Romantic Suicide of a Salvationist at Folkestone

The Folkestone Chronicle & Advertiser (Saturday 3rd August 1889)

The Borough Coroner (J. MINTER, Esq.) held and enquiry at the Town Hall on Saturday evening [26th July 1889] touching on the death of Thomas Willes-FORBES, a labouring man aged 27 years, who committed suicide by hanging himself in a tool-house in Langhorne Gardens on Saturday morning. The cord by which the deceased was suspended from a beam was an ordinary piece of venetian blind cord. The body, when discovered, was quite stiff; it was in a sitting position, with the head leaning back upon the cord. It was cut down by a police-constable, and when viewed by the jury was still in a sitting position.

The following gentlemen were sworn on the jury:­Messrs. John Woodland RUMBOLD (foreman), Thomas NIXON, William REEVES, Edward DALE, Nelson SMART, Frederick PUTTEE, George RUMSEY, Frederick KINGSMILL, John FRENTIMAN, William CRUMBY, Charles DRAY, William George PREBBLE and James TUMBRIDGE.

The jury having viewed the body,
Edward Willes-FORBES was called and stated that the body which the jury had just viewed was that of his brother Thomas Willes-FORBES. He was twenty-seven years of age, and was single. Witness lived at Ingle's Cottage and was a gardener in the employ of Mr. RADFORD, but the deceased lived with Mr. DRURY, a bootmaker, at Black Bull-road. He was a labourer, chiefly employed in marking out lawn tennis grounds. Witness saw him between nine and ten on the previous morning. He was then taking orders. He did not hold any conversation with witness, and he did not detect anything strange in his manner. The deceased had not had any trouble that he knew of, and certainly nothing would lead him to suppose that he would commit suicide. Had seen him every day for the last fort-night. He did not appear to be low spirited or depressed. He had a broken leg about twelve months ago, and walked a little lame. That might have troubled him.

George SOUTON, a lad, said he lived in Limekiln Cottage, and was a labourer in the employ of the Earl of Radnor. Knew the deceased and last saw him at five-and-twenty minutes to one on the previous day. He was then in Clifton-crescent marking out a lawn tennis ground. Did not see him again until he saw him that morning at the tool-shed, dead. He had not noticed anything strange in his manner. Had seen him every day for the last month or two, but he never appeared to be depressed or in any way strange.

Edward KNOLDEN deposed that he lived at Black Bull Cottage, Canterbury Road, and that he was a labourer employed on the estate of the Earl of Radnor. He had known the deceased for the last twelve months. He last saw him alive on Wednesday, the 24th July. He was then in Langhorne Lodge, where he found him that morning dead. Witness had occasion to do to the lodge about quarter to eight that morning, to fetch a broom and shovel. The door was locked and as witness could see that the key was on the inside, he broke it open. He was startled to see the deceased suspended from the roof. He was in a sitting position, and around his neck was a piece of thin cord, tied in a slip knot, the other end being fastened to a rafter. Witness immediately ran at him and shook him, calling out "Tom," but he was dead, cold and stiff. Witness sent for a policeman at once. Did not cut him down because he knew he was quite dead. He had seen the deceased constantly, but had never noticed anything strange about his manner.

The Coroner said there was a complete absence of any evidence to show as to the state of the deceased's mind. From what the witness had stated, it would appear that the deceased was in a sound state of mind.

From some communication made privately to the Coroner by Superintendent TAYLOR, the witness Edward Willes FORBES, the deceased's brother, was re-called.
The Coroner asked whether the witness knew if deceased had been engaged.
Witness said yes; he was engaged a little while ago to a young girl at Canterbury.
The Coroner: And has the engagement ever been broken off?
Witness: Yes, sir; it was broken off some two or three weeks ago.
By your brother or by the young lady?
By the girl, sir.
How long had he been engaged to her?
About four or five months, I should think.
Did the deceased tell you it had been broken off himself?
No sir, I was told by the man with whom he lodged.
Do you know whether he belonged to the Salvation Army?
Yes, sir; he joined it about a month ago.

A juryman asked whether anything was found on the deceased.
The Town Sergeant said there were several papers, etc.
The Coroner: Then why haven't they been produced? Fetch them at once.
The Articles, which were tied up in a white pocket handkerchief, were then produced, and the Coroner went through them carefully. In a pocket-book, several testimonials were found, giving the deceased a very high character for honesty and sobriety. One was from Mrs. PAUL, of the Radnor Club, where the deceased was formerly employed. The deceased's Army discharge was also found in the pocket-book. He had served six years, and against his character was written, "Very good." A good testimonial was also found from the Colonel of the Regiment, and also from Major RILEY. In another part of the book was found a scriptural text book, also a collecting card authorising him to collect for the Salvation Army and the photograph of the young lady to whom he was engaged. Amongst other things in the parcel was a bible, but no indications whatever of his intention to commit suicide.

Dr. Marcus YUNGE-BATEMAN was then called. He stated that he was called shortly after eight that morning to see the deceased. He went at once and found him in a lodge at Langhorne-gardens. He was not hanging then. He had been cut down. Witness examined the body and should say that he had been dead about twelve hours. There was a mark of a line around his neck, and in his opinion death was caused by suffocation.

P.C. Frank LAWRENCE deposed that he was called to the lodge that morning and arrived there at ten minutes past eight. He cut the deceased down. He was in a sitting position with the line (produced) tied around his neck and fastened to a beam above. The Coroner then proceeded to sum up. He said the question which the Jury would have to study was as to the state of the deceased's mind when he committed the act, and unless he was insane, their verdict must be felo-de-se. Of course the Jury were aware that the custom of burying a body, in such a case, between a four-crossed road with a stake through it, was quite extinct, but if they did return a verdict of felo-de-se, the deceased would not be entitled to a Christian burial. It was a very curious thing that there was no evidence on that point save that which had quite accidentally leaked out from the brother at the last moment. The deceased appeared to be a man of a most exemplary character. He had read the very excellent references by the Colonel of the Regiment and also by Mrs. PAUL. So far as the witnesses who had given evidence were concerned they all stated that they had never noticed anything curious about his conduct, and one could hardly imagine what could have caused him to do such a rash act. They had heard from the brother of the deceased that he had been engaged to a girl at Canterbury, and that the girl had broken off the engagement about a fortnight ago. He had not asked the girl's name, as it might only wound the feelings of their friends. This he (the Coroner) thought might be a very possible reason why the deceased committed suicide, but of course, it was for the Jury to decide. They had also heard that the deceased was a member of the Salvation Army. He (the Coroner) was not one of those who ridiculed the Salvation Army or their practice or mode of religion, and he thought there was no material evidence affecting this point. It was said by some that no man would destroy himself unless he were insane. He did not say he held that theory, but looking at the fact that the engagement between the deceased and the young girl at Canterbury had been broken off, he thought there was a very intelligent reason.

After a short consultation, the Jury returned verdict that the deceased committed suicide by strangulation, whilst in a state of temporary insanity.


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