Former coroner's letters donated to museum
- Credit: Honiton Musum
A letter book has recently been donated to the museum collection. It contains copies of 998 letters written between January 1864 and January 1869 by Spencer Murch Cox, the East Devon Coroner who lived in The Gables on Honiton High Street.
In 1860 Spencer Cox announced “My Lords and Gentlemen, the lamented death of Mr R H Aberdein creates a vacancy in the Office of Coroner, which he has held ever since the death of my late father, Isaac Cox, in the year 1831. I beg to solicit your suffrages as a Candidate for that important Office, and I pledge myself, if elected, to use utmost endeavours faithfully to discharge its duties”.
A meeting of freeholders in the Honiton district was held at the Assembly Room. The County Under Sheriff W Buckingham presided and asked for nominations for the post of Coroner. Captain Porter proposed Spencer Murch Cox and Gustavus Smith seconded the nomination. No one else was suggested so Spencer Murch Cox, Esq. was duly elected. The Magistrates, Under Sheriff, and the freeholders from the county left the Assembly Room and went to Mr Cox's house to partake of luncheon. In the evening a large party of Honiton freeholders spent a harmonious evening being entertained by Mr Cox at supper.
A Coroner’s job was to investigate all sudden or unexplained deaths, order a post-mortem to be carried out by a local doctor and then hold an inquest. These were usually held in a local inn before a jury. Witnesses were examined and gave evidence, the cause of death determined, and the verdict given.
Spencer Cox held inquests all over the East Devon area. Most of his verdicts were natural causes and accidental death, but there were also murders, suicides, manslaughter, drowning, infanticide, suffocation, starvation and administering laudanum and opium by mistake.
The largest inquest that Spencer Cox held was at the King’s Arms in Ottery St Mary in September 1866. Over a hundred people had been listening to a Plymouth Brethren preacher Eliza Harker, when a brick wall and a chimney stack collapsed onto the crowd. Eight people died and twelve were seriously injured.
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