Strong, Thomas

Strong, Thomas            1886 March 27th                 Romsey

The town of Romsey was thrown into great excitement on Monday morning by a report being freely circulated that Mr Thomas Strong, the well known proprietor of the “Horsefair” brewery, Romsey, had committed suicide. Many were disposed to discredit the report, but on enquiry it was found to be too true. It appeared that the chambermaid went to the deceased’s bedroom door, and found it unlocked. Looking in, she saw her master lying on the floor, as she supposed, in a fit. An alarm was given directly, and the coachman hastened to Romsey to summon Mr F Taylor, surgeon, who, with Mr Plumb, the manager of the brewery, went to the bedroom, and found the body with the marks of three shots from a revolver on it. One was in the forehead, the bullet having flattened on the skull, and it is surmised that the deceased, after making this attempt on his life, took off his shirt and fired two shots into his left breast. The deed was evidently done on the previous night before retiring to rest. The sad affair has cast a heavy gloom over the whole community. The deceased was a very large employer of labour and a bountiful subscriber to the various institutions and societies in the town. Very great sympathy is felt for Mrs Strong, who at the time of the sad occurrence was at Torquay, but returned home on Tuesday.

 

The inquest was held on Tuesday afternoon, at Harefield House, the residence of the deceased, before Mr Bernard Harfield, the deputy coroner, and a jury, of whom Mr Roles was appointed foreman. Mr Footner was present on behalf of Mrs Strong.

 

The Deputy Coroner said he did not propose to delay the jury with any remarks now, because, as far as he was informed, the evidence would be very simple, and the witnesses would lay before them the details, and after they had been heard he should have one or two observations to make with regard to the verdict they ought to return.

The jury then proceeded to one of the upstair rooms to view the body, and on their return,

Mary Whitmarsh deposed : I am parlourmaid at Harefield House, Romsey. I saw Mr Strong on Sunday morning when he went to church. He came home behind me, and at two o’clock I brought his luncheon. I saw him again at half past three in the drawing room reading, again just after tea time, and again at six, when he went out for a walk, and returned at ten minutes to seven. I brought his dinner to him at ten minutes after seven, and two hours afterwards I gave him a newspaper which he intended to send on to Mrs Strong. At five minutes past ten I took some grog to him, and at 25 minutes past I gave him his shoes as usual, and that was the last time I saw him. He retired to bed about 11 o’clock.

The Coroner : Did you notice anything strange in his manner during the day?

Witness : No, he was most pleasant all day. I heard him about 20 minutes past 11 lock either his bedroom or dressing-room door, which he usually locked. There are four doors between his room and mine, and I heard nothing more during the night.

By the jury : He took a hearty dinner, as usual, and had no food afterwards that she was aware of.

The Foreman : Did he send the paper to Mrs Strong?

Witness : No, it did not go. He had written to her a letter, which he had expressed a wish to be posted, and it was posted by Sarah Bishop. I have seen the body, and identify it as that of Mr Strong.

The Coroner : Have you ever seen that (pistol) case before?

Witness : No, I did not attend the bedrooms.

Sarah Bishop deposed : I am under-housemaid at Harefield. Yesterday morning, at half past seven, I went to call Mr Strong. I knocked at the bedroom door four times, but not receiving any response I waited till five minutes to eight and then went again. I knocked several times and receiving no answer tried the door. It was unlocked, and I opened it and looked in, and saw him lying on the floor. I thought he had dropped in a fit, and called the other servants and we all went in together. He was lying quite straight on his side, with his head towards the door, and his feet crossed, and his right arm over his head. He had trousers and drawers on, but no shirt. A pistol was lying at the back of his head. The room was not disarranged in any way.

Superintendent Kellaway : Do you know what became of his white shirt?

Witness : No.

The Coroner : Have you ever seen that case before? Oh, yes, many times.

Mr Kellaway : Did you know the contents? Yes, I have seen it many times, it was Mr Strong’s.

The case was opened and disclosed a revolver.

The Foreman : Was the bed disarranged? No, he had not been to bed at all. The door leading to the dressing-room was locked on the inside. I sleep in the same part of the house as Mary Whitmarsh. I heard no noise at all during the night. There were two bedroom doors, a swing door and a passage door that would cut the sound off. No one else was sleeping in the part of the house where he was. I had called him on Sunday morning, and he asked the time. I said, “Half past seven,” and he replied, “All right.” I saw him coming out of church, but did not speak to him again. Immediately on our finding him Dr Taylor was sent for and the body was not touched till he arrived, except that a sheet was put over it. He took a candle to bed with him, and that had burnt right out.

Superintendent Kellaway deposed : On Monday morning, about nine o’clock, I came to Harefield House, and met Dr Taylor and went with him to the room where deceased was lying, and found him on the floor as described by the last witness. Lying under his cheek was the revolver produced. He was on his left side with his right arm bent over his head. The revolver was a five chambered one, and the chambers still contained three empty cartridges and two full ones. There was blood on it when I picked it up, and some remains there still. I was there when Mr Taylor took a flattened bullet from the forehead. The room was not disarranged but his day shirt was lying on the bed with blood on it. The deceased’s watch was in the pocket over the bed and was still going. The revolver case was on the mantel piece, and I have been given to understand that he was in the habit of taking it to his bedroom every night. The bullets had not come through the shirt.

Dr Frank Askwith Taylor deposed : On Monday morning, at 25 minutes past eight, Mr Strong’s coachman came to me and said, “You are wanted at Harefield directly.” I got there at quarter to nine, and was taken to Mr Strong’s bedroom by the housekeeper, who pointed to the body on the floor, which was covered over by a sheet. I did not uncover it then. I found the day shirt and under vest upon the corner of the foot of the bed. There were spots of blood on the shirt and a very few spots on the undershirt – these were all direct drops of blood. The revolver case was on the mantel piece, open. On the window side of the bed was a chair with a pair of trousers and a waistcoat. When Superintendent Kellaway arrived we removed the sheet, and I observed two wounds on the chest, and he at the same time noticed one on the forehead and picked up the revolver. The trunk was nearly covered with blood. On examining the wound in the forehead I found it of a dark nature, and at the bottom of it, slightly glanced to the right side, under the scalp, found a hard substance, which I removed with my finger, and it proved to be a flattened piece of metal, which I believe to be a bullet, and which I now produce. The body was quite cold and blanched. I this morning made a further examination of the body, I probed the wound on the forehead and found that the bullet had not pierced the bone, but had just cracked the surface no thicker than varnish upon paint; it would be about the size of a sixpence. I then probed the chest wounds, but in each case I believe the bullet reached the rib and glanced.

The Foreman : Have you formed any opinion as to which shot was fired first?

Witness : No, I have thought it over and have a conjecture, but cannot go beyond that. I should consider the actual cause of death was from the chest wounds, which were exactly over the region of the heart. I consider he might have removed the shirt after the head wound had been inflicted, but not directly, as I believe the shot must have produced insensibility, but it is impossible for me to say how long that lasted.

The garments were produced and examined by the jury, and the witness said he should consider they were taken off before the wounds were inflicted. He described the appearances of the chest wounds, and added he was not prepared to say whether they were the result of a pistol shot fired close to the body or from a distance, he having had no experience in that sort of thing. He was not, therefore, prepared to say the wounds were self inflicted, but it was quite possible they were. He should say he was standing when the wounds were inflicted – that is supposing he shot himself; if the wounds were inflicted by anyone else it must have been from a spot higher than the deceased was.

A Juryman said Mr Strong always carried a purse, but none it appeared had been found.

Mr Plumb said he would not go so far as to state that Mr Strong always carried a purse. He usually did so.

Dr Taylor : It was Sunday, remember.

Mr Kellaway said he found two sixpences in the waistcoat pocket.

Mr Plumb said the keys were found in the drawer of the dressing table; it was possible the purse was there; the note book was.

Dr Taylor expressed the opinion that the wounds in the chest were inflicted by two separate bullets, and that death was due to one or both.

Mrs Gasling, the housekeeper, was called, and said she had charge of the purse and one or two other little things that were taken from the trousers pockets by the coachman, who was called in directly.

Mr Footner asked who locked up the house at night, and the witness replied the parlourmaid always did it. The place was all found locked up in the morning. He changed into this bedroom last Wednesday, the day Mrs Strong went away.

Dr Taylor, re-called, said he knew nothing professionally about the state of Mr Strong’s mind. For several years he had consulted a specialist in London named Dr Smith. He had understood, however, that of late he had suffered from dyspepsia, and could not sleep. He believed this act, if he committed it himself, was the result of a suddenly deranged mind.

The Coroner : You don’t know of your professional knowledge, that he had a tendency of that kind? Witness replied no, he had not professionally attended him for some years.

Mr Arnold, a juryman, suggested whether the letter to Mrs Strong might not throw some light upon it, but Mr Footner (Mrs Strong having arrived home while the inquest was being held) said there was nothing in it of a special character – it simply stated he had been sleeping better. The answer to the letter had arrived that morning.

Captain Grant, who was present during the inquest, gave the result of some experiments he had made as to the effects of a pistol fired at close quarters.

The Coroner asked Dr Taylor whether if the pistol had been fired by some person a foot or so distant at Mr Strong’s head the bullet would flatten in such a way. The doctor replied he really could not say.

The Coroner said he would, if the jury wished, adjourn the inquest, to give the police the opportunity of making further enquiries.

The Foreman said there was no evidence of a struggle, and he could not see what was to be gained by an adjournment.

The Coroner said he was quite of the same opinion. Though there was no direct evidence that deceased shot himself, yet the state of the room and the fact of the watch being there showed that no one perpetrated the act from mercenary motives. Neither was there any evidence that any one was likely to have had a motive for perpetrating such an act upon him. It was quite open for them, if they were not satisfied, to return an open verdict, for it was evident that death resulted from the wounds.

The Foreman inquired if the jury had power to ask for a post mortem examination, and the Coroner replied that he would order it if the jury wished. He suggested that, if possible, the jury, if they thought the deceased committed the act, should obtain some evidence as to his state of mind.

Mr Footner said that he had known Mr Strong for years, and he appeared to be about the last person in the world to commit suicide. He was with him on Sunday; he did not then seem quite well, but he was better towards evening. He was a man of deep religious convictions.

Mr Plumb, answering the Coroner, said he last saw Mr Strong on Saturday; he was then particularly pleasant. He was, however, a man of very anxious mind.

Mr Taylor said he had even made arrangements for his breakfast next morning – he had said he would rather have cocoa than coffee.

The jury, after a consultation in private, returned a verdict to the effect that, in their opinion, the wounds were sufficient to cause death but there was no evidence to show by whom they were inflicted, or as to the state of mind in which deceased was at the time he met his death.

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