neglect?
Mr Lee’s answer was in the negative. Mr Lee further stated that there was a difficulty in getting anyone to stay up at night with deceased, owing to an offensive smell which permeated the room. He believed, however, a person was stationed in an adjoining room, with orders to give an alarm if anything happened in the night. There had been a nurse and an assistant in the house, but, owing to a great deal of sickness in the house, considerable time could not be devoted to deceased.
George Musselwhite, farm labourer, of Harnham, stated that his father was an inmate of the hospital, and he himself had been in the habit of sleeping in the building, in a room over that which Gaspard occupied He had been in the habit, sometimes in the night, of coming down to see Gaspard; and on Sunday night, at about half past ten, he went down to his room and he appearing quiet, he did not disturb him. Deceased had his head covered over with a cloth, and he appeared to be sleeping. He did not, however, hear him breathe. He (witness) saw him five hours earlier in the day having his tea. The deceased was lying when he saw him in bed, in a similar position to that in which the jury had seen the body. (According to that, the body with the head was wholly covered, and there was no breathing room whatever).
Henry Sutton, labourer, of Church-street, St Edmund’s, said since Friday the 28th ult., he had been employed to mind the deceased during the day. His duties were to keep him clean, feed him, generally to look after him, and see that he did not hurt himself. He saw the deceased last at about twenty minutes past six on Sunday morning, he then having put him to bed. Then he appeared, as he had during the day, in his usual state of health – rather, however, more cheerful, and he ate more heartily. At half past six on the following morning on going up to him, finding that he was very quiet, he put his hand upon his heart, and found that he had ceased to breathe. The body, however, was quite warm. Deceased usually lay in the position in which the jury had seen the body; and he usually threw the clothes over his head.
Maria Smith, nurse at the institution, said she had been in the habit of attending him, and though at times he would complain of pains, he enjoyed tolerably good health.
A girl named Jane Fletcher, said she was nurse-attendant at the institution. At about ten o’clock on the previous evening she saw the deceased, and took him up some refreshments. He did not partake of it, as he was either then asleep or dead. She did not speak to him, thinking as he was quiet it was best to let him remain. He had the clothes over his head. She believed he had not moved since he was put in the bed. The food was untouched.
The jury returned a verdict of “Death from Natural Causes,” and their fees were given to the Dispensary.