19th Century Coroners Practice in Bristol
Up to 1st May 1836 there were two coroners in Bristol. On the 1st May 1836 J.B. Grindon was elected sole coroner of Bristol under the Reform Act and his jurisdiction was greatly extended. He reported in 1839 that the number of Inquests was:-
in the year ending 1st August 1837 …………….12
in the year ending 1st August 1838 …………….153
in the year ending 1st August 1839 …………….146
The fee on each inquisition was £1 and described by J.B. Grindon as “a very shabby and insufficient fee”. No mileage was payable in Bristol. The only charges allowed to the coroner were the inquest payments under 1 Vict c 68 as shown in the scale set out below, and a “moderate” charge viz £2 2shillings per day for the attendance of the coroner upon the trial of his inquisitions of murder and manslaughter at the Gloucester Assizes
The following was the Schedule of Fees Disbursements &c allowed by the magistrates (in pounds, shilling and pence):-
To each of the jury ……………….8d
To each of the jury upon every sitting after adjournment …………..8d
To every witness requiring payment except medical witnesses …………8d
To every witness for every attendance on adjournment ……………..8d
For the use of the inquest room in ordinary cases …………….2s 6d
Ditto in extraordinary cases to be judged of by the coroner not exceeding …..10s
For the room in which the body is placed in ordinary cases ………….2s 6d
Ditto in extraordinary cases to be decided as above not exceeding ……….10s
To every witness requiring payment who shall reside out of the limits of the city and county of Bristol any sum not exceeding ………5s
For the expenses attending the disinterment of any dead body by order of the coroner any sum not exceeding …………………………….£1
For expenses incurred in relation to inquests upon dead bodies found in the water any sum not exceeding …………………..10s
There was no deputy coroner except during the illness or unavoidable absence of the coroner and then the coroner with sanction of magistrates may a temporary deputy this was done once only in Bristol between 1836 and 1839 when J.B. Grindon made his return on the inquests. The deputy was WO Hare, under-sheriff, and during his authority he held one inquest.
Joseph Baker Grindon was a Bristol Solicitor and wrote “A compendium of the Law of Coroners”, published first in 1822 and then as a sole authored book in 1850. His son, Leo Grindon was a noted botanist and adult educator, based in Manchester. Grindon seems to have been a coroner for many years.
One case recorded in which J.B. Grindon sat was the unsolved death of Nelly Pool. On 22 December 1832, William Hale went to milk his cows at Keynsham and found an old woman lying face down under the hedge, covered in blood. Four large stones and a clasp knife lay on the ground nearby but Hale could see no signs of blood on any of them. He spoke to the woman several times before she responded, saying only that she was ‘very bad’.
The farmer went to fetch some tea and bread and butter and she took it gratefully but vomited after the first few mouthfuls. Surgeon George Keddell found that the woman’s head was completely staved in, like a broken eggshell. Although he saw no hope of saving her life, he arranged for her to be transported to Bristol Infirmary, where chief surgeon Richard Smith found two skull fractures. Like Keddell, Smith believed that the woman’s condition was hopeless.
Injured though she was, she could still talk. In her strong Irish accent she said that she was Nelly Pool and had been in Bristol only nine weeks, having left her husband in Ireland. She insisted that she had been robbed of three half-sovereigns and three shillings and, when asked who ill-used her, she gave the name ‘Jem Brooks’. She was unable to offer any more information on Brooks, apart from saying that he was ‘always very bad'.
Smith summoned Irish nurse Eliza Daniel to Nelly’s bedside but Nelly revealed little more in her native tongue, although she mentioned a Mr Jones near ‘Kilbrook’ who had been very kind to her and told Eliza that she had worked in the fields picking weeds. Since she was convinced that she would survive her injuries, there was little point in taking a deposition, but a couple of days later she lapsed into a coma and died.
In spite of extensive enquiries, police found no further information about Nelly Pool, ‘Jem Brooks' or Mr Jones. Thus her murder — if it was indeed a murder — remains unsolved. J.B. Grindon held the inquest in the Dolphin Tavern on Marlborough Street in Bristol but could not find anyone responsible for the death.
Another case (unsolved) was reported in Carlisle, that of Melinda Payne, whose murdered and mutilated remains were discovered on the 19th of August 1855, buried beneath a heap of stones in a pathway of the Black Rock Glen, Hotwells. The Carlisle Journal reported that the inquest “was resumed at Bristol on Monday, before the coroner, Mr. Grindon. The coroner said since they last met very great exertions had been made by the police officers employed by the magistrates, and by many citizens who had taken an interest in the discovery of the murder, but up to the present time nothing of a tangible character had been discovered.”
“A great number of isolated facts had been brought to light, but links were wanting to enable them to connect them to the crime. Under all the very extraordinary and very mysterious circumstances of the case, he had thought it desirable to communicate with the magistrates on the subject, and they were all of opinion that he would not be justified in detaining the jury longer upon an investigation to the successful termination of which he could as yet find no clue. It would, moreover, for many reasons, be desirable now to leave it in the hands of the magistrates, by whom, if any further discovery should be made, the inquiry should be carried out.”
“The coroner then reviewed the evidence adduced, and said his decided opinion was that the child was murdered in open daylight by someone who had the means of concealing both of the body and himself, or herself, and that in the night it was carried to the place and deposited where it was found. The foreman of the jury called the coroner’s attention to some discrepancies in the evidence given by the mother and the witness Handy, especially as to the time at which the father was stated to have gone up the path of the glen.”
“The coroner said he was quite aware of the matter mentioned by the jury, but at present they could not connect them with the murder, and if they could not do so, were they to enter upon them they might only be suggestive to parties to defeat rather than to advance the ends of justice. The jury then consulted together, and returned a verdict: -
“That the deceased, Melinda Payne, was wilfully murdered at the parish of
Clifton, on Saturday the 18th of August, by some person or persons to the jurors unknown.”
(with thanks to Paul Townshend and also the Carlisle Journal)