I first came across the Inquest of John MARTIN's drowning at the Market Wharf in Launceston, in the Cornwall Chronicle while researching my own family some years ago.
The poignant story of his sad life and complicated family circumstances that emerged from the depositions has almost haunted me since then and with the advent of newspapers online I've had more opportunity to explore it further.
The Cornwall Chronicle Wednesday 29 April 1868 p 3
See also Launceston Examiner Tuesday 28 April 1868 p 5 ... INQUEST AT THE SALMON AND BALL.....
An inquest was held on Monday after noon, ... at the "Salmon and Ball Inn," on view of the remains of John Martin, whose body was found drowned that morning.
Mr. George Vaughan deposed— I am a baker, residing in Patterson street, in this town. I have seen the body... of my apprentice from the Orphan School. He has been in my service for two years, and was apprenticed to me by the name of John Martin he was anything but an active boy, and was naturally stupid. I was not at home yesterday, being in the country. I left the boy at home, giving him a shilling as my custom is. I told him to be home at 6 o'clock in the evening. He always went out of a Sunday. I returned home about 7 o'clock ... deceased was not at home ... had not seen him since yesterday morning ... made every enquiry for him in the neighbourhood, but I did not communicate with the police, I had not been scolding him on the Saturday evening or yesterday morning, and I have not found fault with him for several days. I have never heard him making allusion to making away with himself. Some of the boys in my neighbourhood were his associates. He was about 15 years of age. The cap now produced I believe to be his. He wore the strap over it in this manner. A woman has come to my place claiming him as her son, but the boy never recognised her as his mother. The Rev. Mr. Hunter has told me that he had no relatives here. I have had words with the boy some time ago, but not recently.
Hannah Smith deposed — I am a widow. My maiden name was Kenneally (Corneilly in Examiner). I have seen the body which the jury have viewed. It is the body of my son. He was born after my first husband died. The boy's father's name was Hart, with whom I was cohabiting. Hart was very cruel to me, and I ran away from him. Hart then picked up with another woman named Martin, about nine years ago. When I left Hart, I left him with two boys, the deceased and another named James. The woman Martin left these children at the Orphan School, when the man Hart left her. I last saw the boy alive about two months ago, at Mr. Vaughan's house. I had some conversation with him then, but very little. The boy has never acknowledged me as his mother. He was only four years old when I left him - I never saw him after I left him until I saw him at Mr. Vaughan's.
Depositions from some of John's acquaintance's describe their activities that Sunday:
John Stephen Harris deposed— I knew the deceased boy John Martin. I was in his company from two to half past two o'clock yesterday. I first saw him at Mr. Vaughan's, when he told me to wait for him for a short time. He came out shortly after, and we went together towards the Sandhill, as far as the O'Connell Hotel. He did not complain to me about any thing. I asked him to go to St Paul's Sunday School. He declined to go, saying that if he went once he would always go. He then said, good bye, and parted with me, shaking hands. I went to school, and he proceeded down the street by himself. He wore a cap of the description of that produced, with a strap over it. I offered to shake hands with him.
George Cook deposed— I am an apprentice at the Cornwall Chronicle office. I knew the deceased John Martin, and last saw him at the Market Wharf yesterday between four and five o'clock. I had been in his company yesterday before that time. When I last saw him he was sitting down on the wharf, with his back to the water. He was about three yards from the edge, and was playing with the dirt, I and my companion went into a boat, leaving the deceased behind. That was at a quarter past three o'clock. One of the boys wanted him to go in the boat, but I and the other boys would not consent, as there were enough in the boat. We were out about an hour, and when we returned Martin was still on the wharf, He did not look at us or speak to us. We returned along the wharf between the deceased and the edge of the wharf. None of us spoke to him as we passed, but left him there. The cap produced looks very much like the one he had on, and the strap over it in the same way. I have known him from the time he was three months at Mr Vaughan's. I don't think he was subject to fits. I was never in his company of an evening. I believe it was Mr Bacon's boat we were in. I believe the other boys had permission to go in it. We went as far as the Bullock Jetty. The owner of the boat came after us to bring the boat back, he did not threaten us for taking it, but he said we had no business to take it. I did not hear him speak to the deceased. I have known the deceased and his master have rows. Once, on Good Friday, Mr. Vaughan kicked him in the bake house. William Henry Smith another boy who went in the boat, corroborated the evidence of the previous witness. He said the deceased boy never looked bright, but always had a sorrowful look.
Alfred Heald deposed —I was down at the Market Wharf yesterday evening, after I left St Paul's school. I found the cap produced at the little steps just opposite here; it was floating with the top uppermost, and with the strap across it. My brother was with me. I took the cap home and dried it. I was told by some boys that it belonged to Vaughan's boy, and I then took it to Mr. Vaughan, who said it belonged to Martin. I then took it to the police station. The cap was very wet when I found it. It was about 5 o'clock then.
James Brown deposed— I was on the Market Wharf a little after 8 o'clock this morning, when my attention was called by a little boy to a body in the water. It was the body of a lad lying on its face on the mud. I reported it to the police. It was the same body the jury have viewed.
The jury returned a verdict to the effect that deceased was found drowned in the river Tamar, but how or by what means he became drowned there was no evidence to show.
Did John Martin decide to end it all that fateful Sunday afternoon? That's not what the jury decided, but I wonder!
On searching further I found that two years previously John Martin had been the subject a newspaper letter from Isaac Sherwin critical of the operation of the THE QUEEN'S ASYLUM FOR DESTITUTE CHILDREN: Launceston Examiner Thurs 17 May 1866 p 3
The Cornwall Chronicle Saturday 26 May 1866 p 3 ... Mr. Isaac Sherwin has recently addressed a letter to a Northern newspaper, complaining of the conduct or the Orphan School authorities in sending out a lad as an apprentice to a baker in Launceston.
...Mr Isaac Sherwin's accusation ... : Mr Vaughan, a baker of this town, applied to the guardians of the Asylum for a smart active youth who could read and write, to assist him in his business. A boy in his thirteenth year was sent to him. Great was his disappointment to find the lad excessively stupid and ignorant — utterly unfit for his business.
He could not compute the value of two loaves at three pence halfpenny each. He can barely write, but not spell. His master asked him to write his name, and he wrote ' John Martin, Obertown.'
He is most uncouth and unmannerly — sitting at table with his cap on— dirty and negligent in his habits, and profoundly ignorant. His master is greatly disgusted, and exclaims loudly against a training which furnishes such a specimen 'for a smart, active lad.'
... not one word of the kind is to be found in Mr. Vaughan's application to the Asylum.
... Dr. Coverdale's report to the Colonial Secretary upon this frivolous and untruthful complaint, and we shall leave the nubile to judge, after reading it, between the Orphan School Guardians and Mr. Isaac Sherwin.
SIR,— A letter has appeared in the Launceston Examiner newspaper of the 17th inst., under the heading of the ' Queen's Asylum for Destitute Children, which I think requires a passing notice at my hands; firstly, because of some inaccuracies contained therein; secondly, because of the standing position of the writer; and thirdly, because of the unjust reflections cast upon the guardians of the institution. I therefore have the honor to address my remarks to yourself as head of the department, rather than resort to any of the public prints of the colony. 1st. Let me consider the particular circumstances connected with the apprenticeship of the lad to Mr. Vaughan, from whom the following application was received : —
Launceston, Tasmania, March 31, 1866.
SIR, — I request permission to have an apprentice from the Asylum in accordance with the rules and regulations of the establishment. The business in which he would be engaged is that of a baker, and, if possible, would prefer a lad who has been employed in the bakehouse. I submit respectfully that I have been a master tradesman for several years in this town and I am a married man. Every care would be taken to properly educate him and make competent in his business, &c, ... George Vaughan.
To Superintendent of Her Majesty's Orphan Asylum, New Town.
... the guardians fail to see any mention of a smart active lad that could read and write. To the contrary, they considered Mr. Vaughan would properly educate the boy and make him competent in his business; and, with a view therefore to meet the wishes of the master, they apportioned to his service a lad that had been in the bake house of the Asylum for a period of about eighteen months.
... whether the boy had a good physiognomy or a large development of brain, were points of less importance than physical power, ... notwithstanding Mr. Sherwin's statement to the contrary, that the boy's first employment would not be to run along with his master's cart on the delivery of bread to his customers.
... He appears to have been in the Asylum about six years and a half, and doubtless during that time must have had as much education as falls to the lot of children 0f his stamp
... Your obedient servant,
J. COVERDALE, M.D., Principal.
To The Hon. the Colonial Secretary.
Further research to be done... Lorraine Wootton.