Barber, John

Barber, John                1889 April 27th

A sad case of death occurred in this city early on Tuesday, Mr John Barber (who for many years has carried on business as a builder here) expiring so suddenly that his life was extinct ere medical assistance could be obtained. Only the day before (Easter Monday) he appeared to be in excellent health and spirits, and in company with his wife and daughter and another lady paid a visit to Mr Harding at Odstock, where he engaged in lawn tennis. Having returned home and taken supper he retired to rest, at about half-past nine, and slept, but it appears that at about three o’clock Mrs Barber noticed a noise in his throat and found him to be in a state of unconsciousness. Miss Barber, their daughter, was despatched for Mr W D Wilkes, who at once came, but, as already indicated, death had then taken place.

An inquest was held at the residence of the deceased, Brown Street, on Wednesday morning, before Mr George Smith, Mr James Moore being foreman of the jury.

The Coroner, addressing the jury, said he was told that Mr Barber had never been in a bad state of health before, that he had never really had medical advice, and certainly the medical man who went to him after he died had never attended him for heart disease, which, he presumed, would be found to be the cause of death, but of course that would be for them to inquire into. He supposed that they would all be very anxious, if possible, to save Mrs Barber the anxiety and trouble of giving evidence that morning if it was possible, if there were other witnesses who could do so, but Mr Mathews informed him that there was no other person present at his death and that it happened during the night. He was very much afraid that they would not be able to dispense with her evidence. The medical man was Mr Wilkes, who would give his opinion as to the cause of death. They would take his evidence first, and he might be able to satisfy them as to the cause of death without calling Mrs Barber.

Mr Wilkes was accordingly sworn. He said that he was called about quarter past three on Tuesday morning, by Miss Barber. He came directly and found Mr Barber dead in his bed. He was lying on his back. His face was pale and his features were placid; there was no discharge from his nose or mouth, and apparently there had been no impediment to the breathing. Witness attributed his death to natural causes due to sudden failure of the heart’s action. He had attended the family for some years off and on. He attended Mr Barber in January, 187-, for some trivial ailment for a day or two. He never attended him for heart disease. He looked upon him as one of those who would be the last to suffer in this way. He met him on Monday driving in St Ann Street, at 10 o’clock, and he smiled as he passed. He then looked as well in health and spirits as ever witness saw him.

The Coroner : Are you aware that he went to a tennis party? O yes!

Did he play tennis? Mrs Barber tells me that he played tennis for a short time. He went to Odstock in the afternoon.

You don’t think that it caused failure of the heart’s action? He expressed himself so well. He came back and went to bed, Mrs Barber tells me, about half-past nine.

You don’t attribute the cause of death to that in anyway do you? No.

Are you aware that some years ago Mr Barber fell from a house and injured himself? No.

Are aware that he ever suffered from lockjaw and injury to his foot? No.

Mr Wilkes subsequently remarked that Mr Barber was one of those men who suffered from decayed teeth and had imperfect mastication which must have taxed the powers of the stomach for digestion, and he hardly ever had any meat. He was an abstainer. He had had supper – bread and cheese, and, curiously for him, he had taken a little beer for supper. He went to sleep very well and Mrs Barber heard nothing from him until she heard a noise resulting from difficulty with breathing. During the early hours of the morning the powers of life were always weakest.

The jury did not think it necessary to have evidence given by Mrs Barber. They wished to spare her the pain of being called.

Supt Mathews was a witness. He stated that one day last week he met Mr Barber in the Park and spoke to him. He was 43 last February. With regard to the beer he was ordered to take stimulants by two doctors (Dr Gowing and Dr Coates) for weakness. They both attended him 10 years ago for inflammation of the jaw. He was so weak then that the doctors said that they would not be answerable for his life if he did not take stimulants. He complained to his wife of weakness. On one occasion his hair came off in patches.

Mr Moore : I don’t understand whether he continued to have stimulants since 10 years ago.

Mr Mathews : He occasionally took a glass of beer by order of the doctor. There is no doubt he suffered very much from weakness from what Mrs Barber says.

The jury returned a verdict of death from natural causes, and Mr Moore observed that he thought that he might be permitted, on behalf of the jury, to express their deep sympathy with Mrs Barber and the family in the sudden bereavement (hear, hear).

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