A Tradgedy at Mells

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Mells, Somerset, England
Frome, Somerset, England
Year range
1892 - 1892

This article consists of two reports published in the Somerset and Wiltshire Journal about the inquest into the death of Samuel Martin, rural postman for Mells, Somerset who had been found drowned in a pond at Mells Park on Sunday, July 10, 1892.

Somerset and Wiltshire Journal, July 16, 1892

On Wednesday afternoon last an inquest was held at the Talbot-inn, Mells, before W. Muller, Esq., Coroner, concerning the death of Samuel Martin (aged 47), rural postman for Mells, who was found dead in a pond on the previous Sunday under circumstances which pointed to the conclusion that he drowned himself with some deliberation. Mr. W.A. Fussell was foreman of the jury.

P.C. Samuel Redman said that about 5 p.m. on the previous Sunday, in consequence of a request from a man named James Bainton and from Bertha Martin (daughter of deceased), he proceeded to Mells-park. On the bank of the pond and near the bathing house he found a coat, vest, cap and scarf, part of a postman’s uniform. Inside the hat was marked the name “S. Martin.” He found footprints leading to the rails round the head of the pond. On looking into the water he saw what appeared to be a bag. When he got to it he found the head and upper portion of deceased’s body right inside the bag, and with assistance got the body out of the water, the depth of which was from five to six feet. Deceased had on his shirt, trousers, boots and stockings. Witness had him removed to his home. On searching the clothing in the right-hand pocket of the coat he found one bottle and in the left-hand pocket another. [These were produced and the Coroner said that one smelt of rum and the other brandy.] He also discovered several business papers and letters, but nothing to explain the reason for drowning. In the waistcoat pocket was found 2s. 5d. Witness said he had known Martin for a long time. The last occasion on which he saw him alive was about 9 p.m. on Saturday, when he left the Ship-inn, Frome, with two women in his trap (Mrs. Harriet Walters and Mrs Lucy Brown, the latter being a widow). He then appeared to be sober and he was generally a sober man. Witness knew there had been disagreements between deceased and his wife, and Mrs Martin had often complained to him of her husband’s violence, also of an intimacy between deceased and Mrs. Walters. Owing to what he had himself seen he gave some credence to the charges. The constable proceeded to state that on Sunday evening he went to Mrs. Walters’s house and asked her if she knew what Martin did with a box he took away to Frome. She said it was in her house and handed it to witness; she also gave him the key of it, two purses and deceased’s watch and chain. In one purse was £2 10s. in gold; in the other was 4s.11½ d. in silver and bronze. In a drawer in the box were two sealed letters, which he now produced.

The Coroner read these through. They were directed to deceased’s two brothers, Alfred and Charles, and were evidently written with the idea that they would come before a Coroner’s court. Both were dated on the Saturday, and in them Martin said he was driven to take the step he intended from having a dirty and lazy wife, who had not washed a shirt for him for a long period of time. He gave many particulars on this matter. The other woman against whom his wife made imputations was perfectly innocent. He said he was quite sane, though excited.

P.C. Redman said the letters were in deceased’s own handwriting. Witness had always looked upon Martin as a sane man, but had seen him excited and in a temper. He had seen deceased’s horse and trap tied up many evenings near Mrs. Walters’ house for two or three hours.

Mary Martin, widow of deceased, said she last saw her husband alive about 10.20 a.m. on Sunday, when he left her house with a parcel of meat. He had not come home until 3.15 that morning, and she had waited up for him. At 6.45 the previous evening he had left to take the letters to Frome. Staying out late was a usual thing for him. They had not been living happily together the last 18 months, and matters had been getting worse. Her Husband had lately been strange and excited, and he was very hot-headed. The unpleasantness between them was owing to his being on friendly terms with Mrs. Walters. When she spoke about it he flew into a temper. Witness had never spoken to Mrs. Walters, who had a husband and one child. Mrs Martin said she had been married 20 years and had six children living. There were no words on Sunday between herself and her husband. They had not been cohabiting for some time (about seven months). Her husband had threatened to take his own life and her’s too. Just before he went out on Sunday morning he asked for some bread and cheese: he came downstairs and went straight away after some of the children good-bye and saying he was sorry for what he was going to do. The assertions made by deceased in the letters read were not true.

The Coroner said that although he was averse to it, there was necessity for them to go into the matters which had been a subject of scandal in the village, in order to see what bearing they had upon the mind of the deceased.

Harriet Walters, a woman who appeared to be about 28 years of age, wife of Joseph Walters a grinder, who was both deaf and dumb, living at Sidney-valley, Mells, said she had been acquainted with deceased since the beginning of March last. Since then he had come to their house four times a week or less, at night when he returned from Frome. He came because he was acquainted with her husband, and brought articles for them from Frome. Her husband sometimes asked her to give Martin some food and drink. Deceased generally came between 8 and 9 o’clock and stayed about an hour, but not longer. Shortly after 7 o’clock on the previous Saturday evening, she got into his trap at Great Elm, and rode from thence into Frome with him. After reaching Frome she did not see him again until they started back between 9 and 10 o’clock. Mrs Brown was with her. Martin brought her right back to her home, near Mells Iron Works, and he left the house between 11 and 12 o’clock. He came back again between 12 and 1 o’clock with some things he had conveyed for her from Frome. About 1 o’clock he had supper with her and her husband.

The Coroner said the witness was not going to make him believe that they had postponed supper till 1 o’clock

Mrs. Walters said they had their supper when they could. It was about half past two when Martin left them last, but she was not certain as to the time, for she did not look at a clock herself. Martin did not come back because she asked him, and there was no foundation for the attacks made upon her character concerning her relations with deceased. She had several times told him it was his place to go home to his wife and children; in reply, he said he had no home and no wife, but loved his children. She also told him that his visits to her husband’s house were causing her to be disliked about the neighbourhood.

The Coroner said witness had matters in her own hands.

Mrs. Walters replied that her husband would not let Martin go, though she had told him to.

P.C. Redman here put in a letter sent to Martin by Mrs. Walters when she was staying in Birmingham at Whitsuntide, and in which she asked him to meet her and thanked him for the “order”

Mrs. Walters, at the Coroner’s request, read the letter through. It commenced with “Dear Samuel” and ended with “Yours affectionately, Harriet Walters”. In explanation of it the witness said that Martin was going to Birmingham for a day’s trip and would take her husband back. She signed it as she would another letter.

The Coroner said he was afraid he could not believe the witness. It was not usual for married women to ask married men to meet them.

The constable said that at the end of Whitsun week he recollected seeing Martin coming back from Radstock with the woman’s husband.

Mrs. Walters said the box before referred to was brought to her house on Saturday by Martin when he brought her goods. He wanted to send it to her relations, but she refused. The letter Martin had written to his brother Alfred he read to her when they were in Frome, but she did not take much notice of it at the time. She told him he was a very foolish fellow to think he was going away. She did not go to either Brighton or London at Whitsuntide.

The Coroner said it was sad that a young woman should prevaricate in the manner in which the witness did, and he was perfectly satisfied that there was some foundation for the charge the wife made.

Mrs. Walters was quite sure Martin did not say to her on Saturday: “I shall do it; I will do it.” Neither did he say: ”Don’t my dear; if you do, what will become of me?” He did not use shy words that would imply he was going to do something unusual. Just before witness went to Frome, Mrs Vincent, a neighbour, asked her to bring back some laudanum. This she forgot to do, but Martin, who heard Mrs Vincent ask witness if she had brought it back, said he had some at his house she could have, and when he came to witness’s house the second time on Saturday night he brought some in a small bottle, which was labelled “Poison.” Mrs. Walters said she did not like the stuff in her house; so on the next day she emptied the contents down a sink and threw the contents in the river.

The witness having left the room, the Coroner said he thought it would not be his duty to close the inquiry that day. Although the ultimate result might be the same, the woman’s statements must be verified in some way. The man undoubtedly made statements to the woman, and if what had been suggested was true she certainly had added to her other sins by not giving information to the police if Martin had expressed his determination of doing away with himself. They had as yet had no evidence as to what state of mind the man was in when he drowned himself. Mr Horwood, one of the jurymen, said he met Martin about 11 o’clock on Sunday morning. Deceased, who was a ringer at the church, said he did not think he should ring there again, but Mr Horwood did not attach any importance to the remark.

Sarah Ann Olding, wife of Frank Olding, coachman to Mr Horner, and who lived in one of the park lodges, said that about 11a.m. on the previous Sunday, the deceased brought her a parcel of meat she had ordered. He made an observation about the weather; there was nothing strange in his appearance, except that he looked sleepy and heavy. He was carrying under his arm what appeared to be a mail bag. She paid him for the meat and identified one or two of the coins produced which were found in his pocket. Martin left her and went in the direction of the pond where his body was found.

Mrs Martin, recalled, said no laudanum was kept in her house.

Mrs. Walters was also recalled, and the Coroner told her that she did not fully understand her position. She had been making various statements, and not one of them had entirely agreed with another. There was a great deal of hesitation and prevarication in her answers. The results might be very serious, and he was determined to have the whole of the facts before him. It appeared that on Saturday the deceased made statements to her and on Sunday morning took his own life. He cautioned her to consider what had happened, and next week to give them the whole facts and not a part. It was quite clear that her relations with Martin, if not criminal, were very improper. That conclusion he had been driven to by her letter and the way in which she had given her evidence. It was a serious matter to take an oath and deliberately avoid speaking the truth. He would give her a week to consider the matter and at the end of that time would expect her to tell them the truth. In the meantime the constable would find out all the facts and he should expect her to give him all the assistance she could.

Mrs. Walters, in replying to a question, said that before Martin went home the last time he threw the two purses and his watch across the table to her. He either said she was to give them to his brother, or keep them: she did not know which. She maintained that she had spoken the truth.

The Coroner: between this and next Wednesday tell the constable the whole truth.

The inquest was adjourned till 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday next. A post-mortem examination of the body was ordered to be made.

Somerset and Wiltshire Journal, July 23, 1892

The adjourned inquest concerning the death of Samuel Martin, postman, who was found dead in Mells-park on Sunday, the 10th inst., was held on Wednesday afternoon at the Talbot-inn, Mells, before Mr. W. Muller, coroner, and a jury of whom Mr. W.A. Fussell was foreman. The inquiry was adjourned from the previous Wednesday I order that fuller and more definitive evidence might be obtained and also that a post-mortem examination might be made.

Mr. George Crawford Helps, medical practitioner, stated that on the previous Thursday he made a post-mortem examination of the body, about 90 hours after it was taken from the water. He examined all the internal organs, and from their condition, chiefly of the heart, lungs and stomach, he came to the conclusion that death was no doubt due to suffocation by drowning. The contents of the stomach largely consisted of semi-digested cheese and water. He found no trace of opium or its sorts. The brain was normal and healthy, with the exception of the congestion caused by drowning. Deceased had a very large brain for a man of his size and there was no sign of decay. Very rarely would they find any peculiar sign in the brain of a suicide. Occasionally they might find a little deficiency, somewhere, but it was not so in this case.

P.C. Redman handed the Coroner a piece of paper discovered by deceased’s son among the old papers ad letters found in the pockets of his clothing. The constable said he had no doubt that the note inscribed on it was in deceased’s handwriting. It read as follows:

“You had better pack this box off to Birmingham by the first train, before you hear of anything that has happened. You will find some money in my purse in the box. I could not stand it any longer. Good-bye, my love Harriet, for ever.—Sam.”

Mrs. Walters was allowed in the room whilst the next witness was giving evidence.

Mary Wilks, widow, living at Wadbury-cottage, said that as she was coming from Mells-station about 11 p.m. on Saturday week, she met Martin in his trap. In his conveyance with him was a woman and a perambulator. He was driving very quietly and she heard him say: “I will do it; I will do it.” The woman then with him said: “Don’t talk like that; what shall I do?” There was only one woman in the trap and witness did not notice who it was. Not being interested, witness did not at the same time pay much attention as to what they were talking about.

The Constable said that since the first stage of that inquiry he had seen Mrs. Walters, who still adhered to her previous evidence, but added that when Martin brought the laudanum to her house she jumped at him and snatched the bottle away as he said he was going to take it. Her husband made motions to her as to what would happen if anyone took some.

Mrs. Walters, who had been molested by some of the villagers and who looked haggard and miserable, said in answer to the Coroner that she was enceinte. The conversation between her and Martin on the way home from Frome had nothing to do with that matter. She did not tell him of her condition, and did not know whether he knew anything about it. Martin was a friend of her husband, and nothing more. There were no improper relations between him and her. She swore that. She heard what the last witness said, but did not remember that such words passed between her and the deceased. She had had a drop of beer that evening, but was sober. She had no further statements to make with reference to the letter Martin read to her in Frome: she never saw him after he read it until they started back to Mells.

The Coroner said that Mrs. Walters wished to make him and the jury believe that her relations with the deceased were such as might exist between a young married woman and a married man. Referring to the letter written from Birmingham, Mr Muller repeated his statement that is was not usual for young married women to invite married men to meet them, and said there were some marks at the end of the letter which might mean nothing or might mean kisses. He found it very hard to believe that nothing of an improper nature took place between deceased and the witness. However, it was not his duty to form an opinion upon that, but it was the jury who would have to form an opinion. Why did she snatch the bottle of laudanum from Martin?

Mrs. Walters answered that he said he was going to take it, whereupon she exclaimed: “My God, you shan’t take it in my house, or near my house.” She was too frightened to think of asking Martin why he intended to take the laudanum.

The letter directed to his brother Alfred which the deceased read to Mrs. Walters was as follows:

“If you hear of anything do not be surprised, and do remember to bring the enclosed to show any judge or jury. I can’t stand it much longer. I only wish to say I love all my children dearly. Good-bye. –Your loving brother, Samuel Martin.”

“P.S. –Do not let that woman at Mells Post office have this to destroy. I trust you will let the gentlemen see it as my last wish. Good-bye, good-bye, for ever.”

The other letter found in the box, and which was read at the first stage of the inquiry, commenced as follows:

“Gentlemen, -I am driven to take this foolish step through having a dirty, ungrateful, jealous wife, which has not washed a shirt or pair of socks or any other washing apparel for me for over three years. Last year for instance I did not change my shirt but twice, as I bought one late in December 1890, wore that till it fell off my back in shreds in May 91. My brother, Charles Martin, can prove this, as I sent the stinking rags to him by post. I put on a new one in change and wore that till September. Then I changed again and wore it till early this year.”

The deceased also said that he got a friend of his to wash a shirt for him, and that made his wife more jealous than ever; he then gave other particulars on the same subject and contradicted the charges brought against “that poor innocent woman” (Mrs. Walters).

In answer to questions, Mrs. Walters said that if she had know Martin was going to do away with himself she would have told someone else. He said he should have had no food if she had not got him a bit and something to drink. He complained of there being nothing at home for him. When he last left he r house on the Saturday night he was not drunk and did not look the worse for liquor, though he had had some beer. He was quite capable of taking care of himself. He only had one glass of beer at her house. Martin could converse with her husband better than she could.

The Coroner said it was evident that Martin threatened to take some laudanum, but the result of the post-mortem examination showed that had now a very indirect bearing on the case.

Mrs. Walters said she had been married four years. Her child was nearly two years and four months old. Martin did not want her to go away with him and she did not wish to go away with Martin. He did not threaten to do what he did if she did not go away with him. In driving home to Mells on the evening of the previous Saturday week, Martin’s talk bore chiefly on politics and the election. He was always on to her about his home, saying it was not comfortable and he had no wife.

Mr. T. Rossiter (a juryman), said that although Mrs. Walters told them that she wished Martin would not come to her house, yet she was in the habit of going to Frome with him. She could not expect them to believe that she did not encourage the deceased’s visits, when she used to put herself in his way and ride back and forward to Frome with him.

The Coroner said the same thing had been forced upon his mind by the unsatisfactory manner in which witness gave her evidence. She appeared to have hardened her heart and mind and to the great sin she had committed had added that of a brazen lie. Had she confessed and told him the whole truth he would have felt that she had been more sinned against than sinning.

Mrs. Walters: I have not told you a lie at all; I have told you the truth; I have owned to the letter I wrote.

The Coroner remarked that she owned to everything she could not help owning to, but to things of which there was not absolute proof she did not own and prevaricated in a manner that made him agree with the opinion arrived at by one of the jury. Whatever might be the verdict of the jury this was a matter which would haunt her till the end of her days.

Charles Ebenezer Martin, brother of the deceased, a postman living at Frome, said he last saw his brother alive on the Saturday evening in Bath-street, Frome. Witness was hurrying along and did not stop hardly a second, but the deceased (who was walking with himself) made some remark witness’s boy coming with him in his trap from Mells. Deceased did not look particularly strange. Witness had seen him before at dinner-time. He had not seen his brother’s wife for two or three years and deceased never said anything about her. Witness never received the shirt which his brother said in the letter quoted above he had sent to him by post. Deceased never complained to him of his wife not washing his clothing. Their two families were on friendly terms at a distance. He thought his brother’s wife was a good wife. Lately the witness had met his brother in the streets with a woman, who he believed was Mrs. Walters. Some one told him he had seen his brother’s horse and trap out in a lane whilst he was staying with a woman, but witness did not think there was any foundation for that. He did not know whether his brother was in pecuniary difficulties.

Mrs. Walters, in a reply to a question, said Martin gave her no money on the Saturday before his death except what was in two purses handed to the constable by her. The “order” mentioned in her letter from Birmingham to Martin was a Postal Order sent to bring her back; she afterwards paid him back again for it.

The Coroner said that was one of the most unsatisfactory cases he had before him for some time. He had almost to draw the answers from the brother.

Louisa Brown, a widow living at Vallis, was censured by the coroner for not coming to the court without a constable being sent after her. She said she had known Mrs. Walters for twelve months and Martin for 20 years. She did not go into Frome with him on Saturday week, but came back in his trap. Mrs. Walters was also with him. Witness met them at the Ship-inn and rode to the place where she could go down to her house in the vale. Mrs. Walters sat next to Martin. There was not much talking. What was said was mainly concerning the number of people about the town and the election. There was also some conversation between Martin and Mrs. Walters, but it was not loud enough for witness (who was rather deaf) to hear. She never heard Martin say that he was going to “do it.” He seemed very cheerful. Mrs. Walters for some time lived close to the witness, who did not know one word against her. She left there about Christmas and during the time she lived near witness Martin did not come to see he, to witness’s knowledge. Since then Martin had been down to witness’s place to fetch Mrs. Walters on about half a dozen occasions, but never stayed. Mrs. Walters husband was some times there. On the Saturday evening in question Martin came to witness’s house after a parcel of clothes. Witness knew nothing of the alleged intimacy between Mrs. Walters and Martin except what she had heard.

Mrs. Martin, the widow of the deceased, was called in and asked if she had since her husband’s death looked into his effects. She replied that she and her son had only run through some bills. The house property her husband had was highly mortgaged. On Monday a bill was brought to her for £100 for money borrowed by her husband; which she was not aware was owing. The debts were more than she expected, and she thought her husband was in money difficulties. She could not say whether there was enough money to pay everything in full. As yet they had not brought anything to a balance, and so could not tell. From what she could hear £500 or £600 was the amount of his debts. The £100 referred to was borrowed three or four years ago. She knew of no money having been borrowed during the last 18 months. She had plenty of clean shirts in her house for her husband, and had always tried to persuade him to appear better than he did; they had even had “words” over that subject.

Mr. Fussell (foreman of the jury) said the deceased had lately been spending money recklessly.

Samuel Ernest Martin, son of the deceased, said he had not lived at home for more than two years. He had been looking through some of his father’s papers and besides seeing the account for £100, he found that £195 was borrowed on some property in Dyer’s Close-lane, Frome. There was also two houses and a field on Innox-hill in his father’s possession. He did not know whether his father was solvent.

Mrs. Martin said her husband formerly owned a house in High street, and she did not know he had sold it until two or three years afterwards. He husband was for some time in difficulties with a Frome builder, but how it was settled she did not know.

The Coroner then summed up at some length, beginning by remarking that he thought they had all the evidence they were likely to get. The whole case was very unsatisfactory. First of all they had to satisfy themselves as to what the man died from. There was no doubt he died from suffocation, the result of drowning. The evidence must also satisfy them that the deceased drowned himself in a remarkably deliberate manner. There was no suggestion that anyone else did it: the taking of his life was his own deliberate act. Then came the serious question: What was the deceased’s state of mind at the time he took his life? He had left behind him certain letters, in one of which he said he was greatly agitated, though sane; but the letters themselves did not at first sight strike one as being written in great agitation. When they examined the contents they found statements therein were more or less exaggeration or absolute falsehoods, at least so far as his wife was concerned. She denied his statements and his brother Charles did not remember having received the “stinking rags” the deceased said he sent him last year. There was much that led them to think that Martin’s mind was in some degree affected. After a reference to the other letter, the one that was read to Mrs. Walters, the Coroner said there was very little in the oral evidence they had taken to assist them in arriving at any decision as to the man’s state of mind. He was not prepared to say that if a man took his own life his mind was affected or unhinged. He always preferred to have some further evidence that the man was insane. Generally there was evidence to arrive at some such result. It must be clear that for some considerable period this man had been on terms of very great friendship, and he would almost say of intimacy, with a young married woman who had given evidence before them. They had been able to judge of the way and manner in which she denied that anything of an improper nature ever took place between herself and the deceased. He thought that the jury, as men of the world, though living in a country village, before absolutely believing the woman’s statement, would weigh the surrounding circumstances. The Coroner then went over several points in the evidence which seemed to support the contention that Mrs. Walters was improperly intimate with the deceased and he also dealt minutely with the events of the day previous to his death. It was evident, he said, that on the Saturday Martin had the idea of taking his own life, which he carried into effect on the following day. Then came the point as to how did that idea arise, and that as to that they had very little evidence. If they believed that the relations between the two people were improper and intimate, and the result of that intimacy may have resulted in the condition in which that young woman was now in, the deceased having become acquainted with that fact, and wishing to avoid the public scandal that had been working up for some time and to rid himself of the shame and disgrace that would fall upon him, he might have determined to take his own life. That was a matter that they must consider. There was no evidence that the man had any delusive reasoning or feared any imaginary evils. Mr. Muller said he was not prepared to say that moral cowardice (as suggested in the present case) was insanity. He did not place much reliance on the theory that the man drowned himself because of his pecuniary losses. If they could see any circumstances that in their opinion were sufficient to unhinge the man’s mind, they would be justified in returning a verdict that he was temporarily insane; if it was not so, they must hesitate to do their duty as the facts warranted. The case was a most lamentable one and it was sad that Mrs. Walters should have come there to tell them only partly the truth instead of the whole truth. If she had told them the truth as she ought to have done, it might have induced him to speak less strongly than he had: the manner in which she had given evidence almost put her beyond the pale of sympathy which was generally extended to a woman. The man either directly or indirectly told her that he was going to take his life and it was her bounden duty to go and inform the police of what his intentions were.

P.C. Redman here handed to the Coroner a letter, which he regarded as having an important bearing on the case and which was passed round to the jury, but was not read aloud.

In reply to Mr. Fussell, Mrs Martin gave the jury to understand that she did not fall out with her husband until he took up going to another woman.

The jury took some time to consider their verdict in private. When the court was again opened it was announced that they found the deceased met his death by drowning, and that he deliberately and feloniously killed himself, in a great measure in consequence of the improper conduct between himself and Harriet Walters; the jury also severely censured Mrs. Walters for the manner in which she gave her evidence.

Mrs. Walters was called before the court and the Coroner censured her according to the terms of the verdict. He said that if she had a woman’s heart she would suffer remorse untold for what she had brought upon Martin’s wife and children. She ought to have taken steps to prevent him coming to her, but this Coroner was afraid she encouraged him. She added to her other sins by not communicating with anybody upon the deceased threatening to do way with himself. Directly of indirectly she hurried the man out of this world in a most terrible way. He hoped the case would be a lesson to her and that in future she would conduct herself respectably, devote her attentions to her husband and child, and not go about after other men.