Mursell, Christopher

Mursell, Christopher           1886 January 30th            Bemerton

An inquest was held at the “Three Crowns” Inn, Harnham, on Wednesday afternoon, on the body of Christopher John Mursell, who was found drowned on Thursday morning in the river near the old broken bridge in the Bemerton meadows. The Coroner was Mr – A Wilson, and Mr Sutton was foreman of the jury.

The first witness called was Henry John Manning, who deposed that he was the superintendent of the Laverstock asylum. The deceased, whose body he had identified, was an inmate of the asylum, and was 53 years of age. He was admitted to the house on Dec 5th, 1885, from Newport, Isle of Wight, he having retired form the business of an hotel keeper. When admitted to the asylum he was suffering from a disease of the nervous system. He suffered at that time from occasional attacks of mental excitement, and although he had never attempted to commit suicide, yet witness thought he required watching. However, under the treatment he had received, the man had improved rapidly during the past five or six weeks. Indeed witness had determined to send him home very shortly. Deceased had been able to walk about alone for some weeks past and appeared quite capable of taking care of himself. The last occasion on which witness saw the deceased was at about half past three on Monday afternoon, when he attended a service at the asylum chapel. Witness did not then speak to him. Mursell left shortly afterwards with the intention of seeing a friend in Salisbury at a concert held in St Edmund’s schoolroom the same evening. Witness perceived no cause for apprehension on Monday.

William Lampard, laborer, of West Harnham, said that at about a quarter past ten on Tuesday morning he saw two lads running towards him. On stopping, they told him that a man was in the water close to the spot where they then were. Witness got a stick, and with the assistance of others pulled the body out of the water. The spot where the body was found was about 200 yards from the old broken bridge in Bemerton meadows. The man’s head was down the stream and his feet were fastened in the sand bank. Deceased had a pair of worsted black gloves on and his arms were cramped up against his side. The bridge at the Harnham end of the river did not touch the bank at all. Witness saw some footmarks about six feet below the bridge, where the man must evidently have fallen into the water. A walking-stick was also found on the spot, this being partly covered with snow and dirt.

Jesse Noble, of West Harnham, laborer, said he assisted the last witness in taking the body out of the water. On being interrogated afterwards by Mr Sutton, it struck witness that the deceased was the same man he had met and spoken to at about five o’clock the night before in the road leading to the bridge. The man asked him if it was the right road to Bemerton, and witness replied, “Yes; it’s a pretty good road.” The man was gazing about him. The spot where the body was found was about 100 yards from the bridge.

John Nash, attendant at the Laverstock Asylum, said he saw the deceased last at the conclusion of the service in the chapel at the asylum on Monday afternoon. Deceased, after proceeding about five yards, came back to witness and informed him that he was going to tea with a friend at Fisherton, and would afterwards go to a concert at St Edmund’s school between 7 and 8 to meet another gentleman. The deceased had been cheerful lately, and was particularly so on Monday.

The Coroner said that the question was whether the man was accidentally drowned or whether he committed suicide. For his own part he must confess he could not see that there was sufficient evidence to lead him to a satisfactory conclusion either way.

The brother of the deceased said he had written home lately in quite a cheerful spirit, and in his letter he anticipated his speedy return.

In the course of the summing up, the Coroner said that the position of the man’s hands, as described by Lampard, suggested to him that the deceased had been clinging to something.

Mr Manning said he had no doubt that from the position of the arms and the rigidity of the muscles, the deceased had been holding on to something for a considerable time. There had evidently been a struggle for life.

The foreman of the jury said he should like to make a few remarks as to the state of the old bridge. He was on the Highway Board and could therefore explain why it was the bridge had not been removed. Two or three years ago the bridge was in a very bad state, and he then, but with difficulty, prevailed upon the Board to make a new bridge. His landlord also made a chalk pathway on either side of the bridge. The Highway Board would not sanction the old bridge being removed.

The Coroner : Well, then, this is now an opportunity for the jury to express opinion on the matter.

Mr Mursell said he had heard that his brother had been enquiring at Salisbury the way to the broken bridges, and was directed to this bridge.

The attendant at the asylum, in answer to an observation of a juryman, remarked that the deceased was near sighted.

The jury returned a verdict of “Found drowned,” there being no evidence to show how the deceased got into the water.

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