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A Coroner for All Seasons: Sir Samuel Brighouse

Sir Samuel Brighouse (1849-1940) photographed in the later years of his life

"Into the awe-struck silence of the courtroom spoke Coroner Sir Samuel Brighouse..."
From ‘Misadventure at Winwick,’ Time magazine, 22 October 1934

In the spring of 2006, my cousin Haydn George sent me a copy of a yellowed newspaper cutting from the Daily Express of 7 January 1933 which chronicled developments at the inquest on the accidental death of Edward George, our fathers’ elder brother.(1) I had long known that Uncle Edward had been killed in a motorcycle accident. However, because my paternal grandparents had a strong connection to the Isle of Man as well as to Wallasey in Cheshire, I had been under the impression that he had been killed on the island’s famous TT race course. This idea that I had turned out to be incorrect, as I will explain in a moment.

When I was a little boy growing up in the 1950s my paternal grandmother seemed very old to me. She was a little thin old lady who lived in a converted Isle of Man school house overlooking Laxey Bay with a lot of cats and chickens and a blind old skinny black dog named Smutty. I know now she was in fact quite a bit older than my mother’s parents, having been born in Douglas, Isle of Man on 12 August 1876 and christened with the unusual name of Birtles Pointon, the fifth child of William Hodson Pointon and Eliza Jane Birtles Pointon. This compares to my maternal grandfather, who was born in 1892 in Liverpool, and my grandmother, born in 1897 in Gateshead, County Durham. When my uncle, Edward Pointon George, was killed at around age eighteen, he died almost exactly fifteen years before I was born in 1948. Contrary to the way I had thought Uncle Edward had met his death, I learned from the Daily Express article that he was killed when his motorcycle was struck by a lorry in Warrington, Lancashire, some twenty miles east of Liverpool. At the time, he lived in Wallasey across the River Mersey from Liverpool, where he was an ‘unemployed electrician’ as the news article characterized him.

A Reform-minded Coroner

The Daily Express article on my kinsman’s inquest in truth had little to do with his tragic demise, which was ruled to be ‘Death from misadventure.’ The occasion of the inquest held in Warrington was used by coroner ‘Mr S Brighouse’ as a bully pulpit by him to highlight the grievous death toll caused by motor vehicles and particularly of ‘petrol-driven wagons’ such as the one that had killed my uncle.

As the Express put it, ‘the coroner... made some striking comments on his 1932 return of road accidents and road conditions.’ Brighouse in fact was quite outspoken, using the occasion to castigate public apathy and government inertia alike in allowing such a toll of deaths to occur:

‘Fatal accidents in my area during 1932 in which petrol-driven wagons were involved numbered eighty-five,’ he said, ‘which is an average of one every four days. I wonder what the general public would have to say if in connection with the railways there was a fatality every four days. The whole country would be aflame... until they [the government] amend the roads which were never intended for this traffic... I cannot see how things can be any different.’(2)

Here was evidently a coroner of reformist-minded bent, in the tradition of radical coroner Dr Thomas Wakley of a hundred years earlier: a man who used his coroner’s enquiries to urge social change.(3) David O’Flaherty, who with co-authors John Savage and Robert Linford, has written about the English coronial system in Ripperologist, has remarked that the news article ‘is a really good example of what coroners were all about – public safety and the prevention of deaths – a point I think that is often lost.’(4)

Samuel Brighouse, the ‘Veteran’

From the clue in the 1933 newscutting that coroner Brighouse was a ‘veteran’ in his position, it did not take me long to ascertain that he in fact held the position of Coroner for South-west Lancashire for an incredible span of 56 years! David O’Flaherty commented, ‘He just edges out [City of London Coroner] Samuel Langham whose career lasted about 52 years, 1849–1901.’(5)

Brighouse, who died on 15 January 1940 at the age of ninety, was the same coroner who oversaw both the inquests on Ripper suspect James Maybrick and the inquest on the bodies of the wife and four children of another suspect, Frederick Deeming, discovered at Dinham Villa, Rainhill, in 1892.

The Times obituary on Brighouse, published on 16 January 1940, tells us that

Sir Samuel, who was appointed coroner in 1884, had conducted about 25,000 inquests. He had been a solicitor for over 68 years... Born at Lathom [on 1 August 1849] and educated at Ormskirk Grammar School, he was admitted a solicitor in 1871 and founded the firm of Brighouse, Brighouse, and Jones, of which he remained the head for the remainder of his life. In the conduct of inquests he would never allow ‘red tape’ to hamper his determination to get at the truth, and sometimes his methods were a little unconventional.(6)

The Times stated number of ‘about 25,000 inquests’ hardly sounds credible though. In 56 years, there are a total of 20,454 days (56 years times 365 days adding 14 days extra for leap years) so that Brighouse would have had to have done more than one inquest a day every year, Sundays included! The Maybrick and Rainhill inquests alone took a number of days each, as did his enquiries into some industrial accidents. And we add to this the fact that as a county coroner, elected by freeholders, Samuel Brighouse was a part-time coroner! Yes, you heard correctly. Presumably the bulk of Brighouse’s income came from his law firm and was the reason why he remained head of the Brighouse law firm all those years. In contesting the 1884 coroner’s election which lead to his initial appointment, Brighouse spent £1,400, three times the coroner’s annual salary. In fact, author Gordon H H Glasgow, himself a retired coroner for the Lancashire metropolitan districts of Sefton, Knowsley, and St Helens, tells us that the part-time nature of the county coronerships, in contrast to borough or city coronerships in Liverpool or Manchester, failed to attract medical candidates because ‘the possibility of an expensive contested election that would not be justified by the emoluments of the office.’ Thus solicitors such as Samuel Brighouse and not doctors were the ones who contested and won the elections for the six part-time Lancashire county coronerships.(7)

While the full figure of ‘about 25,000 inquests’ might be doubted on a practical basis of simple time available to carry out that many inquests and to head up a law practice as well, it is nonetheless true that coroner Brighouse in his long career handled many thousands of inquests large and small. Indeed, as county coroner for South-west Lancashire, he not only had involvement in famous murder cases and innumerable deaths by misadventure but a large number of industrial and railway accidents. Lancashire was one of the cradles of British industry, with the collieries of Wigan, for example, being part of Brighouse’s jurisdiction. His area comprised the subdivision of the county known as the hundred of West Derby, dating back to the Domesday Book of 1086, with the exception that Brighouse was not responsible for the City of Liverpool which had its own coroner. Included thus in Brighouse’s care were such parishes as Walton, Sefton, Childwall, Huyton, Halsall, Altcar, North Meols, Ormskirk, Aughton, Warrington, Prescot, Leigh, Wigan, and Winwick, and also then outside the Liverpool city boundary, Aigburth and Garston – scene of the sensational Maybrick Case that burst on the world in May 11, 1889 with the untimely death of Liverpool cotton merchant James Maybrick. The same man who has been, in our time, named as a Jack the Ripper suspect on the basis of the controversial ‘Maybrick Diary’ and watch. A gentleman who, for all the world at large knew in 1889, was a perfectly ‘innocent’ man possibly poisoned to death by his pretty Alabama-born wife Florence Chandler Maybrick, 26 years his junior.

Brighouse’s Role in the Maybrick Case

Authors Anne E Graham and Carol Emmas, in The Last Victim: The Extraordinary Life of Florence Maybrick the Wife of Jack the Ripper, are critical of Brighouse’s handling of the inquest on Maybrick, when circumstantial evidence was introduced that appeared to point to the American-born Florie as being guilty of planning and executing the demise of her spouse in order to be with her lover, Alfred Brierley.(8)

Is it possible that as with Justice James Fitzjames Stephen’s controversial instructions to the jury at the Lancashire Assizes at St George’s Hall, Liverpool, three months later, coroner Brighouse allowed his distaste of Florence’s infidelity to influence his conduct of the inquest and his directions to his coroner’s jury? Did James Maybrick’s brothers, Michael and Edwin, who seemed to help to railroad proceedings against the young Alabama-born widow, bring pressure to bear on the Coroner for South-west Lancashire? Is it credible, as Graham and Emmas speculate, that successful musician Michael Maybick (professional name Stephen Adams) used his masonic connections to ‘influence the authorities, who, after having discovered adultery and opportunity, were now determined to find arsenic?’(9)

It may be noted that although Brighouse had a long and notable career as a coroner, he was only four years in the job at that time of the Maybrick inquest and thus fairly fresh to his responsibilities as county coroner when he was presented with this very high profile and sensational case. The Maybrick case came upon the heels of another celebrated local case involving arsenic. In 1884, in Liverpool, two married sisters, Catherine Flanagan and Margaret Higgins, had been hanged for using arsenic from flypapers to murder to obtain life insurance money. And now here was another case in which a woman may have poisoned for gain or advantage. Brighouse was a partner in a respected law firm and was also a steward for Lord Derby. Even if masonic connections meant little to the coroner, maintenance of the status quo and public order might have been important to him.

The first post mortem on Maybrick was conducted in the bedroom at the family home, Battlecrease House, 7 Riversdale Road, Aigburth, on Monday, 13 May, two days after the cotton merchant’s death. The inquest was opened by Brighouse on Tuesday at the Aigburth Hotel, about half a mile southeast along Aigburth Road from Battlecrease House. Michael Maybrick formally identified his brother’s body. He also passed to Inspector Baxendale a number of Florence’s letters. Brighouse announced, ‘The result of the post-mortem examination was that poison was found in the stomach of the deceased in such quantities as to justify further examination.’ He then adjourned the inquest for a fortnight. Graham and Emmas note in protest, ‘However, his [the coroner’s] statement was completely untrue. No poison whatsoever had been found in James Maybrick’s stomach during the post-mortem examination the previous day.’(10) While the medical men agreed that the cotton merchant had died of an irritant poison they were unable to say if a poisonous substance or impure food had been involved.

The inquest resumed on Monday, 27 May at the Garston Reading Room, Wellington Road, Garston, although Florence herself, according to a doctor’s note, was too ill to appear and remained in Walton jail. The room was packed with thirty to forty reporters along with a crowd of locals come to hear the Maybricks airing their dirty laundry. Brighouse ordered that Maybrick’s body in Anfield Cemetery be exhumed. The upshot was that although considerable arsenic was discovered in various bottles and containers in the house, the amount of arsenic actually found in Maybrick’s body on the second post mortem was again negligible for a man who had allegedly received a fatal dose of arsenic. The subject of James Maybrick being an arsenic addict never came up at the coroner’s inquest, incidentally, although Florence’s defense barrister, Sir Charles Russell would raise the issue at the Assizes at St. George’s Hall.

On the resumption of the enquiry on 5 June at the Garston Reading Room, as reported in The Times of 6 June, details of Florie’s infidelity were revealed to a crowd of some 500 spectators packed into the room. For this session, Florie herself was in the library of the building and not visible to the public. Testimony was given to show that Florie and Brierley posed as ‘Mr and Mrs T Maybrick’ at Flatman’s Hotel in London in March:

Arthur B. Flatman, who had various addresses in London, including 82 Chapel street, Cavendish square, identified some letters and a telegram as having been received by him on the 18th, 19th, and 20th of March last.

After a discussion with Mr. Pickford [appearing for Mrs. Maybrick] and Mr. Mulholland [representing Mr. Brierley], the Coroner said - First of all the name of Mr. Mulholland’s client [that is, Mr. Brierley], is not mentioned in the letters in any shape or form. They go to this, that the wife of the deceased communicates with the witness now before you by telegram and letters, and asserts that her sister in law and her husband - that is to say, Mr. and Mrs. T. Maybrick - are about to come to town, and as their agent she makes the necessary arrangements for their arrival. Bear in mind that the Grand National is on March 29, and Mrs. Maybrick returned on the 28th, Thursday. On the 16th, the Saturday before the Grand National, a telegram was sent; then a letter on the 18th, one on the 19th, and then a letter of no date; but the text of the letter shows it must have followed the one of the 19th, so I think you may take it that it was sent on the 20th. The telegram and letters came to this, that Mrs. Maybrick, the wife of the deceased, said – ‘My brother in law and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. T. Maybrick, are coming to town. Can they stay in your house?’ There is a reply, I presume, because arrangements are made for Mr. and Mrs. T. Maybrick to stay with the witness at the hotel.

Mr. Mulholland - The jury understand that this gentleman keeps an hotel, and she occupied rooms. Having read these letters, did, on March 21, a lady present herself at your hotel? - I presume she did from my books. I have no other knowledge; I produce my books. I only know that someone, purporting to be Mrs. Maybrick, came to my house, and stayed there from the 21st to the 24th. Alfred Schweasal [Schweisso], head waiter at the hotel, stated that he remembered a lady, whom he understood to be Mrs. Maybrick, coming to the hotel on the afternoon of the 21st of March. She had with her a portmanteau and dressing bag. Witness [Schweisso] was sent into the library where Mrs. Maybrick was sitting and on returning into court stated that she was the person who came to the hotel. The day she arrived a young gentleman came to the house about half past six o’clock and took her out to dinner and to the theatre. Witness did not see her return to the hotel, and she said her husband was staying out late.

Superintendent Bryning - The next morning the 22nd had Mrs. Maybrick been joined by another person? - Yes, Mr. Maybrick.

What name did he give? - It was her husband, as far as I know.

They stayed at the hotel as man and wife, I understand? - Yes.

How long did they stay on those conditions? - From the Thursday to the Sunday morning, from the 21st to the 24th.

Do you mean they slept in the same bedroom? - Yes.

By the Coroner - The gentleman who called on the day of her arrival called the next morning to see Mrs. Maybrick, but she was not in, and he did not call any more.

Superintendent Bryning - And on the Friday morning you found a gentleman at the breakfast table who you believed to be the husband of the lady? - I saw him at the breakfast table. From that time up to the Sunday they lived together as man and wife.

Who is the gentleman? Have you seen him in this room?

Witness (standing) - To the best of my belief he is that gentleman there (pointing at Mr. A. Brierley).

This statement elicited some hissing, whereupon the Coroner said that if there was the slightest manifestation of feeling he would have the Court cleared.(11)

In a letter dated 18 January 1890 to Scottish solicitor Alexander MacDougall, who wrote a book in defense of Mrs. Maybrick, the head waiter Alfred Schweisso repudiated his identification of Brierley at the coroner’s inquest:

With regard to Mr. Brierley. Of course I should not have recognised him at all if it had not been for the police; but as I was for the prosecution I went by their orders, which I am sorry for now for they acted in a very shameful manner... I could not recognise him when he came; but a policeman came up and showed me where Mr. Brierley was... it was a regular got up job.(12)

The inquest was resumed on 6 June. Letters between Florie and Brierley were read out to the jury – including a key letter that Florie wrote to Brierley, intercepted by servant Alice Yapp, in which Florence told her lover that her husband was ‘sick unto death’ – and the medical and toxicological evidence was concluded. As reported in The Times of 7 June, Brighouse said in part to the jury:

Now, although the object of your inquiry is to find out how and by what means Mr. Maybrick came by his death, the practical part of the inquiry is as to the connexion of Mrs. Maybrick with the death of the deceased, and as to whether on the evidence you can say she is criminally responsible for the death of her husband. The law presumes that every person is innocent until the contrary is proved; and we must take it that before the commencement of these proceedings, so far as you are concerned, Mrs. Maybrick was an innocent woman. In conclusion, he asked them three questions:- Did they believe that death resulted from the administration of an irritant poison; if so, by whom was the irritant poison administered; and if it was administered by Mrs. Maybrick, was it administered by her with an intent to take away life.

The jury retired to consider their verdict, and in 35 minutes returned into court.

The foreman, in reply to the Coroner, said that they were unanimously of opinion that death had resulted from an irritant poison, and 12 of the 13 were of opinion that the irritant poison had been administered to Mr. Maybrick with intent to take his life.

The Coroner - That means a verdict of ‘wilful murder’ against Mrs. Maybrick. (To the police.) Bring in Mrs. Maybrick.

Mrs. Maybrick, who during the afternoon had been detained at the Garston Police station, was then brought into court, and addressed by the Coroner as follows:- Florence Elizabeth Maybrick, the jury have inquired into the circumstances attending the death of your husband, and they have come to the conclusion that he has been wilfully murdered by you. I therefore commit you to the next Assizes to be held at Liverpool, there to take your trial upon that charge.(13)

Nasty Discoveries at Dinham Villa

The Rainhill murders committed by globe-trotting conman and bigamist Frederick Bailey Deeming proved to be another sensational case for the coroner from South-west Lancashire. Deeming had married Miss Emily Mather in Rainhill on 22 September 1891 two months after he had murdered his wife Marie and his four children, aged eight and under – one of them an infant. It is thought that he killed them with a native battle ax while they were in bed then slit their throats. He then buried their bodies and cemented them under the hearthstone of Dinham Villa. He even had the ghoulish temerity to hold a wedding banquet in the murder house. On 17 October, he and his new wife sailed for Australia. Two months later, on Christmas Eve, he murdered Emily and cemented her remains under the hearthstone of their Windsor, Melbourne, home. Unfortunately, the rocky ground of Melbourne proved not so conducive to concealing his crimes as the damp, rich earth of Rainhill would prove. After murdering Emily, Deeming traveled to Perth, Western Australia, under the alias of Baron Swanston. In this guise, one of his many pseudonyms, he proposed to another woman. Emily’s remains were found in Melbourne on 3 March after a smell had been noticed in the house. The killer was arrested on 11 March 1892 and extradited to Victoria to stand trial. News of the finding of the remains in Windsor, Melbourne, buried in cement was telegraphed to England where inquiries into his movements were begun. Following a tip from a newsman, on 13 March, Superintendent Keighley of Widnes obtained permission to dig up the cement in Dinham Villa. Three days later, on 16 March, the five bodies were unearthed. With the still unsolved Whitechapel murders in the minds of reporters, and given Deeming’s British connections, the press naturally theorised that he could have been Jack the Ripper:

The arrest of the man Deeming in Australia, and the disclosures of the various murders which are attributed to him have created the most profound sensation throughout the world. Greater interest is attached to the case as it is uncertain yet whether Deeming is not the veritable Jack the Ripper whose atrocities roused the public excitement to the highest pitch in 1888-91.(14)

It seemed possible that Deeming might be brought back to Britain to be tried for the Rainhill murders, if not for the Ripper crimes – though in the end this never occurred and he was executed on 23 May 1892 in Melbourne gaol. It was against the background of his possible extradition to England that coroner Brighouse viewed the remains of Mrs Deeming and her four young children on 17 March. The inquest was opened the following day. Extra telegraph lines had to be connected and twenty-two clerks especially hired to serve the needs of the journalists covering the inquest. Additional trains were added to serve the curious who came to Rainhill to attend the inquest and to peek at Dinham Villa. Seventeen witnesses were called, including Albert Deeming and his wife Martha with Albert emotionally identifying the bodies. Over ten thousand people that day lined the streets and crowded the cemetery to watch the funeral. The inquest found that Marie Deeming and her children had been willfully murdered by Frederick Bailey Deeming.

Was Frederick Bailey Deeming Jack the Ripper? John Godl has written:

Like so many Ripper suspects there is no irrefutable evidence to prove Frederick Deeming was Jack the Ripper, beyond an unwritten confession and many scurrilous claims by journalists. Who also accused him of vampirism, due to a conspicuous absence of blood in his victims and at the crime scenes.

Although the conduct of the press was frequently unethical it should be noted their sleuthing evidently played a part in the discovery of the Rainhill murders, a London journalist acting on details from Australia having followed the clues to Dinham Villa before the police arrived. Informing Mrs Mather of her daughter’s tragic death, before prompting local authorities to excavate the cement floor of Deeming’s former home.

Besides problems posed by his speculative movements at the time of the Whitechapel murders, there is also a significant disparity in the modus operandi of the killings.

Jack the Ripper was an opportunist, a predator he stalked the dark streets of Whitechapel and killed at random, where and when a victim presented herself.

Grotesquely mutilating his victims he made no attempt to conceal the crimes, leaving the bodies where they fell. Whereas Deeming’s murders were the antithesis, and he had a motive for his crimes. He murdered his first wife Marie because she was blackmailing him, childhood sweethearts, she used her knowledge of his past to extort financial support from him.(15)

‘Killed by Electricity’

A tall granite marker in the graveyard of St James Roman Catholic Church in Orrell, near Wigan, memorializes one family’s pain and, by implication, another inquest by coroner Brighouse marked by controversy:

Sacred Heart of Jesus have Mercy on the Soul of John T. Alker of Winstanley. Killed by electricity June 24th 1898, Aged 21 years.(16)

At the time of his death, John Thomas Alker was a mining student with J and R Stone’s Park Collieries, Garswood, Ashton-in-Makerfield, around four miles from his home. He descended the shaft of the Number One Pit on the morning of 24 June with mining surveyor Frederick McGill and two colliery firemen to help them carry out an inspection. The men reached the ‘pit bottom’ shortly before 10.45a.m. Then, in order to get their eyes accustomed to the bright underground electrical lighting which had been installed only two days earlier, the men stepped into the underlooker’s cabin, which contained the control panel for the lighting and the electrical pumping systems. After about half an hour, McGill and the firemen left the cabin, and started along the roadway. Finding John Alker was not with them, McGill started back and saw the stricken Alker’s head and shoulders leaning out of the cabin doorway. The young man was still holding one of the switches in the control panel. The mining supervisor called to the others that Alker had been ‘stuck fast with the electricity.’ They threw the main switch turning off the electricity and Alker fell dead.(17)

They conveyed the body to the surface and a doctor was summoned who pronounced the young man dead and the police were called to the scene in the shape of PC Grantham of Ashton-in-Makerfield. Standard procedure should have been that the deceased should have been conveyed to the nearest public house, and the coroner’s jury summoned to view the body. Arrangements would then be made for an inquest at a later date at the same premises. However, the distressed father of the young man, Robert Alker, arrived at the colliery and demanded to take his son’s corpse home with him. Over PC Grantham’s protestations and warnings that the body could not be removed without the coroner’s consent and order, Mr Alker transported his son’s body away from the colliery in a horse-drawn brake provided by the colliery manager.

When the inquest on Alker was convened by Brighouse three days later on the morning of 27 June at the Railway Hotel in Orrell, he made very clear his displeasure with the irregular moving of the body without his say so. He voiced his concern about the irregularity of the occurrence to PC Grantham, the attending policeman on the day of the accident:

I want some explanation as to how it came about that the deceased’s body has been removed out of the township of Ashton into the township of Orrell without my consent. I have been told that the deceased’s father insisted on removing the body to Orrell. I have been informed that the colliery manager also approved of them being removed. What is the result? The body was removed into the township of Orrell, and the gentlemen of that township have to inquire into the cause of death, when the jury of Ashton ought to have done so. All this inconvenience has been caused by an illegal and irregular action. They might as well have removed the body to London. I quite appreciate and sympathise with the parents wishing the body to be removed home, I would have done so as well, but certain formalities have to be gone through before that can be done, and they could have removed the deceased the same day, if they had communicated with me.(18)

Grantham replied that he had warned Mr Alker of the illegality of his actions, to which Brighouse remarked acidly: ‘if it occurs again after this explanation, I shall have the body taken back into the township, and then it won’t be done again I know.’

Mine surveyor McGill stated that there was no reason for the mining student to go to the electrical panel. The fireman who had turned off the power said that while Alker’s hand held the insulated switch with thumb and forefinger, three fingers were touching the live metalwork below the switch. Brighouse summed up the case for the jury:

It is not my rule to order a post mortem examination unless it is absolutely necessary for the enquiry. As far as the immediate cause of death is concerned, your duty seems to be purely formal. That is the lad died from the result of an electric shock received from the switchboard. You are entitled to take into consideration the circumstances under which he received the shock, and if you have a suggestion which would tend to preserve life in the future, you will be entitled to add that suggestion.(19)

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death. True to Brighouse’s request for them to make suggestions on how to prevent any further such deaths, the jurymen recommended that in future switch boards should be operated by one authorised person. They also suggested that all live components be ‘boxed in’, and that the switch handles better insulated.

More Horrendous Deaths

As author Michael Finney observed in writing about the Alker tragedy, ‘There is a terrible irony in the fact that the unfortunate John Thomas Alker met his death by way of a medium only recently introduced to his colliery as a safety measure.’ However, as Finney also noted, ‘The Lancashire mining industry claimed many hundreds of lives. Roof falls, flooding and gas explosions were only three of the many ways a man could lose his life in this most dangerous of industries.’(20)

Thus Brighouse was on hand ten years later for an inquest after an explosion on 18 August 1908 at the Maypole Colliery at Ahram, Wigan, killed seventy-six miners. Only seven bodies were ever recovered but the coroner’s jury met for a total of twenty-three sessions through July 1909 as the work of trying to recover the remains of the buried miners continued.

The consensus among the witnesses was that the tragedy was the result of an ignition of gas. His Majesty’s Inspector of Mines, Mr Hall, outlined the likeliest causes of this, the most obvious being either a blown-out shot or a defective lamp. Letters were received from around the country blaming the Marsaut safety lamp. One correspondent cited ‘the threads in the base fitment [which] wear, allowing gas to travel along the threads’ while another suggested a defect caused by corrosion of the pillars supporting the glass, and thus destroying the air-tight fit.

Throughout the hearings, coroner Brighouse dueled with Mr Walsh, the representative of the Miners’ Lodge. Brighouse upbraided Walsh for repeating questions which the coroner felt had been satisfactorily answered already, and for wasting the court’s time. For his part, Walsh accused the coroner of trying to silence him. When the inquest finally closed on 8 July 1909, the coroner took an hour to sum up, and the jury spent six hours deliberating. In the end, they were unanimous in all their findings:

1. The men died from an explosion caused by a mixture of coal dust and gas, fired by a shot using a permitted explosive and into which too much trust was placed. The supervision during the manager’s absence was slack.

2. It appears that due precaution had not previously been taken by some of the men whose lives had been lost.

3. That it was possible that some of the men may have been willing to work in dangerous conditions in order to make ‘easy’ money.

4. Firemen should not be expected to fire shots as well, but there should always be a man doing the job exclusively.

5. There should be more mines’ inspectors.

6. There should be a rule limiting the number of people down a pit when shots are fired.

7. Floors should be swept as well as watered to keep down the dust.(21)

‘Inadequate Mortuaries’

Another activist role that Brighouse played was to urge an upgrade of mortuaries in the smaller rural communities of the district he served. As with the woeful conditions of temporary morgues in the East End of London at the time of the Whitechapel murders, many of them being mere sheds, a similar situation pertained in regard to some mortuaries in Lancashire. Indeed, it is somewhat appalling to realise that even in the last few years of his life, the old coroner was still complaining about conditions of mortuaries in his jurisdiction. The following short article from The British Journal of Nursing of January 1935 bears quoting in full. Once more the feistiness of Brighouse is in full evidence as he had the strength of will and courage to face up to the Chief Constable of Lancashire in ordering two mortuaries closed over the police official’s objection:

Complaint of the inadequate and sometimes even disgusting accommodation at mortuaries outside the London district is, says The Lancet, by no means rare. Decency and humanity require that the place where relatives are brought for the purpose of identifying a dead body should not offend by its unsuitability. Public health standards demand that local authorities should make proper provision and that post-mortem examinations should be conducted in circumstances of reasonable convenience. On Dec. 22nd the Doncaster district coroner, Mr. W. H. Carlile, condemned the mortuary in Thorne old workhouse. A few days later Sir Samuel Brighouse, the coroner for South-West Lancashire, described the Aintree mortuary as a dirty, disreputable outhouse. The police surgeon described the place as little better than a cart-shed: there was no table and no supply of warm water; the little bowl was filthy and not fit for anyone to wash his hands in; the walls were dirty. His box of instruments, he said, had to be left on the floor or put down on the ground outside. The mortuary slab was the kind of slab which was in common use 50 years ago. The coroner gave orders that the Aintree mortuary should be closed and not used even as a resting-place for bodies. He observed that the Chief Constable of Lancashire had objected to his action in closing the mortuaries at Aintree and Maghull, but he himself was not disposed to accept this officer’s dictation in such a matter.

The condition of many public mortuaries is a scandal to which we are glad to see coroners drawing attention, but one most important phase is that to which the British College of Nurses drew attention in 1931, and which received sympathetic attention from many coroners, but by no means all, namely that of the lack of provision for the care and handling of the bodies of women by women attendants. It is incredible, in these days that such provision should not be made, and it should not be longer delayed.(22)

Death of the Old Coroner

Brighouse was knighted in 1934 for his long service. In January 1935, he and his wife, the former Catherine Woods Lyon, daughter of Edward Woods Lyon of Aughton, Lancashire, celebrated their golden wedding. According to his obituary in The Times, Sir Samuel Brighouse ‘died in bed [on 15 January 1940] with his diary and notebook open in front of him and his fountain pen in his hand... He had seven children (three sons and four daughters), 17 grand-children, and 13 great-grand-children.’ At the time of his death, his eldest son, Robert Wales Brighouse, was serving as deputy coroner for Ormskirk.(23)

As if to show how mundane the duties of a coroner could often be, six months after his father’s death, on 3 June, the younger Brighouse held a ‘treasure trove inquest’ in the matter of a gold sovereign found by a schoolboy. A month later, on 8 July it was reported that Cornelius Bolton, Assistant Deputy County Coroner for the West Derby district, a partner in Brighouse, Jones, and Co., solicitors, Ormskirk, was appointed Coroner for West Derby district in succession to the late Sir Samuel Brighouse.(24)


The author thanks Haydn George, Robert Linford, Philip G Mayer, and David O’Flaherty for their help in preparation of this article. The late Adrian M Phypers and Stephen P Ryder of Casebook: Jack the Ripper deserve credit for the Casebook Press Project, a priceless resource for researchers for anyone interested in the Whitechapel murders.


1 ‘Road Toll that Passes Unnoticed. Veteran Coroner Criticises Public Apathy. If It Were the Railways—.’ Daily Express, 7 January 1933.

2 Ibid.

3 See Robert Linford, David O’Flaherty, and John Savage, ‘The Green of the Peak: The Coronial System.’ Ripperologist 63, January 2006.

4 David O’Flaherty, private email to author, 22 April 2006.

5 Ibid.

6 ‘Sir Samuel Brighouse. A Coroner for Over 55 Years.’ The Times, 16 January 1940.

7 Gordon H H Glasgow, ‘The campaign for medical coroners in nineteenth-century England and its aftermath: a Lancashire focus on failure (Part I),’ Mortality, Vol. 9, No. 2, May 2004:150–67.

8 Anne E Graham and Carol Emmas, The Last Victim: The Extraordinary Life of Florence Maybrick the Wife of Jack the Ripper. London: Headline Book Publishing, 1999, 87–88, 94–105.

9 Ibid., 96.

10 Ibid., 88.

11 ‘The Aigburth Poisoning Case.’ The Times, 6 June 1889. Available at

12 Quoted in Alexander William MacDougall, The Maybrick Case: A Treatise. London: Balliere Tyndall and Cox, 1891.

13 ‘The Aigburth Poisoning Case.’ The Times, 7 June 1889. Available at

14 ‘The Liverpool and Australia Murders. Is Deeming “Jack the Ripper”?’ The Daily Gleaner, 19 April 1892. Available at www.casebook. org/press_reports/daily_gleaner/920419.html Ripperologist 77 March 2007 17

15 John Godl, ‘The Life and Crimes of Frederick Bailey Deeming. Available at

16 Quoted in Michael Finney, ‘Killed by Electricity.’ Past Forward (Wigan Leisure & Culture Trust) 40 July–November 2005, 6–7. Available at

17 All information on the Alker case is from Finney, ‘Killed by Electricity.’ Frederick Bailey Deeming.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

20 Finney, 7.

21 ‘Maypole Colliery Disaster 1908’ on This Is Lancashire website at

22 ‘Inadequate Mortuaries.’ The British Journal of Nursing, January 1935, 18.

23 ‘Sir Samuel Brighouse. A Coroner for Over 55 Years.’ The Times, 16 January 1940. Also, ‘Samuel Brighouse’ in W Burnett Tracy, compiler, Lancashire at the Opening of the Twentieth Century: Contemporary Biographies. Brighton: W T Pike, 1903, L-6.

24 Local chronology 1939–1940. Wiganworld

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