Tag Archives: John Franklin

Death by drowning of John Franklin, 1907

Gloucester Citizen, 27 August 1907

GLOUCESTER MAN’S SUICIDE

IN THE RIVER SIX MONTHS

INQUEST AT STONEBENCH

An inquest was held at the Stonebench Inn, Elmore, on Tuesday morning by Mr. A.J. Morton Ball, the District Coroner, upon the body of John William Franklin (62), horse dealer, who lived at 40, Priory-road.

 The Coroner, in his opening remarks, said that the deceased had been in the water six months, and therefore it was useless to have any medical evidence. The police, who had taken great care in this case, said there appeared to be no outward signs of violence upon the body.

 Susan Welch, widow, of 40, Priory-road, Gloucester, said the deceased had lodged with her from the end of September until February 28th. According to witness Franklin “had a drop of drink” occasionally, but was sober when in her home. Except for a little rheumatism he seemed in good health and spirits. On Wednesday, February 28th, deceased went out after breakfast saying he would come in before mid-day and settle the bill, but first he had to go to Longford to draw some money from a Mr. Jones there. Next day, as Franklin did not return, Mrs. Welch went round to Mr. Woodcock in Quay-street, a friend of his, who said he had seen Franklin in the afternoon. Franklin’s son, having heard of his father’s absence, informed the police, who found deceased’s coat, hat, spectacles, and stick on the river bank near the Black Bridge. The river was dragged, but without any result.

 Sarah Franklin, widow of the deceased, who resides with her son, Fred Franklin, at 49, Park-road, said she had been living apart from her husband for twelve months prior to his disappearance. He occasionally gave way to drink. Seventeen years ago he was thrown from a horse and sustained concussion of the brain, since when he had seemed strange in his head at times.

Adolphus Franklin, 8, Worcester-street, deceased’s son, said he saw his father shortly after 11 o’clock at night on Wednesday, the 27th of February. Witness said “Good night” to him, and the deceased returned the greeting. That was the last time witness saw his father alive. The next day he was called upon to identify the clothes which were found on the river bank.

 Charles James, fisherman, of Elmore, said that on Monday he was going down the river in his boat, when he saw something floating in Madam’s Pool. On investigation he found it was a body, and secured it with a rope to the bank. He fetched a man named Borrow, and together they conveyed it to the Stonebench Inn.

P.C. Edward John Smith, stationed at Hardwicke, said he knew Mr. Franklin and identified the body when it was recovered.

 The jury returned a verdict of suicide whilst of unsound mind.

John Franklin’s death certificate states that he died on 27 February 1907 in the River Severn at Gloucester and was found on 26 August 1907 at Madam’s Pool, River Severn, Elmore. He is described as being a 62-year-old horse dealer living at 40 Priory Road, Gloucester. Cause of death states: ‘Found drowned, no marks of injury, having probably committed suicide whilst of unsound mind’. The informant is given as ‘Certificate received from A J M Ball, Coroner for Gloucester, Inquest held 27 August 1907’.

John’s wife is Sarah Smith [C5 on the Borrow’s Gypsies tree of 1910], the daughter of Honor Smith [B2] and Frank/Francis Smith. John Franklin is included on the tree as ‘Johnny Franklin’ with the note ‘drowned, 1909’. So the oral history from relatives that led to the tree’s compilation is correct in terms of the cause of death but a couple of years out on when it happened. There’s another mention of Sarah in the account of the death of her mother Honor Smith elsewhere on this blog.

Curiously, there’s no sign on the tree of an Adolphus Franklin, as a son of John and Sarah. Fred is certainly included [D23]. There are three other boys named: Algar [D21], Arthur [D22] and William [D24]. So has ‘Adolphus’ been mis-remembered as ‘Arthur’?

Both Algar (or Trafalgar) and William Franklin married partners who appear elsewhere on the Borrow’s Gypsies tree. Algar’s wife was Margaret Smith [D42], the daughter of George Smith [C12] and Corlinda Lee. While William – known as ‘Willy’ – married Eva Robinson, the daughter of Femi Smith [B3] and Sampson Robinson.

 

 

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The death of Honor Smith: unexpected place, unexpected year

For such an elderly matriarch, Honor Smith [B2 in the Borrow’s Gypsies tree of 1910] has been pretty agile in eluding researchers.

A number of folki have been looking for her death for a good many years. What led us all astray was that in her last sighting, in the 1891 census, she was living in a tent on the sands at Blackpool’s South Shore as a member of the long-established Gypsy community there. The oral history had it that she had died on the road, probably somewhere in Lancashire, at the age of 102. Relatives in Blackpool also believed that she had been buried with other members of her family in the town’s Layton Cemetery.

Honor was baptised 8 December 1816 at Belton on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, the daughter of Ambrose and Mary Smith, itinerant tinker. So, if the story about her age at death was true, then the year was likely to be 1916-1918 or so. The problem was that the English death indexes just weren’t showing an Honor Smith in that year range, nor in the county that she had made her home and where she had many relatives. There was also the possibility that she might have been registered  under an alias. She was recorded as ‘Hannah’ on at least one occasion during her life and on the birth certificate of her son Saunders, rather oddly, as ‘Thomas’. It seemed like a brickwall.

That is, until a chance search for Honor’s name a few days ago in the newspaper collection at the British Newspaper Archive finally tracked her down, in an unexpected place and in an unexpected year:

Royal Cornwall Gazette, 3 March 1898

A CENTENARIAN. – The death is announced at Gloucester of Honor Smith in her 101st year. Mrs. Smith was a native of Norfolk, but had lived the greater part of her life in Liverpool and Blackpool. Deceased, who retained nearly all her faculties until a few weeks ago, was a total abstainer, and her eyesight and hearing were remarkably keen, whilst her memory was almost unimpaired. She was the mother of nine children, only two of whom survive her.

Bristol Mercury, 1 March 1898

GLOUCESTER

Mrs Honor Smith, of Worcester-street, has just died at the remarkable age of a few months over a hundred years old. Deceased, who was a native of Norfolk, had lived the greater portion of her married life at Liverpool and Blackpool. She had been a life-long abstainer, and had never known a day’s illness until she had an apoplectic fit about 17 years ago. Her eyesight and hearing were keen to the last, and her face is said to have been without a wrinkle. A few weeks before her death she protested against taking stimulants by the doctor’s orders. Mrs Smith would have been 101 next August.

Morning Post, 26 February 1898

DEATH OF A CENTENARIAN. – The death is announced of Mrs. Honor Smith at the residence of her daughter in Gloucester. Mrs. Smith attained the age of one hundred years last August.

The information on Honor’s death certificate corroborates the newspaper reports. It states that she died on 24 February 1898 at 53 Worcester Street, Gloucester, aged 100, the widow of Francis Smith, a horse dealer. The cause was senile decay. The informant was her daughter Sarah Franklin, in attendance, of the same address. (Sarah is C5 in the Borrow’s Gypsies tree, the wife of John Franklin.)

So for all Romany family historians the moral seems to be firstly, when someone gets close to being a centenarian, don’t be surprised if their age is hugely exaggerated in family stories and official records. And secondly, be open to the possibility that their place of death may be a long, long way from their familiar haunts.

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