Sergeant's Body Found in a Well

The Ipswich Journal -  Saturday 13th January 1894

Saturday, 13th January 1894



Sergeant Harvey, of the Essex Constabulary, and stationed at Ardleigh, was found dead in a well, at Dedham, on the morning of Friday, the 5th instant. On Monday an inquest was held by Mr. Coroner Harrison, at the Live and Let Live, Dedham. The evidence adduced was mainly that of his colleagues, and, as will be seen, there were no signs of suicide, nor could the circumstances be satisfactorily cleared up.

Superintendent Ackers identified the body of the deceased, who, he said, was 36 years of age. Witness did not know that the deceased had any trouble.

Police-constable Page, of Langham, who met the deceased at three o'clock the evening previous to his death, said the deceased appeared well, and arranged to meet him at the Ardleigh Crown at 9.45 that evening. He did not keep the appointment, but as he was a sergeant, witness was not surprised.

Police-constable Barham, stationed at Dedham, deposed that on the Friday morning, about a quarter-past nine o'clock, he received information from Thomas White, landlord of the Live and Let Live, Dedham, that a policeman's helmet was in a well on the premises of Henry Buss, and undoubtedly a policeman, because he could see the boots. Witness at once proceeded to Buss's premises with White, and found the helmet in the well, and at a quarter-past ten, with assistance, he recovered deceased's body. The body was head downwards, and ha to be drawn up by a cord attached to the feet. Harvey was fully dressed with great coat, belt, truncheon in pocket, and a purse in his left hand trouser pocket containing half-sovereign, 1s., and some coppers. In the waistcoat pocket were some papers relating only to constabulary business. His left hand glove was on. The other glove was found in the well. His watch in his waistcoat pocket had stopped at 21 minutes past eight o'clock. He last saw deceased on the previous evening about half-past five o'clock, almost exactly opposite Buss's house. Deceased came from the direction of Langham. They had some conversation about police duty, and they afterwards went to the Live and Let Live and had a glass of beer apiece. After leaving the house they remained in the locality together until about half-past seven o'clock when he left the deceased, who went in the direction of Ardleigh. Deceased's last words were 'I shall see you again, Barham." Deceased was perfectly sober, and appeared to be in good health and spirits. He knew of no reason for deceased to commit suicide.

Supt. Ackers informed he Court that the deceased paid special attention to the neighbourhood as a sheep had lately been stolen. There was, however, no suspicion that he had come into contact with a sheep-stealer.

Henry Buss, shoemaker, residing at a cottage near the Live and Let Live, stated that on Friday morning he went to the well at the back of his premises for the purposes of getting a pail of water. He first of all swept the snow away from the ground. There were then no footmarks in the snow. The crome lay across the garden side of the well. Upon looking down he saw a policeman's helmet , and then a man's boots. He called assistance, which ultimately resulted in the body being recovered. He was at home all the night in question, but heard no noise.

In answer to the Foreman, who said the man might have been alive, and asked why witness did not make an effort to recover the body at once, Buss said there would not have been two inches of snow on the top of his boots if he had been alive. The last time he saw the sergeant was on Thursday week, when he came to witness's window to ask how he was. Deceased's wife was cousin to witness. He would not go round by the well to get to the window. As far as witness knew, deceased was not aware that there was a well.

Thomas White, landlord of the Live and Let Live, Dedham, deposed to being called by the last witness to the well, and seeing the helmet and the deceased's boots. There was no evidence of any struggle.

Mr. Maile, surgeon, practising at Dedham, stated that he saw the body at half-past 12 o'clock on Friday morning. There was a contusion over the left eye, and the eye and eyelid were very much swollen. There were also all abrasions on the right cheek and nose. He should think they were caused before death. They might have been caused by a blow with a blunt instrument or by falling against the coping or side of the well. Data was the result of drowning. There were two small spots of blood on the side of the well facing the gate. Witness through the man must have been stunned before he got into the water. He should say deceased died from drowning. He did not detect any fracture whatsoever. It was an easy thing for anyone to fall down this well.

The Superintendent said he could not understand what deceased was doing there. He at first supposed that Harvey might have visited an outbuilding, but there was no trace of this. There were no evidences of a struggle, and the deceased was a powerful, fearless man. If there had been a struggle the noise would have been heard.

A Juror observed that there was a strong wind that night, which would blow sound away. Another Juror suggested that deceased might have been chasing someone from Scott's field at the rear of the well, and stumbled down. The Foreman thought someone must have seen deceased after Barham.

The Coroner, in summing up, propounded three theories for the Jury's consideration - first, foul play, secondly suicide, and thirdly an accident. With regard to foul play, he pointed out that there was no evidence as to a struggle; as to suicide, there was nothing to show that he had any trouble; and as to the idea of accident, they had viewed the place, and could judge of its dangerous position in the night. It was a most extraordinary case.

The Jury retuned an open verdict, but at the same time were unanimous that it was not suicide. They added a rider to the effect that the owner of the well should take steps too have it covered in, as it was dangerous in its present state.

They also passed a vote of condolence with the widow and relatives of the deceased, and the Coroner and Supt. Ackers spoke of the service he had rendered the public.


The funeral of the deceased Sergeant took place on Wednesday, amidst every demonstration of respect, about 50 of his brother officers being present. The funeral procession left the deceased's residence at three o'clock, the body being borne by six sergeants of the Essex Constabulary, namely, Sergeants Head (Brightlingsea), Laver (Great Bentley), Gardener (Clacton), Wyatt (Wivenhoe), Clarke (Boxted), and Howlett (Parkeston), to Ardleigh Church, where the first portion of the Burial Service was so impressively conducted by the vicar (Rev. G. T. Hales), who also delivered a short address, in which he spoke of the zeal with which the deceased officer discharged his duties. The service was choral. The body was afterwards conveyed to Ardleigh Cemetery, where it was interred. The coffin, which was of unpolished oak, bore the inscription:-

John Harvey, Died January 4, 1894, Aged 36 years.

Wreaths were sent from the Divisional Police, the Chief Constable of Essex, and the Ardleigh branch of the St. John Ambulance Class, of which the deceased was a member.