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The Mysterious poisoning of Hannah Bullock at Harkstead-The Ipswich Journal 10th May 1889

The adjourned inquiry into the circumstances attending the death of Harriet E Bullock, daughter of Samuel Bullock, farm bailiff, was held on Wednesday afternoon, before the County Coroner (A.F. Vulliamy, Esq) at the Foresters’ Arms Inn, Chelmondiston. The deceased died suddenly and mysteriously on the night of April 14th, and at an inquiry held the following day, Dr. Fleming could not name the precise cause of death from the external examination which he had made. An adjournment was then made, and Dr. G.S. Elliston was deputed to assist in arriving at some opinion. A post-mortem examination was held, and although no determined result was arrived at, poisoning was strongly suspected. Upon this the inquest was again adjourned, and the stomach of deceased submitted to Dr. T. Stevenson, the Government analyst, for diagnosis.

Dr. Thos. Stevenson, after the Coroner had formally opened the inquiry, was called. He had analysed the stomach and contents which Dr. Fleming had sent him. The stomach itself showed no diseased appearance, but the content he had examined by the aid of microscope and analysed them. He had found a number of small blue particles of indigo, such as are generally found in “vermin killers”. He had extracted therefrom nearly a quarter of a grain of poison (strychnine). This quantity was very much beyond a medicinal dose; indeed, as much as would ordinarily result fatally.

The Coroner then had a 3d packet of vermin killer, a powder of a light blue colour, produced.

Dr. Stevenson said that this was similar to the matter that he had found in the stomach of the deceased.

The Coroner: How much do these packets usually contain?

Witness: A little over a grain, which is a fatal dose. Of course some portion of the poison would disappear from the stomach.

The Coroner: How long after taking would the poison prove fatal?

Witness: From 20 minutes to six hours, I could not tell how it had been administered in this case.

The Coroner: Could the poison be taken without the taste being perceived?

Witness: No, it has a very nauseous and bitter taste. In reply to questions the witness said the strychnine usually effected its purpose in from 15 to 30 minutes. It would be exceptional to be beyond three quarter of an hour, and he did not remember any such case.

Edith Barker, a niece of deceased, who slept with her on the night of her death, said that she was first awakened about one o’clock by her aunt shaking in bed. The Coroner then questioned the witness as to the anterior circumstances attending this. Witness, in reply, said that she had not seen or heard anything previous to her first waking at one o’clock. Her aunt had appeared on the day previous cheerful and happy, and she had never complained of anything.

Samuel Bullock, the father of deceased, said he went into his daughters’ room about one o’clock on the night of her death. She did not say anything, except that she “felt queer all over”. She said nothing in explanation of her condition.

The Coroner: Have you ever bought any vermin killer?

Witness: Yes, last September – three pennyworth (like the packet produced) at Mr Wiggin’s in Ipswich.

The Coroner: Now I want to know if there was anything affecting your daughter in any way?

Witness: Nothing at all. She has never been low spirited.

The Coroner: Who did she used to go about with?

Witness: Mostly with her brother.

Sarah Amner was next called, but she could throw no additional light upon the motive or cause of the deceased’s death.

Ellen Bullock, mother of deceased corroborated the evidence, which was adduced at the two previous inquiries, explaining also the disposal of the rat poison, which the last witness purchased in September. Her daughter had never caused her the least anxiety.

There was no piece of paper of any sort in the deceased’s room.

This witness was much affected whilst answering the Coroners interrogations, and fainted whilst Mr Vulliamy was reading over her depositions. Before she had recovered, her son Samuel Bullock was called. After the usual caution, this witness, who is a horseman on a farm, and previously in the Royal Marine Artillery, was examined at considerable length. Nothing material, however, was elucidated from his evidence. He had never purchased or seen, while in his father’s house, any vermin killer.

The Coroner said he did not see how they could return anything but an open verdict. There was no doubt that poison had been taken by the deceased in sufficient quantity to cause death; but as to how, when, or why, or by whom it was administered there was absolutely no evidence. Probably it was taken in the night, around a quarter of an hour before the little niece awoke, but this they did not conclusively know. He thought the Jury would feel with him that the only possible verdict which they could return was an open verdict that she died from the effects of strychnine poisoning.

The Jury without any deliberation, at once agreed upon this course.

Mr. R.M. Fleming said that he had been requested by the mother of the deceased to repeat the denial which he made at the last inquiry, of the truth of a rumour that the deceased was shortly to be a mother.

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