The man who died twice: family history puzzle with Family Tree columnist Dear Tom
Family historians love a genealogical mystery and in Family Tree we enjoy sharing our readers’ stories of family history conundrums and fascinating finds in the archives and online. You'll find lots of wonderful ancestry searching snippets collected from all over the world by stalwart family historian Tom Wood in his hugely popular Dear Tom column every other month within the pages of Family Tree.
Two entries in the General Register Office indexes
A recent family history mystery that captured our imagination was sent in to Dear Tom by Family Tree magazine reader Dr Stephen Larkin and relates to a man who appears to have died twice! Stephen got in touch following the discovery made after one of his cousins asked for help in finding his father-in-law’s rather elusive grandfather.
Stephen did indeed track him down. He then went back further in time to trace his 2x great-grandfather William Bemment and was very surprised to locate two entries for him in the General Register Office (GRO) death indexes, in 1837 and again in 1838!
The surname Bemment is uncommon, Stephen tells us, so he ordered the GRO pdf copies for each death entry and was amazed to find that they were indeed both for the same gentleman, who died at Runwell in Essex on 5 August 1837.
The death was first registered four days after William died in August 1837 but was registered again in June the following year. The same coroner had registered both events, with the cause of death recorded as, ‘Diverse Injuries in and upon the chest, Stomach and Body’.
Inquest reports in newspaper archives
So what was going on? Given the circumstances, Stephen turned to local newspapers and found three reports of the inquest. One, from the Chelmsford Chronicle, reports: ‘Fatal encounter between two labourers – A lamentable occurrence took place at Runwell on Friday last.
'The son of a labourer, named William Bemment, in the employ of Thos Tuckwell, having made use of abusive language towards Robert Perry, a labourer who was also employed b Mr Tuckwell, Perry chastised him. Bemment, the father, enraged at this circumstance, went up to Perry on Friday afternoon, and tore his waistcoats and shirt off his back. Perry endeavoured to appease him, but receiving further provocation, struck him with his fist upon the head. Several blows passed between them, and they fell, Bemment being undermost. They scuffled for about two minutes, when Perry, at Bemment’s request, let him get up. Bemment then challenged Perry to fight, but he refused, and Bemment was taken home, where he died the next morning.
'An inquest was held on Monday last, before CC Lewis, Esq, coroner, when Mr Colchester Thackthwaite, of Wickford, surgeon, who had made a post mortem examination of the body, stated that the whole chest and abdomen were injured by bruises, and particularly the region of the stomach. That death was occasioned by these bruises, which might have arisen from the bows or from any person falling upon him. – Perry said before the jury, “I should not have meddled with deceased if he had not meddled with me – I begged of him to keep off”. The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter against Perry, and the coroner issued a warrant for his apprehension. Both parties were honest and industrious labourers.
'The deceased has left a wife and seven children.’
You might also enjoy these extracts from Dear Tom:
Two GRO death registrations a mystery
So there we have details of the tragic event, although we are none the wiser why William Bemment’s death was registered twice by the same coroner, nearly a year apart. Perhaps he had simply forgotten he had already officially registered the death?
Stephen has another theory: ‘One possibility is that the second occasion followed the trial for manslaughter of Robert Perry. As this record from the County Assizes shows [above], the trial took place on 5 March, so maybe there is no connection. It is interesting to note that Robert Perry was found guilty but his sentence was only seven days in prison.’
We all know it’s wise to ‘kill off our ancestors’ but is twice strictly necessary?!
* This family history extract is taken from Dear Tom in the Christmas 2018 issue of Family Tree, available from our online store.
Do you have a family history story for Dear Tom? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustration © Ellie Keeble for Family Tree.