Hale, Cerena

Hale, Cerena          1883 June 23rd

Sad Case of Suicide at the Salisbury Training School

A sad case of suicide occurred in this city on Monday morning last. A young girl named Hale – a student of the Salisbury Training School – a favourite of her fellows, generally genial, loving and happy, yielded to an unhappy impulse and brought her young life to an abrupt end by throwing herself into the Avon, which runs along at the back of the garden of the school. Indiscreet, the poor young girl – who came from Chelsea – had not resisted one or two temptations which came in her way. She had been untruthful, she had taken one or two little things belonging to sister-students; and this being discovered, her sensitive mind – quickened perhaps by study – exaggerated her venial wrong into an unpardonable offence. She implored forgiveness of the Lady Superintendent. She was delicately and generously treated by Miss Rodwell; her sister students were thoughtful and compassionate.

But – while they were at church and she was supposed to be “working-up” for a model lesson to be given at St Martin’s school on Wednesday, she penned a few lines to her widowed mother, enclosed them in a stamped and addressed envelope, and then – coolly as if with premeditation – she asked the gardener permission to enter the kitchen-garden, preferring her request with a light excuse, and having obtained his consent, she entered the garden apparently in quest of woodruffe. She must then have followed her deliberate intention and thrown herself into the water.

A young gentleman named Reid fishing from Canon Gordon’s garden saw the body float by. Temerously he jumped into the water – with his clothes on as they were – and, after considerable difficulty and not without danger to himself, landed her on the opposite bank. Every effort was made to restore respiration – efforts hopeful at first because of the warmth; but they were unsuccessful.

The inquest was held in the afternoon at the “Avon Brewery,” East Harnham, by Mr R A Wilson (district coroner) and a jury (of whom Mr F Naish was foreman). Mr Wilson, in opening the inquiry, said he thought the jury would have no difficulty in coming to a verdict. The facts were very simple and very sad.

Mr Russell Belfrage Reid, of Brighton, at present a guest of Mr Willet’s at Canon Gordon’s house in the Close, stated : I was fishing from Canon Gordon’s garden at about ten o’clock this morning, when I observed a body float past. I entered the river, and with some difficulty, managed to land it on the opposite bank which at the time was nearest. I then found it was the body of a young woman. I at once endeavoured to restore animation, sending, in the meantime, for medical aid by the first man that approached me. The poor girl had no out-of-door clothes on. My efforts were without avail, but after I had continued them for some forty minutes Dr Sanctuary arrived. At the time I took the body out of the water I thought life was not quite extinct for the body was quite warm.

The foreman remarked that Mr Reid had exhibited very commendable conduct, a remark the jury generally applauded.

Dr Thomas Sanctuary deposed : I saw the body at about a quarter to eleven. It was lying in a field opposite Archdeacon Sanctuary’s house. I examined it. It was that of a well-nourished young woman of eighteen to twenty; there was no pulsation or sign of respiration. I used efforts to induce respiration for half-an-hour but without effect. There were no signs of violence on the body. The distinct evidence was that she had met her death by drowning.

Charles Hattatt, gardener, of New-street, stated : I was working on the lawn of the training school this morning at ten o’clock, when one of the young ladies – whom I should not recognise now – came to me and asked permission to go into the kitchen garden, which is walled away from the rest, for the purpose of gathering some woodruffe. I gave the permission; and she entered the garden and never returned. Some time after I went into the garden to ask her not to remain longer; and not seeing her, I imagined she had gone out unobserved by me. At the bank the water is about 16in. in depth, but in the middle of the stream it is quite 5ft. Steps lead to the water.

By the foreman : There are no violets immediately by the bank.

By the jurors : There was nothing whatever to prevent her descending the steps.

A juror : Did you observe anything in her manner when she approached you? No, she was as calm as I am at this moment.

Miss Fanny Rodwell, the lady superintendent of the institution, said : The deceased – Cerena Florence Margaret Hale – was one of the pupils in the institution. She entered on the 19th of January last. Her age was 20 on the 6th of June. Her parents live at Oakley-crescent, Chelsea. The letter produced, which was found in her desk, is in her handwriting. It is written in pencil, and was written early in the morning – probably between 9.30 and 10. It was as follows :

DEAR MA, — I am deeply grieved to tell you that I have given way to temptation. You will hear all from Miss Rodwell, our lady superintendent. She has been kind to me through it all. Oh, so very kind. At the time I write this I feel out of my mind. What to do I do not know. I feel certain I shall be dismissed from the college. And rather than bring disgrace upon you and my vicar I will get rid of myself. I feel I have done much more than I can expect forgiveness for.

The reason for this I should say is : That she had proved to have been not truthful and honest in small things. There had been, however, no question of dismissal – not a word said certainly by me. Yesterday morning and again this morning at eight I had a talk with her. She came this last time to admit everything and to ask forgiveness for what she had done. I told her if very careful she would re-establish her character for truthfulness. She seemed very much distressed and cried a good deal, but nothing in her manner led me to suppose she would do away with herself. She was a general favorite – I was very fond of her and so were her companions. She was in class this morning, and while the rest went to church at a quarter to ten she remained away as she had to prepare a model lesson to give at St Martin’s School on Wednesday.

The foreman : Had she more lessons put on her that morning? No.

The Coroner thought the jury could have no doubt that this poor girl’s mind had become unhinged. She had committed a small wrong; and in her state of mind had exaggerated it – until at last she had committed the sad act of taking her own life.

The jury returned a verdict “Death during temporary insanity.”


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