Friday, March 26, 2010

Suicide in Nunhead Cemetery (1864)

A sad story from The Times, 20 July 1864:

"An inquiry was held on Monday night by Mr Carter, coroner for Surrey, at the Marlborough Arms, South-street, Peckham, respecting the death of Mr James William Trist, aged 31. Mrs Margaret Smith, 208 Old Kent Road, said that on last Sunday evening she was walking in Nunhead cemetery and she heard the heavy breathing of a person in great pain. On going to the spot she found a young man lying on the turf with his head on the side stone of a grave. He had evidently just fallen...

A pocket handkerchief found on him contained the same name as that of Mrs Trist, upon whose grave he was found dying... Mr Joseph George Neil, 18 Sutherland Street, Newington, said that he was the brother in law of the deceased. The deceased was of no occupation when he died. His last employment was that of a clerk at the Commercial Union Insurance Company... His mother's death which occurred five years ago, had given him great grief, and since then he had acted in a very strange way. About two months ago he lost his employment by taking holydays without leave. He then sold off his furniture and turned his wife and child out of doors...

The witness... read the letter written by the deceased to to his wife, which was to the following effect: 'My dear wife, when you read these lines the individual who writes them will have taken the liberty of taking a view of the future state of society. I go to see my mother. You remain to look after the boy. God will raise up for you what I wanted - friends. God will protect you. See how wrong you were when you said I had not the courage to commit the act I hinted to you. I believe now what Shakespeare says, that there is a method in madness. Farewell to this world. Since our juvenile days, since first love has ripened into manhood's devotion, and the love of my boyhood has become manhood's affection, since our first love was generated when we were boy and girl together I have been yours, but I now constitute myself a judge of the Divorce Court, and I now leave you. With Eugene Aram, I have followed reason and not vice; my faults are from the head and not from the heart. Be sure to bring the boy in strong feeling of religion; that I neglected. At the coffeehouse in Tooley Street will be found the portmanteau, and in that the few things I have contained. In my pocket will be found the key - James W. Trist'. In a kind of postscript following the name was the sentence, 'I am going to Nunhead'.

Dr George Webster said that he was called to the deceased and found him dying on a grave in the cemetery. His countenance was livid, and his hands forcibly contracted. The bottle produced contained the remains of some cyanide of potassium, which was found lying by his side. He had taken a large dose of the poison, and he died from its effects. The jury returned a verdict, 'That deceased died from poison, administered by his own hand in Nunhead cemetery, while of unsound mind'."

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