Supposed death from poisoning
Yesterday morning Capt Henry Charles WEBB of the American Packet-ship LAWRENCE was found dead in his berth on board the vessel in the Huskisson Dock at half past 6 o’clock. Mr HILL, Surgeon of Great Howard St was immediately called, but, his services were to no avail. It is stated that the deceased had been labouring under depression of the spirit for some time past and had told his son on Friday morning he had taken poison. Another report is that on coming up the channel the ship came into collision with another vessel and an arrangement had been made with the captain relative to payment of the damage, but, the payment had not been carried out and in an action brought against him he had been saddled with the costs, which, preyed on his mind. An inquiry will be made today before the Borough Coroner.
Liverpool Mercury 28th January 1856
An inquest was held on Saturday upon the body of Captain Henry Charles WEBB, aged 45 of the American packet-ship St Lawrence, we gave publicity on Saturday to a rumour relative to the deceased being in a desponding state owing to a collision, and it was supposed he had taken poison.
On Saturday the deposition of his son, Henry Charles WEBB, aged twelve, was as follows :-
“I am the son of the deceased Henry Charles WEBB, who was 45yrs of age, captain of the barque St Lawrence. We left New York last September, bound for Liverpool. When we were off the Great Ormeshead, beating up, we came into collision with the ship Gleaner, also beating up. We lost our starboard fore rigging, stove in the bow, and carried away the anchor and bulwarks. The next day we arrived in Liverpool, and the deceased entered an action, which was afterwards settled by arbitration. The two mates left the ship after we came to Liverpool. The deceased told me he had to pay £52 for the damage done to the Gleaner, and he had to pay for the repairs done to his own ship. On Wednesday I observed a great change in his manner. He appeared very ill, and talked a great deal to himself, and asked a great many questions, I thought altogether out of the way. On Wednesday he left the ship as usual to go to his hotel. He looked very wild and ill, and I did not think he was in his right mind. On Thursday morning he came on board about 7 o’ clock and looked very worse. He said he felt himself very bad, and wished to get out of the world. He gave me charge of his papers and money, and told me to take care of myself. He told me to go and get breakfast for the mates, which I did, and the second mate soon afterwards came and told me the deceased wanted me. I went to him in the cabin and he began to cry, and told me he had poisoned himself. This was half past nine on Thursday morning. He then went and laid down on his bed and told me to leave him. About 10 o’clock he came out of his bed and told me to get him some water, which I did and called the second mate. He said to the second mate :-
“Take care of the ship, and see that nothing goes out of it, for I am going to die”.
After this he slept all day in fits and starts. Mr HADLEY the carpenter of the ship, came and said the deceased better have a doctor. The deceased said he did not wish to have a doctor, he wished to die. I went for a doctor and Mr STEWART came. He said there was nothing wrong with the deceased and he was in no danger. Mr STEWART asked him how much laudanum he had taken, he replied about half a tumbler full. The doctor asked him if he had a headache, and he said, “No, but he felt rather dizzy.” The surgeon then took all the poisonous medicines out of the medicine chest, and a cab was ordered to take the deceased ashore, but he refused and said he would rather die there. I went and got some coffee by the doctor’s orders, but deceased refused to drink it. I then went to bed in the same room, but not in the same bed. The deceased snored very heavily almost the whole night. I woke up yesterday morning about half past 5 o’clock and went to the bed of the deceased, called him, but he did not answer. I felt his hand, found it very cold, and saw he was dead. I then called the chief officer of the ship.
Edward ROGERS, chief officer, said he joined the ship last Tuesday morning and had no previous acquaintance with the deceased. He did not notice anything particular about him, but observed on Thursday morning that he looked very ill, and thought that he was drunk, and had been on the spree all night. He had some words with the steward, but, being engaged taking cargo, he did not take particular notice of him until 12 midnight when he went to the last witness and got his key. The deceased was in bed at the time, snoring very heavily. He went in again at 4 am and found the deceased still in bed and snoring heavily. About 6am he heard the last witness call out, “Father, father”, and immediately afterwards he ran to him and said, “My father is dead.”
Edward HAMLIN second mate said he joined the ship last Saturday, and had not known the deceased previously. He observed nothing in particular about him, but on Thursday morning at 10am in the presence of the first witness, when he told him he was going to die. Deceased told him to take care of the ship and see nothing went out of it, as he had been robbed by his other mates since he had been here. Deceased seemed very much downhearted and a surgeon was sent for at 7pm that evening. When the surgeon arrived the deceased said, “ What do you want here? I did not send for you, I don’t want you.”. Witness left the room and by the Doctor’s orders went for a car, but, deceased refused to go on shore. The doctor ordered coffee to be made for the deceased as strong as it could be made, it was got but deceased refused to drink it. Witness left the deceased then and next morning saw him dead in bed.
Charles HILL, surgeon said, he was called to the deceased and found him dead in bed. He had since made a post mortem examination and found the cause of death to have been congestion of the brain and lungs, produced by some narcotic poison. Witness fancied he could smell poison on opening the head and found in the stomach two ounces of dark coloured fluid, but could not detect the smell of laudanum. His opinion was that deceased had died from a dose of laudanum.
The Coroner summed up the evidence to the Jury, a lengthy consultation followed, questions were put to Mr HILL, on how long poison would act upon the frame and what would be the effect of a dose as described by the witness. To these questions Mr HILL replied, that the medical attendant who was called in had ordered the strongest coffee that could be made, which was the best antidote to a poison of this nature. He had , had, a case a few weeks ago, where had, had to introduce galvanism to rouse the patient.
On of the Jurors expressed the opinion that the deceased being captain of a vessel, it was a difficult matter to interfere on the part of any of his subordinates and that they were led to call in a surgeon upon the mere suspicion that he had taken poison.
The Jury, in returning their verdict, that the deceased died from taking a narcotic poison.” said, that they could not help censuring Mr STEWART, surgeon, for the apparent neglect of the case.
Liverpool Mercury 1st Feb 1856
The inquest on the late Captain WEBB
Gentlemen - by inserting the following letter in reference to my character you will oblige me. Upon Friday last I was sent for by Mr HENDRY, Chemist of Great Howard St, to see a Capt WEBB of the ship St Lawrence and was told that he had taken laudanum. I going into his cabin, I found him in bed. I examined his pupils for signs that a narcotic had been taken. He was perfectly sensible and ordered me to go away. I asked what he had taken. He replied, “two wine glassfuls of laudanum, some time before.” My impression was then and now that had he done so he would not have been in such a sensible state. I asked him to take something from me, having an emetic in my hand, he refused. I immediately demanded a cab be brought to take him to the Northern Hospital. Upon its arrival I entreated him to go with me and sent for the first officer to assist upon his removal, I did not see him, and asked is there no one on board who has any influence? . Mr HURLEY who was superintending the work of the ship was brought. I begged him to induce the captain to go but it was to no avail. I said, “What am I to do he will take nothing from me?” Make for him coffee as strong as can be made and keep him awake” It appears the coffee was made and they all went to their beds, the consequence was the death of the captain, and verdict of the Jury insanity and the censure of me as a surgeon. On the day of the inquest I called on the coroner to inform him I had seen the deceased the previous evening, but was asked no questions.. The evidence from which I presume the censure was affixed to my name was from the evidence of the boy of twelve years of age, and certainly I made use of the following words after I had sent for a cab. “Keep up your courage my little man, your father will be very well kept.” My convictions was then as now, had my orders been kept the deceased would still be alive. Not from the symptoms when I visited him did I consider that I was justified in sending for the police to remove him forcibly, not considering the symptoms at the time would terminate in a fatal manner. I had all the poisonous matters removed from the medicine chest, I cannot say that more was not in his cabin, to which he may have had access. In conclusion I can only assure those 12 gentlemen who on Saturday last, censured me without hearing me in my own defence, that should I again be called tonight to a person labouring under symptoms the same as Capt WEBB when I saw him I should not feel justified in using more urgent measures than I did in his case. If I or anyone could foresee what was to occur tomorrow we could be prepared for accident. I did not consider that the poor man would die from the symptoms he exhibited when visited by me, I gave directions suitable for the case. I must leave the public to judge whether or not I deserve the censure without being heard. Should it occur that any of these twelve gentlemen, whatever their calling might be, should ever happen to have their character maligned without the opportunity of an explanation. I presume they may feel as sensitive as I do now - Yours etc>
James STEWART surgeon
137 Great Howard St, Liverpool, Jan 31st 1856
"The deceased has a son, the sharp lad on board about 13, besides whom he has left a widow and five sons and three daughters in America."
Copyright 2002 / To date