Keeling, Augustus

Keeling, Augustus           1889 June 15th            Devizes




A teacher named Keeling, who was travelling from Bath by way of Devizes on Friday afternoon, in company with Miss Lister, of Birmingham, recently appointed head-mistress of the Devizes British School, shot his companion near Devizes, and threw her out of the carriage. He afterwards got out of the carriage himself and was killed. The first information of the occurrence came from a man named Burgess, who was working on the railway just below the iron bridge. Shortly after half-past one, as a train was passing, he saw a woman stand up in a third class compartment, and suddenly throw up her arms. A man, who was with her, then fired two shots at her with a pistol, and then pushed her out of the carriage.

A man named George Williams, a plasterer, who was working at the same time near the iron bridge, heard a shot as the train passed, and on looking round saw a woman hanging out of a carriage, and subsequently drop on the bank. He ran up to her with the other man, and they found a well-dressed, lady-like female lying on the bank bleeding profusely, but quite sensible. She told them her name, and Dr Cowie was sent for. The woman, who vomited a quantity of blood, was at once taken to the Devizes Cottage Hospital. Shortly after this occurrence the body of a man was found on the line about a quarter of a mile from the scene of the first incident. He was quite dead. It was evident he had jumped out of the train, for his foot was nearly cut off by the wheels. The body was taken to Devizes Workhouse.

It seems that Miss Emily Maria Lister, a lady-like person of great mental attainments and intellectual capacity, was appointed out of a large number of applicants to the post of head-mistress of the Devizes British School in May – about three weeks ago – having come from Brighton, where she had been engaged as teacher, the young man Augustus A Keeling being also employed at the same school. A week or so ago, on the 29th May, Keeling made his appearance at Devizes, having previously unsuccessfully applied for the vacant post of assistant-master at Devizes British School, when he appeared so anxious to get the appointment that he offered to come for £50 a year, although he had previously been receiving £100. On his arrival at Devizes he took up his quarters at the White Lion hotel, and has since frequently been seen in company with Miss Lister.

On Friday the school broke up for the Whitsun holidays, and Miss Lister had arranged to go to her home at Birmingham. Keeling came to the school house, waited for her, and they left together. They were next observed in the Station road apparently absorbed in a very animated conversation, which sometimes verged on an altercation, the man evidently trying to persuade the young woman to give up some idea she was entertaining. They had been to the station and left a parcel at the booking office, the train not being then quite due. Going up the road a little way, they were observed to be engaged in a heated altercation, Keeling standing in front of her, seizing hold of her arm, and trying to get her away from the station. Keeling was also observed to be feeling in all his pockets. The station master also noticed the parties talking in the road. Going to the booking office Miss Lister asked, in the man’s hearing, for a third-class ticket for Bristol, and she then went and got into an empty third-class compartment. The man immediately returned to the booking office and asked for a ticket to Seend, and then took his place in the same compartment. Shortly after leaving Devizes the train goes down a steep incline and crosses a bridge, and it was while crossing this bridge that the shots were fired and the woman was seen to be pushed out of the train. The tragic occurrence was also witnessed by Mr Bryce, of Bristol; the Rev Edgar Gibson, vicar of Wells, and one or two others, who made signals to the guard, and the train was stopped. On going back some distance along the line the body of the man was found, shockingly mutilated, and he was quite dead. Further along towards Devizes Miss Lister was found, terribly wounded, two bullets having entered her face, and other injuries being received by being thrown from the train. The railway carriage in which the occurrence took place was locked and sent on to Trowbridge for examination, the results of which will appear in the evidence given below. The body of Keeling was placed on a trolley, taken to Devizes, and placed in the mortuary at the Workhouse. Miss Lister was carefully removed to the Cottage Hospital at Devizes.



The inquest was held on Saturday afternoon at the Board room of the Workhouse, Devizes, before Mr F T Sylvester, district coroner for mid-Wilts. Inspector Upchurch of Reading was present on behalf of the Great Western Railway Company, and Mr Superintendent Baldwin, deputy chief constable for Wilts, was also present. The court having been opened and the jury sworn, the coroner and jurymen proceeded to view the body, which was lying in a shell in the mortuary of the Workhouse. It presented a shocking appearance, the head and face being battered and bruised almost beyond recognition. The right knee-cap was shattered and the foot of the right leg was hanging by a tendon, it being evident that a wheel of the train had passed over it. There were no other bruises on the body, nor was there any trace of gunshot wounds, disproving the statement at first made that the deceased had committed suicide by shooting himself. On the return of the jury the Coroner formally opened the inquiry, reminding them that they only to inquire into the cause of the death of the deceased man Keeling.

William Lister deposed : I live at 17, Stratford Place, Camp Hill, Birmingham, and am a mill furnisher. I am brother of Miss Lister. I have known G A Keeling, but only slightly. I first knew him about two years ago, when he was in a situation as teacher at Brighton, at the school at which my sister was engaged. I have seen the body of the deceased and have no doubt it is the same man. I had no idea that Keeling had left Brighton. He came to our house at Birmingham – I am not quite sure whether it was one or two years ago – at the time my sister was home for holidays. It was during the Whitsun holidays. I was only in his company then for a minute at a time. I did not care to have much to say to him, as there was a certain peculiarity about his manner that I did not like. He was very strange in his manner.

The Coroner : What was there strange about him? Well, I can hardly say; but there are some people you meet whom you don’t care to have much to do with.

Did you consider him to be perfectly sane? Not exactly.

In what respect? I can hardly say; but there was a peculiarity about his manner which we did not like. When he called at the house I generally got away as quickly as I could. He used to call for the purpose of seeing my sister Emily. I understood that he was paying attention to her at that time, but we thought it was all broken off long ago. She had been encouraging him at that time. The whole family were against it, and I asked my sister not to bring him to the house again. Afterwards she tried to get out of his way, and left Brighton for that purpose, but he followed her. I had heard from a sister in London that he had been a perfect nuisance to Emily at Brighton. I was aware that my sister had accepted this situation at Devizes. We did not know that Keeling had followed her, and knew nothing of this affair until it appeared in the papers. My sister lived at No 2, Trafalgar Place, during her stay in Devizes. I had no conversation with my sister, and had no reason to suppose that Keeling was annoying her. Keeling knew that the family were against his engagement with my sister, and when he came to Birmingham he must have noticed that we all treated him very coolly.

Being pressed by the Coroner as to the state of Keeling’s mind, witness replied that he had some very peculiar manners about him.

Did he ever get out of temper whilst he was at your house in Birmingham? It would not have done for him there.

A Juryman : I should like witness to give us a little better idea of the conversation he had with the deceased whilst he was at Birmingham. – I had no conversation with him more than passing the time of day. He knew the family were not agreeable with his keeping company with my sister.

PC George Smith said : I am a constable in the Wilts Constabulary, stationed at Devizes. I saw the deceased in the station road at 1.25pm on Friday afternoon with a young lady. They were standing near the lamp-post, and were having some high words. No violence passed between them at that time. I went on down to the station, and on returning I met them again just going into the station. They were still quarrelling, and I heard the young woman say, “It is too late, now.” The young man answered, “Too late, be d—–; what do you mean by that?” They then went on into the station and I saw no more of them. I had never seen either of them before. The young woman seemed to be very much upset.

Mr Richard Sudweeks said : I am the proprietor of the White Lion Inn, Devizes, and I have seen the body of the deceased. I identify it as the body of a man who has been lodging at my house since 29th May. I did not know his name, neither did he tell me his business. I have seen him constantly with a female in the street, but I did not know who she was. He only brought a black bag with him and a waterproof coat. He did not have his meals in my house, and generally got up between 10 and 11 in the morning, returning about the same time in the evening. He left his things in the house on Friday and went out as usual. He did not say he was going any where in particular. He was a little in my debt, not much, only for lodgings. I never had much to say to him because he would not be in the house many minutes, only to have a glass of ale and biscuits and cheese before going to bed. I never saw a revolver or pistol about. I never saw him the worse for drink.

James Wiliams Marks said : I am a booking clerk employed at the Devizes Railway Station. I did not know the deceased until I saw him at the station on Friday. I saw him there in company with a young lady about a quarter or twenty minutes past one o’clock. I issued tickets to them. The young lady got her ticket first, taking a third class to Bristol. A few minutes afterwards, when the train was in the station, deceased came and asked for a ticket to Seend, which I supplied him with. They each paid for their own ticket. I noticed nothing peculiar about either of them as regards their manner. A parcel had been left at the cloak room a few minutes previously, and the young lady paid for the cloak-room ticket. The man was standing in the lobby, and could have heard the young lady ask for a ticket to Bristol. My impression was that the young lady wanted to go off alone.

John Cowie, MB, said : I am a registered surgeon, and live at Devizes. Yesterday, about four o’clock, the body of the deceased was brought under my observation at the workhouse mortuary. I examined it and found that the head and skull had been very much injured. The skull was fractured in two places, and the brain must have been bruised or lacerated. His scalp was torn and lacerated nearly all over the head. There were bruises and abrasions on the face and other portions of the body. The right foot was almost separated from the leg, and the right knee-cap was shattered in two or three places. There was no sign whatever of any gunshot wound. I carefully examined the mouth and cut the hair from the scalp to see if there were any signs of a pistol having been fired there, but could find no trace whatever. The injuries I have described in the head, etc., were undoubtedly the immediate cause of death. I am of opinion that these injuries were caused by a fall, or by being dragged, and I am of opinion that the wounds to the foot and the knee-cap were caused by the wheels being passed over them. I should think from his appearance that deceased was between 26 and 30 years of age. The body was well nourished.

Joseph Upchurch said : I am an Inspector on the Great Western Railway, and I live at Reading. I was travelling in the train which left Devizes yesterday at 1.37. I was riding in the van with the guard, sitting in one of the windows, and shortly after we had left Devizes I saw two men look out of the train from different windows. One of them held up his hand when he saw me looking, and pointed back up the line. I asked the guard to stop the train, and I got out and asked the gentleman what was the matter. He said, “A man has shot a woman and has thrown her out of a window some distance back, and he has got out himself and got on the line.” I asked him what compartment this happened in, and he pointed it out. There was some blood on the steps, and on the outside of the carriage. The door was opened and the guard and I went in. It looked as though there had been a struggle. I saw a purse lying on the floor and some money, and parcels and things were strewn about. I directed the guard to lock the doors on both sides, and sent the train on to Trowbridge. I then went back with the second guard and two policemen, and when we had got back about a mile, just over the canal bridge, in the cutting we saw something lying between the rails. We got up to it and found it was a man. He was lying with his head towards Devizes and his feet towards Seend, inside the right-hand rail going from Devizes. It is a single line of rails. He was quite dead. He was lying on his stomach. I had the body turned over, and found that one foot was lying across the rail and had been run over. One boot was on one side of the line and the other was on the opposite side. They were all cut to pieces. His watch was picked up close to the left-hand side of the rails. There were marks showing that the deceased must have been dragged for some distance. The ballast was disturbed, and there was blood about for 50 yards back. I thought the wheels must have gone over his leg. His hat was on the opposite side of the rails, about 50 yards back. I then went on to see where the woman was, and found she had been removed from the side of the line, about half-a-mile farther back.

By the Jury : The door was closed and fastened. It appeared that the man must have got out and then closed the door, and got down between the couplings. There were marks of a bloody hand and a spot of blood on the vacum pipe at the back of the carriage. He seemed to have got along the footboard with the intention of dropping down at the back of the carriages, but the speed was too great. A gentleman named Bryce, of Bristol, saw him getting along the footboard. We were going down an incline, and the speed was about 35 miles an hour.

George Oxford said : I was the guard of the train which left Devizes for Trowbridge yesterday, at 1.37. I had a second guard with the train. I let a young man and young woman into a compartment at Devizes. The young woman got in first. There was no one else in the compartment. I did not hear them speak to each other. One sat in the near corner on one side and the other in the opposite corner on the off side. I noticed nothing strange or peculiar about the people when I let them into the train at Devizes. Witness corroborated the inspector’s evidence as to stopping the train and examining the carriage.

Henry White said : I am superintendent in the Wilts Constabulary and am stationed at Trowbridge. I examined this railway carriage at Trowbridge yesterday, and I produce what I found there. These were a woman’s jacket, which was placed in the rack; a revolver, which was lying on the floor of the compartment, with blood on the handle and the hammer. It was full cocked, and contained six empty cases. The maker’s name was E Lanfaucheaux, Paris. A Standard of yesterday’s date, with several spots of blood on it, was lying over the revolver. There was a cartridge which had not been fired lying on one of the seats. On the floor was an open purse, all the money, except one penny piece, being loose on the floor. There was 17s 3½d altogether. On the seat was a lady’s waterproof, a pair of gloves, a parasol, umbrella and bag with some biscuits in it. On the opposite seat was a brown paper parcel (the one which had been left at the booking office, and previously claimed by Miss Lister), and a railway ticket from Devizes to Seend.

There was one sixpence stuck by a spot of blood on to the side of the door of the compartment inside. On the rack was a dressing case, with the initials “E.L.,” and inside this was an illuminated testimonial which had been presented to her at some time. There were spots of blood on the inside of the door near the handle, and on the outside of the door where a person could reach from the outside there was also a quantity of blood. Both side curtains were down, and one of them was buttoned, on the near side going down (the side the deceased had been seen sitting). There was also a quantity of blood on the door and side, and on the footboard for a yard or so. My opinion is that someone with blood upon them must have got along the outside of the carriage. There were also indications that someone with blood upon them had got out or been put out of the window.

John Fox said : I am a sergeant of police stationed at Steeple Ashton. I was in this train yesterday. I went back with the inspector and took possession of the body of the deceased. I searched the body, and in an inside breast pocket I found an old leather case, containing two photographs of a female, and also two letters which I now produce.

The photos were handed round; one was a vignette and the other a three-quarter plate, showing that the young woman was a person of attractive appearance.

The letters were read by the Coroner and were as follows,

6, Blatchington Road,

W Brighton,


My Dear Gus – I’m so sorry I annoyed you so last night, but I lost my usual temper and spoke in the heat of the moment. Now, old Gussie dear, you must not be wild with me any longer, but just forgive me like a dear old boy. And you’ve punished me quite enough by being so horribly cold and distant last night and saying “good night” like an icicle. Some time back when you had been horrid to me and I had forgiven you, you told me I was to ask you to forgive me and you’d do it at once. So now, old mannie, I claim that forgiveness, and you must write me a nice long letter to tell me you are sorry you were so distant to me and wish you had kissed me instead and so stopped my talking. If you come on Saturday be sure and let me know by what train, though don’t you think, dearie, it would be better not to come, as you have already done no business this week; then you could get on on Saturday, and I would come to you instead on Sunday week by the excursion. Excuse more, as breakfast is waiting, and I must be off to school. This is a dreadful scribble, but I felt I must write at once. Now mind and answer by return, and send a kiss to your old


This was written on ordinary notepaper, and was very much soiled, as though it had been carried for some time in a dirty pocket. The other was written since Miss Lister has been at Devizes, and was as follows,

2, Trafalgar Place,



“Dear Mr Keeling, — I think it would be most inadvisable for you to write to Mrs Cable, and I hope you will not do so, especially as in her letter to me this morning she tells me she has been much worse again. I did not expect to receive a postcard from you this morning. You must have known that your letter could not fail to reach me, and I told you not to expect an immediate answer, as it would be more than likely I should be unable to give it; so instead of telling me not to be silly in keeping you waiting for an answer you should not be so silly as to expect me to write at once. I was all the more unwilling to promise to write because I guessed you would be sure to complain of ‘shuffling’ or some such other evil, when you have no reason. Now, laddie, why not have you done it. You know we cannot correspond as at one time, and the change is sure to provoke ill-feeling of one kind or another? We must part – you have agreed to it – why should we not do so in a friendly way? I have loved you deeply and do so still, but because misfortune has parted us surely we need not become enemies. You said, we must bow to fate, but if fate parts us we can do no more if we refuse to cherish any evil thought or suspicion that may suggest itself unbidden. You cannot be that to me which I had hoped – at least let me cherish untarnished the memory of your past love for me, Good-bye Gus.

I remain,

Yours sincerely,

E. Lister”

There were also some pencil cases in the pockets, 17 cartridges and three penny pieces, which had been picked up along the line, where they had evidently dropped as deceased was dragged along the line.

William Baldwin said : I am superintendent of police and deputy chief constable for Wilts. From information I received on Saturday, I went to the railway station and saw deceased brought up on a railway trolly. By my direction he was conveyed here. I went subsequently to the White Lion Inn, where I understood deceased had been lodging. I had a bag handed to me. It was locked, but with a key found on deceased I opened it. There were two or three dirty collars and cuffs and a revolver case, which was locked. I fitted the revolver to it. There were some cartridges, 14 in number. There was also a water-proof coat and a book of Byron’s poems. I also found a duplicate of a gold Albert seal, which had been pledged in the name of Mr G Brown, with G B Vaughan, for 30s, on the 29th May, 1889.

The Coroner then summed up the evidence, and said it was for the jury to consider whether they should come to a verdict on the evidence now before them or whether they should adjourn to some future time. He reminded them that the question they had to determine was how Keeling came by his death. From the medical evidence it was clear that the immediate cause was fracture of the skull, though the hemorrhage from the injury to the leg would no doubt also have been sufficient to cause death. He thought there was no reason to doubt but that deceased was endeavouring to escape from the train, and if in doing so he met with his death, that would be accidental death. If he threw himself from the train with the intention of taking his own life that would be suicide, and they would have to determine the state of mind he was when he committed the act. They would have to adjourn to more evidence, but in the meantime the body must be buried, and if eventually they found a verdict of felo de se, that would not deprive the body of the rites of Christian burial. He put it to them whether, under the circumstances, there was any reasonable grounds for returning other than an open verdict.

It having been elicited that this would not in any way prejudice any future enquiry which might be necessary in the event of a fatal termination of Miss Lister’s illness, the jury after a brief consultation, returned a verdict, “That the deceased met with his death by fracture of the skull caused by falling from a railway train, but whether such fall was accidental or intentional there was no evidence to show.”

This terminated the inquiry, which lasted just two hours.

The Young Lady’s Story

Miss Lister is slowly recovering from her injuries. The vomiting of blood has entirely ceased, and she is able to take nourishment. On Tuesday she was able to converse about the affair. She says she did not know Keeling intended to get into the train. He jumped in at the last moment, and immediately on the starting asked her to give him some money. She refused, and he immediately jumped up, caught her by the hair, and fired two shots at her with a revolver. She then put her head out of the window for the purpose of calling for assistance, when her assailant took her by the feet and pushed her out of the window. She escaped death by shooting out almost miraculously, the bullets striking against the only parts of the skull they could possibly have struck without penetrating. These were just behind the ear, and at the back of the head where the skull is thickest. The bullets were both flattened against the bone.

The deceased man Keeling was buried on Tuesday at the expense of the parish. Notwithstanding the publicity which has been given to the affair, no one has yet claimed him, and no intelligence of his friends has been received. It is possible that his name was an assumed one, as two pawn tickets, in different names, were found in his pockets. His hat was bought in New York, and the pistol in Paris. On the morning of the tragedy he tried to induce Miss Lister to go for a walk with him down a lonely lane near Devizes, but she refused. She is still unaware of the fact that Keeling is dead, and expresses a hope that he will be dealt leniently with, as she thinks he was not accountable for his actions. It appears that the testimonials he sent when applying for the situation as school teacher at Devizes were false.


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