Monday 28 September 2020

Robbing the living for the sake of the dead; Barnes Common Cemetery

The Hedgman Memorial 

These two acres of sandy ground were originally purchased by the church authorities for £10 and a further £1,400 was spent on providing a chapel and landscaping. The cemetery was closed in 1954 and acquired by the Borough from the church in 1966 with the intention of turning it into a lawn cemetery. As a first step the chapel and lodge were demolished and the boundary railings removed, making it fair game for all manner of unsavoury happenings and many headstones smashed. The vandals may have been encouraged by Barnes sinister reputation that preceded the 1970s. Stories of murder and hauntings include that of a ghostly nun who is said to hover over the place where the body of an unfortunate Mrs Thomas was once exhumed.

Hugh Meller & Brian Parsons ‘London Cemeteries’ (2011)

Autumn is upon us; the days shrink as the nights draw in, Covid-19 infections double every 7 days, the economy teeters on the edge of collapse and another lockdown seems imminent. Since last week cemetery tours are now one of the few acceptable ways that people can take part in social gatherings involving more than 6 other humans without being herded up, baton charged and tear gassed by Her Majesty’s Constabulary.  And so I used what may well be one of our last days of semi-freedom, a pleasant and unseasonably warm and sunny Saturday afternoon in late September, to join a group of fellow cemetery enthusiasts at Barnes Common to take part in the ‘Graves in the Wood’ Cemetery Club tour hosted by that most genial and knowledgeable of taphophiles, Sheldon K Goodman.  This was my third tour with Sheldon; I’d previously been around Hampstead with him and also spent an October evening in the pitch dark with him and Sacha Coward in an unlit Tower Hamlets cemetery that was far busier than I’d ever seen it during the day (gangs of teenage cider drinkers in vampire makeup congregated around benches or other surfaces flat enough to sit on, mobs of pumpkin wielding east end urchins roamed the paths and the undergrowth crawled with single men on the prowl (only for each other, luckily,) Sheldon is running another after dark tour this Halloween, join him, it’s great fun). Barnes Common Cemetery is one of Sheldon’s regular tours and not somewhere I had ever been before (despite living and working in the area for most of the 1980’s). 

The 18th century motif on the mid 19th century Frickley grave

Barnes is tiny, a mere two acres of burial ground that has reverted to woodland since it closed in the 50’s. It isn’t unusual in having returned to nature, it isn’t any more overgrown than Abney Park or Nunhead or even Highgate East. What is unusual is that the cemetery walls and railings were removed so that there was no longer any boundary between it and the rest of the common. Now the unsuspecting Sunday stroller when taking the air on the common may suddenly find themselves in the middle of a cemetery without knowing how they got there. Some people apparently find this unnerving. Its diminutive size is partly the result of never being allowed to expand beyond that initial two-acre plot. In 1889 when the vestry of St Mary’s, the owners of the cemetery, released plans for an extension they were surprised by the vociferousness of the opposition. The West London Observer of 20 July 1889 set forth the case against the proposal; “the Barnes people must not be allowed to cut and carve their common any further, even for the purpose of extending their cemetery. Barnes Common is of value to the living —it can be of no kind of advantage to the dead,” fulminated the leader writer, pointing out that recent legislation meant that commons within three miles of a town were no longer just the concern of the commoners and that the neighbouring boroughs had a legal right to step to prevent encroachment. It demanded that in “Hammersmith, in Kensington, in Chiswick, Fulham—indeed, all over West London steps should be taken once to let those see whom it may concern that no further interference with Barnes Common will be tolerated under any pretence……the long and the short of it is, the Vestry of Barnes will have to abandon this latest proposal of theirs to add piece of the common to the cemetery. To do so would be rob the living for the sake of the dead.” The plan to extend the cemetery was dropped and Barnes only received its much-needed additional burial space when the municipal authorities opened East Sheen cemetery in 1906.

The impressive, but utterly ruined, memorial for John Pullen of 107 Castelnau

For a small cemetery Barnes has more than its fair share of interesting permanent residents. Sheldon started his tour at the graves of landscape painter Edward ‘Moonlight’ Williams (died 1855 just a year after the cemetery opened) and his two sons, also landscape painters, Henry John (who took his wife’s surname of Boddington and died in 1865) and George Augustus (died 1901). Edward had three other sons who were also painters and two of which, like Henry John, changed their surname so that the art market wasn’t flooded with a plethora of virtually indistinguishable Williams’s. Collectively they were dubbed the Barnes’ school, their work of the sort that adorns nostalgic Christmas cards or, at one time, chocolate boxes. Just a few yards on from the Williams’ grave is the memorial to 27-year-old William Hedgman, the largest, though for me not the best, monument in the Cemetery. The memorial is big – I’m no good at judging distances or heights but it has to be over 20 feet high, the angel at the top is the only statue that has retained its head in the whole cemetery so it is clearly too tall for the vandals (though it has lost its nose somehow). Sheldon said that William’s father James was the proprietor of the first commercial swimming pool in London (I think I have that right). The memorial covers a sizeable vault and the family exhumed relatives from Abney Park to fill up some of the vacant loculi. Other graves we visited included Samuel Rabbeth, (1858–1884) a doctor at the Royal Free Hospital who contracted diphtheria after performing a tracheotomy on a four year old child and finding the windpipe blocked with mucus, sucking it clear with a tube. The child didn’t survive either. Rabbeth is also commemorated at Postman’s Park. And Francis Turner Palgrave compiler of The Golden Treasury, Ebener Cobb Morley, father of the Football Association, and the area where the common grave of Julia Martha Thomas is located. Julia was murdered in 1879 by the notorious Kate Webster who dismembered Julia’s body, boiled the flesh off the bones, allegedly skimmed off the fat and tried to sell it as dripping to a local butcher, and threw whatever was left into the Thames. Kate was eventually hung for her crimes and whatever had been collected of Julia’s body buried in Barnes. The head was missing for many years and only turned up in 2010 under David Attenborough’s patio.  Our last port of call was the badly damaged grave of George Chirgwin a flamboyant music hall star known as the white eyed kaffir who died in 1922;

WREATHS IN THE FORM OF A VIOLIN. The funeral of Mr. G. H. Chirgwin, the White-Eyed Kaffir, took place on Friday at Barnes Cemetery. The chief mourners were Mrs. Chirgwin and her two sons.  There was a large crowd of sympathisers, while many of Mr. Chirgwin’s professional friends were present, including Sir Oswald Stoll, Mr. Charles Gulliver, Mr. Harry Tate, Mr. Joe Elvin, and Mr. Cragg (“Papa”). There was a large deputation from the Music Hall Artistes Railway Association, and representatives of the Music Hall Benevolent Home, Twickenham. An extra hearse was filled with wreaths, two of which were in the form of the White-eyed Kaffir’s fiddle. One was composed of mainly white chrysanthemums and bore on it the representation of the famous white eye in small mauve and white flowers. (Gloucester Citizen - Saturday 18 November 1922)

Sheldon’s tours always finish with a singer from the music hall and a rendition of one of their better-known numbers. Chirgwin started off as a straightforward minstrel singer until he added a white diamond around the eye to the usual blackface (and sometimes went ‘negative’ with a white face and a black diamond). Sheldon gave us one of Chirgwin’s minstrel numbers called ‘The Blind Boy’ written by Robert Lee and George Washington Moore of the Christy Minstrels. Sheldon was doubly hampered by having to perform in a visor and sing in falsetto but as usual he gave a spirited performance even though ‘The Blind Boy’ isn’t the catchiest number in his graveside repertoire. We all enjoyed and I suspect so did Chirgwin lying at rest beneath our feet. 

Samuel Rabbeth (right)

There were a couple of memorials that caught my eye which Sheldon didn’t mention. One was the gravestone of William Frickley who died in 1858 which bears a rather nice example of a flying hourglass with an ouroboros, a snake with its tail in its mouth, a symbol of eternity. The motif isn’t uncommon – I had seen a very nice one the previous week in the churchyard of St Thomas in Navestock, Essex. That one was dated 1772; by 1858 the motif was very old fashioned indeed and not really in use any more. The Frickley grave sticks out like a sore thumb in a high Victorian cemetery because it is such an anachronism, a tombstone from the Georgian period. Perhaps William Frickley had antiquarian tastes The memorial which impressed me most was for John Pullen of 107 Castelnau, who died on 05 October 1903. John was a rich man; probate records show him leaving an estate worth £15502 12 shillings and tuppence. His memorial is rather fine and shows a sadly now headless female figure standing next to what is now an empty niche (but which may well have originally held a portrait of the deceased). Photographs on Geograph and Flickr show that the female figure on the memorial still had her head as recently as 2013; someone seems to have removed it around 2014. None of the memorials at Barnes are listed.    

Detail on the Palgrave grave

A trawl through the newspaper archives revealed a couple of interesting stories about the cemetery. The Beverley brook is a small river that runs for 9 miles between Worcester Park and the Thames between Putney and Barnes. It flows close the cemetery and in 1900 the cemetery authorities seem to have dammed a small tributary stream with unforeseen consequences. In the Pall Mall Gazette of 11 July 1900 there was a report about a meeting of Barnes District Council:

Child’s Coffin Floating Barnes Cemetery. It was reported last night, at a meeting of the Barnes District Council that Barnes Cemetery had become so waterlogged that when child’s grave, made fifteen months ago, was opened for a new interment, the coffin was found afloat. Steps are being taken to remedy this state of things, which is believed to be due to the damming of a stream near the cemetery.

The Bradford Daily Telegraph of 12 July had more details:

Owing to the damming back of a stream near the Barnes Cemetery, the latter had become so waterlogged that when a grave was opened the coffin was floating about. In another case the gravedigger put branches the bottom of a newly made grave to hide the water, and when the coffin was let down the mourning party were splashed. Means will be taken to remedy the evil; the matter having been reported to the District Council.

In 1909 an elderly woman keeled over and died whilst attending a funeral;

Mrs. Charlotte Greenhill. aged seventy-seven, of Norfolk-square, Hyde Park on whom an inquest was held at Mortlake died suddenly from heart disease while attending a funeral at Barnes Cemetery. Her executor stated that she told him she prayed every night that she might not live to the morning. (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Tuesday 04 May 1909)

And then there was the Barnes Cemetery Tragedy of 1927 as reported by the West London Observer on 14 January, the rather sad story of the lonely cemetery lodge keeper who gassed himself because he was “absolutely fed up”;

"Suicide whilst of unsound mind" was the verdict recorded by Alderman Dr. Michael Taylor, J.P., at a Mortlake inquest on Wednesday on Frank Lenan, aged 56, lodge keeper at the Barnes Common Cemetery, who was found dead with his head in the gas oven at the cemetery lodge on Tuesday, 4th January. A brother-in-law, William Cornet, of Cleveland Road, Barnes, identified the body, and said that the deceased, who was a widower, was a cheerful and healthy man. He had no troubles, and had never shown any signs of mental derangement. Edith Cornet, a sister, said that the deceased had no children, and his wife died twelve months ago. He lived by himself at the cemetery lodge, and did everything for himself, except prepare his dinner, which was brought to him daily. On Sunday the deceased spent the evening with them and when he departed, at about 10.46 p.m., he seemed quite cheerful. On Monday witness sent her daughter with his dinner, but she understood that after waiting for sometime, her daughter left the basket outside the door. Witness went herself to the lodge the next morning and found that the basket was still outside the door. She looked inside the door and saw a boot protruding, and came out again. The Coroner then produced a letter to the witness which read, "I wish Mrs. Cornet to have £l00, Betty Cornet £3O, and the remainder and home to Mrs. Giles, my sister, of Kingston. Thanking all for their kindness to me. Absolutely fed up. —Yours, etc., Frank Lenan. Pass book and deposit book at the Midland Bank." Mr. Cornet mentioned that there was more than the sum mentioned credited at the bank. Mrs. Emmie Giles, of Shortlands Road, Kingston, a sister, said that she visited the deceased every Friday. He had sometimes said, "What a life! Nobody to speak to." and witness thought that the deceased felt the loss of his wife. Thomas Edward Dainton, the commonkeeper, who said that he had known Lenan all his life, thought that he had officiated as cemetery keeper for 12 years. On Tuesday, Mrs. Cornet came to him and they went together to the lodge. He opened the back door and saw a boot protruding from behind the door. He then found the deceased lying on his left side with his head in the gas oven, covered over with an overcoat. P.C. J. Pettit, who was called in, said that the man was already dead. Dr. J. B. Scott, a divisional police surgeon, said that the body was pink from the gas fumes. Following a postmortem examination he attributed death to asphyxia, caused by coal gas poisoning. 

As he sat on his favourite bench in the Cimetière du Montparnasse he often recalled the day when he and his wife – his first wife – had first stumbled upon the mysterious lost and overgrown cemetery on Putney Heath, on the way to Barnes. Unlike the well-laid-out cemeteries of Paris and indeed of France as a whole, neatly walled and with all the tombstones set in orderly rows, this one seemed to have no clear boundaries and the tombstones appeared to grow like the tress in whose midst they appeared, randomly and without logic. Many of the statues had been vandalised over the ages and there were a great many decapitated angels. Originally perhaps there had been some attempt at order and symmetry, for somewhere near the centre a space had been cleared and a memorial to a certain William Hedgeman, in the form of a large cross standing on an inscribed plinth, had been erected. But three of the four paths leading to it from the sides had lost all semblance of straightness, the way had been blocked by fallen trees and more gravestones, overgrown now by creepers and moss…. They had been walking across the Heath one Saturday morning on their way to the pub in Barnes…when they had come across the cemetery. They must have passed within yards of it on numerous previous occasions without stumbling upon it, and even after many visits there was always the sense of suddenly and unexpectedly entering a lost world.

Gabriel Josipovici – ‘The Cemetery in Barnes’

Gabriel Josipovici is one of our more underrated writers (that’s why you have never heard of him!). The 79-year-old published his first book in 1968 and his most recent piece of published fiction is ‘The Cemetery in Barnes’ a intense and ambiguous novella about a translator and his relationship with his first wife in Putney, his years of solitude in Paris and life in the Abergavenny mountains in Wales with his second wife. In Paris the unnamed protagonist translates second rate novels, wanders the city in his free time exploring the Parisian cemeteries of Père Lachaise, Montmartre and Montparnasse, is haunted by the death by drowning of his first wife on the Thames towpath and listens obsessively to Monteverdi’s opera ‘L'Orfeo’ in which Orpheus descends to Hades to recover his own dead wife Eurydice. It is a dark and brooding piece of work and, as you would guess from the title, the cemetery on Barnes Common plays a key symbolic role.  

Thursday 17 September 2020

The poisoned parson & the travelling corpse; more tales of exhumation at Highgate Cemetery

Pity the poor gravedigger; digging graves in Victorian cemeteries was dirty and dangerous work. With no mechanical aids to assist, a gravedigger would have had to rely on mattock, shovel and brute strength to remove three and a half tons of earth to create the six-foot-deep trench required by a standard coffin. If it was difficult burying the dead it would have been even harder digging them up again when the earth was loose and more liable to slippage and the coffin and its contents would have started to decompose. Getting a coffin into a grave merely requires it to be lowered in on ropes. Getting it out again means some poor soul had to risk serious injury or inadvertent premature burial by descending into the newly opened grave and manhandling the coffin into a position to run the ropes underneath it to allow it to be hoisted out. And once they had done all that and the police, the lawyers, and the medical men had finished their grisly inspections, they were expected to rebury the corpse all over again. Exhumations would not have been the highlight of the job.  

Not all exhumed bodies were reburied in the same cemetery of course, some would have been taken elsewhere to be buried. In October 1890 the Canterbury Journal, Kentish Times and Farmers' Gazette reported on the case of a restless widow who could not bear to be too far away from her deceased husband, a former clergyman;

A SINGULAR STORY. A BODY THRICE EXHUMED AND FOUR TIMES INTERRED. A widow lady named Jcnes last week took her departure from Canterbury accompanied by the remains of her husband, who expired two years ago. Mr. Jones, who, we believe, was a clergyman, died at Portsmouth, where his body was duly buried. Subsequently his widow removed to Highgate, and having obtained the authority of the Home Secretary her husband’s body was exhumed and re-interred in Cemetery, having been previously enclosed in a second coffin. About eighteen months ago Mrs. Jones came to reside in apartments in Canterbury, and again she had her husband’s remains exhumed, the corpse being brought to this city and buried in the new Cemetery at St. Thomas’s Hill, the ceremony being conducted by the Rev. P. W. Loosemore. Before re-interment another coffin was made in which the other two were placed. Once more Mrs. Jones determined to shift her place of residence, and again she obtained the permission of the Home Secretary to exhume her husband’s remains. Mr. Wiltshier, of Canterbury, was employed to make another coffin and convey the corpse to Liverpool, whither the lady has now gone to reside. Her husband’s body has thus been re-interred for the fourth time. The expense incurred on each occasion of the exhumation and re-interment is stated to have been about £30. A marble cross was erected over the grave of Mr. Jones in Canterbury cemetery with the inscription engraved thereon “rests from his labours.” A more remarkable case than this was probably never heard of.

Ensconced within four separate coffins Mr Jones would have resembled a Russian doll by the time of his final burial.  Mrs Jones would have found it much more convenient to travel with her dead husband accommodated in a cinerary urn but cremation was a novel and rather radical method of disposing of the dead at the time. The first crematorium in the UK had been founded in Woking in 1878 with the first cremation, of a horse (they were just practicing), on 17 March 1879. Legal objections prevented further cremations taking place until 1884 and so Mrs Jones was left with little choice but to continually exhume her husband if she wished to carry on visiting him regularly whilst peregrinating around England. 

The Reverend Henry Walker of 1 Fitzroy Square was a retired clergyman who died at home om 10 March 1844 and was buried in the recently opened new cemetery at Highgate. Within a few days of being buried his eldest daughter, Jane Power, and her husband Edward who was a barrister, complained to the authorities that the “deceased had been found dead in his chair, and that he might have come to his death from an over-dose of pills of morphia, either administered by his own hand or that of someone else.” They suspected foul play and on Edward Power’s insistence the recently buried clergyman was exhumed and an inquest held into his death. Chairing the inquest was the hyperactive Thomas Wakley, who in addition to his duties as the West Middlesex coroner was also editor of The Lancet and the Member of Parliament for Finsbury. The Inquest was held in the Gatehouse Tavern on Highgate Hill just a short walk from the cemetery which is where the coroner and the jury started the day by viewing the exhumed body, still in its lead coffin, in the catacombs. After seeing Rev. Walkers corpse, the party returned to the Gatehouse and the inquest proper began.  Thomas Wakley told the jury that it been his ‘painful duty’ to request Rev. Walker’s disinterment because “a member of the family had demanded that an inquest should be held. The law rendered it imperative on the Coroner in whose jurisdiction the body should be, when such a demand was made to hold an inquest, and however much he might regret it in the present instance, he was compelled to hold that inquiry.” Jane Walker, the clergyman’s widow was called to give evidence first. She told the packed inquest that “she found him dead, or, as she thought at first, fainting, in his sitting room, on the 10th of March, about nine in the morning. He was seated in his chair, partly undressed.” She had called for help and the servants had gone to fetch the vicar’s surgeon from his house in Charlotte Street, just a short walk away from the Square. After a short examination the surgeon pronounced his patient dead. A distraught Mrs Walker told the inquest “he took no opiates that l am aware of, nor any other medicine but that which was prescribed for him. He had never made any attempt on his life. He was too religious and good a man. I solemnly believe that he died a natural death.” Next to give evidence was Mary, another of the vicar’s daughters. She told the inquest that she had given her father his two morphia pills at 8pm the previous evening. According to the Morning Post of Friday 31 March 1848 the Edward Power then barraged the coroner with questions to be put to his sister-in-law; 

Mr. Power here submitted a number of questions to the Coroner to be asked of this witness, to which she replied with great bitterness — My father was never under any restraint during my recollection. I never supposed he was not of sound mind. I never heard any one breathe anything of the sort except that man (pointing to Mr. Power). He is the libeller. M. Power said the restraint being denied, he begged to hand in a letter, which, if the witness admitted it as her father's handwriting, he demanded should be read to the Jury. The witness having done so, the letter, which was addressed to his eldest daughter, Mrs. Power, was read. It was dated the 8th of February, 1848, and addressed "Mrs. Jane Power, to the care of Mr. Tims, 3, Charlotte-street, to be called for." The following is the extract referring to the restraint: —

"My dear Jane — Soon after we parted yesterday it poured in such torrents that I became quite nervous on your account, as well as for the dear little girl, fearing both might take cold by exposing yourselves to it. I shall be glad to hear from you to-morrow that you may both have escaped such danger; but I must beg of you to direct your letter to Mr. Tims, 3, Charlotte-street, Fitzroy-square, till called for, and I will give : Mr. Tims instructions on that score; for your handwriting (is known by the whole family, and by the Seymours. It might very possibly involve me in dispute, which I, in my I present nervous state wish to avoid." The remainder of the letter was upon family, matters, and was signed — "Yours very affectionately, " H. Walker."

When Jane Power was called to the witness stand she told the inquest that she had last seen her father on 06 March when he had visited her at home in Pimlico; “In answer to questions put by the Coroner, at the suggestion of Mr. Power, The witness said deceased told her he was much worried at home, and was very uncomfortable. He expressed a wish to go abroad again, and on her remarking that he was too weak, deceased replied that he could pay for a nurse, who would treat him quite as well as he had been treated at home; and that he could be buried cheaper abroad. The witness also complained that she and her husband had been refused to attend the funeral.” There was clearly an ongoing family feud between Jane and her husband and the rest of the family. The poor Rev. Walker seems to have felt stuck in the middle and no doubt the family squabbles didn’t help improve his ailing health. Mr Wakley was no doubt exasperated by Edward Powers’ continual interventions in the inquest, trying to inflate every minor discrepancy in the testimony into a cause for grave doubt about how his father-in-law had died. And what were the Powers actually alleging?  Were they seriously trying to imply that the rest of the family had conspired to murder the Reverend? Or that he had taken his own life? Edward Powers seemed to veer between these two possibilities without coming to a clear accusation. Eventually Mr Wakley cut to the chase by calling the very eminent Dr. Richard Quain of Harley Street (great grandfather of Ian Fleming and author of Quain’s Dictionary of Medicine) to the stand. Dr Quain had been asked to carry out the post mortem on the Rev. Walker’s exhumed body. He told the inquest that he had found “considerable disease in the kidneys and urinary passages. The heart was very large, and the brain soft and much irritated by a point of bone pressing upon it. He had subjected the blood, some serum found in the pericardium, and the contents of the stomach, to the most perfect analysis, and the result was, that there was a considerable amount of urea in the blood, and the most minute traces of morphia in the stomach.” He told Mr Wakley that the cause of death was the state of the hear, kidneys and the urea in the blood. He was unequivocal in declaring the “death to have resulted from purely natural causes.” At this point the Coroner declared that there was no point in protracting the inquiry, that the jury should consider its verdict, which could of course only follow Dr Quain’s conclusion of death by natural causes. Edward Powers refused to bow to the inevitable however and leapt to his feet and demanded that Mr Wakley read to the jury once again the original grounds on which permission to hold the inquest had been granted. With gritted teeth the Coroner complied with the request reminding the jury that the allegation had been that the “deceased had been found dead in his chair, and that he might have come to his death from an over-dose of pills of morphia, either administered by his own hand or that of someone else.”  The reminder did Powers no good, the jury swiftly returned the only possible verdict of death by natural causes. We do not know if the breach between Jane and the rest of her family was ever mended but it seems unlikely.  

Thomas Wakley’s successor as Coroner for Central Middlesex was the equally energetic Dr Edwin Lankester who also a surgeon, the president of the British Association, an esteemed naturalist and friend of both Charles Darwin and T.H. Huxley. In September 1866 he was in charge of the inquest into the death of Richard Golding an 80-year-old retired engraver who despite being a man of some means had died in filthy lodgings in Stebbington Street, Somers Town the previous December and buried at Highgate on 2nd January. The new Home Secretary, Spencer Walpole, has signed an order for Golding’s exhumation due to allegations that his last medical attendant, a Dr James Part of Camden Road, may have unduly influenced his patient into making a will out in his favour and then poisoned him.  Golding had been a successful engraver when younger; Benjamin West had asked him to engrave his ‘Death of Nelson’, Robert Smirke his illustrations for Don Quixote and Gil-Blas and, amongst many others, a portrait of Princess Charlotte of Wales after the painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence. He made a lot of money during the years he was in demand but his career stalled when he was middle aged and he went into semi-retirement, living off his capital and passing his time angling. For over 20 years he lodged with a mother and her unmarried daughter, both called Frances Southgate at their house in Eve Terrace on Pancras Road. 15 months before his death he had suddenly decided to change his lodgings and moved into Mrs Todd’s rather run-down premises in Stebbington Street, Oakley Square, just five minutes away in Somers Town. The Southgates visited Golding in his new quarters and were present when he died during the Christmas holidays.

The inquest was held at the Angel Inn on Highgate High Street and after formally commencing the proceedings the Coroner’s first act was to send the jury off to Highgate Cemetery to view the body warning them that “this body had been interred since Christmas last.” When the green faced jurymen returned to the Angel the first witness called was William Booth, upholsterer and undertaker of Camden Road who confirmed that he had been the undertaker responsible for burying Golding (on the instructions of Dr. Part), that he had viewed the body exhumed at Highgate and he was certain that it was Richard Golding. Next up was Frances Southgate the daughter. She told the inquest that she had been to see Golding on Christmas day and that he was in bed with a cold. He refused to see a doctor and instead was determined to make a will. She went back to see him on Boxing day and found him worse. This time he agreed to see a doctor and sent her off to fetch Dr Part from Camden Road. According to The Express of 14 September 1866 Frances then said:

he came on Boxing-day about 3 o'clock. I was there when he came, and although I was not in the room, I heard him give Dr Part instructions for his will to give to a solicitor. He gave him the pictures, plate, and portfolios, and I heard him mention my own and my mother's names. He said, "Frances Southgate, widow, and Frances Southgate, jun." I did not hear what was said because of the noise of the children, but I heard him tell Dr Part that he had received great kindness from my mother. Dr Part said to me at the door, "Mr. Golding has left a legacy for you and your mother, and at your mother's death the whole will come to you." Dr Part promised to send a nurse, but none came. The deceased seemed better in the afternoon of Boxing-day, and the day after he seemed much better, and ate two rounds of toast. I think I was there the whole day. That afternoon Dr Part brought his solicitor and Captain Brooker, who was his son-in-law. He did not tell Mr. Golding that Captain Brooker was his son-in-law, but he called Mrs. Part "mother." I never heard the will read. I did not see Mr. Golding sign the will, but he told me all about it when they were gone. He laid hold of my hand and said, "I am glad I have made my will, Fanny. I have left your mother £700, and I have left you £700, and I have left Dr Part my pictures in the portfolios and £50. He is well paid. He has got my will, and is executor."  

When Frances went back to see Golding the following day, she found him in convulsions and sent for Dr Part who limited his treatment to a little sherry and water and a couple of pills. Golding died three hours later and Frances claimed Dr Part immediately removed a pocket book with £40 in bank notes in it and two silver watches. Golding had died in his trousers and much to the horror of Miss Southgate the doctor said he should be buried in them. Mrs Southgate the mother was also present at this point and when she objected the doctor told her that he was the executor and he could send Golding’s body for dissection if he wanted to. Mr Beard, the solicitor acting for Dr Part asked her about a bag of money she had tried to remove from Golding’s room on the day of his death. She told Beard that Dr Part had demanded that the money should he handed over to him, which she did. Beard asked her if Dr Part had told her that there was £110 missing from the bag and she burst into tears and said “yes, after he had taken it all away by himself.” Dr Lankester, clearly feeling uncomfortable about this line of questioning wondered if it had any relevance to the cause of death. Beard contended that “as this witness had charged Dr Part with ransacking the house and taking away silver watches and money, he had a right to show her conduct in the matter.” The coroner said that he had heard enough of this part of the case and dismissed the witness. The solicitor who prepared the will was then called. He described the general circumstances in which he had drawn up the will and obtained Golding’s signature. He admitted that Dr Part had given him his initial instructions; “I prepared the will in accordance with those instructions. Having done so I attended and saw the deceased, and read it over in his presence. I read the whole of it. The decreased was perfectly sensible, and spoke of knowing Dr Part for upwards of 20 years, and having great regard for him as being connected with the Artists' Fund. The will was read to deceased in the absence of Dr Part, while Dr Part had gone to get the ink for him to sign it. After I had read it deceased said it was quite right, and executed it in my presence.” As the results of the post mortem were not yet available the inquest was adjourned at this point.

When the inquest was resumed Mr Beard insisted that Frances Southgate be recalled. He then proceeded to examine her in some detail about the pills Golding had taken the day before his death. She claimed the pills were provided by Dr Part. How did she know that? Beard asked. Because Golding has told her, she said and because the pill box had Dr Part’s name on it. The pills made Golding drowsy she claimed but you did not mention this to Dr Part when he attended, Beard asked and she admitted she had not. Southgate told the inquest that “previous to the death of the deceased he never expressed a wish to be buried in his trowsers. He always wished to be buried in a Christian-like way.” Mr Beard asked her if she knew that Prince Albert had been buried in his trousers and she had to confess that she did not. Mr Beard produced letters to his client from Frances Southgate accusing him of stealing Goldings property, inveigling him into making a will in his favour and poisoning him. He also read letters from his client to Miss Southgate accusing her of stealing the £110 mentioned the previous day and of making up the accusations against him because she had been disappointed to find that Golding had only left her £100 in his will not the £700 she had expected. Mrs Todd, Golding’s landlady was recalled but had nothing much to say other than she had made cocoa for the deceased but he had been too ill to drink it. Then Professor Julian Edward Disbrowe Rodgers was called to give his evidence on the results of the post mortem examination of the deceased (The Sun 20 September 1866);

[the professor said] I have made an examination of the stomach, spleen, liver, and other portions of the intestines of the deceased. I first made a search for alkaloids, and I found a mere trace of morphia. I have made a special search for strychnine, and anything that would produce convulsions, without discovering any trace. I have also made an examination for metallic poison; and here I would say, as I am bound to speak the truth, that in the stomach I found a small quantity of arsenic. In the intestines I did not find a sufficient quantity to say it was arsenic, and in the liver none. I need not say that the greatest care had been taken in preparing for the examination. I discovered the arsenic by Reinch's test. I made a special examination of the liver, and from finding arsenic absent I came to the conclusion that no quantity of it had been swallowed that could destroy life or shorten it for any length of time, for had that been the case I must have found it in the liver.

Coroner—You are quite sure you found arsenic in the stomach?
Witness—Yes, quite sure.
Coroner—Did you look for other poisons?
Witness—Yes, and found none.
Coroner—Have you formed an opinion as to the cause of death?
Witness —Yes. There is nothing inconsistent in a man so afflicted as deceased was with bronchitis. Convulsions sometimes precede death from bronchitis. The throwing up of the arms would be an effect to get air.
Coroner—Where do you think the arsenic came from?
Witness—My impression is that there must have been an error in making of the medicine.
A Juror—Do you think the arsenic you discovered could have been contained in the cocoa the deceased took a short time before his death.
Witness—No. Had it been made in an enamelled saucepan, that might possibly account for it.

Mrs. Todd was here again recalled, and in answer to the coroner, said she did not boil the cocoa in a saucepan. She made it first into a paste in a teacup, and then poured boiling water upon it....

Dr Part, at the termination of the evidence of Professor Rodgers, was examined, and said that his great endeavour was to alleviate the sufferings of Mr. Golding, who had been during his illness very much neglected. He denied ever using any persuasion to induce the deceased to make a will in his favour.

The Jury’s verdict was death by natural causes. No charges were ever brought against either Frances Southgate or Dr James Part.

On Friday 23 July 1869 the Islington Gazette reported on another of Dr Lankester’s cases this one involving the exhumation of an 11 week old baby who had died following a vaccination of cow pox (intended to provide at least partial immunity from the deadly small pox which in the 1790’s, the time Edward Jenner discovered innoculation, was killing around 10% of the UK population every year (without a single suggestion of a lockdown)). The cause of death was given as erysipelas, a bacterial infection of the skin also known as St Anthony’s fire;

On Monday, Dr Lankester held an inquiry at the “Brookfield Arms" Tavern, Highgate New-town, relative to the death of William Emery, infant son of a ham and tongue dealer, of Great Portland-street, Marylebone, who was alleged to have died through the introduction of impure matter into the system in the operation of vaccination. The inquiry resulted from one held a few days ago by Mr. Bedford, the coroner for Westminster, in which the same allegation was made, both children being vaccinated at Dr Allen's surgery, 11, Soho-square. The verdict of the jury in the case before Mr. Bedford was one of death from natural causes, Dr Clark stating that the death was due to erysipelas, consequent on vaccination, not from the vaccine matter, but from the punctures in the arm, the vaccine not taking effect. Mr. Emery was present at that inquest, and, having lost his child from the same cause, pressed for an inquiry. His child was buried at Highgate Cemetery, but in conformity with the wishes of the father, the body was exhumed, and the present inquiry was held. Mr. Lewis senior attended on the part of the father of the deceased; and Mr Mirams represented Dr Allen.

Mr Aaron Emery, father of the deceased, identified the body as that of his son, who was vaccinated at Dr Allen’s establishment, the 31st of May, being then eleven weeks old. Four wounds were made in the right arm, one of which appeared to be very deep, and bled very much. On the 7th June the child was taken back, the four vesicles having taken, and two of them were opened, and some of the matter introduced into the arm another child. Two days after symptoms of a dangerous character set in, principally proceeding from the largest wound, whence the matter had not been taken. The inflammation spread all over the arm, which swelled to double its size. Dr Allen and his assistant attended, and the swelling decreased in the arm, but went into the body, back, legs, and scrotum. From the 9th day of June till its death on the 4th July, the child appeared be unconscious. It only dozed, and started up shrieking with agony.

 Mr. Thomas Masse y Harding, F.R.C.S., said he had been a public vaccinator for more than twelve years. He had made a post -mortem examination of the deceased, and found, notwithstanding its illness, that it was a very fine, well-nourished child. The immediate cause of death was exhaustion from erysipelas produced by the vaccination —he thought by the cow-pox virus being introduced into the wounds. He had vaccinated from 4000 to 5,000 children, and he had never had death. His brother and Dr Ballard, of Islington, had also vaccinated some thousands, and they had only had one death each. If erysipelas set after vaccination he might not know it, as parents would take their children to their own doctors. An unclean lancet or other instrument used for making the excoriations for the reception of the lymph might produce erysipelas. If matter were taken from an arm and introduced into another after the eighth day it was likely to produce erysipelas, the matter becoming deteriorated. The matter was never taken from the cow. He had vaccinated from 4,000 to 5,000 children, and it was not taken from the cow, but from arm to arm. The cow-pox was similar the small-pox.

Some discussion here ensued, in which was introduced the discovery of vaccination by Dr Jenner, and its ultimate adoption. It was shown that out of 1,600 patients admitted into the Small-pox Hospital, 1,300 had been previously vaccinated : but those who had been vaccinated received the disease (which only came once in a lifetime) in a very mild form—it was modified, and less severe in those successfully vaccinated; 30 out of every 100 were susceptible and liable to small-pox if exposed to it, but it would not be fatal. Mr. Harding (in reply  to Mr. Lewis) said he had seen the child from which deceased had been vaccinated, and it was perfectly healthy, as were also the father and mother. Dr George Allen, 11, Soho-square, said he had been a vaccinator since he was 15 years old, and had performed as many operations as 100 in a day, and he had never seen fatal case before. He believed the erysipelas was produced after vaccination, through some fault in the child. He knew nothing of the children who were vaccinated before or after Mr. Emery's child. Before he administered the matter to a child he did not inquire whence it came. The matter was not direct from the cow, and it would not deteriorate for years. He had used such matter for thirty years. Mr. Harding said Mr. Badcock, of Brighton, used supply the institutions with lymph from the cow. The jury ultimately returned a verdict of "Died from erysipelas, caused by vaccination."


Wednesday 9 September 2020

The dead man's beard and other tales of exhumation at Highgate cemetery (Part One)

Professor Pepper's statement in the course of his evidence in the case in the Druce case that the growth of hair ceases very soon after death, and that it is quite impossible for a corpse clean shaven to develop a bushy beard, is emphatically controverted by Dr. W. A. Jones. The latter says that he was concerned in case at Bedminster in 1881, in which the body of a man was exhumed after three months owing to allegations of poisoning. The man was clean shaven when he died, but the exhumed body had a large beard. There is, too, the instance of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's wife, whose body was exhumed in Highgate Cemetery to recover the MSS. of book of poems which her husband in his grief had placed in the coffin. It was found that the deceased lady's hair had grown to an extraordinary length, and had become so entangled with the MSS. that had to be cut to recover the volume.

Grantham Journal - Saturday 11 January 1908

Highgate was the location of London’s two most celebrated cases of exhumation; the pre-Raphaelite model Elizabeth Siddal who died in 1862 and was dug up again in October 1869, and the proprietor of the  Baker Street Bazaar, Thomas Charles Druce who died just a couple of years after Lizzie in 1864 but had to wait 43 years for his brief disinterment in December 1907. Lizzie Siddal’s unearthing was a furtive affair carried out in the dead of night by the light of a bonfire whilst T.C. Druce’s was carried out in such a blaze of publicity that the cemetery had to be closed to keep out the crowds and a temporary shed constructed over the grave to prevent snooping by the press and public.

The Druce-Portland affair is a well-known (and complex) story which became a cause célèbre in the early years of the last century. Thomas Charles Druce was a London businessman with obscure origins who worked himself up from being a salesman on Oxford Street to becoming sole proprietor of the Baker Street Bazaar, a sort of forerunner of the department store whose upper floors were once occupied by Madame Tussaud’s waxworks. Druce had a complicated personal life involving two marriages, one of which wasn’t strictly legal as the bride had falsely declared herself to be of age at the ceremony, and a sizeable brood of children from both wives. He died in 1864 of complications arising from a fistula and was buried beneath a three-ton memorial at Highgate Cemetery. 34 years later Ann Marie Druce, the widow of one of Thomas’ sons by his second marriage, petitioned the Ecclesiastical Court of London to have her father in law exhumed. She claimed that T.C. Druce had at least two alternative identities and had been leading a double secret life, one as a Dr Harmer who she had met when he had held a position in a Lunatic Asylum and the other as the 5th Duke of Portland, the reclusive, eccentric and extremely wealthy owner of Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire. Marie claimed that the Duke assumed the identity of TC Druce and faked his death in 1864 when he had decided to retire to Welbeck. Although she may not have been entirely rational Marie had done her homework and had a significant amount of supporting evidence to back her superficially implausible claims. The Ecclesiastical Court dismissed her case nevertheless but the indefatigable widow refused to accept defeat and continued to pursue her efforts to get her father in law exhumed through other courts. As the matter rumbled on other Druce relatives were drawn into the fray, no doubt attracted by the sizeable estate of the deceased Duke who had never married and whose title and possession s had passed to distant relatives on his death in 1879. Marie’s case came to an abrupt end in 1903 when she admitted to a lunatic asylum but the battle to get Druce exhumed to prove that the coffin contained only lead weights was continued by George Hollamby Druce, an Australian grandson of Thomas via his first marriage, who financed his legal battle by selling shares in a limited company (premiums to be paid on settlement of the case). In 1907 the case finally reached the courts via a perjury charge against Herbert Druce, one of Thomas’ sons who had been with him when he died. It was to settle this case that the order to exhume Druce was finally signed by the Home Secretary.  

To thwart public prurience not only was the cemetery closed during the exhumation but an L shaped shed measuring 40 by 35 feet was built over the Druce grave at the insistence of the Home Office. Police patrolled the grounds of the cemetery from closing time and all through the night of 29 December and next day, according to the Falkirk Herald “the time officially fixed for the commencement of the operations was eight o’clock, but an hour before that 200 police constables relieved the watchers of the night, and posted themselves in the pathways and behind clumps of trees at all the entrances to the cemetery, and upon prominent points of vantage within it. They even guarded the doors of the grave-diggers’ cottages in Swain’s Lane lest some adventurous person might seek to use the windows overlooking the grounds.” Inside the shed ‘a small group of gentlemen’ and a larger group of workmen gathered. The gravediggers had to remove ‘mould and sod’ from the top of the grave then remove the massive flagstone which covered the entrance to the vault. Once the vault was opened an electric light was lowered into and it and a ladder was placed inside. The workmen first removed the coffin of Mrs Druce using ropes to pull her up into the shed and then removed the slabs covering the coffin of T.C. Druce himself. Before it was brought up a photographer was summoned to take a photograph of the coffin in situ. The account goes on:

The coffin was allowed to lie at the bottom of the tomb awaiting the arrival of Dr Pepper and Sir Thomas Stevenson, who appeared promptly at the appointed time. The men once more descended, and ropes being got round the casket it was hoisted to the surface with the utmost care. It was an old-fashioned coffin covered with cloth and studded, panel style.' with brass nails. One of its six brass handles had come off, but otherwise all that was amiss was some fraying of the cloth and a little wasting of the edge of the lid. Careful measurements were made of the dimensions by the professional gentlemen, and both Dr Pepper and Sir Thomas Stevenson made a detailed note of all these particulars, as well as of the actual state of the casket. The name-plate having been washed, the inscription became plainly visible; “Thomas Charles Druce, Esq., died 28th December, 1864, in his 71st year.” A photograph was taken, after which the gravediggers were ejected, and two workmen employed by the undertakers entered the shed, Unscrewed the lid with powerful pliers, and showed the lead inner coffin, which bore on its surface the same inscription as that on the outer oaken and cloth-covered coffin. Further measurements were taken and noted. A workman next cut through the lead all round the outer edge of the upper surface; the lid was removed, bringing away with it the top of the innermost wooden shell which was attached to it.

Then there was displayed a shrouded human figure, which proved to be that an aged bearded man. It is understood that after the Home Office experts and the other interested persons had made all the observations and records which the circumstances of the case demanded, steps were immediately taken to replace the coffin, to restore the vault to its original condition, and to replace the monument by which has hitherto been covered.

If anyone thought that the discovery of a body in the coffin rather than a set of lead weights would be the end of the case they were to be disappointed. As the London Evening Standard reported just two days after the exhumation, you can’t keep a good conspiracy theory down, and the principal claimant was already revelling in the potential ramifications of this new development;  

Mr. George Hollamby Druce, writing to the Daily Express, says that one vital question is who was the man, and what manner of man was he whose body was disinterred at Highgate and adds:—“What a maze of complications would ensue if it should turn out that the body interred in 1864 was that of man who was known as the Duke, while the man known as Druce lived on to personate and masquerade as the Duke!”

Druce’s beard now came into its own as a matter for contention. Ann Marie had always alleged that the clean-shaven Duke of Portland donned a false beard when posing as T.C. Druce; she even had photographs to show the transformation. These daguerreotypes were in themselves controversial. The reclusive Duke of Portland had never been known to subject himself to a studio sitting for a photographer so Ann Marie’s supposed image was immediately an object of suspicion. The picture did bear an uncanny likeness to a photo of Druce in full beard but the defence in the trial said that both photographs were of Druce, one clean shaven (apart from his mutton chop whiskers) and the other bearded. Virtually every witness called who had met either the Duke of Portland or T.C. Druce was quizzed about their facial hair at some point in their testimony. Contradictory responses abounded. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph on 03 December 1907 under the subheading  “Mr Druce, his change of whiskers” reported on the evidence of 73 year old Robert Cobington Naylor, of 73, Cromer Street, Gray’s Inn Road, who had worked as a photographer for Southwood Brothers, a studio opposite the Baker Street Bazaar, from 1860 to 1862;

Mr. Goodman: Have you any recollection of gentleman named Druce being a customer there? — Yes, decidedly.
Was he Thomas Charles Druce? — Yes; the proprietor the Baker Street Bazaar.
Have you yourself photographed him at Southwoods? — Yes.
Once, or more than once? — l think four times.
Did these occasions spread over the two years you were there, 186l and 1862? — I think the first time was in the early part of 1861, and the last time August 1862.
Had he always a beard on when you photographed him? — No.
Had he sometimes? — Yes.
Had he always, side whiskers? — No.
Had he sometimes? — Yes.
Did he wear a moustache? — Sometimes.
The three photographs were then handed to Mr. Naylor—the large one and two smaller ones. He identified all three photographs of Thomas Charles Druce and said that the large one was not his own work but the other two were produced by his firm. The beard, side whiskers and moustache worn by Mr. Druce were all false, but in the two small photographs it was natural hair which appeared. 

Naylor went to explain that when he left Southwood Brothers he had moved to Hastings. He had visited London in 1865 to go to the funeral of Tom Sayers the boxer (at Highgate cemetery) who had photographed with his dog at Hastings the year previously. Naylor told the court “that he met two friends while in London—John Rawlins and Mr. Batting, artificial florist, and they went together to the Baker Street Bazaar. It was in the afternoon, about four o’clock, and when they reached the Bazaar they saw Thomas Charles Druce in the hall, going into the waxworks. He was standing up in a frock coat, muffled up, and had a beard on.” Naylor said he had acknowledged Druce, and Druce had replied with a gesture. All this was odd because Druce had died over a year earlier. When challenged Naylor told the court he had not heard of Druce’s “supposed death and was therefore not surprised to see him.”  It was out of such muddled testimony that the prosecution hoped to create doubt against more reliable witnesses such as Druce’s sons. Following the exhumation though the judge was having none of it. He allowed the prosecution lawyers to quiz Professor Augustus Joseph Pepper on whether it was possible for a beard to grow post mortem but the venerable professor explained that it was not, that human hair did not continue to grow after death and any appearance to the contrary was simply due to shrinkage of the skin. On Monday 06 January the counsel for the prosecution finally faced up to the inevitable and withdrew their case adding “"I should be acting entirely contrary to the best traditions of my profession if I were to persist in this case."  Mr Plowden the Police Magistrate overseeing the case commented that this was not only a “wise and proper course, but if you will permit me say so, it is the only course which was open to counsel of your experience.” Speculating on how “the myth that confused him [Druce] and the fifth Duke of Portland in one and the same Personality ever arose would be idle to speculate on: sufficient say that the case is a fresh resultant of that love of the marvellous which is so deeply engrained in human nature, and is likely to be remembered in legal annals as affording one more striking proof of the truly unfathomable depths of human credulity.”

The Rossetti family grave in Highgate

A Rossetti Tomb Mystery. Professor Pepper, in his evidence at the Druce trial, called to prick one bubble, demolished a second. We are all familiar with the story of Rossetti's sacrifice; of his burying the manuscript of his poems with the body of his wife; of his yielding to the importunity and entreaties of friends, seven-and-a-half years after the interment, to have the manuscripts uncoffined. At dead of night, with a fire burning at the side of the tomb, the coffin was brought to the surface and opened, and the poems were removed from it. Mr. Hall Caine tells us that the beautiful golden hair of the dead woman had grown about the poems, and so enclosed them that it had to be cut. But Professor Pepper told the Court the other day that hair does not grow after death that such lengthening as is apparent results from shrinkage of the skin.
The Sketch 15 January 1908

It was inevitable perhaps that the Druce case would bring to mind that other celebrated Highgate exhumation, of Lizzie Siddal in 1869. The Siddal exhumation has already mentioned during the case itself during an argument in court about whether the Home Secretary’s permission was required before an exhumation could be carried out. The arguments about Druce’s post mortem growth of beard instantly reminded many commentators of the legend of the miraculous post mortem preservation of Lizzie Siddal’s corpse and the superabundant growth of her auburn hair filling the coffin and entangling itself in her husband’s manuscript. In January 1885, little more than 15 years after the exhumation, that most pragmatic of publications, the Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette, was reporting An Anecdote of Rossetti in a manner more suitable to a fairy-tale than a news story;  

When Gabriel Dante Rossetti was very young, scarcely more than a boy, he was deeply in love with a young girl; and having a poet’s gift, he sang a poet’s love in numerous sonnets and verses to her. She died young, and by her wish the manuscripts of these poems were placed in her casket, and laid under her head, so that even in the last sleep they should be, as they always had been, kept beneath her pillow. Years passed and Rossetti’s fame grew, until every line of his composition became precious, and some of those who prized his writing most asked him for copies of the songs that had been buried. He had kept no copies, or they had been lost. At all events, he could furnish none; and when they asked him to re-write the verses, he declared that he was utterly unable to do so. At last his friends importuned him for permission to have the original manuscripts exhumed. He consented after some hesitation, and after all the necessary preliminaries having been complied with, the grave which had been sealed for many years was opened in the presence of a wondering few. Then a strange thing was found. The casket containing the poems had proved to be of perishable material, and its cover had crumbled away The long tresses of the girl had grown after death, and had twined and intertwined among the leaves of the poet’s paper, coiling around the written words of love in a loving embrace long after death had sealed the lips and dimmed the eyes that had made response to that love.

Lizzie Siddal was a talented artist in her own right - this is one of her drawings
Dante Gabriel Rossetti met the 20 year dressmaker Elizabeth Siddall in 1849 when she was modelling for his friend Walter Deverell. She quickly became Rossetti’s model and muse and, somewhat less quickly, his wife (in 1860).  Rossetti’s middle class family did not approve of the working class Siddall and their relationship was always troubled. Lizzie’s health was also poor – at the time of her wedding she was so frail that she had to be carried into church. Her health was not improved by a pregnancy that resulted in a still birth in 1861 and following that trauma she quickly became pregnant again. She died of a laudanum overdose in February 1862. The death was judged to be accidental by the coroner at her inquest but rumours persisted that she had killed herself deliberately and had left a suicide note pinned to her nightdress which Rossetti had removed and destroyed.  She was buried, along with Rossetti’s manuscript, in the Rossetti family plot in Highgate. Seven years later is was Rossetti’s agent Charles Augustus Howell (“the vilest wretch I ever came across” according to Swinburne, “a base, treacherous, unscrupulous and malignant fellow,” in Burn-Jones’ view and for Ford Maddox Brown “one of the biggest liars in existence”) who persuaded him to exhume Lizzie and retrieve the missing poems. He arranged the exhumation and attended on Rossetti’s behalf. He was also generally acknowledged as the source of the story of Lizzie’s uncorrupted corpse and of the growth of her hair after death. 

Lizzie's memorial stone of the Rossetti grave