Francis, Thomas

Francis, Thomas        1919 April 25th

A River Tragedy – Lad’s Discovery at Clarendon

After remaining a mystery for about a fortnight the disappearance of a gardener named Thomas James Francis has been practically cleared by the discovery of his body, which was seen floating on the river at Clarendon on Sunday. Little is known, however, beyond the facts concerning the discovery, and in consequence an open verdict was returned at the inquest held by the South Wilts Coroner (Mr FH Trethowan) on Wednesday at Dog Kennel Farm, Clarendon.

Frank Prince, of the London Road Inn, said Mr Francis was a gardener in the employ of Mrs Jacobs, the Close, and lived at Coventry House, Downton Road. He was his brother-in-law and was 49 years of age, and, as far as he was aware, had no home troubles, but he suffered from giddiness and indigestion and had been attended by his doctor for these complaints. About four years ago he had sunstroke and had suffered since then. His habit, when “dipping” water from the river, was to put his hat on the bank, as he had previously lost several hats while dipping water. On Friday, April 4th, his brother-in-law was in his usual health and was quite cheerful, in fact more so than usual. Francis disappeared on Saturday, April 5th, and though he had made enquiries he could find no explanation of his disappearance nor any reason why he should take his life. He had never seen the bottle which was found on the river bank in the Close, but he recognised Francis’ hat and knife and four farthings which he had carried for seven years.

PC Jefferis said that on Saturday, April 5th, he went to the back of Mrs Jacobs’ house, and on the river bank he found Francis’ hat and a bottle lying within one yard of each other. There was no cork in the bottle, which contained a little liquid and crystals. The river was dragged for the body without result.

Cecil Edward Ewen, a lad of 16, living at the “Cedars,” London Road, said he worked for his father, Mr A E Ewen, motor proprietor. About 7pm on Saturday he was in the meadows near the Southampton Road and thought he saw a log floating on the river. He got into a punt and got close to the object, and found it was the body of a man. He went to General Gibbons’ residence at Petersfinger and telephoned the Police.

PS Sims, stationed at Alderbury, deposed to receiving the telephone message and going to the spot. With assistance he got the body on the bank and took it to Dog Kennel Farm. On it was a purse containing £1 5s 1d, a pocket knife and sundries. There were no letters.

Dr Armitage stated that on examining the body appearances agreed with the assumption that death was due to drowning. He also saw the bottle and found the crystals contained cyanide of potassium, and probably other things. They might have been used for killing wasps.


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