[Coroner's Private Notes; Bernard Spilsbury ] London Coroner's Notebooks: Ten 8vo notebooks survive from a sequence (numbered 1, 5, 11, 13, 14, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26)

Author: 
R. B. Hervey Wyatt: A London pathologist and coroner, 1931-1954.
Publication details: 
1931-1954
£1,500.00
SKU: 22675

A treasure trove of socio-medico-legal information, in seven out of a total of ten volumes of notes by a protégé of Sir Bernard Spilsbury (two of whose autopsies are described in detail), with descriptions of his autopsies (1931) and his own reports as coroner of numerous inquests by him (between 1931 and 1945), in cases of murder, suicide (mainly Lysol and gas poisoning) and accident, such as: 'Self induced abortion', 'Septic foot - cutting toe-nail', 'Arm caught in machinery', 'Fall from barge into R[iver]. Lea', 'Burns at home | Clothing caught fire', 'Fall fr. ladder cleaning window', 'Fall through garage roof', 'Ran into tree on his bicycle', 'Electrocuted trespassing on R[ailwa]y. near Balham Junc.', 'crushed by lift when adjusting the mechanism', 'Suicide. Coal Gas | Defalcation with money of others | £2 from Charity a/c', 'Suicide in front of train at Westminster Underground Station'. In a few cases the cause of death is simply given as 'C2H5OH', i.e. ethanol. The inquest reports are sometimes accompanied by newspaper cuttings, and loosely inserted in the volumes are some items of correspondence and other material. The volumes also contain notes taken by Wyatt at law lectures by Sir William Holdsworth, Sir Roland Burrows, and three others, at Gray's Inn in October 1934.BackgroundRaymond Benedict Hervey Wyatt (1890-1977), successively London County Council coroner for East London and South-West London, was the son of A. J. Hervey Wyatt, civil engineer, of Austin Canons, Kempston, Bedfordshire, and the grandson of James Wyatt (1816-1878), Deputy Coroner of Bedfordshire and founder-editor of the Bedford Times. His initial education was at Christ Church, Oxford. Having graduated with a degree in medicine from Birmingham University in 1922, he published a biography of William Hervey in 1924, and a medical textbook with Oxford University Press the following year. Having gained a grounding in the law, in September 1931 Wyatt was appointed deputy to the East London coroner Dr Robert Lyall Guthrie (1867-1937). His divorce in 1937 raised some eyebrows (the case was considered 'of some importance' by the President of the High Court, see Times, 21 July 1937), but the scandal did not stand in the way of Wyatt's career, as later in 1937, following Guthrie's death, he was selected by the London County Council as his replacement for the East London District. At the time he was 'M.A., M.B., Ch.B., barrister-at-law', and 'for some years Hon. Pathologist to the Bedford County Hospital'. On reporting the appointment the Evening Standard described Wyatt as 'Tall, slim, athletic Dr. R. Benedict Hervey-Wyatt, who has been given the £1700-a-year post in the East London district, is a well-known pathologist.' (According to Wyatt's own account he was earning substantially more than £1700 in his Harley Street practice. Two of the tax discs of his black Rolls Royce are inserted in notebooks.) The same newspaper noted that Wyatt 'gave evidence for the defence in the Rouse trial, in which he contended that two or three hairs taken from a mallet were not of human origin.' At the beginning of 1940, with the reorganisation of the London coroners into six districts, Wyatt was transferred to the South-Western district (Battersea, Lambeth, Southwark and Wandsworth). The following year he carried out the inquests into the deaths of Karl Drucke and Werner Walti, two German spies executed by Alfred Pierrepoint at Wandsworth Prison, and he would later act in the same capacity following the execution of the Nazi propagandist William Joyce, known as 'Lord Haw Haw'. (The cases are not referred to in the notebooks, presumably because they fall under the Official Secrets Act.) Around the time of his retirement he was acting as 'reader' of crime novels for the London publishers Hodder & Stoughton. (One such reports is present in a later notebook.) Wyatt gives a sketchy overview of his career in a paper titled 'A London Coroner, 1936-1955', in the St George's Hospital Gazette, November 1966.DescriptionTen 8vo notebooks survive from a sequence (numbered 1, 5, 11, 13, 14, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26) and dating from between February 1931 and August 1954. The ten notebooks contain a total of about 3100 pp. of autograph entries. Vols. 1 and 5 are titled by Wyatt 'Medico-Legal Notes', and vols 11, 13, 14 and 21 are titled by him 'Coroner's Notes'. Vols. 23 and 26 are 'Miscellaneous Notes' and vol. 22 is 'Greek'. The first seven volumes are mostly composed of case reports on inquests on which Wyatt himself sat as coroner, also present in the volumes are lecture notes, personal diary entries, an account of a visit to Pentonville Prison and other memoranda. The last two volumes contain mainly personal miscellaneous material: personal diary entries, memoranda, reviews and so. The remaining volume (22) contains notes on the grammar of Ancient Greek, made while Wyatt was undertaking a course at Wolsey Hall; the proceeding volume (21) has a large section of notes on the same subject. A large number of newspaper cuttings relating to cases and other matters are tipped-in, and other material, including some correspondence (described below), is loosely inserted. The volumes are in uniform bindings, with red leather spines and boards of black ribbed watered cloth. Internally in good condition, with light signs of age and wear, in worn and in some cases damaged bindings.ONE: Vol. 1 (6 February to 19 December 1931). 413pp. Titled by Wyatt on first page: 'Medico-Legal Notes 1'. At front is a breakdown by district (Hackney, Poplar, Stepney, St Pancras, London Hospital and Bethnal Green) of 229 post mortems during the period of the volume, followed by an index of the causes of death, under the subheadings: 'Natural Deaths' ('Aneurysm, ruptured' to 'Uraemia'), 'Accidental Deaths' (from 'Alcoholism' to 'Traffic'), 'Suicide' ('Coal-gas' to 'Shooting') and 'Homicide' (three: 'Chance Affray', 'Infant' and 'Stabbing'). Wyatt has given an index of what he considers to be the significant contents on a loosely inserted leaf: 'First post mortem with Bernard Spilsbury | Hippocratic oath | My first PM for a Coroner (Purchase) | Volume contains notes of many autopsies and notes on various conditions and diseases e.g. burns, asphyxia, age of foetus etc. | Visit to Pentonville Prison | [...] | Begun to eat my dinners at the Inner Temple. Grand Night 6th. May | [...] | Sat as Deputy Coroner for the first time. Poplar 24 Sept. | My first murder case Florence Gammon'. Also present are Wyatt's medical notes, including 'Development of Foetus', 'Sudden Deaths' and 'Asphyxia' ('Grierson told me in judicial hangings he could hear the heart sounds 15-20 minutes average 18 minutes [after 'respiration suddenly cut off']'). The very first entry in the volume regards his first post mortem with Sir Bernard Spilsbury: 'Watched Sir B. S. make p. m. at Kensington Mortuary. [female] aet 52 bedridden. Somewhat emaciated. No bedsores. Petechial rash limbs and trunk. Large patch over R. scapula. Some purpuric marks on L. forearm. Extensive eczema of vulva and thighs. Lungs v. oedematous esp. R. upper lobes. Heart good. Early atheroma only. Stomach and S.l. [?] Some ulceration of caecum. Kidneys pale both ureters v. dilated. Bladder small - uterus adherent. Marked hydronephrosis L. ? nephitis superadded. [?] | cause of death . uraemia | Mortuary Keeper Mr. Britten. Asked him to ring me up when Sir B. S. was going there again except betw. 1 and 4. 2/- [two-shilling tip to mortuary keeper for tipping him off?]'.A few pages later Wyatt gives an account of his first post mortem, at Hackney on 6 February 1931, for the coroner Sir William Bentley Purchase (1890-1961), in which Wyatt concludes that the cause of death in the case of a twenty-seven-year-old 'Very tall powerful young man' is 'Cerebellar tumour'. Also included in the volume is a five-page report of the 'P[ost] M[ortem] by Sir B[ernard]. S[pilsbury].' of Leslie Morton, who died as a result of a fracas in Southampton Row with one of the 'gangs that roam at night'. Wyatt draws three diagrams of parts of the body, and includes two newspaper cuttings on the remand hearing of six men in the case. At the end he writes: 'I agree with Sir B and added we came to the conclusion that death was not instantaneous but that the circulation had continued for a short time after the blow had been received.' Another case accompanied by a cutting is that of the death the baby of Olive Winifred Horton, a Hackney 'sweet finisher'. The cutting reports Wyatt's evidence in the case, which ended with the mother's acquittal. He gives a two-page account of Pentonville, including: 'Old execution sheds Graves of Crippen, Browne, and Roger Casement These had no markers whatsoever. About 180 graves in all.'TWO: Vol. 5 (5 February 1934 to 18 October 1934). 403pp, 8vo Index includes 'Letter from Oddie asking me to be his Deputy' At start in pencil: 'This book - held 66 inquests'. Most entries on cases extremely brief, but on 10 August 1934 full page report beginning: 'Down to Poplar. To view body of Hoard murdered at the Palace Cinema in Bow Road.' Accompanied by newspaper cuttings. Volume also contains an account of a 'Suicide pact' by Peter Dawson and Elsie Walsingham, accompanied by a newspaper cutting of a letter which Wyatt finds 'extraordinarily vivid'. Also three cuttings accompanying Wyatt's account of his inquest into the suicide of the publisher H. Wentworth James, which he notes is an 'Interesting case'. Account in September 1934 of inquest into death of Eric Green, with accompanying newspaper cutting: 'Man's Fall from Window | Watching Fascists' ('His stepfather, Reginald Carter, explained that Green was very interested in Fascism.') According to Wyatt, Green 'Could get view of main Bayswater Road by leaning right out of lavatory. Gave benefit of doubt and said accidental.' The volume also contains a total of forty-six pages of Wyatt's notes on a total of eight lectures at Grays Inn, by Sir Roland Burrows, Sir William Holdworth and three others (Topham, Holland and Salt), over a number of days in October 1834, beginning with four pages on 'Lecture on Civil Procedure at Grays Inn 5 p.m. | Burrows'. THREE: Vol. 11 (October 1937 to August 1938). 379pp, 8vo. Covers the period immediately following his appointment as coroner for East London, beginning with note of the 'Meeting of Public Control Committee of the L.C.C. at the County Hall', giving the names of the other four on the short list, and newspaper cuttings regarding the 'New London Coron out of lavatory. Gave benefit of douers'. Over two pages Wyatt transcribes 'My speech when I was officially appointed', 30 October 1937. Laid down are four official documents relating to the appointment: two letters from the Clerk of the Council, County Hall; printed 'Report of the Public Control Committee', 23 July and 22 October 1937, on 'Appointment of coroners'; a carbon copy of Wyatt's 'Declaration of Office of Coroner'. Newspaper cuttings accompany Wyatt's report of the suicide of William Frank Smith, who shot himself in the street in Canning Town, after police intervened to prevent him from shooting the seventeen-year-old girl he was infatuated with. At the end of his report Wyatt writes: 'I was able to turn the incident into a suicide and repress [sic] the whole of the story about the girl'. Under the verdict of 'Suicide' in red ink Wyatt writes in pencil: 'Erotic insanity. Pursued by police'. Another case accompanied by cuttings concerns a death as a result of a falling railway arch in Millwall. Wyatt's report includes a diagram of the series of arches, with notes. There is a long report of a case Wyatt considers 'Interesting', involving a 'Fall through trap-door'. The cuttings, from several papers, reveal the full details of the case, and of 'Miss Maiden'. The volume also includes Wyatt's notes, including 'When a Jury is necessary', 'Exhumation', 'List of Hospitals in my Area'. Under the heading 'Insanity as a Defence' he also gives an Old Bailey summing-up by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Stewart of Bury, which he considers 'Of interest in conn. to [sic] insanity pleas and the rules in Mc Naughton's case'.FOUR: Vol. 13 (9 June 1939 to 16 May 1940). Around 400pp. Index at front lists cases of interest: 'Accidental shooting | Air embolus in abortion | Deckchair, neck caught in | Fibrosarcoma. following injury two years ago | Knocked down by ambulance | Manslaughter by knife throwing | "Methylated Dom" | Suicide by poison, cut-throat and fall from roof | Webb Miller'. Also in the index are 'Coroners, new districts' (with newspaper cutting reporting the 'revision of London coroners' districts, which reduces the number from six to five [...] Mr. Hervey Wyatt will have charge of the South-Western district (Battersea, Lambeth, Southwark and Wandsworth)') and 'Southern District, removal to'. Entries far briefer. One of two volumes in which Wyatt writes the inquest result in red. On 29 January 1940: 'S[outh]'wark | Joseph Edwards 58 | C.R.O. | No fixed abode | Found dead in lavatory in school playground | Partly exposure, partly aortic stenosis'.FIVE: Vol. 14 (20 May 1940 to 25 May 1942). 401pp, 8vo. Includes Wyatt's five-page 'Summing-up in traffic case'. Loosely inserted letter from Wyatt's stockbroker 'Bobby Bristowe', while serving with HMS Hermes, accompanying newspaper cutting regarding 'Lt.-Cmdr. Bristowe's exploit in exploding depth charges against the hull of the Richelieu at Dakar from a motor-boat'. Also a letter from George Keppel regarding his career in the Royal Navy. Also an ALS from Eglantine Grey, widow of pathologist Francis Temple Grey (1886-1941). Loosely inserted is a pelvic X-ray, with Wyatt's notes on back, in 'case of Jas Pugh' ('Knocked down by lorry at refuse dump'). Also a four-page report regarding 'an enquiry into the death of a woman of 41' ('The family 'want to know, and I think they are entitled to know just what was done at St Thomas's and how it came about that this condition was missed.') Between 11 and 15 July 1940 is a page headed 'After an Execution', giving Wyatt's instruction to the 'Gentlemen' of 'a Coroner's jury': '[...] You are here as representatives of the pubic to ascertain and subsequently declare in a signed document that the sentence of death passed by one of H.M. Judges on the verdict of a jury at the Central Criminal Court has been properly carried out | Executions in this country are, of course, not public, only a few officials being present so that the only way you can perform your duty in these cases is by hearing the sworn testimony of some of those who were present'. Also three-pages headed 'The Murder of May Ellington 16.1.40', being an account of the case, not a report of the inquest, with Wyatt writing at the end: 'Hamerton was executed at Wandsworth Prison 27 March 1940. I held the inquest.' There follow a number of similar extended accounts of cases: 'Murder and Suicide 31.12.39' ('Keith Simpson did p.m'), 'A case of Allergic Shock 22.7.41', 'A Clapham Junction Case 27.6.41', 'Execution 9.7.41' ('Keith Simpson did p.m.'), 'Suicide in Prison 9.7.41', 'Long Continuation of Circulation after Collapse at Operation. 15.7.41', 'Case of Violet Maud Shepherd 29.7.41' ('There is something unsatisfactory about this case. The husband was very upset in the witness box by quite ordinary questions about when he reported his wife missing.'), 'Three Children Lost in Burning House 8.2.40 | The street door that slammed', 'The Case of Webb Miller 9.5.40', 'Lightning Stroke 12.6.40', 'The Retired Station-Master 5.6.40', 'Unusual Accident on the Underground 25.6.40', 'The Two Schoolboys and the Diamond Ring 9.8.40'SIX: Vol. 20 (1 January 1947 to 31 December 1947). Around 160pp Handwriting odd. Many cases, the large part recorded briefly. Diary entries of personal information increase in number in this volume. On 18 December 1947 he writes: 'Bernard Spilsbury found dead last night.' Towards the end of the volume are a number of cuttings relating to Spilsbury's suicide and inquest, one stating: 'Mr. Wyatt, Battersea coroner, and Mr. Robinson, St. Pancras Deputy Coroner, sat with Mr. Bentley Purchase throughout the proceedings'.SEVEN: Vol. 21 (1 January 1948 to 24 November 1949). Around 250pp. Same handwriting as last. Long sections of notes on learning Ancient Greek (see also vol.22). Brief records of cases end in June 1948, none thereafter. Example, on 22 June: 'Stanley Lewis Price 56 T. Ped. stepped off island in front of a tram on Victoria Embankment | Joseph Charles Storey 56 Coal gas suicide. Wife discovered intrigue by means of a re-addressed letter | Emily Jessie Jessett 73 Fall in Newington Instn'. Also two pages keeping score in the first cricket test match, England versus New Zealand, Headingly, 11 June 1949.EIGHT: Vol. 22 (10 May to 23 October 1948). Around 240pp. Titled on label on spine: 'GREEK'. Entirely composed of detailed notes, neatly written out by Wyatt, on the fifteen lessons ('Week's Work') of his adult education course in Ancient Greek, by Wolsey Hall, Oxford. In pencil on first page: 'Dancer's End | Tring | 10.5.48'.NINE: Vol. 23 (February 1950 to 19 May 1951). Around 210pp. Mixture of personal diary and notes. No professional notes, but among cuttings loosely inserted is an Evening Standard account of Wyatt's inquest into the death of 'Higgs of the Sixth', a Dulwich College boy who broke his neck playing rugby, with Simpson as pathologist.TEN: Vol. 26 (December 1953 to August 1954). Notes on reading (including biographies of medical figures, Sir Walter Scott, Dean Inge), his three-page reader's report to Hodder and Stoughton, advising against acquiring a novel by John Unett. Also Wyatt's thoughtful three-page response to an appeal in The Times, asking how to acquire 'a contented mind'. Around 280pp.Among the correspondence in the volumes is an ALS from the sister of suicide Harold J. M. Sims of Shoreditch, regarding whom Wyatt writes in his case record: 'About 5 yrs. ago this man received £600 in cash as compensation for an accident. He never worked again but lived on this money and when it came to an end he took Lysol.' The correspondence also includes: TLS from the eye surgeon Sir Benjamin William Rycroft (1902-1967); ALS from Samuel Ingleby Oddie (1869-1945), coroner for Central London and Westminster, agreeing to take Wyatt on as his deputy; ALS from Dr Robert Lyall Guthrie (1867-1937), to whom Wyatt served as deputy in East London; ALS from A. Douglas Cowburn, whom Wyatt replaced as coroner for South-West London in 1940; ALS from the judge Sir Edward Anthony Hawke (1895-1964); ALS from 'R. C. Brock', i.e. the eminent surgeon Lord Brock (1903-1980); ACS from the botanist Alfred James Wilmott (1888-1950) of the Natural History Museum, sending two seeds 'from a locust bean' for Wyatt to compare with one in a case. ALS from W. T. Allen, editor of the South Western Star.