Names of Interest, Stories Under the Tree

The Suicide

As Henry hit the water its icy tentacles reached out to ensnare him. Drifting further and further into its murky depths he felt at peace for the first time in ages.

“Quickly! We’ve got to find him. Someone run and get the constable,” yelled the man as he dove into the canal. Just as the police arrived he managed to drag Henry to the edge. They helped to pull both men out of the canal.

Canal lined with trees.
Image by David Reed from Pixabay

“I’ll have to be going mum. It’s been a lovely visit but I promised Fanny I wouldn’t be long. I can’t believe the baby will be here so soon!” said Samuel.

Harriet smiled as she gently put her youngest son William in his cradle “I know son, I cannot wait for my first grandchild.”

“I don’t know where your father is. He said he had something to tell you,” said Harriet as she opened the door. Looking down the street for Henry she noticed her youngsters Harold and Beatrice racing up the street. They were shoving each other in their haste to get to their home.

“Mum, mum the police are coming,” they said breathlessly. “Something’s happened down near Hatherton Furnaces but nobody would let us look.”

Looking at Samuel she said “I wonder what that could be about?”

Two young policemen came up the short path “Are you Mrs Henry Stokes m’am?” “Yes,” Harriet gasped, worry etching her face as she grabbed Samuel’s arm.

Samuel, seeing the looks on the policemen’s faces, shooed his two young siblings into the house. “Mum made some biscuits. Go help yourselves.” Harold and Beatrice were tripping over each other in their haste to get inside.

With the children out of sight the policeman continued, “I’m afraid I have some bad news. Your husband has drowned in the canal. It appears he killed himself. A man jumped in and pulled him out, but it was too late.”

Samuel caught his mother as her legs buckled. The police assisted him to take her into the kitchen where one proceeded to make her a cup of tea.

Samuel took the other policeman aside, “What happens now?” “We will need someone to identify the body.”

“I’ll do it but would you mind sitting with mum for a minute while I get my brother Albert to stay with her and the little ones? He’s just a couple of doors down,” said Samuel.

The policemen nodded as Samuel rushed out the front door.

Minutes later Samuel was at Uncle Charles’ home telling them what had happened. He spoke in hushed tones so as not to upset his elderly grandfather, Henry.

English terrace houses on a canal
Image by Mikes-Photography from Pixabay

As they walked the short trip to their home Samuel said, “Albert I need you to watch Harold, Beatrice, and William whilst I go to the morgue. Frances, George, and Alfred should be home soon. When they get back can you send one of them over to let Fanny know what’s happened and sit with her until I get home? Then send the others to get Arthur, Ann and Isabella.”

Albert nodded in mute disbelief.

Surveying the kitchen table where Beatrice and Harold now sat silently with their mum, Albert went over and gave his mum a hug.

“Mum, I have to go with the police.” His mother seemed to stare through him as Samuel left with the policemen.

Samuel noticed how glorious an afternoon it was and couldn’t help compare it to how dark he felt inside. Their world had turned upside down but the rest of the world seemed to be moving on regardless.

“We’re here,” said the officer snapping him out of his thoughts as he opened the morgue door.

Walking into the morgue was confronting. He had never had to do this. “That’s my father,” he said as he looked at his father lying peacefully on the table. How had it come to this?

“Thank you. The body will be available for burial tomorrow if you want to talk to your clergyman.”

Samuel nodded as he walked out the door to start the walk back to his parents’ home.

Country life, pots, pans, barrel, cobble stones
Image by Th G from Pixabay

Walking in the front door Samuel was greeted by his father-in-law, Thomas, “I was at your place when Frances arrived. Given my position in the church I thought I could be of service.”

Samuel smiled wanly. “How’s mum?”

“She’s barely said a word; however, I’ve said a prayer with her. Ann is sitting with her now whilst Isabella makes dinner for the little ones. Do you know why he did this?”

“I’ve no idea.”


I originally wrote this for my Diploma of Family History and had forgotten to share it here. A suicide in the family is a horrible thing, but in 1898 the stigma would have been even greater than it is today. Many questions come up in relation to his death. Why did Henry kill himself? How would the family have felt? How would they have been treated? Would he have been buried with full church rites? They had 11 children, 7 of whom would have more than likely been living at home when this occurred. He was a relatively young man of 53 when he died. Given his father died a month later at 85 it would seem he had many years left. Henry and Harriet were my great-great-grandparents and I enjoyed being able to weave in my other great-great-grandfather, Thomas Richardson (Fanny’s father), who was a lay preacher at the time. 


Head over to Stories under the tree to read more fictional stories of my ancestors.


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