Wells, John

Wells, John           1912 August 30th

The City Coroner (Mr S Buchanan Smith) held an inquest at the Workhouse yesterday (Thursday) evening concerning the death of a labourer named John Wells, which occurred on Wednesday evening as the result of taking spirits of salts.

Mr H J Curtis was chosen foreman of the jury.

Kate Fry, wife of Fred Fry, a labourer, of 17, Spring Place, Endless Street, stated that on Tuesday afternoon, at about 3.30, she was indoors getting ready to go out, when her brother, John Wells, came to her and asked her to shake hands with him. He had a bottle of spirits of salts in his hand, and she told him she would shake hands with him if he would give her the bottle. He replied that he wanted it as he was going to do a job of soldering. She told him she did not think he was going to do any work that afternoon, but he said he should. She then struggled with him and took away the bottle. It was marked “Spirits of salts,” and she emptied it down the sink. Her brother then went out into the street, saying he should buy some more. She went out shopping at about four o’clock, returning at about five. When she was entering Spring Place Mrs Pearcy, who lived at No 1, told her that her brother had wished Mr Stretch, “Goodbye,” out in the street, and had gone indoors. Witness then went to 8 Spring Place, where he lived, and saw him lying on the bed groaning. She noticed another bottle on the table marked, “Spirit of salts.” She then went for the doctor.

At this point the witness broke down, and the Coroner waited some minutes till she had somewhat recovered.

Mrs Fry said that Dr Gordon was not at home so Mrs Gordon telephoned for his brother in Castle Street, and he arrived immediately. Witness also gave information at the police station, and a constable arrived almost as soon as the doctor. Her brother was not married and lived by himself. She went in every day to attend to him. He had been under the care of Dr Henderson since last winter. He was a general labourer and was 52 years of age.

The Coroner:- Why did you say to him, “If you will give me that bottle, I will shake hands with you?”

Witness:- I had no idea he was going to commit suicide, but did not know what use he was going to make of the spirits of salts. I did not know whether it was for soldering or not.

Anna Maria Collins, wife of Alfred Henry Collins, labourer, of 14, Spring Place, said that on Tuesday afternoon she was standing in the yard when John Wells came up to Mrs Fry’s house and went indoors. She did not see anything, but heard Mrs Fry cry several times, “Leave go of my arm.” When she came out she said to witness, “Look what the mad fool was going to do; it shows how he is.” Mrs Fry was holding a blue bottle which she said contained spirits of salts, and she poured it down the drain. Witness said to John Wells, “Don’t do anything rash, Jack, your life was not given you for that.” He replied,” There is nothing to live for.” He asked for the bottle, but Mrs Fry told him she should go to the place he got it from and tell them what he was going to do. She then went indoors and put her hat and jacket on. Wells went out into the street. A few minutes afterwards Mrs Fry followed him. He came back about 4.20 and went indoors. He seemed very agitated, looked worried, and did not speak to anyone. His coat and vest were undone.

PC Hiscock said he was called to 8, Spring Place, at about 5.10 on Tuesday afternoon. He found the deceased lying on a bed downstairs, apparently in great pain. Dr Gordon was attending to him. The doctor pointed out a bottle of spirits of salts, and witness took possession of it. There was also a small slip of paper with some writing on it. He could not read it all, but could see, “Dear Kit, all debts is paid. J W.” There was 3½d wrapped up in the paper. There was also an empty bottle with “Spirits of salts” marked on the label. When Dr Henderson arrived, he ordered the deceased to be removed to the Workhouse Infirmary. Witness was present when he died on Wednesday, at 7.45pm.

The bottles were produced, and the Foreman pointed to the empty blue one, remarking, “I suppose that is the one his sister took away?”

The Constable:- That is the one.

A juryman:- Were both obtained from the same place?

The Constable:- No; one is marked “Read and Orchard,” and the other “Atkins and Son.”

The Foreman:- I suppose he did not say anything before he died?

Witness:- No.

A juryman:- Was he concious?

Witness:- He was unconcious for a quarter of an hour before he died.

Mr Thomas Bonhote Henderson, deputy medical officer of the Workhouse, said that Dr Ellis attended the deceased till he returned. He found the man suffering from extreme shock and collapse, severe pain and incessant sickness. The symptoms were quite in accordance with those of poisoning by a corrosive acid such as spirits of salts. There was, however, not much blistering of the mouth, but that could be accounted for if he put the neck of the bottle well back into the mouth, as they generally did. He died from the effects of the poison.

The Coroner:- Is it a scheduled poison?

The Doctor:- No.

The Coroner said that was all the evidence, and there was no doubt as to what was the cause of death. As to the state of his mind, that would be for the jury to say. It seemed a funny thing that his sister should struggle to get the bottle away from him if she did not think there was some reason for doing so. She also made the remark to Mrs Collins, “It shows how he is.”

The jury returned a verdict of “Suicide during temporary insanity.”


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