Thomas, Michael

Thomas, Michael               1917 September 7th

Death from Poison

Salisbury Old Age Pensioner’s Pathetic End

The distressing story of how an old man, Michael Thomas, on the day of his discharge from the Workhouse poisoned himself on Monday morning in Park Street was related to the City Coroner (Mr A M Wilson) and a jury at the Workhouse Infirmary, on Tuesday evening. Mr G Webb was appointed foreman of the jury.

William Thomas, of 5, Fair View Road, Salisbury, said his brother, Michael Thomas, was 77 years of age. He was an old age pensioner and previously was a coke hawker. He last saw him a month ago when he was in good health. His brother told him he did not like the Workhouse and was trying to get a room so he could live outside. His pension was stopped when he had Poor Law relief.

A Juror : Did he complain of the way he was treated in the house?

Witness : No.

William Falconer, a chemist in the employ of Messrs Harrison and Son, living in the London Road, said that Thomas came into the shop on Monday about 9.45am and asked for two-pennyworth of oxalic acid. When asked what he was going to do with it, he said he was going to clean some brass. Witness supplied him and labelled the poison. There were some poisons which had to be signed for, but this was not one of them. Anyone could come and buy it and the chemist used his discretion whether he served or not.

Emma Sheppard, of 41, Park Street, said that on Monday she was at her front door and saw Thomas about 10.30am going down the street. She saw him turn into a passage which led to the back of the houses and later heard him talking to some one in a house two doors away. About a quarter of an hour afterwards she saw him coming back from the passage. When he got opposite the gate of No 45, Park Street, he stopped and took something out of his pocket. He put it to his mouth and she thought he was taking some sweets. He emptied out some white stuff, and she then went indoors. When she went out again afterwards she saw the old man lying on the pavement and asked him what was the matter. He replied, “I have taken some poison.” She asked him where he got it, and he said, “At the chemist’s.” He was very sick and seemed in great pain, groaning very much.

Bertha Stickley said she lived at 45, Park Street, and knew Thomas, as he used to live near her. His wife died twelve months ago last April, and after that he was ill about three months and she nursed him. When he was better he was moved from his house into a room with his permission. He was there about three months, but the woman wouldn’t keep him because he was such a trouble. She saw Dr Gordon, who said that if he were willing to go into the House he should go. Thomas came to her house last Thursday and Friday and said he was trying to get a room and leave the Workhouse. He asked her if she would keep him, and said she wasn’t in a position to do so. On Monday about 11 o’clock he came to the back door and said he had another letter about his old age pension, and asked her if she would help towards keeping him. She told him he couldn’t afford it. He then left and she went through her house to the front to follow him. He said to her, “I have got something that will finish it.” She thought he meant to drown himself because he threatened to do so many times. She asked him what he had been doing and he said he had poisoned himself. She told him to go back to the Workhouse, and he said he wouldn’t go back there again. He would sooner take some poison. It was about ten minutes after this that he said he had pains. She got him a chair, gave him some water, and noticed some white powder on the front of his coat. When he drank the water he was very sick, and she went for the doctor and the police.

PC Harris said that on Monday, at 11.20am, he received information that Thomas was taken ill in Park Street and he went to him. He was vomiting, and witness was told that he had taken some poison. He then gave him salt and water and understood that a doctor had been sent for. Later PC Brice arrived and they took him in a cart to the Workhouse. He had taken his discharge from the Workhouse earlier in the day.

Bessie Anscombe, superintendent nurse at the Workhouse, said that Thomas had been an invalid since October, 1916. He had been out just for a day at a time. He received a communication from the Old Age Pensions Committee and he went out to attend the meeting. On Saturday he received another notice that old age pension was stopped from October, 1916. On Monday he took his discharge at nine o’clock in the morning. She told him on the previous day how expensive it was to live and tried to persuade him to stop in the Workhouse. But nothing would turn him. He said he had a room to go to. On Monday, at 12.15, he was brought back to the Infirmary and was vomiting. She didn’t think he was going to live and thought that he had had a stroke. He was quite conscious, but continued vomiting until he died at 12.30. A doctor was sent for as soon as she received him, but he was dead before the doctor arrived.

Dr Saunders, of Salisbury, said he received the message calling him to the Workhouse at 2 o’clock, and immediately after had another one saying that the case had died. He went up to the Workhouse between 5 and 6 and saw the body. After examining the mouth and lips he came to no satisfactory conclusion as to the cause of death. From the particulars given him he should say that death was due to his having been poisoned by oxalic acid. Two-pennyworth – half an ounce – would be quite sufficient to cause death. He had never attended Thomas before and the only way one could find out the cause of death was by a post mortem examination.

The Coroner said that he must honestly confess that the evidence was not quite as satisfactory as one would have liked. From what the doctor stated and the evidence the other witnesses had given there was very much doubt as to the cause of death. As the doctor’s evidence stood alone, it was inconclusive, and not absolutely satisfactory, and as there seemed to be some doubt he thought the best way would be to order a post mortem examination.

It was decided to adjourn the inquest until Wednesday so that a post mortem examination of the body might be made.

The adjourned inquest was held at the Council Chamber on Wednesday afternoon.

Dr Saunders said he had made a post mortem examination and found evidence of an irritant poison having been taken. There was not the least doubt that that was the cause of death.

Addressing the jury, the Coroner pointed out that there were two verdicts open to them. They might find a verdict of “Suicide” or felo de se, or a verdict of “Suicide whilst temporarily insane.” He said that some people argued that to take his own life a man must necessarily be temporarily insane, but he did not agree with that. If a man suddenly jumped into the river without any apparent reason such a verdict might be returned. It was, however, a different matter when a man had had trouble and made some preparation to take his life. After briefly referring to the evidence, the Coroner left the jury to consider it.

After a short deliberation the Foreman said they had agreed on a verdict of “Suicide whilst temporarily insane.”

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