The Death of William Casbon (~1835–1896)

In “William Problem, Solved!” I mentioned that William Casbon died by suicide. Here is the news article describing his death and the surrounding circumstances. I debated with myself whether to post this because it describes a very private and tragic matter, but I felt that the article was written with sensitivity and worth sharing. I hope my readers agree.

Herts and Cambs (England) Reporter and Royston Crow,
13 Mar 1896, p. 5, col. 6; newspaper image © The British Library Board; all rights reserved; with thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) (Click on image to enlarge)

Sad Suicide.—On Saturday the County Coroner (Mr. A. J. Lyon) held an inquest at the Railway Tavern respecting the death of William Casbon, aged 61 years, fruit grower.—Sarah Casbon, the widow, deposed that she last saw the deceased alive at 10 a.m. that day: they were in the garden together. She left her husband and shortly afterwards she was unable to find him. She searched for him and eventually found him in a shed at the bottom of the garden. He had a line round his neck and appeared to be quite dead. She cut the rope and laid him down. She then called to a man named Simpson and Dr. Bindloss was fetched. Her husband had been depressed since he came from the Hospital about two years and a half ago.—Alfred Gray, signalman, in the employ of the G.N.R. Company, at Meldreth, said about 10 10 a.m. Mrs. Casbon said to him “I hope you will be a friend to me, my poor husband has hung himself.” He went into the shed and saw the deceased lying on the ground. There was a cord on his breast and a piece of cord was hanging from a raft. Casbon was warm, but dead.—Mr. Bindloss, surgeon, Melbourn, stated that he was sent for about 10 45 a.m. When he arrived Casbon was dead. He had made an examination of the body. There was a coloured mark round the deceased’s neck as if caused by a cord, and death appeared to be due from the hanging. He attended deceased about two years ago for several weeks. He did not think deceased was bad enough to be placed under restraint, but he recommended a change of scene.—The jury returned a verdict of suicide whilst temporarily insane.

Note the jury’s verdict of “suicide whilst temporarily insane.” This verdict was commonly employed because of the peculiar legal status of suicide in England. Suicide, or “self-murder,” became a crime under under English common law in the 13th century. If proven guilty of this crime, the victim was denied a Christian burial and their property could be confiscated and given to the crown. A jury verdict of temporary insanity was frequently employed to avoid these criminal penalties. A series of Parliamentary acts gradually reduced the penalties for suicide, but it wasn’t until 1961 that suicide was completely decriminalized. Prior to that, survivors of suicide attempts could be fined or sentenced to prison terms for their crime.  

I don’t know why William was hospitalized two years before his death, but it appears that he had been clinically depressed for quite some time. There would have been few, if any, resources available to help him. One cannot help but feel sorry for him and great sympathy for his poor widow, Sarah.

References:
1. Gerry Holt, “When Suicide was Illegal,” BBC News Magazine, online edition, 3 Aug 2011 (https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-14374296 : accessed 5 Oct 2020).
2. Georgina Laragy, “’A Peculiar Species of Felony’: Suicide, Medicine, and the Law in Victorian Britain and Ireland,” Journal of Social History, Spring 2013, vol. 46/3, pp. 732–743.

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