Gay, Alfred

Gay, Alfred           1885 December 12th            Whiteparish

The Wilton election has had associated with it a most lamentable incident – an accident to a well-known farmer, which unfortunately terminated fatally. Mr Gay, of Whiteparish – who was, we believe, an ardent Conservative – feeling the general intense interest in this election, had accepted an opportunity which Mr Sparkes, landlord of the “White Hart,” Whiteparish, offered, to proceed to Wilton and hear the poll declared.

Mr Sparkes drove there, and Mr Gay accompanied him. They did not set out on their return journey until five in the evening. It was a dark unpleasant evening. They had entered the avenue in the Southampton-road which precedes the entrance to Belmont when the trap came into collision with a coal waggon. It was overturned, both the occupants being thrown out. Mr Gay, who fell on his head, was rendered insensible. He never properly recovered his sensibility, and died, two days after, in the Salisbury Infirmary, whither he was removed immediately after the accident. Subsequently – more especially at the inquest – a question arose as to whether any blame was attached to the unfortunate gentleman’s companion, who was driving at the time.

The inquest was held at the Salisbury Infirmary on Monday afternoon, by Mr G Smith (city coroner), and a jury, of whom Mr T Maunder was foreman. The Coroner, in addressing the jury, said it would be their duty if they blame attached to anyone to say so in their verdict.

The first witness was Harry Sparkes, landlord of the “White Hart,” Whiteparish. He deposed that on the 2nd inst., he took the deceased up in is two-wheel trap at the corner of the road leading to Brickworth farm for the purpose of driving him to Wilton to hear the poll declared. They had arranged the journey on the previous night, the deceased, on his saying he was going to Wilton, remarking that he should like to accompany him. Nothing happened on the journey to Wilton; and they started to return home at about five o’clock.

They had arrived near Belmont on the Southampton-road when – just as they were leaving the avenue – they came into collision with a coal waggon. It was very dark at the time. The horse he was driving was a quiet animal. The coal waggon was, at the time of the collision, on the near – that is, on its right – side of the road; but not “near” enough. He had no lights; neither had the driver of the coal waggon. He had not discerned the waggon approaching. Immediately he saw it – and they were then very near – he called out; but the words were scarcely out of his mouth before the collision occurred and the trap was overturned. The man in charge of the coal waggon did not call out. There was, however, not sufficient room for the trap to pass.

As a result of the collision both he and Mr Gay were thrown out. He was not injured by the fall; and he immediately went to Mr Gay’s assistance. He found that he was injured considerably, and he at once took him up and laid him across the footpath. Mr Staples, of Belmont, was driving by at the time, and he sent him back in his carriage to the Infirmary. The accident must have happened at about ten minutes to six.

By the Foreman : Both the trap and the waggon were on their right side, but the waggon was too much towards our side to allow us to pass safely. When I called out I caught sight of the hind wheel of the waggon. The waggon had apparently been on the wrong side, but catching sight of us the driver had tried to get over to the proper side. Not having time to accomplish his purpose the collision occurred. We were driving at the rate of seven or eight miles an hour.


The Foreman : How was it you drove without lamps?

Witness : I had never thought on leaving home we should be out so late.

The Foreman : Don’t you think it was your duty to have provided lamps? No answer.

The Foreman : It looks like culpable neglect, this driving without them.

Witness : I don’t think so.

The Foreman : That is for us to decide. In driving through a dark place like this you should, too, have exercised care. Seven or eight miles an hour was quite fast enough, at all events.

Mr Saunders (a juryman) to witness : Were you perfectly sober? Yes, perfectly.

What had you had to drink? Well, I had a glass on first going through Salisbury, a glass in returning through the city, besides what I had at Wilton.

The Coroner at this stage cautioned the witness and told him that he was not bound to answer all the questions put to him, more especially if he thought his answers would incriminate himself.

No other questions were asked.

Thomas Gray, a labourer, of Milford-way, Salisbury, who is in the employ of Mr J Read, coal merchant, Gigant-street, said that on the 2nd of this month he was engaged to drive coal to Grimstead. He had arrived – on his return journey – at or near Belmont at about ten minutes to six, when he suddenly saw a trap approaching. At that time he (witness) was on the near or left side; that was his right side. The waggon was a one-horse waggon; and certainly did not reach half-way across the road- it did not reach “near half way across.” It was running at about two yards from the hedge. When he first saw the trap it was about 20 yards off. The trap was being driven at a rather swift pace. Immediately he saw the trap, he pulled his horse’s head round towards the hedge.

After the the accident had happened there was still not more than two yards between the hedge and the waggon. The trap struck the hinder wheel of his waggon, and as a result of the collision it immediately turned over. His (witness’s) horse had almost stopped before the collision. A boy who was riding with him attended to his horse whilst he went to assist the occupants of the over-turned trap. The driver of the trap, who did not appear to be much hurt, was not sober. When they discovered Mr Gay his head was on the path and his body on the road. His face “was all over blood;” he did not speak.

The Coroner : You say that there were not two yards between your waggon and the hedge on your side; can you say what the space was between their trap and the other hedge?

Witness : No, sir. I could not tell as the trap had turned over when I found it. There was, however, ample room for the trap to have passed.

The Foreman : On what side were you when you first heard the trap approaching? On my right side.

How far were you from the hedge? At about the same distance as when the accident occurred.

You were coming along quietly leaving ample room for the other to pass? That’s it, sir.

Had you had anything to drink? No, sir.

Mr Hillier (a juryman) : How do you know the driver of the trap was the worse for liquor? Well, I saw him after the accident; he could stand; but I know he was the worse for liquor.

The Coroner : How do you judge he was tipsy? He was staggery.

The Coroner : Did he smell of drink? Well, no; but he was tipsy.

Edward Cooper, a lad, who is in the employ of Mr Staples, of Belmont, said that about a quarter to six on this day he was returning from Belmont to Laverstock, when the last witness gave him a “lift” in his waggon. Near Sir Frederick Bathurst’s lodge a trap which they had heard approaching ran into the waggon. The waggon at the time was running close against the hedge – being not more than two yards from it. On the trap colliding with the waggon, it turned over. There was quite sufficient space for the trap to have passed without touching the waggon. It was as wide at that point of the road as it was at any throughout its length.

The Foreman, who had elicited from the lad the exact spot where the accident occurred, said from his knowledge of the road he should say it was the narrowest point of the length. There was, however, plenty of room for the two vehicles to have passed.

The witness, in reply to the Coroner, said the driver of the waggon was sober, and capable in every way of driving the vehicle.

The Coroner : In what condition was the driver of the trap? He was tipsy.

The Coroner : What makes you say that? Well, he spoke as if he had had a drop.

The Coroner : Did he stagger? No, I did not see him stagger.

Thomas Spearing, a dairyman living at Belmont, stated that on the evening of the 2nd, at about six o’clock, the last witness came to his house for assistance in consequence of the collision. He and his wife at once took some lights into the road. The coal waggon was on the near side (that was its right side). There was, he should say, about two yards between the waggon and the hedge. There was, however, ample room for any carriage to have passed on the other side without going on to the footpath. There was quite three or four yards left for the trap to pass. Certainly the road was very narrow at that point. It was, including the path, not more than ten strides wide. A trap might go on that footpath without turning over or endangering itself. There was a little rise in the path, but it might practically be treated as part of the road.

The Coroner : You saw all the parties. Do you think any one of them was tipsy? Well, the driver of the trap had had a little drink, but I don’t think he was incapable of driving. This, you know, sir, was a very dark night; and this is a very dark part of the road.

Levi Stephenson Luckham, house surgeon at the Infirmary, said that on Mr Gay being brought to the institution he saw him at the door. He at once saw that he was insensible, and admitted him as an urgent case. When he was in bed he examined him. He found a bruise on the left side of the head, though he could detect no fracture. No limbs were broken. The next morning he was still unconscious, and had developed symptoms of severe brain injury. He remained in that state until the following morning, when he rapidly became worse and died at about eleven. He made a post mortem. He found a linear fracture on the base of the skull; and on both sides there was considerable hemorrhage. That was in his opinion sufficient to account for his death.

The Coroner, in summing up, alluded to the assertion that Sparke’s was the worse for drink. He said it was only fair to remember that, when the witnesses saw him, he had just been thrown out of a trap, and that his agitation and appearance – as a result of the accident – might have led to the assumption that he had been drinking. With his exception, the witnesses all agreed that there was ample room for the trap to have passed. At the same time they must remember that, according to Spearing, there was but the narrow space of three or four yards left. It was really for them to consider whether there was sufficient evidence to entail upon any person the responsibility of Mr Gay’s death. If they thought that death was through the culpable negligence of the driver of any other person they should say so. That would mean a verdict of manslaughter against the person specially implicated. If, on the other hand, they were not satisfied there was negligence to that extent they should return a verdict of accidental death.

After the jury had consulted the Foreman said : We believe this death was purely accidental. Yet we think the driver of the trap was grossly negligent in not providing himself with lamps. We have not sufficient evidence to prove he was drink at the time – we wish therefore to give him the benefit of the doubt; but we still think he should have exercised more care on a dark night and have been provided with lamps. We all desire that he should be reprimanded.

The Coroner, addressing Sparkes, said : The jury have, in my opinion, taken a very merciful view, so far as you are concerned. They, however, wish me to reprimand you for the careless manner in which you drove your trap. You ought certainly to have exercised more care in driving on such a night; moreover, you ought to have had lamps. They don’t think, of course, that you acted in any sense wilfully, or that, perhaps, under the circumstances you could have avoided the accident. Although there is no strict evidence that you were tipsy, yet they think – they have the impression – you were the worse for drink. They wish me to caution you; and I ask you to remember that if unfortunately anything of this sort should happen again it would be most likely to go hard with you.

FreeBMD gives Alfred Gay as aged 70 – ED.


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