Richards, Frederick

Richards, Frederick      1883 June 9th

A sad case of drowning occurred at the Town Mill, Salisbury, on Saturday morning. It is the custom for lads to gather at the rear of the mill – a custom which the mill authorities have been powerless to put a stop to. To cross the strainer which keeps the weeds from going through the mill is often the object of their endeavours; and there have been several narrow escapes if not death resulting from the practise. At any rate, five deaths – either of children or of persons of more matured years – have occurred owing to the unprotected state of the river there in little more than as many years. The path leading there is private property, but inasmuch as it also leads to the baths – which are the property of the Urban Sanitary Authority, it has become in a sense public.

A little fellow aged six named Fredrick Thomas Richards – the son of a hawker living at Belle-Vue-terrace, Castle-street – accompanied by his two brothers (one two years older and the other younger) and a third playmate, on Saturday morning went around there to fish for minnows. Whilst there, the elder brother essayed to cross the narrow plank on the top of the strainer; and his brother Frederick Thomas followed him. When his brother had crossed and he was at about the centre, the foot of the latter slipped, and in a moment he was in the water. The three other little fellows shouted; and a man named Rambridge – attracted by it – ran to the mill-head, but only in time to see the face of the lad as the body was swept in under the mill.

Giving the alarm at the mill, he and a man named Kent proceeded to the island at the rear of the mill; and from there they saw the body in the water. Kent rescued the lad, and – half-dead, with the whites of his eyes disclosed, blood and water flowing from his face and pulsations scarcely apparent – he was removed to the Infirmary.

Mr Vick, grocer, of Fisherton, who saw the procession approaching, hurried into the Infirmary and rang the bell of the accident ward twice; but no response being obtained the lad was taken in by the front door. He was soon attended to, but he died – after having once slightly rallied – at about half-past four. Some rumors were prevalent in the city in the evening that the lad could not at first obtain admission to the Infirmary – or, rather, that there was a delay; and that there was a second delay in attending him; and at the inquest many questions were asked on the point.

The Inquest

The inquest was held at the Infirmary on Monday morning, by Mr W C Powning (deputy coroner) and a jury (of whom Mr F Abel was foreman). Before the body was viewed, Mr Naish – a juror – suggested that the jury should also view the scene of the accident. It was a crying evil that they should have such a dangerous spot in the centre of the city. He could himself remember no less than five fatal accidents which had occurred at this very spot within as many years. It was high time that it should be protected.

The jury all cordially agreed with Mr Naish, one juror – Mr McGregor – remarking that his own little boy had had a very narrow escape there.

Mr Powning : Of course, it is a question whether this is public or private property?

Mr Naish : As to that, I think, sir, it is a very strong argument of it being public property when we remember the Urban Sanitary Authority have taken possession of the baths (hear, hear) at least, it is a strong argument of the necessity of its being protected. At several inquests which I have attended riders have been added praying that the spot be protected; but, sir, though they have been presented I am afraid that not the slightest notice has been taken of them (hear, hear). As it is, the spot being unprotected, there is the greater attraction to boys. To cross the strainer or to accomplish some hazardous act gives a boy all the greater glory, and a kind of superiority over his fellows (hear, hear). Mr Witcombe seconded Mr Naish’s motion; and it was unanimously adopted.

Thomas Richards was the first witness examined. He stated that he was a licensed hawker, living at Belle Vue-terrace, Castle-street. The deceased was his son and was six years old last December. He saw him last alive at about 11.30 on Saturday morning, and he was then in his usual state of health.

The Foreman : Do you know if he was going to take a bath, or had he any business at this spot?

Witness : No. But I believe he went there with two brothers, one older and one younger, to catch minnows.

John Rambridge, stableman, living at Milford-street, deposed that on Saturday afternoon he was at the Swimming baths talking to the lessee, when he heard some boys that were outside shout. He at once ran out, and heard a little boy say, “My brother is in the water.” He immediately proceeded as fast as he could to the mill-head; only in time, however, to see the boy disappear floating on his back under the board, the stream carrying him directly towards the mill-wheel. Running into the mill he gave the alarm, and one of the men – named Kent – ran out with him to the mill-tail. They saw the body – which had passed under the wheel – in the water and Kent at once jumped in and fetched the poor little fellow out. Blood was flowing from his head. Kent brought him to the mill, and he, catching him from his arms, gave the little fellow to a man named Gray, who at once took him to the Infirmary. The little fellow must have reached there in five minutes from the time of the accident. He was alive and breathing but he did not speak.

A juror : Can you tell me where the lad fell in? His eldest brother told me that he was crawling over the strainers.

Were there many children about? Only three. And the little fellow had a string tied to his arm; they had been playing horses.

Joshua Kent deposed that he was a miller working at the Town Mill, and residing at Payne’s Hill. On Saturday, at about 12, in consequence of the alarm given by the last witness, he ran out of the mill with him to the island, and there seeing the body in the water, he jumped in and took it out. Blood was running over the lad’s face and they at once took him to the mill, where he was taken to the Infirmary. About ten minutes before the accident he saw the boy with three others cross the wooden bridge. The deceased then had a string tied to his arm, and his brother was holding it – they were playing horses. A number of children played about by this bridge – and it was useless telling them to go away. Further up near the Market-house, he saw a boy fall in some time ago, but he managed to scramble out.

Mr Supt Mathews : The police are continually driving away children from there, but their efforts are really useless.

Mr Naish to witness : You say boys go there continually to the baths? Yes.

And you have no right to drive them away? No.

Mr Naish : Then it makes it a public place at once.

Witness : Children are continually playing about there at all seasons of the year, and you can’t drive them away.

John Gray, stableman, residing at the Wyndham-Villas, gave evidence as to carrying the lad to the Infirmary. Mr Wilson, the medical attendant, attended the lad within a minute or two. The lad did not speak.

A juror asked the witness if there was not some unnecessary delay in admitting the lad to the Infirmary. The witness said his time was mostly taken up with the boy, so that he did not ring the bell.

Another juror remarked that it was he who rang the bell of the accident ward – indeed, he had to ring it twice and even then admission had to be obtained by the front door; and he must say, he thought there was a little delay in admitting the boy.

The first juror : And a minute or two is of considerable consequence in such a circumstance.

The elder brother of the deceased – a lad of eight – explained that his brother fell into the stream as he was crossing the strainer. He also was on the plank, having just crossed in front of him. His brother was “kneeling” across when he slipped.

Mr Mervyn Wilson, the medical attendant at the Infirmary, stated that on Saturday between 12 and 12.30 he was called to see the deceased. He was alive then, and lived for four hours, dying at 4.40. When he first saw the lad he appeared to be nearly drowned, having also a slight wound on the back of the head, his left cheek bone being scratched, having a lacerated wound just below the jaw on the left hand side from which blood was slightly flowing, a large bruise over the chest and neck considerably swollen; but after about an hour and a half he seemed to slightly recover. He, indeed, spoke, and with difficulty it could be made out what he said. When he was moved he said “It hurts.” It was exceedingly difficult to give the actual cause of death. The slight recovery seemed to contradict the impression that was given by his first appearance; and so he came to the opinion that there must have been some internal injuries. He should say, however, that the injuries received in passing through the mill were the cause of death.

A juror : Did any other medical gentleman see him besides yourself? Mr Wilkes saw him. I was so engaged in trying to bring him round that I did not send for anyone directly. Subsequently Mr Wilkes saw him.

How long before you sent for Mr Wilkes? I sent for Dr Darke and he was out, and Mr Wilkes came at 4, and the lad died in half-an-hour.

Was the lad attended to at once on his being admitted? I got a message first to say the lad was ill, then another to say that he was dying. I rushed out at once and found an attendant undressing him, so not much delay could have taken place.

Another juror : Witnesses say he was brought here at twelve, and you say you did not see him till 12.30. I can’t exactly say what the time was when I saw him, but I saw him almost immediately.

Is it usual for a bell to be rung twice or thrice and then no response to be made? I should say not, if a bell was rung once it ought to have been responded to. But, of course, the porter may have been called away; and it should be understood Saturday is a busy day.

The Deputy-Coroner : Yet it does seem strange that a person applying for entrance with an accident case by a door which bears the inscription over it that such a case is to be admitted that way, should have to gain entrance by another door. Can you, Mr Wilson, say who is in charge of the bell at this moment?

Mr Wilson : No. Probably the porter; if not the porter, perhaps the maidservant.

A juror : But how would the maidservant know the porter was not there? Doesn’t it seem a loose state of things for such an institution

Mr Wilson : Of course, you can’t have one person perpetually in attendance.

A juror : It has been said in the town that there was a delay of 14 or 15 minutes.

Mr Wilson : That certainly ought not to have been. At the same time, I may add this; I don’t think any delay that occurred affected the child’s recovery. Had it been a case of pure drowning it might have done so, but this was not such a case.

A juror : But, of course, you were not supposed to know that at the time – when admission was being applied for.

Mr Jarrett, the dispenser, was subsequently called in at the request of Mr Wilson to explain the delay. He said he was sure Mr Wilson was with the lad actually before twelve. If the accident bell were rung he must have heard it because it rang close to his door.

The juror : I rang it so hard that I thought I should break it.

Mr Jarrett : Well, I didn’t hear it. And if I had heard it I should have thought it my place to see it replied to. (To the juror who rang the bell) : Did you hear it ring? The juror : No, I can’t swear that.

The jury then returned a verdict of “Accidental death,” the Deputy-Coroner being authorised to write to the Dean and Chapter – who were stated to be the owners of the river – calling their attention to the danger, and asking them at once to take steps to obviate it. A juryman remarked that Mr Powning could not couch the letter in too strong terms.

The Deputy-Coroner was also asked to suggest that a close-board fencing should be erected, and that the tucking-mill should be also protected.

The jury divided their fees between Kent, who brought the body out of the water, and Gray.

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