Monthly Archives: November 2018
Today would have been mine and Steve’s ‘Pearl’ Wedding Anniversary. Thirty years ago today we tied the knot and although the ends have been pulled apart, as readers know by now, I still like to come in here and mark the day. My previous anniversary posts can be seen here:
2012 SELF INDULGENCE
In my previous blog I touched on a little project I had taken up. I wanted to look into the case of Alfred Henry ‘Harry’ Dainton. I can’t recall exactly when I heard mention of a murder and murderer in the Dainton family. Reassuringly though, it was also mentioned that the events happened a long, long time ago. In 1891, Harry was convicted of murdering his wife – Hannah – by drowning her in the River Avon. With the advent of the internet I had always planned to do a bit of research into their story when I had the time.
When meeting some of Steve’s family in October 2017 at his cousin’s funeral (as mentioned in my blog HERE) I discovered Steve’s uncle had also shown an interest in finding out more about Harry. He had even spent a day at the National Archives in Kew to see what they had on the case. At least I knew then that I was not the only one who was curious.
To find out more for myself, I ordered the Trial Notes Case File from Kew. As requested, the File arrived in the form of 52 JPEGs. You can see one of the JPEGs, along with the text of a rather long press cutting submitted as part of the Case File (re-typed verbatim by me), in Claire Sully’s blog HERE and HERE.
When, in my last blog I used the word ‘spooky’, it was not so much to do with ghosts – although Shepton Mallet is said to be ‘ Britain’s most haunted prison’. The spooky aspect was more to do with the timing of my getting my butt into gear and properly going on-line etc.
Harry was buried in December 1891 in unconsecrated ground within the Prison walls. It was reasonable to assume he had lain undisturbed for over 100 years, and that he would be undisturbed for many, many more years. As I started looking into the matter I was surprised to find Shepton Mallet Prison had been bought by a property developer with plans to make the site into luxury flats. City & Country (C&C), bought Shepton along with several other prisons sold off by Ministry of Justice a few years ago. My timing, however, coincided with things stepping up a bit.
As things stand, I am waiting to hear back from C&C and/or the archaeologists – Cotswold Archaeology, on what will happen to Harry and the other six prisoners who are buried there. Other local issues apply which are halting C&C’s progress but I believe discovering real evidence that prisoner’s bodies are still likely to be there (see Cotswold’s Report HERE) will have put a spanner in the works where C&C have legal obligations not to erect buildings over human remains.
The Cotswold Report only names and dates burials of two prisoners – ‘William Bignal on 24th February 1925 and John Lincoln on 2nd March 1926’. That does not mean Harry and others are proven as having been removed, or developed over in one of the previous gaol developments when consideration for human remains was less regulated.
Harry and the others are, I believe, still likely be there. I hope however, because they were buried over 100 years ago, that they are not effectively written off as collateral damage! Taking a look at the 1922 Home Office diagram we can see that it would be hard not to disturb the other graves where they are in such close proximity to each other.
The legal obligations were in place anyway but I think the developers would have been surprised to hear from someone called Dainton asking questions about what their plans were at such a critical time. In fact, it was only when I asked certain questions by way of using a Freedom of Information (FOI) request addressed to Ministry of Justice that I was able to get a response confirming C&C would have been aware of bodies needing their consideration. Up until that point I was being answered along the lines of with “if we find any bodies”.
The FOI response did helpfully provide the 1922 map and list of exactly where the individual prisoners potentially lay (see above photos) which they stated was provided in the tender pack to all bidders. I am afraid C&Cs’ being somewhat circumspect about answering my initial enquiries does nothing to help me feel confident they are affording the bodies the priority they deserve.
I hope I am proved wrong but I am aware C&C have been criticised in other quarters for their handling of other projects. Dorchester Prison has had longstanding issues surrounding the treatment of its own prisoner burials.
Going back to the case of Harry and Hannah, when I had been looking up references to get information before searching in earnest, there were a couple of things that struck me and sent warning signals. Did Harry or Hannah possibly have Huntington’s disease (HD)?
In Harry’s evidence he said Hannah had ‘threatened to do away with herself’. In other evidence he accounted for having wet clothes as having tried to commit suicide ‘he had jumped into the river as he had wanted to do away with himself’. This had been picked up on in websites briefly mentioning the story. With suicide being so prevalent in cases of HD it did make me wonder.
Add to that the case I have been following known as ABC V St George’s, where a husband who had undiagnosed HD killed his wife, I wanted to see if there were any signs that HD could have been at play in Harry and Hannah’s sad tale.
After satisfying myself as far as I could HD was very unlikely to have been a factor in their story, this being based on the information I had including the trial evidence and newspaper reports from before; during; and after the trial (and trust me on this, I have scrutinised hundreds of on-line reports looking for clues), I made more of an effort to make contact with living relatives to highlight the sale of Shepton. I also needed to satisfy myself Steve’s own Dainton branch blood-line was far removed from Harry’s. Bad enough being told of/reminded there was a murderer in the family, let alone there could have been a genetic hiccup like HD involved.
With the help of other Daintons who have also been looking into the genealogy of the couple’s bloodline, I was able to trace descendants of one of Harry’s brothers. Harry and Hannah did have several children who were made orphans.
One of the children was blind. Elizabeth’s story hit me quite hard where in other family site references it had been assumed she was well looked after in a school for the blind. During my on-line newspaper searches, I uncovered she was only able to stay there a short while and was sent to the Workhouse. On further investigation, she died in the Bath Union Workhouse within three years of being made an orphan. God knows what sort of existence she must have had bless her.
Many of the others were sent to Canada from Dr Barnardo’s under what is referred to as British Home Children. It has therefore been more complicated trying to trace existing linear family. Initially I was trying to find relatives who might want to help support the need for Harry’s remains to be respected by C&C etc. More weight would obviously apply if living blood relatives took an interest.
The tracing of relatives also, again spookily, coincided with another area of my taking up Harry and Hannah’s story. By chance, I saw an advert in a TV magazine saying Chalkboard Television Production Company was looking for historic crimes where there may have been a miscarriage of justice. More details on the BBC Programme Murder, Mystery and My Family can be seen HERE. If taking forward stories, Chalkboard do need to make efforts to find living relatives/descendants and my efforts thus far would help.
From what I had read of the case, I thought there could be consideration given to whether Harry was wrongly hung. I would need to do a whole blog on what leads me to that conclusion but several areas worried me. Not least, even if Harry were proven to have been involved, should he have been found guilty of manslaughter as opposed to murder which carried a lesser sentence and not the death penalty?
Chalkboard have spent months looking for more evidence to help research the case further but have been hampered by the lack of existing documentation given we are talking over 100 years ago. The story cannot therefore be taken forward at this stage but they do feel it is an interesting case. They have said they will get back to me should anything come to light which might raise a strong legal argument either for or against Harry’s conviction being unsafe. The programme makers are always keen to ensure those taking part bear in mind that what they uncover can lead to more evidence against innocence than for.
Harry never confessed to the crime but, given the circumstantial evidence, it is hard to see that he would not have been involved in some way even if it were unintentional death. Maybe he went too far in trying to teach Hannah a lesson where at the end of his tether? Several times on the day of the drowning Harry would say to people comments along the lines of “If I keep In the same mind as I am now she shant walk about as she is now”. Harry’s actions on the day, and his bizarre actions in trying to cover his tracks afterwards, did not help his case either.
I should point out Harry had a record of being a violent man. He had only been out of gaol a few days prior to the drowning having served seven days for a previous assault on Hannah, and on condition of being bound over to keep the peace for three months. That said, Hannah herself was no saint and had been in brushes with the law for assault.
Alcohol consumption, on both sides, clearly played a part in their turbulent marriage. Harry wrote letters in his last days pleading with his siblings to ‘give up the drink’. The Temperance Society even used Harry and Hannah’s story as an example to further their cause of the evils of alcohol. Apart from making peace with his family, in his last days Harry showed signs of remorse. It was taken as a form of confession when he was reported to have told the Prison Chaplain ‘he admitted the justice of his sentence and he would confess all he had to God himself, and not to anybody on earth.’
It is shocking how quickly things moved on from the time of the drowning to the execution. The drowning took place on Tuesday 8th September 1891. Harry’s sentence was given at the trial heard before the Assizes on Tuesday 24th November 1891. Prior to that there had been a Coroner’s Inquest which took place Friday 11th and Monday 14th September; followed by a City Police Court hearing on 17th and 18th September.
Although Harry was called to give evidence previously, from what I gather Harry was not called to give evidence before the Assizes on November 24th. Certainly there are no references to the ‘Prisoner’ giving evidence in the Judge’s (Justice Sir Lewis William Cave’s) own Court Notes apart from one line on page 24 of 26 pages ‘Prisoner’s Statement put in’. It is not clear if that was a submission from Harry or his Defence Barrister.
The Jury took just twelve minutes to find Harry guilty!
According to the Shepton Mallet Journal dated 27th November 1891, Harry made no answer when the Clerk of the Assize informed him that he stood convicted of the crime of murder, and asked him if he had anything to say why judgement of death should not be passed upon him according to law? The article then goes on to say that after the Judge placed on the black cap, and proceeded to pass the death sentence, only then did Harry respond. ‘The prisoner when being taken away by the warders, turned round to the Judge, and said: I didn’t do it. I was at the bottom of Westgate Street when the clock struck half-past ten.’ The Judge replied with ‘It is no good adding this falsehood to your crime.’
I don’t think the Jury actually thought the sentence of hanging would be carried through. In fact, as the Judge’s notes confirms, the Jury asked for a ‘recommendation to mercy on the ground of the aggravating conduct of his wife.’
Several petitions were sent to the then Home Secretary – Sir Henry Matthews – to plea for mercy. The Sheriff of Somerset, who had sat through the trial, even travelled to London to request an audience with the Home Secretary to ask for the sentence to be commuted. All was to no avail. On Tuesday 15th December 1891, just ninety nine days after Hannah’s life was cut short, Harry was taken to the gallows and executed. Harry is said to have expressed that he hoped to be reunited with Hannah in Heaven.
Whatever the circumstances and facts of the case, I am glad that we no longer subscribe to capital punishment. In my work as a Mental Health Tribunal Clerk I sometimes sit in on hearings for ‘Restricted‘ patients. Some of those patients may well have been sentenced to capital punishment if still in force and their mental illness not uncovered in time.
Who knows what would have happened to the Patient in ABC vs St George’s had such swift ‘justice’ been dished out? And who knows if Harry himself was suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness that would have, I’d like to think, been picked up on in this day and age?
Having established HD was unlikely to have filtered through to Steve from Harry or Hannah’s gene pool, I started tracing back along Steve’s own blood line. I could be totally wrong here but I think HD may have entered via his Great, Great Grandmother who was not a Dainton by birth but, like me, had married into the family. She died in 1892 aged 56.
The death certificate gives the cause of death as Phthisis Chronic and Acute Bronchitis. The Medical Definition of phthisis is ‘ a progressively wasting or consumptive condition.’ Steve’s Great, Great Grandfather lived to be 86 which probably would have been too good an age to die with HD in those days. Many of their children died relatively young, including Steve’s Great Grandfather.
George Huntington, whom the disease is named after, identified a form of genetic illness in his 1872 paper ‘On Chorea’. It would take many, many years for HD to get to the stage of being a disease recognisable through symptoms. Some, myself included, would say we are still not there yet.
Since my last blog I have been a tad busy and there is still so much more to look into. I am still here with Steve’s ashes and his subtle and not so subtle ways of guiding me to things. Who knows what else may be uncovered?
I said at the beginning of this blog (apologies for the length but you know me by now) that I couldn’t recall exactly when I heard mention of a murder and murderer in the Dainton family. Thinking about it more, and looking at Steve’s own direct linear, I probably heard in a roundabout way on 21st August 1987. That was the date I went out with Steve on our first proper evening ‘date’ and he mentioned his father had Huntington’s. A disease such as HD had murdered generations of his family with no mercy. I witnessed Steve’s bravery even up until his final moments. I can certainly say Steve was innocent. He did nothing to deserve the death sentence that HD can bring.
I hope that Harry got to be reunited in Heaven with Hannah. For all his faults I am convinced that Hannah would not have wanted Harry’s life to end on the gallows. If not in Heaven, maybe helping to get Harry reburied on consecrated ground if possible is part of helping him on his journey back to Hannah.
In my Will I have instructed that my own ashes be laid to rest next to Steve’s. We had Eltham Cemetery stipulated. Now though I rather fancy the idea of looking into going somewhere like this – Eden Valley Woodland Burial Ground. Resting under bluebells seems rather attractive.
Steve does already have a memorial tree by way of a sapling I sponsored in Hundred Acre Wood planted through Woodland Friends. It is planted in a lovely peaceful place and I went to see the the sapling not long after planting. I don’t think they have branched out yet (excuse the pun) into the woodland burial sector.
Thirty years ago today I had no idea getting married to Steve would take me on such an amazing journey. Whether I live another thirty days or thirty years who knows what next strange path I will be walking through. Or what I may be treading over.
I shall end with a new poem, along with a photo taken thirty years ago.
The family tree of you and me stops dead upon the chart;
No roots extending further down where children take no part.
We both decided long ago our genes be not extended;
And so it is when I am gone our family will be ended.
But maybe one day years from now a child will stop to view,
A wooded bloom of bluebells that emerged from me and you.
Not rotting leaves and detritus in shaded canopy,
But sun and flowers and rainbow showers which wash you more to me.
Happy Pearl Anniversary Sweetheart. xxxxx