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From the Sussex Express, 5th March 1872


Yesterday afternoon, L G Fullager, Esq, coroner, held an inquest at the Blacksmith’s Arms, Offham, on the body of John Hilton, aged 30, groom to C R Kemp, Esq, who drowned himself in the river at Hamsey, on the previous Saturday, under the sad circumstances detailed in the following evidence:-Mr Caleb Rickman Kemp, having made a declaration, deposed: I live at Lewes. The deceased was John Hilton; he was in my service as coachman and groom; he was an out-door servant entirely. I last saw him on Thursday, and left home on Friday, at half-past eight in the morning, and did not return till the evening. Deceased did not come to his work on Saturday, and I went down to his lodgings to enquire of his landlady about him. I had expected him to come to work on Saturday, and was anxious about him. He was not discharged from my service on Friday evening but a complaint was made to me by my wife that he had been on the premises in a state of intoxication. I had only, to my own knowledge, known him to have been intoxicated once before, about ten weeks ago. I gave him clearly to understand that I could not put up with a repetition of the offence. Therefore he might have expected that he would be discharged on Saturday. He had been with me over two years and a half.

Thomas Baker, gardener, of South Street, Cliffe [Lewes], deposed: I work for Mr Kemp three days a week, but on Friday was working for Mr Lungley. That afternoon, about twenty minutes past four, Mrs Kemp sent for me and said Hilton had come home very much in liquor, and she wished me to feed the horse and give them some water. When I got out in the stable deceased was standing with his head leaning on the oat bin. I said, ‘What’s the matter, John; Mrs Kemp wants me to feed the horses, and give them some water’. He said, ‘You let the horses alone, they are all right’. I said, ‘Mrs Kemp wished me to tell her what you said’. I again asked him to let me feed them, but he said, ‘You go on’. He seemed to be quite tipsy. I went back and told Mrs Kemp what he had said and went back to my work again. When I left work I went to Mr Kemp’s again, and Mrs Kemp went to the stable with me. The deceased was up in the hayloft lying down on the trap door, so that I could not open it. Mrs Kemp called him several times to come down and go home with us. I had not seen him in that state before. – By the Jury: I could not understand whether deceased muttered anything to Mrs Kemp or not, the trap door being down.

Mary Hursey, wife of Richard Hursey, a gardener living in Paddock Road, Lewes, deposed: The deceased lodged with us. About seven o’clock on Friday evening he came home. I noticed nothing particular about him. I asked him if he would take his tea, and he said he did not wish for any. He had not been home to dinner. About eight o’clock he went to bed without saying ‘good night’. Eight o’clock was very early for him to go to bed, and I never knew him not to say good night before. He came down next morning about twenty minutes to eight, and left the house without having his breakfast. He said he should be back in a few minutes, but I saw him no more. I had not then heard that he had got into trouble on Friday. I noticed nothing particular about him that morning.

Alfred Tawney, 13 years of age, deposed: I live at Hamsey Common, and work for Mrs Guy, at Hamsey Place. On Saturday afternoon I saw deceased walking up the river with his hands in his pockets. He threw his hat up in the air, and ran and jumped in the river between the railway bridge and Hamsey Place. I called William Walker and Frederick Morley, and went to the spot where he jumped in. I saw the men get him out. I was five or six rods from him when he jumped in. He did not call out.

William Walker, labourer, living at Coombe Lodge, deposed he saw the deceased going up the river about a quarter to ten; he went up nearly to the ‘horse-shoe’, and came back and stood at the railway crossing, leaning on a gate there for nearly an hour and a half. He then came down the river again for a minute or so, and went back to the crossing. Witness and his uncle, Fred Morley, watched him while the half-past 11 train was passing. He afterwards went across the line. Witness then went to his dinner, and after he came back the boy called to him, and he ran to the spot and saw deceased in the water. They tied two rakes together and raked him out. He breathed once and witness ran to Lewes for a doctor. He was quite still in the water. Witness was about 150 yards from the spot when the boy called him. The boy was one side of the river and witness the other. By the Jury: He could not have been in the water more than ten minutes.

Reuben Harvey, a labourer in the service of the Railway Company, saw deceased on Saturday morning up the river. There was nothing particular about him to attract attention. When the boy called witness ran to the spot and saw deceased in the water. He appeared to be standing up; the water was over his head. He was not struggling. There were bubbles in the water. After they got him out he breathed once or twice. Witness turned him over face downwards, with his head down hill. When he was satisfied deceased was dead he went to Lewes to give information to the police.

The Coroner, in summing up, said if they believed the little boy Tawney, - and there was no reason to doubt the truth of his statement – it was clear that the deceased got into the water by his own act: and as to the state of his mind if they thought he did it deliberately to avoid meeting the disgrace of being dismissed from his place they ought not to shrink from their duty in finding a verdict of felo de se. If, however, there was not sufficient evidence in their opinion to show the state of deceased’s mind, they could say so in their verdict. The jury returned a verdict that deceased committed suicide by drowning, but there was not sufficient evidence to show the state of his mind at the time. Mr Kemp said he desired to express his deep sympathy with the aged parents of deceased, who lived at Glynde, and were very worthy and industrious people.

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