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Diplock's District: West Middlesex

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  • Diplock's District: West Middlesex

    This was lost in the crash, too. Here is Dr. Thomas Bramah's Diplock's district of West Middlesex, as it stood after the death of coroner Thomas Wakley. This is taken from an Order in Council dated 7 June 1862, published in The London Gazette on 10 June 1862. Diplock was elected in 1868 and served until his death in 1892. Apologies for the smaller type, but as you can see, it was a massive area for Diplock to have crisscrossed, and he must have racked up some significant mileage doing it. His obituary claims that he never delegated an inquest to his deputy until his final illness hit him in 1891 (cancer).
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  • #2
    Here is a letter to the Medical Times and Gazette from Thomas Bramah Diplock, which R.J. Palmer pulled for me. This was also lost in the crash but I would like to have it back up as it shows a side of a coroner's work that the public doesn't much notice, and it also shows how methodical an analyst Dr. Diplock was. There appears to have been an interest in the medical community with the lack of ventilation in crowded dwellings during the 1870s, such as common lodging houses, and Diplock would have investigated deaths thought to have been associated with conditions there.

    Thanks again R.J., and thanks also to Stephen Ryder, for putting the chart into a format that I could post.
    __________________________________________________ ______________

    Medical Times and Gazette
    Saturday, 30 March, 1872


    [To the Editor of the Medical Times and Gazette.]

    SIR,—There are many, probably, to whom a statistical report of the comparative frequency of death from rupture of the heart will prove of interest sufficient to justify the insertion of the following report. The saying, “He died of a broken heart,” may, indeed, be more frequently true in its absolute than in its metaphorical sense.

    The preventive care of nature was proved by one case in which the apex of the left ventricle had become extremely thin; but rupture was prevented by the apex having become adherent at that part to the pericardium. Overcrowded or ill-ventilated dwellings will induce a tumultuous action of the heart, or even spasm that may cause death, and of course if any part of the heart is attenuated it may then give way.


    I find from a committee report presented to the magistrates of this county in February, 1862, that the area of the Western Division is stated to be 109,000 acres (about 171 square miles) and the population 285,537—this latter by the census of 1871 is 416,547; therefore, taking the average population as 375,000, it appears that the average number of deaths from rupture of the heart is one annually for 90,000 persons. The average number of sudden deaths from other diseases of the heart would be annually for every 6000 persons.

    The return for 1868 is for ten months only, dating from my election at the end of February in that year.

    I am, &c., THOS. B. DIPLOCK,
    Coroner for the Western Division of Middlesex.
    Coroner’s Office, Ranelagh House, Fulham, March 5.
    Last edited by Dave O; 02-21-2009, 08:43 AM.


    • #3

      Dr. Diplock's obituary from 1892. Either John Savage or Robert Linford found this one; we quoted parts of this in our article in Rip #64, and I thought it would be good to post it in full here.

      __________________________________________________ ____________



      We regret to have to record the death of Dr.Thomas Bramah Diplock, coroner
      for West Middlesex and the Western division of the county of London, which
      took place at his residence, Mornington House, Chiswick, on Friday. The deceased had been suffering for some time from that dreadful complaint, cancer of the tongue, but kept this fact from his family and friends as long as he could. At last, however, he was compelled to disclose from what he was suffering so acutely. The first intimation of his illness was given at an inquest in February of last year. The deceased came into the room where the inquiry was to be held, sank exhausted into a chair, and seemed as though he was about to expire. However, he gradually recovered, and apologised to the jury, attributing the cause of his sudden indisposition to the fog, which was then very prevalent. It was evident to those present that he must be suffering severely, but he passed the matter over lightly. Deceased gradually got worse, until in September he could no longer discharge the duties of his office. For eight months he lingered in a serious condition at his residence, Mornington House, Chiswick, and despite the medical skill that was brought in and the loving and tender manner in which he was attended to and nursed by Mrs. Diplock, his son, Dr. Diplock, and family, he passed away, as already stated, on Friday.

      Dr. Diplock, who was 62 years of age, was educated at St. George's Hospital,
      and succeeded the late Dr. Lankester in part of his duties. He was M.D. (St.
      Andrew's, 1856), and M.R.C.S. (England, 1858). The deceased at one time was surgeon to the London Friendly Institution, and house surgeon at the Lock Hospital, Harrow Road. In 1872 he contributed to the "Medical Times" an article on 15 cases of ruptured hearts. He was elected coroner in 1868, and obtained his appointment by election, through the old law of freeholders, a measure that has become obsolete, the power of appointing coroners now being vested in the County Council. Mr. Humphreys was his opponent, and a very sharp contest ensued, and ended in Dr. Diplock's return. The deceased's medical knowledge was of the most valuable assistance to him in the different enquiries he had to undertake, and it was he, along with other medical coroners of Middlesex, headed by Mr. T. Wakley, M.P., who, as far as their county was concerned, settled the moot point in their favour as to whether medical or legal knowledge is the more useful in the discharge of coroners' duties. At any rate, this band of medical coroners did their work in such an able manner that hitherto the appointment of coroners has been almost exclusively from the ranks of medical candidates. The late Dr. Diplock was a man of fine physique, standing over six feet high, and one would have credited him with being able to reach a ripe old age, instead of being cut off at the comparatively early age of 62. In manner he was reserved and quiet, but beneath this placid exterior there lay a keen observant nature. His whole ambition was to discharge his duties efficiently to the ratepayers. If at times, in connection with his office, he appeared parsimonious, he would explain that it was the ratepayers' money that he was spending. The district the deceased had to cover was one of great extent, reaching as it did from Feltham on the one hand, to Knightsbridge on the other, and comprising 78 parishes. At one time he used to keep a trap, but he found that owing to his great bulk this did not suit him, and for some years indulged in an extraordinary amount of pedestrian exercise, the distance he used to cover during the day being surprising. During the course of his career it is evident that he must have had many inquests of a sensational and important nature. Perhaps the most curious was one which occurred recently. It was in connection with an inquiry held on the body of a child that was found in a railway carriage with a blow on its skull. The facts of the case
      were exceedingly simple, the medical evidence pointing conclusively to the
      fact that death was due to violence. Four or five of the jurymen were for
      returning a verdict of wilful murder, but the remainder wished to return
      an open verdict. To the surprise of the disagreeing jurymen they were bound
      over to attend at the Old Bailey on the following Monday. Accordingly the
      "good men and true" appeared before the Recorder, who, along with the officials of the Court, was equally surprised as the jury at this apparently novel procedure. The law on the matter was looked up, and Dr. Diplock was found to be perfectly in his rights in doing what he had done. The Recorder reviewed the evidence, and a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown was returned. It was remarked that such an occurrence of binding a jury over to appear at the Old Bailey had not been known for many years.

      Dr. Diplock leaves a widow and five children - three sons and two daughters.
      One of the sons is the much respected Dr. Diplock, member of the Chiswick
      Local Board and captain of the Fire Brigade. During the late Dr. Diplock's illness his place was filled by Mr. Braxton Hicks, but the office of deputy coroner lasts only during the life of the coroner, and at an inquest held on Saturday Mr. Braxton Hicks explained that that was the last inquest he would hold in that district as deputy coroner. He passed a high eulogium on the deceased, and at the conclusion a vote of condolence with the widow and family was passed by the jury. At an inquest held on Monday, Dr. Danford Thomas remarked that that was the first inquest he had held in Hammersmith owing to the lamented death of Dr. Diplock which was, of course, well-known to the jury. He praised highly Dr. Diplock's abilities as a coroner, and to show how hard he had worked, said he believed that during the 23 years he had been coroner, he had never, up to his illness, failed to attend a single inquest. He referred to Mr. Goodenough as to whether that was not the case, and Mr. Goodenough replied that he had been the officer of Dr. Diplock in Kensington and Hammersmith for the last 15 years, and up to Dr. Diplock's illness had never served under his deputy. Dr. Danford Thomas, continuing, said that Dr. Diplock suffered severely from cancer, but made no mention of it to his family, and was in harness until he could not work any longer, having to give up his labours in September last. He suggested that a vote of condolence should be passed to the widow and family, and this was unanimously carried by the jury. It is probable that the district, which
      included the Western district of the County of London as well as West Middlesex, will be divided.


      • #4
        The talk of a deputy coroner presiding at inquests is very instructive and undoubtedly accounts, as I suspected, for the fact that William Harvey Druitt presided at at least one coroner's inquest even though he was never coroner. His cousin, James, was coroner however at Bournemouth. It is likely then that William presided over other inquests as well and was indeed in a position to know how to influence the proceedings at his brother's inquest.


        • #5
          Hi Andy,

          I haven't seen it, but I think there is probably an account in some newspaper somewhere that describes William as a deputy coroner. Deputy coroners were coroners themselves, able to hold inquests when the elected or appointed coroner was unable to present himself. In places like Macdonald's district, where the coroner was simultaneously an M.P. in Scotland and sometimes had to be up north on business, you find his deputy Alfred Hodgkinson holding inquests for him. The same goes for Baxter, especially when he was both a coroner in Sussex and East Middlesex at the same time, you find his deputy George Collier holding inquests. Also in those districts, they very often held multiple inquests in a day (I have read testimony from Roderick Macdonald claiming to hold as many as 20 inquests in a week), so you can see the value of having a surrogate coroner. And when deputies held inquests, they had ability to sign the coroner proper's name to the inquisition of the verdict, along with their own, and it was perfectly legally valid just as if the coroner had been present and signed the inquisition himself.

          Coroners were able to appoint deputies of their choosing. For example, Baxter and George Collier were political opponents in the 1886 East Middlesex election, but Collier dropped out in favor of Baxter, and was later appointed his deputy. Likewise for Diplock and his longtime deputy Frederick Hand (Braxton Hicks came around much later in Diplock's career). Alfred Hodgkinson was Macdonald's campaign manager in his 1888 campaign to become coroner for North East Middlesex; Macdonald made him his deputy. In the City, Samuel Langham chose his son Arthur Langham (a solicitor and I presume a member of the family firm Langham Solicitors in Holborn), as his deputy. Also in the City, when you find them in between coroners, the Lord Mayor was able to appoint a deputy to fill in as he himself was a coroner by ancient charter--this could be the Town Clerk or some other minor official, and indeed you find the Town Clerk temporarily holding inquests just before Langham's appointment in 1884.

          Other times you find deputies acting as clerks to the inquest, taking down depositions so the coroner could concentrate on questioning witnesses. Alfred Hodkinson did this for the Mary Kelly inquest. I also suspect there were times when medical coroners sometimes chose a solicitor deputy in order to rely upon his legal advice. Reading debate in Hansard, I found lots of debate over whom made the better coroner--a medical or legal man, so I think in Diplock's case, he would have shored himself up with his deputy (though the coroner who did a lot to medicalize the inquest, the surgeon Thomas Wakley, was quite dismissive of law and lawyers, claiming you could learn inquest law very quickly).

          Anyway, it's far from an ideal system, and you can imagine that there were fears of jobbing and favoritism that people thought would lead to an unqualified person holding inquests (although until 1926 there was NO professional qualification whatsoever to win the office in the first place). So, there was a safety net. Although a coroner could appoint his own deputy, his choice had to approved by the Lord Chancellor.

          Therefore, when you see a deputy holding an inquest, he may have a rather close relation--even a questionable one--to the coroner, but he has been vetted by the Lord Chancellor, although I couldn't tell you to what extent. But although the 1926 professional qualification was still a way off from being enacted in legislation, in 1888 England was moving away from lay coroners in any case, and had been for some time, with most coroners being solicitors, followed by a minority of medical coroners. But I don't mean to say this indicates that all deputies were good coroners as there were some bad ones in the system, just like any other system I guess.

          If you ever go to the Old Bailey Online site and look up Thomas Hammond's trial for forging vouchers (Hammond was one of Macdonald's officers), deputy Alfred Hodgkinson testified and he seems pretty sharp on procedure to me.

          I can't really comment on William's ability to steer an inquest as a witness, but I think that at the end of the day, he would have been familiar with procedure. The Lord Chancellor would have had a look at him. How this would have enabled him to steer an inquest down the road, I don't know. Diplock seems to have been very good, well regarded, and from what we know of him, somewhat keen and analytical. His forte was medicine, but by 1888 he undoubtedly would have been well versed at examining witnesses, having done so continuously for 20 years. I suspect he would have picked up a great deal of law during his career, and he would have had the counsel of his solicitor deputy, Hand. So, while there seems to be an inconsistency in the testimony, it really doesn't seem to have anything to do with the cause of death, which is what Diplock would have really been interested in. And you know they moved on quickly with inquests in those days, due to the legal requirement to view the body. They had to do it fast as the body had to be in a state that it yielded some sort of evidence.

          But also, I would also point out that we don't really have a very good account of the Druitt inquest, and in my limited experience (and it is limited), when you see someone acting oddly during an inquest, there is usually some sort of reasonable explanation that has nothing to do with cover up.

          But that's just me, Andy--I could be wrong, yeah? In any event, as deputy, William Druitt had authority to hold inquests when the coroner wasn't around, and I am sure he would have been familiar with how inquests worked.

          Last edited by Dave O; 02-27-2009, 06:32 AM.


          • #6
            Thank you very much, Dave, for your valuable information. I feel rather certain the William Harvey Druitt then was deputy coroner for his cousin James Druitt at Bournemouth. My contention is that he had the ability to manipulate the proceedings somewhat at his brother's inquest, perhaps with the tacit consent of Coroner Diplock. Both Diplock and William and Montague's uncle Robert Druitt were well-known West End physicians who probably knew one another well and this family acquaintance may have providing William with the opportunity to do some manipulation.

            I do not mean to imply, however, that there was any "cover up" directly relating to Montague's guilt in the Whitechapel murders. I do imply, however, that we must treat William's testimony as very suspect, especially since we know that he lied about Montague not having other relatives. I believe that everything we know only from William's testimony must be taken with the utmost caution. Unfortunately, this includes such "material" clues such as the suicide note and the timing and nature of Montague's dismissal and disappearance. We cannot rely on this information at all.


            • #7
              Hi Andy,

              Well, let's agree to disagree about whether Dr. Diplock would have knowingly allowed a witness to give incorrect testimony. That's not my sense of the man, but although I had the opportunity to participate in researching what I think I'm right to say is the only article ever written about him (Rip #64), I do have to say that my knowledge of him is limited, given that the papers related to his coronial career are at the moment lost. A lot can be gleaned from newspaper articles and letters that he wrote to editors, and some work on his family has been done as well, but all that only amounts to just is the tip of the iceberg. I do think it's plausible that he might have encountered the Druitts in the West End, if they were active there as Diplock was.

              Incidentally (and my apologies in advance if you have already pursued this avenue), but during your trips to Dorset, have you checked any archives for stuff related to these coroner Druitts? If they were holding inquests in Bournemouth, then I assume that James Druitt was coroner for the County of Dorset, or a part of it, if it had been divided by the local magistrates bench, as East Middlesex was divided in 1888 (though possibly there is some sort of ancient liberty inside Bournemouth that I don't know about, which might have James serving as a franchise coroner). You might find something official from James, related to William's being named deputy, something justifying his appointment to the Lord Chancellor. There is a similar document I have seen listed on a2a for Samuel Langham and his son Arthur from 1890, so that's why I think of it. Also in Bournemouth, there may even hold some depositions from inquests that William presided over--perhaps a long shot, but it might be worth checking out. Certainly there should be lots of newspaper accounts for James, which ought to help round out a portrait of these coroner Druitts. If he was a county coroner with the local magistrates overseeing his expenses, I will bet that he would have scuffled with the local magistrates' bench over money and his ability to hold inquests, as almost all the London coroners that I have studied did.

              Another thing: If James was a county coroner prior to 1889, then that means he would have stood for election, and there should certainly be some newspaper coverage of that--very often the county elections for coroners were colorful, messy, and quite entertaining affairs to read about, with lots of political manuvering, so there might be good stuff there. But if James was not a coroner for the county, but rather coroner for some old franchise there (as the City of London was a franchise coronership), then he would have been appointed coroner by some official or council, and that would have been a quieter event. I don't know anything about the political boundaries of Dorset/Bournemouth so this is why I have mentioned the possibility of a franchise existing there, though I do assume he was a coroner for the county.

              Anyway, likely you will find lots of conflict in researching any county coroner, if you care to. I think searching out conflict is a valuable way to learn things, as everyone has something to say about how terrible things are, and how they ought to work. If you wanna know how a car runs, watch mechanics argue about how to fix a broken one, right?

              Some unsolicited thoughts from me there, I hope you don't mind! Again, apologies if you've already done this work. If you have, I'd like to know what you found.

              Last edited by Dave O; 03-03-2009, 04:23 AM.


              • #8
                Hi Dave,

                I defer to your superior knowledge of Diplock. Yes both he and Robert Druitt would have been active in the East End. The Druitt lived in Kensington, very near Bayswater (not at all far from Robert Anderson, btw).

                There are two possibilities if William did manipulate the proceedings. He could have done so with Diplock's cooperation or knowledge, though you maintain this is unlikely. On the other hand, William's knowledge of running an inquest could have led him to know what questions he could "fudge" on without Diplock suspecting him (or caring).

                In answer to your question, no I have not explored the archived in Dorset for information James. I feel quite sure that William must have been his deputy but it really doesn't matter. The fact is that William did preside over at least one inquest and probably many more. I only became aware of this recently. I should spend more time in the Bournemouth library pouring over newspaper microfilm but my time is always so limited.

                At any rate, we would probably agree that William's reported testimony should be taken with a great deal of caution, especially since we don't have the transcript. That's unfortunate since the "suicide note" is such a key piece of information. But it may be misinformation.


                • #9
                  Hi Andy,

                  I doubt if there was any deliberate intention on the part of Dr. Diplock to cover up information at the Druit inquest, nor do I think that he would collude in the supression of information.

                  However during our researches I did once or twice get a feeling that Coroners may sometimes have "gone easy" on cases of suicide, most probably to spare the feelings of the deceased relatives.

                  We must remember that suicide was not only a criminal offence commited by anyone who did away with themselves, it was also deemed to be a sinful act. At one time people who commited suicide were not buried in consecrated ground, but at a crossroads during the night time.

                  If anything I beleive that Diplock may have tried to cause the least discomfort for the relatives in what would have been seen as a shameful act that could bring great embarrassment to the family.



                  • #10
                    Originally posted by John Savage View Post
                    Hi Andy,
                    However during our researches I did once or twice get a feeling that Coroners may sometimes have "gone easy" on cases of suicide, most probably to spare the feelings of the deceased relatives.

                    If anything I believe that Diplock may have tried to cause the least discomfort for the relatives in what would have been seen as a shameful act that could bring great embarrassment to the family.
                    My thought exactly, John. If Diplock was a knowing accomplice to such a ruse it would have been in order to spare the Druitt family, especially if fellow West End physician Robert Druitt had been a friend.


                    • #11
                      An interesting fact I bumbled upon while perusing The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, s.v. "Burial Acts":

                      "By the Burial Laws Amendment Act of 1880, parishioners who by rubric and canon are forbidden burial acc. to the Prayer Book rite have nevertheless the rite to burial in the parish churchyard or cemetery, with or without any form of Christian service."

                      It would appear then that Montague Druitt could be buried in consecrated ground whether or not the coroner's verdict included the of unsound mind clause.
                      Last edited by aspallek; 03-03-2009, 07:53 PM.


                      • #12
                        Hi Andy,

                        That's right. Obviously this act of 1880 is a different piece of legislation, but the law referenced in your quote sounds very similar to Acts of 1823 and 1882, which John has referred to. They were aimed at persons who were found to be felo de se--people who were found to have committed suicide in a sound frame of mind. Since these people were legally responsible for their actions, self-murderers, their property was liable to confiscation by the coroner for the Crown as deodand (and before 1823, apparently buried under a crossroad with a stake through the body, as John has said, since the practice is expressly forbidden in the Acts). Somewhere I have read a contemporary opinion that with the decline of the deodand, verdicts of felo de se were essentially meaningless as no property could be seized from the estates of suicides, i.e. the whole concept was just a way to generate funds for the Crown (though I don't know whether there is the odd verdict of felo de se today or not). I have also read that juries were reluctant to return verdicts of felo de se, out of sympathy to families. These are the people for whom rituals would definitely not be performed, though they could be privately buried in a churchyard, but I don't know whether the withholding of a service would apply to someone like Druitt.

                        I recall that you have visited the churchyard where Druitt is and spoke to the people there, is that correct? Do you know whether the "unsound mind" qualification to the verdict (making Druitt not responsible for his actions), would have allowed a religious ritual to be performed? Or would a suicide to them have been just the same as another?

                        I intended to put up scans from The King's Coroner as you seem interested in the practice, but they are too small to be read.
                        Last edited by Dave O; 03-04-2009, 07:52 AM.


                        • #13
                          Hello Dave,

                          Montague is not buried in a "churchyard" but he is buried in consecrated ground in a cemetery which I'm sure at the time lay outside the city of Wimborne Minster. Yes, I have visited his grave on three occasions. I did not speak to cemetery officials, however. I think you may be confusing me with David Anderson on that account. News accounts do indicate that a ritual (funeral service) was held at Wimborne Minster with the regular clergy presiding, Vicar Huyshe, Curates Plater and Swanston. John Henry Lonsdale had been curate at the Minster until his marriage in December 1888 so he just missed presiding at his "friend's" funeral.

                          The reason I delved into the question of whether William could manipulate things is to determine how much of the inquest testimony we can trust. If we cannot trust William's testimony it is very damaging as it means we cannot trust the information given in the "suicide note."


                          • #14
                            Thanks, Andy. I have wondered whether they would have done that for Druitt, and you have answered my question.


                            • #15

                              I must correct myself. I was certain I had read of a funeral for Montague taking place at the Minster church, and indeed I may have. However, I think I was confusing this excerpt from the Hampshire Advertiser of 12 Jan 1888:

                              "The funeral took place in Wimborne Cemetery on Thursday afternoon, and the body was followed to the grave by deceased's relatives and a few friends, including Mr. W. H. Druitt, Mr. Arthur Druitt, Rev. C. H. Druitt, Mr. J Druitt, sen., Mr. J. Druitt, jun., Mr. J. T. Homer, and Mr. Wyke-Smith. The funeral service was read by the Vicar of the Minster, Wimborne, the Rev. F. J. Huyshe, assisted by the Rev. W. E. Plater. "

                              The implication is that the funeral took place at the Anglican Chapel within Wimborne Cemetery. Druitt's grave is immediately behind that Chapel. There was indeed a funeral and it was in a sanctuary but apparently not in the Minster Church. Also, apparently Curate Swanston did not participate.