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Story of Hannah's Suicide (1913)

Privacy Level: Public (Green)
Date: 23 Jan 1913 [unknown]
Location: Taunton Union Workhouse, Somerset, Englandmap
Surnames/tags: Kerswell Griffin
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Death Of Hannah Kerswell (nee Griffin) 1836-1913

Hannah Kerswell died in the Taunton Union Workhouse on 23 Jan 1913 age 76.

From: Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser - Wed 29 January 1913

An inquest on the body Hannah Kerswell, a widow, aged 76, who had been an inmate of the Taunton Workhouse for the past 20 years, whose death was reported in the Somerset County Herald, took place in that institution on Saturday afternoon, being conducted by Mr. T. Foster Barham, coroner for West Somerset.
Mr. R. T. Seward was foreman of the jury, and P.C. Noble was Coroner's officer. The Board of Guardians were represented by Mr. W. H. Westlake (chairman) and Mr. W. F. B. Dawe (clerk). Mr. T. Gerry (Workhouse master) being also present.
The police report stated that decease died on Thursday night as a result of injuries self-inflicted with pair of scissors. It may be mentioned that for over 15 years the deceased had lived with her husband in the Workhouse, the man having been crippled with rheumatism. They were the Darby and Joan of the House, and enjoyed the privilege of living together in a separate room. Being quiet, respectable country people, they were liked and respected by the other inmates and officers. It was great blow to the old lady when her husband died about two years ago.
Annie Hurle, assistant-nurse in the infirmary, stated that the deceased was the widow of John Kerswell, a farm labourer, of Trull. She had been an inmate of the Workhouse for the past twenty years. She had been in the Infirmary for just over twelve months, suffering from mental deficiency. She had given no trouble, and had never done anything to lead witness to suspect that she would be likely to do herself an injury. On Monday, 20th inst., witness was engaged in the bathroom washing a patient when the deceased came from the lavatory adjoining and said "Nurse I have cut my throat with these scissors." She held the scissors in her hand, and witness took them from her. They were coved in blood. Witness saw the wound deceased had inflicted upon herself. It was bleeding freely, and witness at once called Nurse Sweet, who helped put the deceased to bed. Nurse Sweet sent for the doctor. Witness was subsequently with her when her wounds were dressed and saw her each day afterwards until her death which took place about eight o’clock on Thursday evening. The deceased remained very quiet after she was put to bed.
By the Foreman of the jury: The deceased was away from observation not more than five minutes. It was usual allow those who did needlework to use scissors.
By Mr. Dawe: There was no reason to have deceased under observation. She was quite harmless, and was happy through being allowed to do what she chose to occupy her time. There was never anything in her manner to arouse suspicion.
The Coroner: If deceased bad shown any signs of giving trouble the scissors would have been blunt topped, would they not?
Nurse Hurle: She would not have been allowed scissors at all in that case.
Dr. A. D. Willcocks, medical officer to the Workhouse, stated that the deceased was admitted to the Infirmary about year ago suffering from senility with feebleness of mmd. She was a nice, quiet old woman, and could chatter very freely, which was more her trouble than anything else.
The Coroner: That's not restricted to old age.
Dr. Willcocks, continuing, said he was called to the Workhouse on Monday evening, and saw the deceased about twenty minutes past eight. He found that she had a wound in front of the throat, three or four inches in length, cutting through the superficial tissues, but not severing any deep vessels. She had, lost a considerable quantity of blood, and was in a slate of collapse. Witness did what was necessary and attended the woman until she died. The cause of death was heart failure, due to shock and loss of blood. She gradually faded away. The scissors must have been used with considerable force to cause such a wound. Several times before her death deceased said "I don't know why I did it." "I can't make out why I have given so much trouble."
The Foreman: Don't you think the scissors were dangerous for person of that description to have in her possession?
Dr. Willcocks: No. She had always appeared to be quiet and harmless. She was not a certified person at all and was allowed what she liked in the way of needlework. Her condition was similar to that of dozens of other old persons suffering from senile decay. Such people liked to do a little work to occupy their time, and those who had charge of them wore not looking for trouble every day the week.
Mr. W. F. B. Dawe: Does mental deficiency mean that the deceased was a lunatic? - Not at all. She was a fit person to do ordinary sewing? - Yes, most certainly. Many such persons do it. Had you any reason to put the deceased under the special charge of any person except the general charge of the Infirmary nurse? - None whatever.
The Coroner: Of course if a person had shown any symptoms of an intention to take her life, every precaution would be taken by those in charge.
Dr. Willcocks: Quite so. This old woman went by the name of "Old Granny", and there was nothing wrong with her except a little feebleness of mind.
The Coroner, summing up, remarked that there was nothing whatever to suggest in the behaviour and manner of the deceased that she had any idea of doing herself injury. The jury would have no difficulty in finding that she took her life while temporarily of unsound mind. Evidently, a strange impulse had led her do it, as she could not understand why she had committed the act afterwards. Such cases did happen. Something crossed the mind of person, and they took their lives without any apparent reason.
The jury returned a verdict of "Suicide whilst of unsound mind."



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