On Tuesday afternoon last an inquest was held in the Town Hall, Deal, before George Mercer, Esq., coroner, touching the death of Edward Risden, a lance corporal in the 2nd battalion 7th regiment, who committed suicide on the previous day, by deliberately placing his neck on the rail- way line at the time the train, which is due at Deal at 3.55 p.m., was only about 150 yards from him.
The jury consisted of the following gentlemen: — Messrs. Vincent Cornwell, junr. (foreman), William Boys, George W. Chitty, Charles Davis, David Denne, junr., Joseph Denham, Frederick Gibbs, Thomas T. Hight, Robert King, Edward J. Pritchard, John Rigden, H. Temple, Henry Shipley, E. Solomon, and T. Woodruff.
The jury having been sworn, proceeded to view the body, which lay in a shed belonging to the South Eastern Railway Company, and presented a most frightful appearance. They also walked up the line to the place where the melancholy affair occurred. On their return to the hall, the following evidence was taken:—
William Watt sworn—I am inspector of the permanent way, in the employ of the South Eastern Railway Company. Yesterday afternoon I came down from Canterbury by the 4 o’clock train. I travelled in the guard carriage next to the engine. The carriage has an open window in front. On arriving about 200 yards the Deal side of the North Wall crossing, I saw a soldier creep from the grass on the land side of the line and place his neck on the rail, leaving his body outside on the edge of the embankment. The train at that time was about 90 or 100 yards from him. At the same moment I saw him I heard the danger whistle of the engine sounded by the driver, Henry Gray, by which I presume he saw the man simultaneously with myself. I then saw the fireman put the tender break on, but thought it impossible to stop the train in time. I noticed the man lifting his head twice from the rail, look towards the train, and then lay it down again. The train was the usual passenger train, and the steam having been but just shut off, it was running at the rate of about 25 miles an hour. I kept my eye on the man, and thought the train would take his head off. The guard iron of the tender, however, struck him on the neck, pushed him round, and his legs flying backwards, the train went over him, and was brought to a stand about 60 yards the station side of the deceased. I went to the spot, and found his body lying outside the rail, his hand and leg being cut off and lying inside. I then sent for a policeman and the station master. I distinctly saw him creep out of the grass. I believe the train was brought up yesterday as quickly as it possibly could have been.
Mr. Coxhead appeared on behalf of the railway company, and stated that if the coroner and jury thought fit to adjourn the inquest, he would be most willing to produce an engineer, who would speak as to possiblity or otherwise of a train running from 25 to 30 miles an hour being brought to a stand in less space than is was yesterday.
Mr. Mercer, on behalf of himself and the jury, thanked Mr. Coxhead for his offer, but stated that so far as the inquiry had gone he did not think it necessary.
James Letherbarrow sworn—I am a lance corporal in the 2nd battalion 7th regiment, and knew the deceased, Edward Risden, perfectly well: have known him for the last nine or ten months. He was also a lance corporal of the 2nd battalion 7th regiment. He was a comrade of mine, and for the last four months I have been his intimate confidant, and he has told me all his affairs. Last January a man who belonged to the same part of Devonshire as deceased came off furlough, and I heard deceased accuse him of slandering him to his wife and friends, deceased having heard of it by letters received from his friends, who live at Exeter. Since that he has received several letters from there. Deceased was a married man with four children. He had been in business as jeweller in different towns in the West of England, but had failed. I have heard him say why he enlisted, but do not remember at the present time. He had been in the army I believe about fifteen months. I found him in the 7th regiment when I joined it, a few months since. He received a letter from his wife a short time ago, in which she complained of her circumstances and made mention of his bad behaviour, at the same time threatening to write to his commanding officer. I believe the letter was written, but cannot say positively. He received a letter from his son about Easter, but which contained nothing to affect his mind. But he received one from his wife, in which she signed herself as his broken-hearted wife which seemed to have a bad effect upon him. I last saw him on Sunday evening: he came to my quarters and asked my wife for something to eat. He was then partially intoxicated. I know of no other reason beyond what I have stated why he should be tired of his life. He was a man of good abilities, and bore an excellent character. He was a clerk in the pay office, but had nothing to do with money. I don’t know Risden had received any letters from home since the one from his son at Easter. Deceased was away without leave yesterday, and would doubtless have been reprimanded had he returned; but not punished, it being his first offence. He left barracks between 7 and 8 o’clock in the morning.
John Gray sworn—I am a plate layer in the employ of the South Eastern Railway Company. I was at work on the line yesterday afternoon, near where this occurrence took place. About ten
minutes before four I saw a man lying on the grass, near the edge of the embankment; the four o’clock train being at that time near the North Wall crossing. Almost immediately the engine whistle sounded to indicate danger, and on looking in the direction of the man, I saw him lying with his neck on the rails. Scarcely half a minute had elapsed from the time of my seeing deceased on the grass, when the whistle sounded and I saw him on the rails; the whistle must have sounded, therefore, immediately the man laid his neck down. The driver could not have seen the man sooner, or whistled quicker than he did. I have been a plate layer for seven years, and should think the train was running 18 or 20 miles an hour. The steam was off when the train passed me, but I did not notice whether the breaks were on or not. I was about mid-way between the train and the soldier when it whistled. Shortly after three o’clock the same soldier was ordered off the line by my mate, and went away without demur, merely saying that he wanted to see a friend. He went off the line on the west side, and I did not see him return.
John Milgate sworn—I am a plate layer in the employ of the South Eastern Company. I saw the deceased on the line about a quarter before three and told him to go off, which he did. He was quite sober, and I noticed nothing in his manner to call for observation. He went off the line on the land side. I saw the occurrence of his being run over, but could not say whether the breaks were on the train or not. When I heard the danger whistle sounded I looked towards the man; had I have looked towards the engine I should have seen whether the breaks were on. I did not see the man get on the rails, but saw him on them. I should not have seen the man at all had not the whistle sounded. I know it to be the same man that I had warned off the line by the stripes on his arm.
Henry Burvell sworn—I am a labourer in the employ of Mr. John Brown, and was working in a field on the town side of North Wall yesterday afternoon- I was about 112 yards from [illegible] the field, joins the railway on the [?] side. I was about 130 yards from the platelayers, and saw one of them order a soldier off the line a little after three o’clock, and did not see any [more?] of him at all. I know it was past three [because I?] heard the clock strike. The train came in [just?] before four at the North Wall crossing, [where I?] was. The danger whistle then sounded, and [I?] noticed the men appeared to work [very fast?] indeed, twisting some things about on the engine, and the train stopped in about fifteen or [sixteen?] seconds from the time of whistling. I did not [see?] the guard at work, and did not go to see [what?] was the matter, but heard them say that a [soldier?] was run over.
Henry Gray sworn—I was the driver of the four o’clock train yesterday afternoon. After I had shut the steam off at the North Wall crossing, I saw a soldier place himself on the rails. I then gave the necessary signals for putting the breaks on. The man was about 80 or 100 yards from me when I saw him, as near as I could judge. We did all that lay in our power to stop the train by putting the breaks on and reversing the engines. This was done instantly the man [crawled?] on the rails. He did not stand up, but crept [down?] the embankment on to the line and laid his [neck?] on the rails. Our efforts to stop the train did not succeed in time, as the train was not brought to a stand until we had run over the man some 50 or 60 yards. Another break was put on by [?] Watts. I cannot say whether the guard put on his break or not, but feel certain that he did [so, or?] we should not have brought up so quick as we did. I have been an engine driver for [twelve?] years, and do not think a train running at the rate of thirty miles an hour could be brought up at a less distance than from 150 to 200 yards.
Thomas Jeffreys sworn—I was the guard of the train in question, and immediately on hearing the danger whistle I applied my break. It [?] and had the effect of skidding the wheel.
Mr. Leeson sworn—I was a passenger [by the?] four o’clock train yesterday, and noticed its [?] checked. I also heard a prolonged whistle. The train was brought to a stand some distance the Sandwich side of the Deal crossing, but I cannot say how far. Hearing that some one was [run?] over, I attempted to get out, but was prevented from doing so owing to the train being again [?] motion. I was not officially deterred from leaving the train, nor am I aware that the men in [?] of the train knew that a medical man was [aboard?]. On reaching the ticket platform, however, I succeeded in getting out, and accompanied by Mr. Harding, the station master, proceeded [to the?] spot. I there saw the body of a [soldier, already?] dead, lying on his back, the left thigh, left hand and part of the arm being off. The neck was greatly injured and distorted, and 1 believe broken. The injuries visible were, of course, [quite?] sufficient to produce immediate death.
Mr. Coxhead here stated on behalf of the driver Henry Gray, that he was one of the most [steady?] and careful drivers the South Eastern Company had in their employ.
This being the whole of the evidence, the coroner summed up, and the jury, after some considerable discussion, returned a verdict to the effect that deceased committed suicide whilst in an unsound state of mind, and that in their opinion no blame whatever could be attached to the driver of the engine.