Marriott, James

Marriott, James              1880 December 11th

A strange and sad case of poisoning has to be recorded in our columns. On Monday night a stalwart man of military appearance, respectably attired in a suit of rather light material, applied to the landlord of the “King’s Arms,” Fisherton, for a bed. Mr Strong, the landlord, was willing to accommodate him, and the stranger then seated himself in the smoking room. There was nothing unusual in his appearance; he was quiet – as a visitor to a strange hostelry would perhaps be – but drank the small portions of whiskey served him and smoked his cigar with calmness and, apparently, with no premeditation of the dreadful act which in the earlier hours of the morning was revealed.

At twenty minutes to eleven he retired to bed, taking a bottle of lemonade and a glass with him. At about four in the morning Mr Strong was aroused by the most horrible groans. On investigation he found they proceeded from the room which the stranger occupied, and the unfortunate fellow admitted that he had taken poison. Mr Strong rushed to the window, and seeing a young man standing near, whose attention had also been attracted by the groans, despatched him for Mr M Coates. Mr Coates, however, but a few seconds later, himself passed, being on his way to an urgent case. He saw the deceased, and having no remedies with him, sent a note to Mr F Coates. That gentleman was immediately in attendance, and brought with him an antidote for the effects of strychnia, but found that it was not available.

In the meantime, there had been discovered some papers which had evidently contained Battle’s vermin powder – which comprises strychnia, and from a few drops in the glass it was equally evident that the deceased had taken the composition. The poor fellow expired in the most dreadful agony; his shrieks and groans were horrible in their intensity and vehemence. On Mr Supt Mathews arriving, papers were discovered on the deceased which established his identity.

His name, it was found, was James Marriott, he had been a corporal in the marines, and had been in the receipt of a pension of £25 per annun. Two watches – a gold and a silver one – were discovered on him, with two chains, a gold locket, a sovereign and some silver. No intimation as to why he committed the deed was found. But, by an early train, Mr Mathews proceeded to Gosport, where, as the address indicated, the vermin powder was purchased. There he learnt an unfortunate story. The man, who had been a warder at the military hospital, bore an excellent character. He was, the authorities said, sober and trustworthy. But his home had been rendered unhappy by the conduct and habits of his wife – habits, however, which Mrs Marriott, at the inquest, partially denied appertained to her. That the poor fellow had been of a morbid disposition was evinced by a previous attempt at suicide whilst in the service; but his condition had been exaggerated by the unfortunate state of his domestic life – a life, even judging from the evidence of Mrs Marriott (whose stolidity and imperturbability at the inquest was more then surprising), was far from pleasant.

The inquest was held on Wednesday afternoon, at the “Plume of Feathers,” before Mr G Smith, city coroner, Mr J Saunders being foreman of the jury. Annexed will be found a reproduction of the evidence.

Dr Harcourt Coates deposed : I was called yesterday morning at about 4.25 to see the deceased, and, on arriving at the “King’s Arms,” I found him lying in bed quite dead. His hands were clenched; his neck was “harshed” backward; and some fluid was escaping from the mouth. He had been dead but a short time, in fact his body was warm. In the room I discovered paper on which was printed “Battle’s Vermin Powder,” and a soda-water glass containing a very few drops of water in which floated a small quantity of blue powder – not a sufficient quantity, however, to enable me to analyse it. It was, however, similar to Battle’s vermin powder. In conjunction with Mr Gowing, I, on the coroner’s warrant, made a post mortem examination about ten hours after death. I found the body – which was well nourished – still warm, and the rigor mortice well marked. The stomach contained some undigested food; and, on examining a portion of the contents, we microscopically discovered a blue material similar to the powder in the glass and a few crystals which, we were satisfied, were strychnia. Battle’s powder contains strychnia. The lining membrane of the stomach was extremely congested – the result of taking strychnia. I am of opinion that deceased died of poison contained in the vermin powder.


By a juror : The quantity contained in a packet of Battle’s powder is uncertain; sometimes a packet will have five grains and sometimes not more than one – one grain, however, is sufficient to destroy life. I should say he had taken the poison in the earlier hours of the morning.

Mr Benjamin J Gowing, surgeon, of this city, said he was in a position to entirely corroborate Mr Coates’ evidence as to the post mortem examination, and added that the drops in the glass contained crystals somewhat resembling those of strychnia. Mr Gowing also said that the congested patches in the stomach might equally well have been produced by drinking alcohol before going to bed; but the stomach presented generally a very healthy appearance.

By a juror : Strychnia produced a most horrible death.

George Strong, landlord of the “King’s Arms” inn, deposed : At about nine o’clock on Monday evening the deceased came to my house, and, after having obtained two-penny worth of whiskey and water, applied for a bed. I told him I could accommodate him, and, before retiring at about twenty minutes after eleven o’clock, he drank two more two-penny-worths of whiskey and smoked a cigar. He had nothing to eat. He took a bottle of lemonade and a glass with him to bed, but, subsequently, it was found that the bottle had not been opened. The deceased during the evening was very quiet, but I observed nothing extraordinary in him or his manner.

True, my attention was not especially directed to him. At about four in the morning, hearing a noise, I proceeded from my bedroom to the landing, and then discovered that it came from the room occupied by the deceased, which was immediately adjoining. I knocked at the door, and then found that it was not fastened beyond the ordinary catch. Before entering, I inquired what was the matter, and he told me he had taken a dose of poison. I at once went to the window and despatched a young man who happened to be passing for Mr M Coates. Mr Coates himself happened at that moment to be proceeding to another case and I at once hailed him. He came and saw the man, who, in answer to his interrogatory as to what he had been about, made the same reply, “I have taken a dose of poison.” Mr Coates had no medicine with him, but wrote a note (which I took) down to Dr H Coates to come immediately, and proceeded to the other case, which was one of urgency.

Mr H Coates, interposing, desired to state the contents of the note. They were, “come at once to Strong’s, “King’s Arms;” case of strychnia poison.” The only thing that could have saved the man, the tetanus having set in, was chloroform, and he (the speaker) took that up with him. Mustard, salt or lime (suggested by a juryman) would rather have precipitated the end.

Mr Strong, continuing, said after he had been to Mr Coates’ he immediately proceeded to Mr Supt Mathews and acquainted him of the affair. When he came back the man was dead. The deceased did not say why he committed the act; in fact he uttered no other words but those in reply to himself and Dr Coates. From his appearance – he groaned and wailed dreadfully – he should say he regretted the act.

Mr Supt Mathews : At about five o’clock yesterday morning I was called by the last witness to come to his house, and, on arriving there, I found Mr H Coates with the deceased, who was quite dead. I searched the room and the clothes of the deceased. On the dressing table I found a paper which had evidently, judging from the address and various marks, contained Battle’s vermin powder. On the clothes of the deceased, I found a paper which informed me that the man’s name was James Marriott, late corporal of the marines, and that he had been awarded a naval pension of £25 17s per annun for service. The date of the certificate was 21st of September, 1875, and his age therein stated was 36 years. I found on the clothes a silver watch, a gold watch, two chains, a gold locket, a Post-Office Savings’ Bank book (which contained a register of payments amounting to in all to £20 10s, the last of which was made at Chichester), £1 in gold, 5s in silver, and 2d in coppers, with a razor (the deceased was a shaving man) and several undirected envelopes.

By direction of the Coroner I went to Gosport yesterday and made inquiries relative to the deceased. I first went to Mr Mumby, chemist, of the Curtain-road, whose name was printed on the paper I found on the dressing table. There I examined the poison register, and I found the name of the deceased under date 21st of October, and the intimation was signed by him. He had, as ascertained from his bank book, lived at 8, Alexander-street, Forton, but, on proceeding there, I found he had left and gone to Sunnyside, Brockhurst. I there saw his wife. I also went to the military prison, Gosport, and found that he had been employed there as a warder, but that he had been missing for about a fortnight. He had, as I learnt, been employed there for abut four years, and, during that time, as the authorities stated, he had conducted himself so as to earn a very good opinion as a trustworthy and excellent man.

I was informed that he had led an unhappy life at home owing to the drunken habits of his wife, and that on the day he disappeared he had had some quarrel with her. I was told by the warders that he attempted to commit suicide by cutting his throat on a previous occasion; but this was when he was in the service. This was, I also learned, the second wife.

Witness, replying to a juror, said the wife told him that she had, ever since her husband left her, been praying to God that he would return to her.

Mr Mathews produced the following letter, which he had received that morning,

December 7, 1880

Gosport, Hants.

SIR, — I knew the lad, James Marriott, my brother-in-law; he married my sister about twenty-two years ago at the parish church of Allingham, near Bridport; her maiden name was Sarah Harvey. Sir, — You wanted to know if he had a father or mother living; we know that he heard from them not so very long ago; they were living in the county of Norfolk at the time – the father was an agricultural labourer; they are two very old people.

I, William Harvey, can give said James Marriott a good character for this last twenty-two years – honest, sober and a good husband. Georgina Harvey knew James Marriott for this last nineteen years; and can certify the same. Sir, –Would you be kind enough to ask said Mrs Marriott whether her first husband is still alive or dead. His name Harris or Harrison – I am not sure which – and we have been informed he left home and never heard of since.

I remain,

Your obedient servant,


Louisa Marriott, who had been summoned by Mr Mathews to attend, said : I am the wife of the deceased. I have seen the deceased since I have been here and I identify the body as that of my late husband. He had left the service about seven years, and I had been married to him about two years – two years come next February. I was a widow when the deceased married me. He had been engaged at the military prison at Gosport; and he was 45 years of age last birthday. He was a very sullen man; but I never heard him threaten to poison himself – in fact, he had always exclaimed against it. He has, however, threatened me; he said he would cut my throat the day before he left. At this time we had had some high words. I had been out shopping, and, on coming back, my hands being full, though I had the key of the door, I knocked, and he was evidently much annoyed and used some bad language. Previous to leaving me, he had been rather indifferent to me. He first showed his indifference at a breakfast. I don’t know that my husband was in the habit of taking more than his “full complement,” but when he did he would complain of pains in his head.

Mrs Marriott was then severely questioned by several jurors. Nothing, she said in the general conduct of the deceased had led her to suppose that he would have committed suicide.

What induced him, the Coroner asked, to be indifferent? This question she at first somewhat evaded. She then said she could not say. She, in fact, asked him, but received no satisfactory reply.

Did she give no cause, asked a juror. “I, sir, oh, no; no cause at all for speaking to me in this manner.”

Had she given no cause in her general behaviour? No, was the reply, and then, answering another question, she earnestly asseverated that she had as good and comfortable home as ever a man wanted. This, she added, she could bring many witnesses to prove. He had, indeed, never complained of an uncomfortable home.

Answering questions as to the deceased’s “alcoholic habits,” she said she would not lead the jury to suppose he was a drunkard. “No,” she added, “he was a sober man, but would give way once or twice in a month.” This reply called forth the exclamation from Mr Mathews that the authorities at Gosport gave him a most excellent character for sobriety and attention to his duties.

The interrogation then turned on the habits of the witness herself. Did her husband, she was asked, ever complain of her taking too much drink. “Me!” was the exclamatory reply, “Well, yes, but I have never been guilty.” This reply received subsequently a qualification in the admission that she had on occasions taken, perhaps, too much – or, rather to use her own words, “more than her full complement” – but it was only done, she answered the jury, in the presence of her husband. She had never, she said, made his home uncomfortable by taking too much. Drink, she subsequently admitted, had, however, caused a few words.

A juror asked the witness if her husband had ever complained of her sending out for brandy. The reply was a decided negative; her husband, though, she said, had sent for brandy for her but she had told him she did not want it. Her husband left her on Friday or Saturday week; and he told her he was going to visit a brother.

Was there nothing unusual happened on the morning he left?” she was asked. “No,” she replied; but being pressed – the question in fact being put her – she admitted that he broke several things and tore the dress which she wore in his endeavours to take some silver out of her pocket (5s was the amount) and he loudly exclaimed that he wanted his money. He was, indeed, very violent. He threw, in his anger, several articles out of doors and flung a knife, boots and a glass at her.

Mr Mathews remarked at this point that the man had received his salary just previous to going home on that day.

His salary at the prison, Mrs Marriott said, amounted to £1 5s or £1 6s a week, beside the lodging money of an extra shilling. She assured the jury that she, on that day, gave her husband no provocation whatever. He was sober, she said, but she immediately the remark that, on her returning from an errand previous to the quarrel (she had, perhaps, been out an hour), she saw he had taken some table beer.

Which was the more sober,” asked the foreman, “you are your husband?” “Well, sir,” witness replied, “I was sober enough to attend to my duties regularly.” The witness was then asked if her husband’s parents were alive. She replied that she believed they were dead. She did not even know where her husband came from. When she had asked him where he was born, he would say “In the woods.”

This concluded the evidence, and the Coroner then recapitulated and commented on the leading points. It was evident, he said, that the man was in a morbid state, even whilst in the service, his attempt to commit suicide instancing it. No man who was not really temporarily insane or drunk would think of taking his life by such a method. The wife’s behaviour might be reprehensible but they had nothing to do with the one fact to which the evidence pointed – that the act was committed whilst the man was in a state of temporary insanity.

The jury returned a verdict to that effect; but a juryman expressed the opinion that he thought the wife deserved censure (hear).


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