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 Suicides 
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Post Suicides
Grim topic, but thought I'd start a thread about it.

This was prompted by a short blurb about James Compton that said he cut his own throat in August of 1775. No reason given.

Commander Pringle Stokes died on the Beagle after shooting himself in the head after suffering from stress and depression. Another Beagle connection...in 1865, Robert Fitzroy cut his throat with a razor. He also suffered from depression.

Sir George Ralph Collier killed himself in 1824, after becoming upset/depressed by what was written about his conduct by William James in James' Naval History.

Any other instances of officers or men taking their own life?

Admiral Villeneuve's death was listed as a suicide, but was it? Doubts also surround the death of John Wesley Wright, who died in the Temple prison in Paris. The French claimed it was suicide.

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Last edited by susan on Wed Mar 11, 2009 7:46 am, edited 1 time in total.



Tue Jul 04, 2006 9:45 pm
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In Naval Surgeon, Dr. Edward Cree metions the suicide of one of his shipmates (in October 1837), a supernumerary lieutenant by the name of Newman. He had seemed depressed for a few days. One morning after breakfast, they found him near death. He left a note mentioning that he had taken arsenic. An autopsy done after an inquest confirmed there was indeed arsenic in his stomach.

Within the space of a week, there were two more suicides. The assistant surgeon of Firefly poisoned himself on the way to Malta from Gibraltar. Also, a mate (Cree does not mention the ship) shot himself.

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Wed Feb 28, 2007 6:28 pm
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Post Re: Suicides
susan wrote:

Admiral Villeneuve's death was listed as a suicide, but was it? Doubts also surround the death of John Wesley Wright, who died in the Temple prison in Paris. The French claimed it was suicide.


I don't think anyone seriously believes that Villeneuve killed himself any more... :D

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Fri Mar 02, 2007 3:13 pm
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From The Times of December 8th, 1803:

"....a gentleman of the name of Crawford, who had been a Midshipman in the Royal Navy, shot himself through the heart, at the White Hart, High-street, Canterbury. He had lately come from London, and seemed very much discomposed in his mind ... the Coroner's inquest..brought in a verdict of lunacy ... he is appeared to be about 26 years of age ...a native of Edinburgh...."

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Sun Aug 19, 2007 10:03 am
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From The Times, April 22, 1824:

".... a very melancholy suicide occurred early yesterday morning at Deptford. Lieutenant Hume Johnston, of the Fury, Captain Hoppner, put a period to his existence, in a fit of temporary derangement by pistol. He was first Lieutenant of the Fury, and about to proceed in the voyage of discovery in the Arctic regions....."

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Tue Nov 27, 2007 11:42 am
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Post Suicide of William Layman
William Layman, was a protege of Nelson's; he was a rather incautious man, but Nelson admired his zeal, despite telling him he talked and wrote too much, and readily came to his aid when he was court-martialled for losing his ship, a sloop, in a shipwreck. Apparently, Layman shielded his officer of the watch when he reported to the Admiralty. Nelson pleaded his case, saying, 'If I had been censured every time I have run my ship, or fleets under my command into great danger, I should long ago have been out of the Service and never in the House of Peers'. Alas, Layman was censured for 'not approaching the coast with greater caution' and was placed at the bottom of the promotion list. He spent the rest of his life writing naval pamphlets but committed suicide in 1826.


Mon Feb 11, 2008 5:49 pm
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Layman stated that he had protected his officer at Nelson’s request.

His loss of the RAVEN was his second stranding. He had wrecked the WEAZLE near Gibraltar in 1804. The RAVEN Court Martial minutes are annotated “Their Lordships are of the opinion that Captain Layman is not a fit person to be entrusted with the command of one of H.M.'s ships”.


Mon Feb 11, 2008 9:32 pm
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Yes, Layman did protect his officer at Nelson's request - hence his comment to Layman about the court martial, 'It is all my fault, but leave it to me. I'll get you over it'. He must have been deeply chagrined at his failure to do so, despite his best efforts.

Harris Nicolas has a footnote in Vol 7, p. 348 of 'Nelson's Letters and Dispatches':


'It is said that [Layman's] severe sentence was wholly unexpected by Lord Nelson'. Nicolas adds that Nelson's support of Layman stemmed not only from his predilection from the young officer but also because 'he had, from humane consideration for the Officer of the Watch, induced Captain Layman to omit a severe reflection on him [the officer of the watch] from his [Layman's] narrative, saying, 'If this is laid before the court, they will hang the officer of the watch'.


Tue Feb 12, 2008 8:51 am
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From the Hampshire Telegraph (3 Jan 1803):

"On Thursday last, Lieut. Marshall of the Navy, shot himself with a pistol, on the Hard, Portsea. Part of his face, it is said, is blown off. It is at present questionable whether or not he will survive the attempt, of which mental derangement was the cause."

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Tue May 20, 2008 8:28 am
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From George Argles' obituary in The Gentleman's Magazine (1831):

"Having been for some time in a desponding state of mind, he closed his existence, during the temporary absence of Mrs. Argles, by discharging a pistol in his mouth, and stabbing himself in the left side with a carving knife."

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Thu Nov 13, 2008 4:34 am
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susan wrote:
Having been for some time in a desponding state of mind, he closed his existence, during the temporary absence of Mrs. Argles, by discharging a pistol in his mouth, and stabbing himself in the left side with a carving knife."[/size]



Is this a definition of an "overkill"?


Thu Nov 13, 2008 4:54 am
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I was interested in Mil's post quoting "lunacy", and note also from the Naval Chronicle:

"On Sunday last was found in a small pool of water...the body of Lieutenant Hickman of the Navy...an inquest was held on the body and a verdict of lunacy was returned."

At that time attempting suicide would have been against the law, and the act itself against that of God. I wonder if the verdict of lunacy was used to "protect" the victim, sanitising their death in society, and allowing them a Christian burial.

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Thu Nov 13, 2008 9:33 am
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Badger wrote:
At that time attempting suicide would have been against the law, and the act itself against that of God. I wonder if the verdict of lunacy was used to "protect" the victim, sanitising their death in society, and allowing them a Christian burial.




That is a good point, Badger; certainly one worth considering. Does anyone else have thoughts on this one?


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Thu Nov 13, 2008 6:02 pm
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Following on from Badger's/Jim's post about lunacy and suicide, here is another case, from The Times, of January 18th, 1803, reference the Coroner's Jury about a:

" ... Mr Tweedie, of the Navy Pay-office. It appeared in evidence, that Mr Tweedie not coming out of his bed-room for a considerable time after his usual hour of rising, and no answer could be got when he was called at the door ..... Mr Tweedie was found lifeless on the bed, having shot himself through the head, and the pistol lying near him. Lord Minto attended, and stated that he had known the deceased for a great number of years, and for some time past he had observed evident symptoms of derangement; that on the morning of the fatal deed, the deceased was to have breakfasted with him, and a Physician was to have been consulted on his state - the Jury returned a verdict of Lunacy.. "

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Fri Nov 14, 2008 1:42 pm
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From the Gentleman's Magazine (1838):

"Lately. At Portsea, Lieut. Benjamin Bleatham, R.N. (1809). He was found suspended by the neck; verdict 'Temporary Insanity.'"

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Tue Mar 03, 2009 4:54 am
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