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The Death of Charlotte Parish

Herts and Essex Observer - Saturday 10 September 1881

Saturday, 3 September 1881.



On Wednesday afternoon last an enquiry was opened at the Horns and Horseshoes public-house, Harlow Common, by C. C. Lewis, Esq., coroner for this division of Essex, into the circumstances attending the death of Charlotte Parish, a married woman, whose dead body was found on Tuesday morning in the Weir pond, which is situated in one corner of the road leading from Harlow Common to North Weald &c. The jury were Messrs. W. Baker Nicholls (Foreman), Jonathan Edmunds, Samuel Ellis, Henry J. Lines, Peter Clayden, Charles Smith, Charles Houghton, William Brown, William Tanner, James Rickett, Joseph Phillips, and E. T. Gregory.

The deceased, there can be no doubt, had been leading a dissolute and depraved life for some time past, but a strong feeling prevailed in the locality that ill-treatment had driven her into vicious courses and had probably led to her death. The following evidence was taken at the inquest:

John Parish, the first witness, in answer to the Coroner said. I have bene making my home lately at Harlow Town along with Mr Seale. I am a fruit dealer and hawker.

The Coroner. Are you any trade at all, or are you a labourer?

Witness. I may say a labourer, if you please. Deceased was my wife; she was 51 years old last April; she has not been living with me lately.

Where has she been living? —Anywhere, where she could lay about in the streets.

How did she live? Did you allow her anything? —I allowed her in the Union [workhouse] and she came out. I last saw her alive on Sunday afternoon in the Meeting-lane, Potter Street.

What was she doing there? —I took her some food and a pint of beer, and gave her a shilling.

Was she given to drinking? —A great deal, I am sorry to say.

In point of fact you and she did not live together? —I have had some good homes, but have been turned out through her abuse and drinking. She has been given to drinking these last 12 years.

Mr. Phillips. Is here any truth in the statement that you violently ill-treated her last Sunday week at Harlow? —No, I wasn't there.

The Coroner. Have you ever threatened to cut her throat, or ever attempted to do violence to her at all? —No, never.

Was she right in her mind at any time when not given to drinking? —Well, I believe she had got all her "intellects" quite right.

Joseph Mealing said. I am a labourer, and live at Mill Street, Harlow Common. I have known deceased five or six years. I last saw her alive on Monday night about 8.30; she was in the White Horse public house, Potter Street. John Lagden and John Clare went in with me and we saw her drinking there with John Pritlove, who went out and left her there along with us.

Was the drunk or sober? —Sober, sir, I think.

Don't you know? —She seemed sober enough to me.

Did she say anything particular to you? —She said, "I am going to tell you the truth now. John (meaning her husband) wanted me to go into the Union three or four months, but I will see him —— first before I will go in."

Did she say anything else? —She said, "I acted the —— fool this morning; I went into Parish's shed and two or three saw me come out. I don';t know where I am going to to-night, but I expect before tomorrow morning someone will find me locked up."

Did she say anything about drowning herself? —No, sir.

Charles Sortwell said. I am a bricklayer, and live on Harlow Common. On Tuesday morning, about 5.30, I was passing Weir Pond and saw deceased in it. She could not sink because there was not sufficient water I nth pond to cover her over. I gave an alarm, and she was got out; she was quite dead; she was removed to where she now lies. She had her bonnet tucked in the skirt of her dress. There was nothing whatever left by the side of the pond.

Clara Parish said. I live at Parndon. Deceased was my mother. I last saw her alive yesterday week, near the Harlow school on the London Road. She asked me how I was.

The Coroner. In what state was she, drunk or sober? —She was sober then.

I suppose for a long time she has been badly off? —Yes, sir.

And had no home? —No, sir.

Was she given to drinking? —Yes, sir, very much, I am sorry to say.

Had she ever said anything to you, or in your hearing, as to destroying herself?  —Only sometimes when she was angry with me, a long time ago when I lived with her, she threatened to run away. Yesterday week she sad, when we parted, "Good bye, you may not see me anymore."

To Mr. Phillips. I have her 6d.

Witness (to the Coroner). Years ago, when she was mad drunk like, she would say she would drown herself.

The Coroner. We may take it that she lived a most unhappy life?

The witness answered in the affirmative, but expressed an opinion that it was her mother's fault; her father had tried to make a home for her, but she wouldn't live with him.

The Coroner. She did not live a very moral life? Was she in the habit of going with other men? —I don't know, sir. I have seen her drinking with them.

Ellen Brown, a married daughter, living at Matching Green, said. I last saw my mother alive in April. She never said anything to me about destroying herself. I have no information to give to the jury.

The Coroner (addressing the jury) said. I presume death arose from drowning. Then will come the question, are you satisfied it was her own act and deed? And if so, what was the state of her mind at the time she did it?

Mr. Phillips. I think the woman outside, who laid deceased out, ought to be called as a witness.

The Coroner. What do you want her for?

Mr. Phillips. To depose to the kicks and bruises found on the body.

The Coroner said he had observed no bruises about the woman.

Mr. Phillips said it was generally reckoned that twelve men - Englishmen - would do justice, and that was what they ought to do in this case.

The Coroner. That's what you are here for. Let the woman come in.

Susan Cakebread, who was fetched into the room, said. I laid deceased out. The body is bruised very much about the back, thighs, and legs; they have been from blows; there is one very plain on the thigh.

The Coroner. A little discolouration; not bruises.

Witness. Some of the bruises are from blows. 

Mr. Phillips said he was informed that last Sunday night, deceased's husband kicked her about in Harlow town. These things, he thought, ought to be known.

The Coroner (to Mrs Cakebread). Show me these bruises, a you call them. —Mr. Lewis then left the room accompanied by Mrs. Cakebread, who went and pointed out the bruises on the body.

During the Coroner's absence, Mr. Phillips said. It ought to be known, and shall be known if I get my head knocked off.

Several of the jurors thought a doctor ought to have been called upon to examine the body, as how did they know that death arose from drowning?

Upon returning, the Coroner said there was one mark of an old bruise on the thighs and on the leg; the mark on the back was simply what was called "gravitation" of the blood. There were no marks of violence about the body. Was there anyone else the jury wished him to examine?

Mr. Houghton. Can the husband tell us where she slept on Sunday night?

The Husband. I can't say. (To the Coroner.) I had no quarrel with her on Sunday night. It's years ago when I last knocked her about.

Several jurors exclaimed, indignantly. What are you talking about?

Witness (jeeringly). What are you taking about?

The Coroner (reprovingly). Talk to me.

Mr. Houghton. I can speak to you treating her badly within the last three months.

The husband admitted he had done so.

The Coroner. Nothing on earth can justify knocking a woman about. But if the evidence was true, wasn't it enough to make the man do violence to her?

The Husband. Where was she committing adultery last Sunday week? Even the boys came to show me.

To the Foreman. I never touched her at that time.

Mr. Houghton. I think the woman has been badly treated by her husband.

The Coroner. There can be no doubt she has been badly treated, but she was given to drinking, and leading a very immoral life.

Mr. Phillips. And her husband took part of the proceeds.

The husband denied that.

Mr. Edmunds. Can any one prove she was thrown into the pond, or that she went in of her own accord?

The Coroner. The primary question for the jury to consider is the cause of death, and are they satisfied it arose from drowning?

Mr. Clayden. We can't tell whether she was or was not thrown in after death. I think we ought to have the evidence of a medical gentleman.

The Coroner. If you require a post mortem examination I will have it done.

The Jury intimated that such a course would be more satisfactory.

Mr. Phillips. I know the pond so well; it collects water so quickly that if she had gone in the day before she would have been in two inches of water; but it rained all night and the pond filled quickly.

Mr. Houghton. What was the inducement for her to drown herself? And is it right the husband should escape?

The Coroner. We have no power to punish him. If the jury are not satisfied I will have the body examined by a doctor.

Mr. Clayden thought deceased could not have got that distance in the pond without getting over the hedge.

Mr. Houghton. If the man is not guilty of ill-treating her, his character ought to be vindicated.

The Coroner. I daresay he has ill-treated her and that that must, in some way, have induced her death, but we must all admit he has had aggravation.

It was at last arranged that the inquiry should be adjourned to 5 o'clock on Friday afternoon at the George Hotel, Harlow, the Coroner giving Inspector Odam instructions to obtain the services of Mr. Day, surgeon, for a post-mortem examination.


Saturday, 10 September 1881.




The adjourned inquiry into the circumstances attending the death of Charlotte, wife of John Parish, was on Friday evening, the 2nd inst., at Mr. Rider's, the George Hotel, Harlow, before C. C. Lewis, Esq., and the same jury whose names have already appeared in the Observer.

The Coroner opened the proceedings by calling over the jurors' names, all of whom answered.

He then administered the oath to:

Mr. R. N. Day, surgeon, of Harlow, and examined him. Mr Day said he was assisted in the post mortem by his son.

The Coroner. you have made a post mortem examination of this unhappy woman?

Mr Day. Yes. You opened the head, chest, and abdomen? —Yes, everything. 

Externally—have you anything to remark? —On the right side of the abdomen there were some bruises.

Were they of any consequence?  —No. They were the result of blows evidently, but of what kind I should be at a loss to say. Those on the abdomen were not of recent date. There two bruises on the front of the right thigh; they were apparently of recent date.

The Coroner. Were they of any consequence? —Mr. Day. No. There three bruises on the right leg, and one on the right fore-arm.

The Coroner. Were they of any consequence or not? Mr Day. None of them. I examined every part of the chest. The lungs and heart were perfectly healthy; the lungs were a little congested. There was no sign of disease about the head; there were no signs of disease about the brain or membranes; the membranes were congested. In the stomach we found some pond water and a good deal of black mud. The liver was enlarged and diseased; it was hardened, not very much. The kidneys werehealthy, but congested. The spleen was all right. There was nothing the matter with the intestines, except congestion. The cause of death was suffocation.

The Coroner (who read over the evidence taken at the preliminary inquiry) said. I have not the least doubt about it. Mr Day said the fact of pond water and mud being found in the woman's stomach was sufficient to prove the cause of death. There was no food in the stomach.

The Coroner, (addressing Inspector Odam) said. I suppose, Odam, every inquiry has been made into this case? Inspector Odam. Yes, sir.

And is there any further evidence? —No, sir.

Is there any suspicion, as far as you know, that any one ha been instrumental in her death? —No, sir.

The Coroner then said that was the evidence and he presumed the verdict would be in accordance with the medical evidence, that the unhappy woman died from suffocation. The theory of the case was that she threw herself into the pond. If she was at that time of sound mind she would be what was termed felo-de-se and would be excluded from the rites of Christian burial, but if she was not completely mistress of herself and actions her memory would then be entitled to a verdict of temporary insanity. She had been leading a most extraordinary life - she had been drinking for twelve years and leading, at the same time, an immoral life. And with regard to the question of drinking - that was quite enough to impair the intellect of her or anyone else. If they would agree with him they would return a verdict of temporary insanity. He was sure they would not think of returning one of felt-de-se, if they did not feel clear upon that point.

Mr Clayden. Would that be an open verdict?

The Coroner said. How could that be? They had ascertained the cause of death, and was that her own act and deed or not?

Mr Rickett (to Mr Day). Is it your opinion she was alive when she went into the water?

Mr Clayden. Yes, we want to know that.

Mr Day. Yes.

The Coroner. Water does not get into the body of a dead person. You can take that from me. I have had more experience of deaths from drowning than any other person in England.

Police-constable Butcher was called at the request of several jurors to speak as to the position of the body in the pond; he said. When I got to the pond the deceased was lying on the mud in the water, full length, on her left side; her face was downwards; her right shoulder and hip were above the water. I got her out and conveyed her to the Horns and Horse Shoes public house. There was mud on her face and over her mouth when we got her out. She appeared very limpy, there was not a stiff joint anywhere.

A juror wanted to know the depth of the mud. 

Police-constable Butcher. I never measured it. She was lying 20 feet from the head of the pond.

The Foreman (to the Coroner). It's the wish of the jury that the room should be cleared.

The Coroner. Do they wish to consider their verdict? Then they can go into another room; that'sthe better way.

The Jury retired and were absent some time, theCoroner sending one or two messages urging them to come to a conclusion upon the matter. Upon their return, the Foreman handed a piece of paper to the Coroner, upon which something was apparently written.

The Coroner. Have you agreed? (And reading from the paper.) You say that deceased was found drowned, but without any evidence to show how she came into the pond.

The Foreman. It's the unanimous opinion of the jury that it has been brought about by the conduct of the husband; that his brutal treatment has led to it. Several jurors reiterated the remarks of the Foreman, and it was stated that deceased was a very respectable woman at one time.

Mr Phillips. And as for being addicted to drink for 12 years, he has for 30 years.

The Coroner. You cannot but admit he has had a wonderful amount of provocation.

Mr Houghton. They are both thoroughly bad characters.

The Coroner said this was not a proper verdict. If they were not satisfied it was her own act or deed, the proper verdict would be the she died from suffocation, but how that suffocation arose the evidence was insufficient to show.

After some further conversation with the jury, the Coroner said the verdict, so far as he could gather from the remarks of the jury would be to this effect, that deceased died from suffocation, but under what circumstances she got into the pond in which she was found there was not sufficient evidence to show.

The Jury acquiesced, and proceeded to sign their names to the verdict, which amounted to what is generally known as an "open verdict."

The Coroner asked for the husband, and he was ushered in by Inspector Odam.

Mr Lewis, after informing him of the nature of the verdict, said the jury were not satisfied as to the peculiar circumstances attending the death of the deceased. They were satisfied that this was the most miserable case they were ever called upon to investigate. There was no doubt his wife was given to drinking and to prostitution, and the question was this, which as the worst of the two -he or she?

It had been a most unhappy affair. The jury did not want to take her part, either as regarded the drink or immorality. But they thought that his (the husband's) mode of acting towards  her - that his conduct towards her, they believed, drove her to drinking - they believed drove her to prostitution.

—Mr Lewis (who stood as he spoke to the husband, and addressed him very sternly) concluded with these words. There is nothing more to be said about it - except that it is the most miserable case I have ever looked into and it is something for you to think about as long as you ever live.

The husband, who seemed quite taken aback at these remarks, never offered a word in response.

The inquiry then terminated.

An anonymous letter was received through the post by the Coroner, but the contents did not transpire.