Coghlan, John

Coghlan, John      1887 May 7th         Devizes

An adjourned inquiry was held at the White Hart Inn, Devizes, on Monday evening, before Mr G S A Waylen, borough coroner, as to the death of John Percival James Coghlan, infant son of the Rev. J H Coghlan, of Wimbledon, who died at the White Hart, where the mother had been staying.

As a medical man declined to give a certificate of death an inquest became necessary. The facts of the case may be briefly summarised. On Sunday week Mrs Coghlan, who was confined on 31st March, came to Devizes with her child, to be near an old nurse who lived at Easterton, near Devizes, because, as she stated, her child was being neglected and “humbugged” at home. She stayed first at the Bear Hotel, then at private lodgings, and finally went to the White Hart.

Mrs Sainsbury, a nurse, gave evidence to the effect that she had seen a bottle in the room marked laudanum, and contained about a teaspoonful, also one containing glycerine.

Dr John Cowie attended the child whilst the mother was staying at the Bear Hotel. He detailed the symptoms and appearance of the child, and also the result of the post mortem examination. The weight of the child was 5lb 10oz., and it was rather thin and not well nourished. The lungs were healthy, but the heart was contracted. The stomach contained a small quantity of a dark fluid. The intestines were nearly empty. He sealed the contents and gave them to the police. He had been previously consulted in conjunction with Dr Carless by Mr Coghlan, with regard to Mrs Coghlan’s state of mind. If they considered her insane they were to fill up a certificate of insanity. They declined to act in the matter, however, as Mr Coghlan had left and gone back to London. He had seen Mrs Coghlan very excited, which he ascribed to drink. He did not notice that she was unkind to the child, but she appeared to be ignorant as to the proper way to manage it.

The Rev. J H Coghlan also gave evidence, and explained that important legal business in London necessitated his absence when he wished the doctors to examine his wife.

Mrs Coghlan was sworn, and stated that she took the laudanum herself to induce sleep. She emphatically denied that she gave any to the child. The mother acted in a rather eccentric manner whilst making her statement.

The evidence of Supt Baldwin and Inspector Tyle having been taken, a letter was read from Mr Stoddart, analyst, of Bristol, stating that he had minutely examined the contents of the stomach and intestines for the constituents of opium and incidentally for other poisons, but found no trace thereof.

Under these circumstances the jury found that the child died from natural causes. They were, however, of opinion that if the child had had the proper attention of an affectionate mother it might have survived. The jury expressed the opinion that under the circumstances of the case it was one which required the strictest investigation.


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