It is always distressing to learn of an inquest into the death of a loved one all the more so if the cause of death was suicide. Even today suicide is quietly spoken about as if it is an embarrassment. However, to hold the inquest in your own house must surely be more distressing. This happened on 28th October 1870 at the cottage occupied by Charles Harvey, his wife, Eliza and their children in the Oxfordshire parish of Hook Norton. The Oxford Times of 5th November carried a brief report about the inquest.

Charles Harvey aged 50 a farm labourer to Samuel Davis of Swerford Park, a large property which lies to the south of Hook Norton by the neighbouring village of Swerford. The deceased had been found not far from his own cottage leaning against a tree with his throat cut and a pocket knife covered in blood in his hand. 

What was Charles background? He was born in 1819 in Broughton a small village a few miles from Banbury. In those days the workforce was not as mobile as we are today, however, by 1861 when that census was taken he was living at Park Cottage, Hook Norton with his wife Eliza and three children.

It would seem from looking at records Eliza was his second wife. His first, another Eliza (Salmon) had died aged 28 in 1850. Following her death he married Eliza Harris on 26th October 1851. Eliza had been born in Charlbury, but their children were all born in Hook Norton.

What caused Charles to have suicidal tendencies is not recorded but the parish council had sent him to Littlemore Asylum in the summer of 1870. He had been pulled out of the water prior to this but could give no account of how he got there. The inquest heard that he had been in a strange state of mind that summer which prompted him to be watched constantly. The parish council felt that committing him to the asylum would be of benefit to him and when he returned home he seemed much improved. However, he may have lapsed and his mental health deteriorated leading him to take his own life.

The inquest heard that he cut his throat at 4pm on 26th October, however, he did not die until the morning of the 28th. He had not spoken since he cut his throat. Mr Milburn, the village surgeon, gave his evidence. He had been sent for by Eliza and found a punctured wound about an inch above the breast bone extending backwards to the windpipe, which was wounded, and down into the cavity which was haemorrhaging. There was no hope of recovery. The foreman of the jury, Thomas Golding from Hook Norton, gave a verdict “that the deceased killed himself by cutting his own throat whilst in a state of unsound mind”.

After the loss of Charles his widow and children remained in the village for a period of time. However, the family must have dispersed as the children grew older. By 1881 Eliza was recorded in that year’s census as being the live in housekeeper to Richard Cleaver, a 63 year old mason, of Wigginton, a neighbouring village of Hook Norton. Her 26 year old daughter Emma was also in this household. Ten years later Emma was working for Richard Cleaver as his housekeeper and her sister Eliza was listed as a visitor. Their mother was not listed in the household, perhaps she had died in the intervening period, however, I have not been able to find a record of the death of Eliza Harvey within the appropriate age range.

This brief piece is more about the tragic death of the girls’ father. As a footnote a Charles Harvey was admitted to Littlemore Asylum on 24th July 1857 and discharged on 30th September that year. The same Charles Harvey or merely a coincidence?

Oxford Times 5th November 1870