Suicide 2. A London coroner’s inquest verdict, 1791

Eighteenth and nineteenth century English coroners’ inquests investigated roughly one death in every twenty. Their main task was to discover if someone else might have been involved or if a crime might have been committed. Suicide was one of those cases because it was a crime until 1961. The truly poignant part of this verdict is that nobody knew the name of the man who had hanged himself. Juries were always comprised of men from the locality where the body was found. That means the suicide must have been an outsider, perhaps a vagrant or even a suspected criminal as he seems to have been locked in a room or cage with iron bars. Still, the jury was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he was insane when he killed himself. Increasingly common during the 18th century, this verdict may indicate the emergence of an attitude which automatically linked self-murder with mental illness.

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