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Mr. Ralph Dearlove

Wellingborough & Kettering News, March 13th, 1880, transcribed by Kay Collins

Distressing Death At Higham Park

On Monday, March 8th, J. T. Parker Esq. held an inquest at Higham Park, concerning the death of Mr. Ralph Dearlove, who was shot dead on Saturday last, under the exceedingly distressing circumstances related in the following evidence. The inquiry was held at the late home of the deceased, the gentlemen whose names are subjoined being sworn on the jury:—Geo. Perkins (foreman), Thompson Wyldes, John Margetts, Daniel Dickens, William Flawn, Edwin Knight, George Skinner, John Ward, Hy. Smart, William Browning, Alfred Talbutt, Bailey Mortimer, and Richard Rhodes.

Mr. W. J. Henry, solicitor, of Wellingborough, appeared for the family of the deceased.

Ralph Dearlove said: I live at this house, and am a son of the deceased, who lived here, and was a farmer; he was 53 years of age. On Saturday morning last I saw him before breakfast. I did not see him after I left the house; he said he would go to the field.

The Coroner: Did he say anything about taking a gun with him?

Witness: No, he did not say anything; I, as a rule, took the gun, and if I didn't, he did. I did not take the gun on Saturday morning; I saw my father go by the field about ten o'clock. I was on the farm at the time, and I saw him ride across the fields. He seemed to be riding to a barn. I was not near enough to see whether he had a gun then. He was riding a young mare, one that he usually rode; she was given to stumble a little with the off fore foot. She had not thrown my father, nor was she in the habit of trying to do so.

Mr. Henry: Gentlemen, I appear on behalf of the late Mr. Dearlove's family, whose only desire is that all the evidence bearing upon this most unfortunate occurrence should be laid before you, so that, under the direction of the learned Coroner, you may be able to return a verdict which may be satisfactory to yourselves and to the public at large.

Mr. Henry then proceeded to examine the witness: What was your father's temperament on Saturday morning, Sir?

Witness: Just the same as usual; if anything, he was in better spirits on account of hearing that my uncle was coming up from Yorkshire.

That would be a pleasure to your father?—Oh, yes, it was a great pleasure to him.

Did you know whether your father intended to go to Northampton on Saturday?—I do not; he had not decided whether he should go or whether I should go.

You had some conversation with him?—Yes, on Friday afternoon, and on Saturday morning.

Your father was in the habit of smoking?—Oh, yes, a great deal.

And he frequently smoked when riding?—Nearly always.

Do you know of your own knowledge that he frequently lit his pipe on horseback?—Oh, yes, I have seen him do it scores of times.

Have you seen him light a pipe on horseback when he has been carrying a gun?—Oh, yes.

The gun was a breechloader, I think?—Yes, a breechloader.

And how did he usually carry the gun, on his right side, or left?—Always on the left side. When he has lighted his pipe on horseback, I have seen him place the gun across his legs; at other times I have seen him put the gun on the ground on his left side, and put his foot to the mare's body as a kind of rest for the gun. The matches he used were common lucifer matches, so that he would be obliged to use both his hands in lighting his pipe.

Now, in putting the gun on the ground in the way you have described, and in reaching over to pick it up, would not his left side be over the muzzle of the gun?—Exactly over it. When I heard of what had happened to my father, I went to the spot where he lay at once. That would be about eleven o'clock. The height of the mare was about fifteen hands. I found my father lying on the ground, and I noticed that the brim of his hat had been forced into the earth. As near as I can say, the gun was about a yard and a half away from my father. The stock was the nearest to him; the gun was pointed right away from his body.

In lighting his pipe when he was mounted and when carrying the gun, and having regard to his lighting his pipe in the way you have described, can you give the jury your own opinion as to the relative positions of the body and the gun as you found them?—Well, I think the gun was resting on the ground in the manner I have described, and that it went off as my father was leaning over to pick it up; then the mare would start round, and the gun would fall in the way that I found it. My father would turn round in his saddle with the mare, and would fall in the position I found him. I had cautioned him against that very habit of lighting his pipe whilst his loaded gun was resting against the mare. The marks on the ground indicated that the mare had jumped to the right.

By the Coroner: I found my father's tobacco pouch on the ground, and the matches, but I could not find his pipe. My father's body was brought up to the house, and placed in the room in which it now lies.

John Strahan said: I am foreman on this farm, and worked for the late Mr. Dearlove. On Saturday morning I saw Mr. Dearlove in the rick-yard; I had seen him previously that morning, and had had some conversation with him; he did not speak about going to Northampton. Mr. Dearlove appeared to me to be very cheerful. He told me that the crows were taking the wheat from one of his fields, and that he was going to frighten them away. He had a gun with him when I saw him in the rick-yard, but I did not notice whether he had a stick as well; he had got a bottle of beer in his hand. I did not see him after that alive, and I did not hear the report of the gun.

By Mr. Henry: The deceased was in the habit of carrying a gun and smoking on horseback. He always carried his gun on his left side, and when he lighted his pipe it was mostly his custom to put the gun on the ground, and to hold it against the mare with his leg. In leaning over to put the gun down, or to pick it up he would bring his body over the muzzle of the gun.

Thomas Newman said: I am shepherd on this farm. On Saturday morning last I had some conversation with my late master; he asked me if all was right and I said "Yes, Sir." He said Mr. Benjamin Dearlove was coming out of Yorkshire, and going to Ringstead, and that he deceased was going to Ringstead tonight to meet him. He told me and some other men on the farm that we must clear up as Mr. Benjamin would be here on Monday.

The Coroner: The deceased had a brother living at Ringstead, hadn't he?

Mr. Henry: A nephew—his brother's son.

By Mr. Henry: How did your master seem on Saturday morning?

Witness: Very cheerful, in good spirits, and as bright as a new-born day. He charged the gun in the cottage, on the farm, but whether he put in one cartridge or two I cannot say; I handed him the gun when he was on the mare. He said he was going to frighten the crows off a field called "Little Black-wells," and then he galloped away towards home. I have known the deceased for a number of years, and lived with him since boyhood, and I knew that he always carried his gun with his left hand. When he lighted his pipe on horseback he would put the stock of the gun on the ground, and the barrel would lodge against his knee. He never carried a gun under his right arm to my knowledge, and I have known him for about thirty years. I noticed the deceased particularly on Saturday morning because he seemed in perfectly good health, and in the best humour I ever saw him in my life. When I gave him the gun both hammers were at half-cock.

Enos Tweltree said: I am a farm labourer. I saw my late master Mr. Dearlove, on Saturday last, at the same time that he saw the shepherd. The deceased was laughing and talking with his men, and seemed very cheerful and in good spirits. He said in the course of conversation that his brother was coming to Ringstead. I did not see the deceased load his gun, nor did I see him light his pipe, but I saw him smoking. He used to like a bit of tobacco. I saw the deceased, after he had ridden away, get off his horse and fire his gun in "Little Black- wells," and I saw him re-mount his mare. He then went in the direction of a close in which some of his servants were harrowing. I called to him, and he came back; he spoke to me but what he said I do not know. That was the last I saw of him alive. He was smoking when I called to him, and took his pipe out of his mouth to speak to me.

Ralph Rich, another of deceased's labourers, said: Last Saturday morning I was harrowing in a ploughed close belonging to my late master, Mr. Dearlove. Edward Bird was with me. About a quarter past ten o'clock on Saturday morning I saw the deceased on the farm, on horseback, with a gun in his left hand; he always carried his gun on his left side. He spoke to me about my work and seemed quite as well as usual. He was with me about two minutes. Five or six minutes after he left me I heard the report of a gun but I could not see my master then because a hill separated us. I went on with my work, and about two minutes after I saw my master's nag coming along the side of the hedge without a rider. I said to the boy who was working with me "Now, mind how you turn, and I will run and see whether I can see the master." I asked Bird if he could see him anywhere, and he said he could not. I then went to look for my master and found him lying on the ground; I could see that he was quite dead. His gun was lying about a yard away from him, the stock being nearest to the body. There was no one near to Mr. Dearlove when I found him dead.

Edward Bird said: I am a labourer on Mr. Dearlove's farm, and on Saturday morning last I was at work in a field with the last witness, Rich. While I was there Mr. Dearlove come up to me on horseback. I cannot say whether he had a stick with him, but when I found him dead there was a stick lying across his body. When I first saw him he seemed cheerful and in good spirits, and never said a cross word to any of us. He used sometimes to holloa at his men, but that was only his way. I had seen him once before that morning; he did not say anything about going to Northampton. I saw him light his pipe while he was on the black mare, and then his gun lay across his saddle. Five or six minutes after he left me I heard the sound of a gun, but thinking that my master had fired at some birds, I went on with my work. Shortly afterwards I saw my master's mare galloping down by the side of a hedge. Then Mr. Ralph came, and I went with him to find my master. I could not see the deceased when the gun went off, because there is a hill in the field where I am at work, and he was on one side of the hill, and I was on the other.

Ann Brown said: I live at the cottage on Mr. Dearlove's farm. Last Saturday morning the deceased came to me and said, "Have you picked that twitch up?" I said, "Yes, I have picked it all up, and carried it on to the road." He said, "Quite right; I will send you a drop of beer for that before night." He was carrying a gun at the time, and was smoking.

David H. Thomas said: I am a registered surgeon, and act as assistant to Dr. Crew, of Higham Ferrers. On Saturday morning last, between eleven and twelve o'clock, a messenger was sent from Higham Park for Mr. Crew, and I went, Mr. Crew not being at home. I saw the deceased, who was upstairs in bed where he now lies; he had not been undressed. I examined the body, and found a large gunshot wound just over the heart. It ran from left to right obliquely through the fifth and sixth ribs, on the left side, which were fractured. The shot had gone through the heart, and into the right lung. I put my finger into the wound to discover this; I did not make a post mortem examination. Death must have been instantaneous. The muzzle of the gun might have been a foot, or even more or less from the body of the diseased when the gun went off. His clothes were burnt right round the hole caused by the shot. The wound was a distinct hole, there being no separate marks upon the body. The clothes of the deceased would have been more burnt if the gun had been pressed close against his body when it went off. Not having made a post mortem examination, I will not pledge myself to the precise direction which the shot took when it entered the deceased's body. I have heard the evidence given by the previous witnesses, and I think it quite possible that the deceased may have been wounded in the way I have described by the gun going off when he leant on one side to put the gun on the ground, or to pick it up.

This was the whole of the evidence, and the Coroner having briefly summed up, the jury at once returned a verdict of "Accidental death."

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