An Assistant Surgeon's suicide
An Assistant Surgeon's suicide

Royal NavyNaval Surgeon
Royal NavyNaval Surgeon

The suicide of Assistant Surgeon Thomas Hart of HMS Conway in 1847, as described by The Times newspaper.

Extracts from the Times newspaper
Ma 19 July 1847The following are the extraordinary particulars relating to the death of Mr. Thomas Hart, late assistant-surgeon of the Conway, 26, who destroyed himself by cutting his throat with a razor at the Quebec Hotel on Friday morning last, as stated in The Times of yesterday: - It appeared in evidence at the inquest taken before Mr. Cooper, the coroner for the borough, of Portsmouth, on Friday evening, that the deceased went to the Quebec Hotel on the previous evening in company with Mr. Henry Wilson, R.N., acting assistant-surgeon of the Victory (newly appointed), and partook of a little draught pale ale about half-past 9 in the evening. He had been paid off the same day. Mr. Wilson had known the deceased about four years ago, before he went in the Conway. On the occasion under investigation he did not observe any peculiarity about the deceased, who appeared in his usual health and spirits, but spoke vehemently and indignantly of the degradation his class was suffering under in the navy, in being so ill provided with proper messmates and accommodation: he seemed to consider his class ill-used by being compelled to exist in the midshipmen's berth, and to have no other associates than that position provided in the navy. He did not speak of this personally, but generally, and after the manner of information to Mr. Wilson, who has just entered the navy in the first step ("acting") of the medical branch, and told him (the witness) that he must be prepared to "rough it." Deceased had told him he had lost three 5l. Notes and a sovereign, but believed he had been robbed of it prior to quitting the Conway after she was paid off. This witness and another friend of the deceased slept at the Quebec on Thursday night, and were to have started together some time early on Friday morning, consequently witness ordered the chambermaid to call deceased at 7 o'clock, which was done, and he answered, and asked for a razor to shave with. The girl said they had not one, and asked if she should send for a barber, which was done, but when he came deceased borrowed his razor with the profession of intending to shave himself. He was subsequently found quite dead, about half-past 8 o'clock, the razor lying near him. He had cut the jugular and carotid artery. No explanation was found in the room or on the person of the deceased, nor any information as to where his relatives or friends resided, but two certificates were found lying on the table worded as follows -
"These are to certify the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that Mr. Thomas Hart served as Assistant-Surgeon on board Her Majesty's ship Conway, under my command, from the 1st of September. 1844, to the date hereof, during which time he has conducted him-self with diligence, sobriety, and attention, and was always obedient to command.
"Given under my hand on board Her Majesty's ship Conway, at Portsmouth, this 15th day of July, 1847.
At the bottom of which, in pencil, was written, apparently very hurriedly-
"I should have been recommended for promotion."

The other certificate was worded in precisely the same terms, only the dates were "from the 1st of July, 1846, to the date hereof, 1st of July, 1847)," also signed by the Captain, and at bottom of which was written, also in pencil -
"Heart-broken and disappointed."

It therefore appeared to the jury that on the ship's arrival at Spithead the deceased had asked for the last quoted certificate to memorialize the Admiralty with for his promotion, as he appears on the Navy List as an Assistant Surgeon of 1839; but what appears most incomprehensible is the fact, proved by the above certificates, of the deceased's having been on the books and done the duty of assistant-surgeon of the Conway from the 1st of September, 1844, until Thursday last, nearly three years, without his name appearing in the list of officers' names appointed to the ship as shown in the official Navy List. The jury returned a verdict in accordance with the evidence -viz., "That the deceased died from wounds inflicted on himself, but what the state of his mind was at the time he committed the act there was no evidence to prove."

In the absence of any relative or friends to claim the body, the preparations for interment were, with the sanction of the coroner, immediately made by Mr. Forbes, of Portsmouth, undertaker and united service outfitter.


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