View Full Version : Inquests

Megan Roberts
18-03-2015, 10:30 PM
Some of you may have realised that I like delving into old newspapers and looking at what that says about those times. Recently I conducted a little review of reports of inquests between 1800-1809, and I thought people might be interested in what I found.

I used the newspapers available from the National Library of Wales, and like most papers of the time, they report not just local cases, but any which they thought would interest their readers. There were other stories of deaths which might at some point become the subject of an inquest, but for the purposes of this study I kept it to those that specifically reported as inquests. The vast majority of such reports are very brief, just a few lines, unless the events are particularly “outrageous”, or the participants were people of note. Often these few lines would not include either the name of the deceased or any discernible location.

The actual verdicts given at that time were slightly different to those we see today:

Lunacy or insanity was used for suicide, and in one case “felio de se” was the verdict expressed, and when a convicted felon awaiting execution managed to poison himself the verdict was “self-murder”. In one incident a 12 year old young boy killed himself, and the verdict was “hanged himself” and also “being a child, was, by law, entitled to a Christian burial.” For adults it often stated that they should be buried at a cross roads.

Natural causes were labelled “died by the visitation of God”. Other verdicts included wilful murder, manslaughter, or accidental death.

Total number of inquests reported 161

Number of cases where no name was reported in the newspaper for the victim (may have been known, but just not reported): 40

Number of cases involving the murder of a new born child (most of these were very brutal and committed by single mothers, who probably had gone to great lengths to conceal their pregnancy):10

Number of suicides: 24

Common causes of accidental death: falling from horses; cart or coach crashes; drowning (very common for sailors and those intoxicated); clothes catching on fire; mine accidents including rock falls and flooding and accidental poisonings. The most astounding accidental death was to 9 year old boy who lost his life in consequence of an explosion of gun powder which his mother was sifting for the use of her husband, a miner.
A number of the murder verdicts arose from duels being fought. The seconds for these duels would also be indicted.

And finally in at least 2 cases bodies already buried had to be exhumed because the coroner had not been informed before burial. Both the cases involved children who had died accidentally and who had been buried by their families.

19-03-2015, 4:36 PM
Like you, I also like reading the early newspapers, and the same with parish registers. On some occasions I find some really interesting comments such as the most recent in a parish register being a young man shot dead in a duel. And I also came across the hanging of a young woman who killed her young child. Many entries sadden me, and makes me realise how luky were are in the UK today.