Preston coroner dealt with multiple tragedies in just five days

Fleetwood Harbour, the scene of the tragedy
Fleetwood Harbour, the scene of the tragedy
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Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the remarkable career of a Lancashire county coroner from 200 years ago...

Back in November 1799 Richard Palmer was elected as a county coroner for Lancashire and within a couple of years also became the Town Clerk of Preston.

A much respected legislator he served town and county with great endeavour. He faced many a challenging week as he was obliged to tour the county conducting inquests, such a week was the last one of October 1843.

On the Monday he visited Thornton to carry out an inquest into the death of Andrew Ashton, aged 41, the harbour master of the port of Fleetwood. He had been found drowned in the river Wyre on the previous Friday evening. On a dark evening whilst walking along the edge of the iron wharf he had been spoken to a few minutes before his body was discovered quite dead in the water. It was assumed he had missed his footing and fallen into the water.

For over three hours every means had been tried to restore animation without success. The jury returning a verdict of ‘Accidental Death’.

The next day Coroner Palmer was at Hoghton carrying out an inquest on the body of Mary Gabbott, aged 36, who was found dead face downwards in a cess pool on the previous morning.

The court heard that she was unmarried and was subject to fits, on which occasions previously she fallen down and been in a state of insensibility. Considering the medical evidence the jury returned a verdict of ‘ died in a fit’.

On the Wednesday Mr. Palmer conducted an inquest into the death of engineer John Dobson in Preston. On the middle Saturday of the month whilst carrying out maintenance work at the mill of Messrs. Spencer & Co. in Preston, along with his son, a terrible tragedy befell him. A cylinder that they were hoisting up on ropes suddenly slipped landing with great force upon him.

He was immediately conveyed home were it became necessary to amputate his arms in an effort to save him. Dr. Moore and Dr. Holden attended and hopes were high of his recovery.

Unfortunately, after a week he was seized with lock jaw dying two days later. The inquest verdict was ‘ died of locked jaw, in consequence of an accident.’

The following day Mr. Palmer visited Freckleton to hold an inquest into the death of Jane Lang, a child less than two years old. She had been run over by a horse and cart on a quiet lane in the village.

The cart driver had been surprised when she appeared to dash onto the highway. He had been unable to halt quickly enough and the cart ran over her. Despite medical attention nothing could be done to save her. No blame was attached to the cart driver who was travelling at a leisurely speed and was quite sober. An inquest verdict of ‘Accidental Death’ being recorded.

On the Friday Mr. Palmer was back in Preston to view the body of Elizabeth Tattersall, aged 14, who had been burnt to death on the previous Wednesday morning. The inquest heard that she and another girl went to the Preston Railway Station where her father worked to deliver his breakfast.

It was a chilly October morning and as they left the station the pair cowered down to warm themselves over some hot cinders that had fallen from an engine. Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s clothing caught fire and was soon blazing. In that state she ran towards her father who was on the platform and along with a colleague he managed to extinguish the flames.

The girl, who had severe burns, quickly received medical attention but died within the day. The sad event leading to another ‘Accidental Death’ verdict.

They had been five days that highlighted the tragedies that occupied the time of the coroner who dealt with the pain and suffering of families of the victims daily. Richard Palmer, aged 80, died in December 1852 after a short illness. He was still county coroner at the time of his death and had been Town Clerk of Preston for over 50 years.