The Coroner And The Jury
An inquest was held, yesterday, before Dr. Henry Churton, the coroner of West Cheshire, into the circumstances attending the death of Dr. John Cunningham, Lincoln House*, Seabank Road, Liscard, who died at his residence yesterday morning from the effects of morphine poisoning. Dr. Cunningham was a young man of 35, and was a bachelor living with his sister at the address mentioned. He has settled in the district for several years. He appeared in his usual good spirits up to the time of his retiring to bed on Wednesday evening, and his suicide came as a painful shock to his relatives and personal friends, none of whom had the faintest suspicion that his mind was affected in any way. The inquest was held at the residence in the afternoon.
The first witness called was Maria Fleetwood Cunningham, deceased's sister. She disposed that at half-past eight o'clock that morning she went to her brother's bedroom, and saw him in bed. She called his name, but he did not answer, and she noticed a change come over his face. Becoming suspicious, she went next door for Dr. Smith. She came and found Dr. Cunningham unconscious, and he died bout an hour later, in the presence of Dr. Smith. Dr. Craigmile, who had also been summoned, handed her the blue bottom, produced. It had contained hypodermic solution of morphine, and bore the label of "Theakstone chemist, New Brighton." The bottle was empty, and witness was told deceased had taken a very large dose of morphing. She could give no reason for his death. He had occasionally periods of depression, which lasted for several days. He had a tolerable practice, and he had said that he had a good foundation for a practice. He had not left any documents behind him.
At this point, Sergeant Swords handed to the coroner a letter, which was subsequently read, and was as follow :- "In my sober judgment this is the best thing I could do, as if I do not something more might happen. I feel unable to endure life much longer, and the reason appertains solely to myself. I hope no one will mourn my death, but if any one thinks of me at all, I hope it will only be to realise that my misery is ended." This was written in ink, and filled up the front page, and bore the signature "J. Cunningham." Then followed the words "turn over," and on the other side was written, in pencil, "If it had not been for the sake of my dear relatives and friends this would have happened long ago. I do hope they will look at it calmly and sensibly, and see that it is inevitable and for the best. My only grief now is that I am causing grief to others, but the sooner my sad life are forgotten the better. J.C."
The Foreman of the jury said he supposed Dr. Cunningham had taken some morphine, but he would have been better satisfied if somebody was there to say that he had died of poison.
The Coroner remarked that Dr. Cunningham had evidently contemplated suicide for a long time.
The Foreman thought they should have had someone there. -- It was mentioned that Dr. Smith resided next door to the house in which the inquest was being held, and an officer was sent for Dr. Smith. He returned and stated that Dr. Smith have just left his residence, having waited for an hour expecting to be called as a witness, and he could wait no longer. -- A juror remarked that it was evident that deceased had taken the poison as a draught, and not as an injection. -- The Coroner was proceeding to remark on the strength of the poison, saying deceased had taken a very large quantity no doubt, when the foreman interrupted, and said they had no evidence of the act itself. The juror asked if the doctor had said anything to deceased's brother-in-law, Mr. Wellington, who was in the room. -- The Coroner: You have his (deceased's) own words.
Mr. Wellington said Dr. Smith had told him that deceased had taken the poison.
The Foreman said that if Dr. Smith was there, and had said that they would be satisfied, but they had nothing to go on at present.
A juror said without a post-mortom they could not say that he had taken the poison.
The Coroner thought there was quite sufficient evidence to record a verdict without the slightest doubt. He sympathised with the family. No doubt the deceased had committed suicide whilst in a state of temporary insanity. His own opinion was that the deceased's trouble were entirely imaginary. These depressed fits, he thought, showed he had a weak mind, and was wretched.
The Foreman (to the jury) -- Are you satisfied with the evidence as it stands at present?
A Juror -- It is a great pity we did not have Dr. Smith here to say what he died of.
The Coroner -- That is what I think.
A Juror -- We cannot do without a post-mortem.
The Coroner said a post-mortem was out of the question. Dr, Cunningham had evidently poisoned himself. He had never seen a clearer case. Very likely it would have been better if the doctor had been there.
A Juror said he should think it a dereliction of duty if a decision were come to without a medical man's opinion.
The Coroner said they would be perfectly justified in coming to a decision, He had been in the profession himself for 60 years.
A Juror -- Your experience, no doubt, is good, Mr. Coroner, but you are not a medical man (Cries of "He is!")
The Juror. continuing, said that at all events ut was not satisfactory to him.
The Coroner -- Well, I don't think you look at the case as I do; not at all.
A Juror -- We are all aware of that.
The Foreman -- Are you satisfied gentlemen?
A Juror - We are all not all agreed. I call it a farce.
Here it was suggested that the chemist should be sent for, but the foreman pointed out that they would be in no better position than before.
The Coroner -- You have no faith or confidence in what I tell you, then?
The Foreman -- I think a medical man --
The Coroner (interrupting) -- I know all these things as well A B C. There is the morphine --
A Juror (interrupting) said the letter did not state he was going to take his life by morphine.
The Coroner retorted that it said as much.
The Foreman said they were not all unanimous, but there was a majority in favour of a verdict.
The Coroner said they must adjourn if they wanted medical evidence. They could not reduce the thing to an absolute certainty.
A Juror who had dissented from the coroner's view said he did not want to be an obstacle but he was not satisfied. It was a smothered up affair.
The Coroner said he could not wait any longer. This was the third inquest he had been engaged in that day, and if the jury were not satisfied they had better adjourn the inquiry. He felt it a positive piece of nonsense to have a post mortem in that case.
The Foreman said that it would not be necessary, but he would like to know if it was usual to take evidence second or third hand, as in this case.
Mr. Wellington was then sworn, and said that Dr. Smith had told him he was satisfied that deceased had taken morphine.
A Juror remarked it was quite time these formal coroner's inquests were put a stop to. It was nothing but babies talk.
The Coroner said he thought that Mr. Wellington's statement ought to satisfy them. -- A verdict was then returned that the deceased had committed suicide while in a state of temporary insanity. -- A Coroner, after remarking that anybody who took that poison must be insane, asked Mr. Wellington if the letter was in Dr. Cunningham's handwriting. -- Mr. Wellington replied that it was, and the inquiry then terminated.
*today it's the Dental Surgery on the corner of Lincoln Road