|An inquest was held on Tuesday evening, 7th September 1875 at the Green Dragon, Higham Ferrers, by J T Parker, Deputy Coroner, and a jury with James Thompson as Foreman, on view of the body of Elizabeth Draper, aged 15.
That morning, she committed suicide by drowning herself in the river Nene. She was described as precocious and lacking in prudence. Her mother was dead. And she was understood to act as housekeeper for her father. He frequently reprimanded her and during the previous three years, she sometimes left home. On Sunday, 5th September, she was out late, and her father locked the door at 10.15p.m. She went to sleep with a companion, and did not return home until eight o’clock on Monday morning. Her father remonstrated with her for neglecting the housework. She left home at 6.30p.m., and went to Irthlingborough. She met a young man, William Houghton, there, and asked if she could sleep in his father’s house. She did so. At 5.45 a.m. the next day, Tuesday, 7th September, he accompanied her to the way-post near Higham Ferrers. She said she was going home. She was last seen alive at 6.25a.m. walking along King's Meadow Lane towards Irthlingborough, unaccompanied. At 7.15 a.m. she was taken out of the river, dead. Her pocket handkerchief was tied over her eyes.
John King: I live at Irthlingborough. I am a shoemaker. I work for Mr. Randall. As I was going to work this morning at 25 past six, I met a young woman in King's Meadow Lane. She was dressed in a grey dress and a black hat with black feathers. [The hat was produced] She had long black ear-rings. We said "Good morning". She was walking normally, and I noticed nothing particular. She seemed pale.
Frederick Loveday: I am a carpenter, employed on the London and North- Western Railway Company between Higham Ferrers Station and Ditchford. [Higham Ferrers Station was later Irthlingborough Station]
This morning, about twenty past seven, I saw a body floating in the river near the iron bridge. I got a rake, and pulled it out. It was Elizabeth Draper. She had a handkerchief over her eyes. She was dead. Her hat was lying on the bank, with a note tucked into the hat band.
The letter was handed to the Coroner, but it was very badly written and needed to be deciphered. It started. "E. Draper to J. Draper. Please read this". The readable parts said, "I hope I am going to rest... You must not fret over me... I wish my friend to have my dress, and my sister to have my hat... Goodbye... 6th September".
Frederick Loveday (continuing his evidence): I handed the hat and the letter to the Station Master. He handed them to the policeman.
The Coroner: Is the policeman here? [He was told, "He is not, because the police did not think he would be required."]
Dr. Thomson: I examined the body of Elizabeth Draper, and found no marks of violence whatever, upon her person. She died from suffocation caused by drowning.
William Houghton (sworn, and cautioned by the Coroner): I am a shoe finisher. I reside at Irthlingborough. I have known Elizabeth Draper about a fortnight. I last saw her this morning at a quarter to six. I left her at the way post between Irthlingborough and Higham Ferrers. At half past ten last night, she asked if she could go home with me. I told her she could. She said she would need to get back to Higham Ferrers by 6a.m. I got up, and came to the way-post with her. We talked all the way from Irthlingborough. She seemed sensible, just the same as usual.
A juror: Did she mention any trouble at home?
William Houghton: She said she wanted to go home with me because there had been a row with her father. She showed me an envelope like the one here, but I don't know who it was addressed to.
James Draper (father of the deceased): She was fifteen on the 2nd of December last year. She has lived with me for four or five weeks. I noticed no difference in her when she left home last night. She has never been mentally ill. She has never threatened to kill herself. The letter you have read here is in her handwriting, and also another one which I found in the pocket of her dress, today, and handed to the Coroner. Last Sunday, she left home, and did not return until Monday morning, just before breakfast time. Breakfast was not ready, and I told her she should keep house better, or I should get somebody else to do it. She has been a great trouble tome for two or three years, and she has left home several times without my consent.
The jury verdict was that "Elizabeth Draper feloniously, maliciously and with malice aforethought, did kill and murder herself." There was also a vote of censure on the policeman residing in Irthlingborough, for not attending the inquest.
The funeral took place on Wednesday night, 8th September. Because it was a case of suicide, it was not allowed to take place during normal daylight hours. It was timed for between ten and eleven o'clock at night. There was no ceremony. Little groups of mourners waited until the undertaker arrived, just after ten, with a "very good elm coffin, with handles and breastplate". The deceased girl was placed in it and screwed down. The crowd increased to three-hundred until the churchyard was reached. The family present were her father, brothers and aunts. The Sexton, with flickering lanterns went straight to the open grave. She was interred, completely without ceremony, in silence except for much sobbing. "Strong-looking men" were weeping, and some women broke down. There had been no similar funeral at Higham Ferrers for forty years.